talker Talks Close Collaborators and Audience Immersion

Celeste Tauchar spent her first few years out of music school playing keys on tour with electropop band Frenship and making inroads in the L.A. co-writing scene, but it was only a matter of time before the lifelong songwriter started to make a mark of her own.

Taking on the stage name talker, she released her debut solo EP earlier this year. Horror Films offers a bold snapshot of her inner life, even when it’s less than picture-perfect; talker has a talent for radically raw vocals in the pattern of Julien Baker, and she uses it to awesome effect in singles like “Intimidated” and “Collateral Damage.”

Each packs a nostalgic punch in its guitar-pop arrangement, where bass-heavy acoustic guitars and bursts of distortion echo grunge at its most compelling. But whether it comes in the form of defiance, frustration, or tenderness, talker’s emotional vulnerability and keen sense of melody ground every moment in the here and now.

Outside the studio, that openness has helped her build a strong network of collaborators, culminating in an innovative gig at Moroccan Lounge. Presented by PLAG and Fiona Grey, the show features six headliners and no set breaks, upending the conventional opener/headliner order to foster a more community-friendly dynamic.

Before the gig, talker took the time to talk us through her musical upbringing and how to build relationships in an impersonal scene.

How did you initially become a musician?

I’ve been a musician my whole life. My parents are both musicians. They’re not professional or anything, but they play music and are music lovers, so growing up, I was always very surrounded by music. They would play me all their records and were super encouraging for me to develop that passion on my own. My dad actually started teaching me piano when I was four, so I kind of jumped right in.

Getting to what talker is now was a much more gradual development of playing and listening to music and also just developing as a human being, but I never wondered what I was going to try to be doing with my life, or where that passion lay, so that was really nice. The core focus of my life has always been loving music, and any sort of event or trip that I took–everything was around music, and whatever music we were listening to at that time is what I associate that with now.

When did you first start playing guitar?

When I was around six years old, actually. It was this progression of piano and then guitar, which my dad actually started teaching me too, and then, of all things, cello when I was eight.

Whoa.

[laughs] Yeah, I was super into cello. I did all the, like, all-state orchestras in high school. It’s a great instrument to have in the back pocket to be like, “oh, I can actually lay some cello down on this.” But yeah, I started playing guitar around the age of six, and my dad taught me, but I was also self-teaching. I never took lessons in the sense of learning to shred on a solo or anything, and I think that helped me because I use it so much more as a songwriting tool now.

Have you brought out the cello as talker?

I haven’t! The next time I’m doing a full set somewhere, I might try to incorporate something like that. I think it’s going to take a lot of planning, a lot of arrangement work, but I think it would be sick to be like, “oh, surprise,” do some super grungy cover, and play the cello while I sing. I have a million fantasies about it in my head, but yeah, I would love to at some point.

I think cello is sort of the secret missing ingredient in grunge. It’s so deep and so gnarly if you want it to be.

Oh, totally. I mean, I’m not trying to sound identical to the ’90s, but there’s so much cello in so much of that. If you listen in “All Apologies” by Nirvana, there’s cello in there and it mirrors some of the vocal melodies Kurt Cobain is doing. It’s so sick. Anyway, you’re so right. It’s a great instrument to be able to use in that genre.

Who was your first favorite artist?

My first favorite artist that was mine to keep was Avril Lavigne, absolutely. Whatever, like, it was. [laughs] I mean, I grew up and I loved a lot of the bands my parents were listening to, but I was seven or eight years old when her first album came out, so it was the first one where I bought the album and I put it on all the time when we were in the car. I was discovering the fact that I was kind of emo as a child, and that was what opened that door to me, despite the fact that she essentially was a pop star, completely. To a seven-year-old, she was such a badass.

Are you still a fan?

I don’t love what she’s done in the past, maybe ten years? [laughs] But I went back recently and listened to that first record again. I think it’s so tinged with nostalgia that I’ll forever love it no matter what, but honestly, these songs are very well-written, and for what she was, it was perfect, you know what I mean? For being a cool tomboy teenage girl marketed to pre-teens who wanted to be cool, it was perfect.

You studied music at the Frost School at University of Miami. What was that program like for you and how did it influence your approach to music?

The thing most people who have been to music school will probably end up telling you is that there’s only so much you can actually teach about songwriting and about the music business. I’ve learned more by doing and by being in it than I learned from a curriculum, but I will say the thing that was really awesome about it was it’s a program that’s super similar to USC’s music program, or Berkeley’s, or any of those contemporary music schools, but it’s not in Los Angeles, so you’re not in the middle of the industry while you’re also trying to have your weird college phase and figure out who you are.

