The role of a music reviewer is to be like an air dancer – those skinny inflatable tubes with the flapping arms that call attention to a new store or car dealership. The reviewer flaps and flounces to call attention to artists who are truly special. And one of those is L.A. indie pop artist talker.
It’s midyear, and so far talker’s “In Awe Of Insignificance” gets my vote for Best Indie Pop EP of the year – and she has five videos from that release that could lay claim to Video of the Year.
The name talker is a nod to Celeste Tauchar’s last name, which many people mispronounce as “talker” instead of the correct way: “Tosher,” like someone who’s a fan of Peter Tosh, the Seventies reggae star.
I rarely use the “G-word” (genius) to describe an artist, but talker checks all the boxes for that designation: master songwriter (meaning both lyrics and music are brilliant), accomplished multi-instrumentalist, superb singer, an exceptional flair for the visual arts, and more.
Because she writes so eloquently about mental health and the struggles of finding a true identity in the post-post-modern world, her work often reminds me of another G: Aimee Mann, who has struggled for years with PTSD and anxiety after a careless driver hit her tour van and flipped it upside down.
But talker’s songs (like Aimee’s) are also fun. For example, talker explores relationship ambivalence in “Don’t Want You To Love Me,” which has a killer chorus and relentless backbeat. “For The Sake Of It” got a lot of attention on L.A.’s influential KROQ – and the video for that song takes you to trippy realms that would make Peter Gabriel or The Talking Heads proud.
You could feel talker building up to “In Awe” three years ago with songs like “Changes” – an emotionally gripping song that ends with a pounding, tribal outro.
talker just concluded a successful West Coast tour with Maddie Ross, and will hit the road with The Lady Pills later this summer. Catch her now, because next summer she may be playing arenas.
Can you tell us more about how you worked with art and mood boards before even composing a single song for “In Awe Of Insignificance”?
Before I got into the writing process for this record, I was having a bit of a renaissance era, consuming a ton of art in all its forms. I was really just allowing myself to be a fan for a few months. Listening to albums, buying art for my walls, buying too many candles, and going to a lot of events. I felt like I was really curating a space for my creativity to flourish, and the visual component of that had a really clear aesthetic. I felt like the art I was surrounding myself with all had a very similar vibe to it, so I started to put together a mood board of pieces that were in that same realm. I realized that as I started making new music, I wanted it to feel like a soundtrack to that world.
You have a lot in common with Fiona Apple, who began playing piano at an early age and immerses herself in art while working on an album. How has she been an inspiration to you?
It’s funny, I love Fiona Apple, but I feel like I only started to truly appreciate her in the last few years. I had to grow into her. I was always a passive admirer, but it wasn’t until Fetch the Bolt Cutters that I was really like WOAH. I think the thing I loved most about that album was that she just dropped it overnight and did what she wanted and it was extremely badass. She just makes her art and does what she wants and has never been at the mercy of what’s popular in the moment, and I try to embody that as much as I can.
What was the artistic process like working with Chanel Samson on your video for “For The Sake Of It,” which features glowing flowers, a bathtub in the clouds and other striking visuals?
It felt insane. We were up until like 4AM multiple nights building sets, making clouds, getting absolutely covered in glue, inhaling glitter. It was a really intense process. But it was also so fun. Until that video, I hadn’t conceptualized a world, and then really made it from start to finish with my own hands. But there was a lot of delirium and we definitely wondered why we felt the need to DIY such a wild concept.
What was the symbolism of using a mannequin in your video of “Don’t Want You To Love Me”? I couldn’t tell whether you wanted to cook a nice steak for the mannequin or stab him. Or possibly both.
I think both is the answer there! Which is kind of similar to the ethos of the song. You want someone, and you think you can try again, but also you’re worried it won’t work and so you don’t want to go back down that road. The mannequin was less of a
symbol and more just us having a lot of fun with the concept. For some reason, Chanel and I BOTH pictured a mannequin when we heard the song. It was wild. I think it originally stemmed from the concept that you don’t know how to feel about someone, so you’re almost projecting everything onto them and turning them into something they’re not. A little lifeless, like a mannequin. But it evolved, and instead we were like: what if it’s someone trapped in a mall, falling in love with a haunted mannequin!
Your song “Growing Up” is a rock anthem that has Springsteen-esque energy and some memorable synth work. Did you program the synths yourself – and what were you trying to communicate lyrically about the quest for authentic experiences?
Thank you so much! I did program the synths myself. I was working with my
co-producer Dan Sadin up at his studio in Ojai and we were messing around with his Juno to get the right sound. I think the sound is actually a baritone sax patch that we manipulated like crazy and then arpeggiated.
I wrote the lyrics for this song when I was really in a rut. My friend and I have this term we use, “adjacent”, for when we’re feeling adjacent to life. Adjacent to any emotion. I had been going through a long period of feeling adjacent and really was desperate for some sort of emotional shock to the system. I needed to scream about wanting to feel things, for real, and maybe somehow try to eventually get better. Though, as the lyrics say, I obviously don’t know how, and we’re all feeling this way at least some of the time.
Your song “Sad Chick” portrays you as, well, sad and a bit “damaged.” But you sometimes surf in southern California, love going on tour, and have a great sense of humor on social media. Would it be more accurate to say that you’re a “semi-sad” chick?
I think that being a sad chick doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sad all the time. I do a lot of things I love, and I try to infuse positive energy into my life, but at the end of the day, depression isn’t just being sad. You can do things you love and still be depressed, even if in the moment you’re feeling happy or exhilarated. That’s why therapy is so important, and for some people, meds. That said, in my day to day I’m not necessarily outwardly sad. All of the things you said are true! I’m pretty well-adjusted, but those moments of apathy find ways to be ever-present, and it’s a lifelong process of learning how to work through that.
Although some reviewers (including me) have compared your voice to Sheryl Crow and Liz Phair, it’s really more versatile than that. For example, your previous EP Wax features a serious/sad song called “Personal Space,” but the melody and vocals have a very elegant R&B feel in spots – a lot like ’90s ballads by Whitney Houston or Vanessa Williams. How did a song that emotionally gripping come to have such a lovely melody?
Thank you! Those are all very iconic references haha. For me, a song just has to have a hook. I want my songs to be catchy and get stuck in your head, even if they’re super emotional. I grew up on Taylor Swift, after all.
Story: Larry McClain // Photos: Emma Cole
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