How Talkdemonic Was Revived From Oblivion
Art-pop dynamo Kevin O’Connor explains how he resurrected his one-man-band for Various Seasides
Records dropped towards the end of any given year—however stellar—often suffer a sad fate: swallowed up and buried for dead by the obligatory best-of et. al. lists—not to mention music editors going M.I.A. Yes, it’s an unfair practice, but such is the current state of music reportage.
One such album that was released in late 2022 clearly deserving of your ears is Various Seasides by Talkdemonic.
First conceived in Portland, Oregon as a one-man-project sprouted from the forward-looking and purely melodic mind of art-pop-centric polymath Kevin O’Connor before ultimately expanding into a duo alongside violist Lisa Molinaro, Talkdemonic released a flurry of overlooked gems beginning with 2004’s Mutiny Sunshine. The all-instrumental duo fast became a DIY PacWest staple, churning out a cinematically heady mix of indie rockish guitar and synth hookage, a dizzying array of warped and infectious beats and droney and twangy strings, as heard on the otherworldly Beat Romantic from 2006. O’Connor and Molinaro’s spaced-out and bucolic epics caught the attention of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, who not only contributed his studio wizardry to 2011’s Ruins but also put out the record on his Glacial Pace label.
Then Talkdemonic underwent dramatic shifts. Molinaro departed the group and in 2015 O’Connor packed up and relocated east to New York City. He put the band on hold, unsure if he’d record again under the Talkdemonic moniker. Years went by but it wasn’t until during the pandemic lockdown did O’Connor get the itch to bring Talkdemonic back from the proverbial dead.
The result is Various Seasides, Talkdemonic’s first new album in eleven years and it was well worth the long wait. A transcendent in-studio creation in which O’Connor holed himself up inside his tiny rehearsal space, sculpting and crafting its bright and meditative synth-pop stylings with meticulous aplomb.
A record birthed out of the pandemic, Various Seasides can be viewed as its ostensible soundtrack with its vibes of hope and hopelessness, optimism and doom and gloom, built on a foundation of gloriously liquid melody and richly detailed sound and sonics. The thirteen earworm-level songs that comprise Various Seasides will stick in your brain for days on end.
The Globe caught up with O’Connor to talk about Talkdemonic’s long journey from Portland to settling in New York and how Various Seasides was birthed.
Are you Zooming in from the very room that you caught Various Seasides on tape at?
Yeah, I recorded every note of it right here in the small room.
It does look like a tiny space with all your equipment crammed in there.
The good thing is it does have high ceilings, probably fourteen feet and then a window for the music is able to breathe. The natural lightings makes a huge difference. But, yeah, I recorded it all in this room. I kind of muted my drums a little more than I would have on previous records, which actually made it a lot easier to control the sounds, too.
Can you shed light on how Various Seasides was conceived? I think the story goes that your studio is in close proximity to where you live and you’d walk over during the pandemic lockdowns and compose music?
Essentially what happened was I had I spent two years working out of a commercial music house in SoHo—basically a studio with a production team writing music for TV commercials. My friend and I had to rescue all my gear during lockdown so I had a stash in my room in Ridgewood for six months. I did a few projects out of my room but obviously not ideal. Then I decided that I was going to challenge myself and rent a studio with the main focus being to record a new Talkdemonic record or whatever it was going to be it at the time. I wasn’t really sure it was going to be a Talkdemonic record or it could be a new project.
Like possibly a recording under your own name?
I had other names I was probably going to use but in the end it made a lot more sense to do it as Talkdemonic and continue the legacy of the sound.
Why do you think the sound that ultimately resulted in Various Seasides fell under the Talkdemonic name as opposed to an all-new project? It’s been over a decade since the last Talkdemonic album, right?
It is. It’s been eleven years to the month that the record came out since the last one. I guess one of the things is that the (Talkdemonic) project started solo with me and I was always really the primary writer in the band, even though we (Lisa Molinaro and I would promote ourselves as a duo. After spending some time on this record, it was like, “I’m going to lean into that, you know?” So, the more I shared it with friends and other people, they were, like, “You can’t call it something other than Talkdemonic. It is.”
I think, for me, it was a chance for the music to breathe a little more, the melodies to have more room, because in the past I would write songs and then present them to my former bandmate Lisa then she would add amazing synth and viola layers. We were a team but I also always wanted it to be more of a collaboration; I wanted her to write more songs and to be both of us. At this point, I was like, “Well, I’m just going to kind of do what I always did.”
Yes, on previous records, Lisa incorporated really cool layers of sound to the songs, as you said. Did you see it as being difficult to replace her contributions or you took it as a challenge to add new elements of your own?
Honestly, I was very excited to see what it would be without her. Also, at times some of the songs were sparse sounding and I decided to lean into that and because I wasn’t trying to make the same record again. I definitely wanted the melodies to have more space and the drums to be a lot more down the middle—there’s not a ton of fills, really, it’s more primarily beats.
But, for sure, I was a little bit worried that people would reject the record because Lisa wasn’t on it or (because of) a number of things. But then in the end, as we all get older, what does it matter? If we have a chance to express ourselves and to write music and we have the inspiration why not do it?
Talkdemonic’s origins are in Portland then eventually you moved to New York. Do you feel as if there are two iterations of the band: the PacWest version and the East Coast one? I would think so considering the time in between records.
That’s certainly true. Most of the band’s life was in Portland. I moved here in 2015 and I didn’t focus on Talkdemonic until the last couple of years and now it’s basically a revamp or unearthing with Various Seasides.