It was a really good bubble to just focus on getting better at songwriting, being a better musician, learning from your peers, and really collaborating without feeling like you already had to be building a brand. I really tried to take that time to let myself grow, and then when I moved to L.A. after I graduated, I was a lot more prepared. I think had I been thrown into the music industry at age 18, also being thrown into my freshman year of college, I would have fallen apart.

I do have to ask because you tweeted about the fact that you played “Year 3000” at your music school senior recital.

[laughs] I did!

How did that come about?

I was in a contemporary songwriting pop program, so it wasn’t like we were playing classical music. My recital was pretty much just a concert. It was all original songs and we had a band, so it was essentially baby talker. I did a joint recital with my best friend, so we were playing both of our original songs, and we weirdly had–I mean, now everybody’s back in a Jonas Brothers phase because they’re back, but all semester we had revisited the Jonas Brothers and were listening to them all the time for whatever weird reason. We were like, “yo, people are going to fucking love it if we play ‘Year 3000.'”

That was the beautiful thing about the recital for the pop program. It was a concert of whatever type of music you made, so people didn’t take it as seriously as the choral recitals or the jazz department. I don’t think our professors understood what was happening, but all the other kids who were there lost their minds. It was such a weird, beautiful moment.

From there, you moved to L.A. and started playing with a band called Frenship. When did you know it was time to make your debut as a solo artist?

It was very organic. Like I said, I’ve been a songwriter as long as I can remember, and the goal has always been to be doing a solo project. It was never something where I wasn’t sure or didn’t want to do it. It was more like I wanted to have a solo project, but I wanted it to be right. I think when we’re artists and songwriters, you’re always working towards your own music. If you’re writing music and recording it, that’s what’s naturally forming, but I didn’t know what I wanted the artist name to be, I didn’t really know what it was going to be sonically, and I didn’t want to force anything. Between being in Miami and taking some time when I first moved here, I really took the time to develop that.

When you move to a new city, you have a lot of growing to do, regardless of what industry you’re in. I was trying to let myself have that before I publicly was like, “this is what I am.” I was doing a lot of writing sessions and super randomly got connected with the Frenship guys, and that obviously turned into me playing with them and touring. That’s been a super amazing experience that opened a lot of doors and is really fun. That whole time, though, I was still writing, and the ultimate goal was to be doing a solo thing.

Finally, two years ago, it was like, “okay, this is the sound,” like, “this is what I want to be doing.” From there, I started taking active steps to record the EP and make the release plan, so it happened very naturally. None of it was forced, because I didn’t–you know, people are smart. You can tell when it’s not genuine.

What was the first song you wrote for this EP?

The first song I wrote that ended up on the EP was “Changes,” but we didn’t know that was writing for the EP. I wrote that with Dan Sadin, who produced a lot of the record and used to play in Frenship with me; he’s actually how I met all those guys. We met at a writers’ meetup, and we did the typical L.A. thing, like, “oh yeah! Let’s collaborate!” You know, “we don’t know who each other are, but we’re at this networking thing.” We met up at a studio and wrote a couple songs, and that was one of them.

It was a very different version of the song; It was more upbeat. It wasn’t really about anything because it was like, “let’s just get together and write something.” Then we started touring together with Frenship and we ended up becoming super close friends. A year or two later, we were like, “that song was kind of sick. We should revisit it, and now that I know that I have this project, let’s dig into it.” So it’s kind of funny. That song was not intended to be on the EP, or on any EP. It was just a song that existed and it developed from there.

How did it end up taking on those themes of self-improvement and self-destruction?

I think that was just what I was going through when we rewrote it. Originally, we were just writing very concept-based. Like, “cool, this is what this is going to be about,” and it was from the perspective of, “oh, people change in relationships, and I’m changing, and I don’t want you anymore.” Some bullshit [laughs] that was really not about anything. We set up a day to get in the studio and tweak it, and at the time I was going through a big period of change. I was in a weird place where I felt like I was moving backwards, but I also was growing. You know how it goes; it’s always a weird feeling. That’s where I was at, so that’s just what came out of me.

You also collaborated with April Bender and Phil Simmonds. What was the dynamic of that collaborative process like?

April and I had also gotten connected at some writers’ meetup, but she’s a phenomenal songwriter and writes with a ton of different artists and producers. I knew she was really awesome and I was like, “honestly, I want to get in with her because between my newfound direction and inspiration and her songwriting chops, whatever we write together is going to be absolutely awesome.”

In L.A., there’s such a world of collaborating and writing with as many people as you can. There’s some value to it because you grow a lot and meet a lot of people, but it can feel really impersonal, at least for me. You have to go into it with this mentality of immediately being super open, like, “this is what I’m dealing with. This is how I’m feeling.” If I’m too much for you, oh well, but it helps weed out the people who are going to be really good to work with, and she was one of those.

