Brooklyn-based trio Ritual Talk seem to cherish every detail in the complex soundscapes they create. On their debut LP, Plans, each moment of swelling synth, tight vocal harmony, and slow-bending guitar is mindfully placed in the context of the song it helps to build. And, as the band states on their website, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Alex DeSimine, drummer Tom Criblez, and fellow multi-instrumentalist Dylan Gleit “use every limb they have to create a soundscape that transcends their three-person appearance.”
After returning from a Northeast US tour, the band will perform two shows in Brooklyn in April, on the 13th at C’mon Everybody, and on the 25th at Elsewhere’s intimate Zone One stage.
Following the November release of Plans and ahead of these New York performances, the band chatted with me about establishing connection with their audiences, what makes their music “surrealist,” what went into the new record, and more.
Who is Ritual Talk? What’s the story behind the band name?
Bear (Alex): Ritual Talk, the band, is Alex DeSimine, Dylan Gleit, and Tom Criblez. Ritual Talk, the concept, is us and anyone who has ever come to a show or listened to our music – the idea being that music-making is a ritualistic conversation between maker and receiver, and often a two-way exchange with looser roles than suggested.
Cat (Tom): We’re a psych-soul indie rock trio from Brooklyn, NY. Previously, before Ritual Talk, the three of us were in a 5-piece, and as the idea of the band grew, Ritual Talk was born. Then last year we became a trio. The identity of Ritual Talk has grown into a healthy collaboration; we all love heavily textural, smart music that still catches the ear and pulls the listener in for more.
Tell me about last year’s album, Plans. What is it about, and how does it differ from your debut EP?
Cat: Plans is the culmination of songs Alex wrote over the course of his college and post-college years. It differs from Rippled Glass in that it features just the three of us and was completely performed, produced, engineered, and mixed in our home in Bushwick. We tracked all of it over the course of last summer, leading up to our first national tour.
Pickle (Dylan): [Because it’s] the first body of music we’ve created in our current formation as a trio, Plans feels to us sort of like Ritual Talk’s statement of arrival. Alex can tell you more about the content of the album itself, as it’s a very personal thing for him.
Bear: The record is one round through a familiar cycle of mine, from existential crisis to optimistic catharsis. It’s actually a collection of songs I wrote at different points in that cycle from as far back as 2013, but they all just kind of fell together to tell the story pretty succinctly. Sonically, it reaches through a slew of influences from over the years: Grizzly Bear, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, Four Tet, and so on. [Last summer] was a pretty intense chunk of time – we hustled to get it all done and pretty much immediately left once we finished it for our first cross-country tour, which Tom and I booked as we were putting the record together.
What are some of the most enjoyable shows you’ve played in New York, and why?
Bear: Our tour kickoff last year at Mercury Lounge was a really special night, and so was our record release show at Elsewhere Zone One with Stello and Pearla. Both nights were great people, great vibes, great tunes–[and] great sound there. Love all those bands, and shout-out to Bobby and Terry at the respective soundboards.
Cat: The tour kickoff at Mercury Lounge last fall was really something else. We played with our homies in Ackerman, another sweet psych-trio, and a ton of people showed up. It was this big lead up all summer of recording the record and getting the tour together, all leading to this night that started the whole thing. We also released “Something” that day, and everyone was stoked on it. It was a special night for the band for sure.
When have you felt most connected to your audience?
Cat: When both sides are present and show up for each other. When there’s that strong energy exchange between us and the crowd, it doesn’t matter how many people are there, it’ll be a successful show. That energy drives us to perform at a level that helps us to connect with each other even more.
Bear: Touring and playing for engaged people around the country, talking to people after the show who came out and were really moved – those kinds of connections are magical!
Pickle: Live shows with tangible energy from the crowd are the moments in which I feel the most connected to our audience. When people get up, move and dance around at our shows, I feel like the name Ritual Talk really springs to life.
On your Bandcamp, you self-identify as a “surrealist rock” band. How does surrealism factor into your sound, your performances, or both?
Bear: Surrealism is all about the expression of the unconscious mind, which feels very much like the core of what we do. We don’t create our songs with a genre in mind or a goal necessarily–we let our instincts take them wherever’s next. That’s not to say that we don’t spend ample time refining what we’re working on, but everything starts with an impulse, and I think we’re doing our jobs best when we can capture that feeling, live or on the record.