When you moved to New York, did you put Talkdemonic on the backburner while you focused on day job-type stuff like your composer work for soundtracks and commercials?
Yeah. Talkdemonic was, in my mind, a part of my past until, literally, two years ago when I started writing the record because I was mostly working as a composer on different projects and, of course, the New York hustle, we all have different jobs to fill in the gaps. I worked a little bit in some random films over the years and also had odd jobs for sure. Then Talkdemonic was reborn two years ago mostly.
How do you view the two music scenes in Portland and in New York?
Well, for me, I know everyone in Portland and the scene is still incredibly vibrant and very indie-driven. It’s like if I were to move back, I’m sure I could just walk right back into the door and feel very comfortable and supported. Of course, I miss that and it’s the more community-driven sort of vibe that a smaller city has. I also love the anonymity of New York City and the diversity and clearly all the insane things that the city has to offer. As far as music scenes go, I haven’t really engaged, really, within the music scene. I do go to shows here and there. I’ve played with Vandiver, the neofolk project from Andrew Hammond. Honestly, I don’t know much about the scene in New York. It seems like it must be pretty strong and it’s out there. I’m not really in those circles, really; Talkdemonic is more of a recording project.
Do you want to play live at some point?
I’m certainly weighing that out for 2023. The more I think about it, the more I want to do it.
But when you were based in Portland, you played out a lot?
Yeah, we played quite a bit and we toured the U.S. a lot. We were a lot more active live.
When you were out there, Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse put out a Talkdemonic record on his label.
For Ruins we signed with Glacial Pace, Isaac’s label. That was a really fun time for us because we were doing a lot of shows with Modest Mouse, too, and they have such a young audience and so many kids kind of ate us up, too. Isaac is a very giving person and label owner. He did a lot for us for sure and promoted the record really well.
I haven’t heard much from Glacial Pace recently. Isaac also released great records by Survival Knife, a band that featured ex-Unwound members.
I think it’s based on if he’s super-jazzed about a band.
Was your musical upbringing on PacWest indie punk like Unwound, Modest Mouse and Quasi and bands like that?
100 percent. I started in college radio at Washington State University in Pullman. I became a music director when I was a freshman—that was pretty cool. I was obsessed with indie rock and the late nineties and then moved to Portland in 2002 and we basically kind of formed a collective called Lucky Madison. That was a big group of musicians in Portland and our friends and we sort of put out everyone’s record for a while there. It was Ryan Feigh and myself. Definitely indie rock is in the blood for me. I think when I first moved to Portland, I was pretty obsessed with instrumental hip-hop and conscious hip-hop—that certainly played a part in the beginning of Talkdemonic genesis as far as beats (go).
VIDEO: Talkdemonic “Glass Tower”
Was drums your first instrument? You play drums in that cool video for the song “Glass Tower” on Various Seasides.
Live, I usually play drums from synthesizers or other random instruments. But, for sure, drumming is my primary instrument. Playing acoustic guitar was my first real instrument and I started playing drums when I was a senior in high school.
Back to the new record. I know labeling albums as a “pandemic record” is an exhaustive term but Various Seasides certainly fits into that niche. It exudes introspective, mournful kind of vibes.
Basically, it was a seven-month stand where I was recording the record in this room. I didn’t really have a job in that year; I wasn’t working from home because I’d been laid off from the studio. I just made recording a record my full focus. Obviously, a lot of people did similar things because they had the time. For me, it was like I needed to prove to myself, that I still have this thing in me. I kind of knew that I did after the first week recording the first song. I would walk over here from Ridgewood, no one around, Brooklyn just completely dead and nobody in Bushwick, which was a really crazy thing to see. I would come here and I was in this building where there’s probably a hundred and fifty spaces in here and there’s probably three or four other people. It is really ghostly, that experience, and also for me, a gift to be able to really focus all my energy on one thing—writing the songs here and spending a couple of weeks on each song and go on to the next one. It’s sort of like when you find yourself in the midst of this massive storm and you find your center where you’re incredibly happy and fulfilled by this thing and that you know is really the thing that you do best in life, too. That’s kind of where I found myself and it really got me through this.
Some of the songs have an uplifting feel where others are kind of bleak. Do you see Various Seasides of being your soundtrack to your pandemic experience?
I thought before I played it for a friend, I played mixes for him, I certainly saw it as being a very depressing record and then when I played it for him, he was like, “There’s a lot of hopeful tracks.” And I was surprised by that.
The sound of the record is mostly bright.
I think I just let it take me wherever it was going to take me.
Do you foresee live Talkdemonic shows in 2023?
Yeah, focusing on the possibility of maybe playing some shows, of course, and maybe beginning a new record. I’d like to keep on the pace. I have a horror film short that I’m going to be working on the next couple months.
What would the setup of a Talkdemonic live show be? Would it be just you or would you assemble a band for it?
I think if I was to play Talkdemonic Various Seasides live, I would want a three-piece and I would want it to be fully live. I think that the audience deserves that nowadays and not have prerecorded tracks.
So you’re not into the one-man-band thing with sounds prerecorded and stepping on a ton of pedals and effects.
That’s what I did in the very beginning in 2003. I would love to have a full band to do the record. That would be my dream.
It sounds as if you’re not going to wait another eleven years to do another Talkdemonic record.
I would prefer to stay on pace and to put out a record every two years for the rest of my life honestly, or until no one pays attention to me anymore (laughs). It comes and goes, you know? I see it as rebuilding something that I care about and if I’m still inspired to write songs and create albums then I’m going to keep doing that.
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