Cat: There is definitely a foundation of “rock music” in [our songs]. We love to paint a landscape for the listeners to sing a catchy tune to, while also listening in to the multiple textures, visceral ambiences, and driving grooves to dance to. I essentially wish for our listeners to trip out(!) and have different types of listening experiences depending on their mood and environment.
Pickle: When we play shows, audience members and sound engineers alike are often shocked by the amount of gear and pedals we use–their initial reaction is usually one of confusion and misunderstanding. The reality is that we use all our gear to create lush soundscapes and tones that tend to break the mold of traditional instrument sounds. Every piece of gear on stage is there for a specific reason. To me, the combination of all the wacky sounds creates an overall listening sensation that feels foreign and surreal, yet warm and inviting.
Your visual aesthetic seems really focused and coherent. Do you work with one artist for all your visuals?
Cat: Yes, we do! My brother, Dan Criblez, is our incredibly talented visual artist and jack of all trades. He and I grew up very close and with similar tastes and goals, both as artists. Working together is a dream that I am very grateful for.
Bear: Yeah, Dan is incredible. He’s not only our Stanley Donwood but he’s also such a strong creative force to have around.
I love the lyrics on “Plans”; I think there’s power in the idea that you can change your own life by changing your perspective. What were you going through when you wrote the song?
Bear: Awesome! Yeah, “Plans” was an important song for me to write, for myself. Those lyrics were the last thing to get written for this record and it started to get really daunting, because they started to symbolize an escape from the cycle [I mentioned earlier].
What’s your favorite song on the album and why?
Cat: During the process of making the record this would change daily. But I think my favorite is “Something To Look Forward To,” which is track one and the lead single of the record. Alex returned from a trip to Australia and New Zealand with a 3-track EP that he recorded with his iPhone [there], and one of the tracks was “Something,” and I remember being like, “Dude, this song is the bomb!” Since then, the song has lived through multiple bands and versions. Last summer the existing arrangement was born, and everytime we play it or I hear it, it gives me a feeling of euphoria and nostalgia that reminds me why we play music.
Bear: This question is mean! I legitimately cannot answer this question–they are my children, and to choose one over the others would be cruel and unusual… but right now I would probably say “Domino Bones” or “Undone” or “Mistep” or “Plans.”
Pickle: I have such a hard time answering this question. It’s constantly changing for me, but three I keep coming back to are “Something to Look Forward To” “(shell)” and “Plans.”
You’re based in Bushwick, which is an area of Brooklyn that is particularly dense with artists and musicians right now. In your experience, does that make it feel like an especially supportive community for musicians? Or are there unique challenges that come with that too?
Bear: It’s been super nice to be in a community of musicians–we’re surrounded by people pushing the envelope in their own ways, which can be really inspiring. We’ve met so many stellar musicians and humans only to discover they live a few blocks away. So in that sense it’s wonderful. The other side of that coin is that with so many musicians here, the scene can get supersaturated. But I don’t really lose a lot of sleep over that. I think we’re all doing things different enough to make for a rich, diverse, thriving scene.
Cat: [Bushwick is] definitely dense with musicians and creatives in general. I find it to be inspiring. It also brings a sense of belonging, like we’re supposed to be doing this thing together, and sharing with others who are also trying to do the thing. I’d say the biggest challenge with living in NY in general is time. Time management, balancing our own personal schedules and two other humans. But I think we strike a decent balance of work and play.
Pickle: I personally don’t feel that the community I experience is native to Bushwick, but rather NYC in general. There are so many musicians in this city, but at the same time the scene is so tight knit. It’s a beautiful thing.
Waffles or pancakes?
Cat: Damn, dude. I really love both. Maybe more on the pancakes side…
Pickle: Pancakes for sure!
Bear: French Toast.
You play New York regularly, including your two upcoming shows in April. Any other exciting plans for this year?
Bear: Yes indeed! We’ve been cooking up some exciting new material, some of which should see the light of day this year. We’re also hitting the road again for a national tour this summer. So psyched for that!
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