We wrote “Collateral Damage” the first day we wrote together, in like, two hours. She came to my house and I was like, “this is some bullshit that I’ve been dealing with,” and she was like, “oh, I can relate.” We really opened up to each other and just wrote, and it’s cool because you end up getting really close to people. We’re very good friends now, and I see her fairly frequently.

With Phil, it was a similar thing. He produced “Passive.” I wrote “Passive” on my own, and that was another one where I wasn’t specifically writing for an EP yet. Phil and I had worked together on other stuff and gotten close over the year leading up to this point, so that’s why I specifically tapped him to produce it. The song is obviously super personal, so we had a lot of in-depth conversations about our own issues and struggles and were really able to tap into that for the production.

I think it’s important to work with people you’re close with, but it’s also essential when you bring new people into the mix to immediately start with that foundation of being super open and not holding anything back.

There’s a line in one of your bios about you getting emotional while tracking vocals.

[laughs] Yeah, it was during “Passive” when I was with Phil. Like I said, we had an emotional time producing this one. We really started to talk about what each of us had been through that was similar and related to the background of the song. We set up a mic in the middle of the room, and Phil was like, “okay, I’m going to dip out. You know how to stop and start the recording yourself, so just record it a bunch of times. I need you to be by yourself and I want you to get emotional like no one else is in the room.”

It was so weird because typically if you’re recording a song, you wrote it ages ago and you’re not in that headspace anymore. This was weirdly super effective; I was really getting back into the mindset I had when I was writing it, relating it to where I was at that point, and yeah, I was tearing up [laughs] and having trouble singing at one point. I was just like, “fuck, this is very emotional,” but I think that’s so much cooler and so much more special to hear in a record than someone singing perfectly, you know?

How has that experience of making your debut EP affected your identity as a solo artist?

I think since the EP and looking forward towards the next stuff–I set out wanting to just be really open and, for lack of a better term, wear my emotions on my sleeve. That was really the goal the whole time.

I think I just naturally am like that, regardless of my music; I try to bring people in. I’m not trying to bring them down if I’m not feeling good, but I’ll be up front about what I’m going through so that other people know. We’re all dealing with stuff, and I think I want to be like the anti-Instagram influencer [laughs] whose life looks perfect all the time and you’re comparing yourself, like, “wow, I didn’t do this today,” even though they probably didn’t either, and it’s a backlog of content they have from some random photo shoot.

Moving forward, I want the next stuff to be an elevated version of this EP, but at the core of it, it’s always going to be pure honesty and accessibility. I don’t plan to ever turn into the type of thing where it’s super fabricated. I like to make exaggerated versions of things for music and I want something that is a deliberate piece of art, and that’ll continue to grow and change, but I always want it to be coming from a real place and to be open about what it’s about and what its purpose is.

You put out a video last year for the song “Collateral Damage.” How did the concept for that video came about and what was it like producing it?

It’s kind of funny; a lot of the time, I’ll have to really think and develop an idea, and it takes me a while to be happy with it. That concept just came to me. I was like, “this is perfect for ‘Collateral Damage.'” It’s about someone essentially trying to keep you down because of their own shit, so having the mouth taped up and everything–I didn’t want to do a big-budget, full-fledged video, but I did want to do something cool. I wanted to have a lyric video, but I didn’t want to go through hiring a graphics person or anything like that, so I was like, “awesome, I can write the lyrics on this tape.” I think it gets the message across.

I worked with my friend Chanel Samson, who is also an amazing musical artist and who does a lot of video editing and photography, and she plays in my band. I hit her up, and I was like, “can we do this?” It was stop motion; we cut up all the tape, wrote the words out, and had it hanging on the edge of the desk. I’d put one tape on, she’d take a photo, and then we’d move on to the next one, so I really truly was tearing tape off my face for two hours. [laughs]

If you look for it at the end of the video, when I’m singing, there’s some redness around my mouth. That’s edited down because it was so bright red on the raw footage. My face had a rash around my mouth for a week, [laughs] but you know, beauty is pain, or whatever. Art is pain, all of that, but it was really fun. It was such a simple idea and it was easy to do it ourselves effectively and quickly.

You’re playing a very unique show at Moroccan Lounge: six headliners and no set times. How did you get involved with that?

My friend Fiona Grey, who’s also in the show–I actually live with her, so we’re super collaborative all the time. She had been talking with Play Like A Girl, who’s a great organization out in L.A., and she had come up with this concept for a show. You go to a lot of shows in L.A. where people will come out and support their friends and then leave, and the other bands will have fewer people there. That’s kind of just the way of the world; you’ve got to hustle to bring people out and hope some people will cross over and become your fans.

It’s a slow process, so the idea for this show is, let’s figure out a way to make it more of an immersive, collaborative experience and have people stay for this whole thing where they get to discover some great new music they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. She was coming up with this idea and asked me to be a part of it, and from there on out, we got GMNIILeah Capelle, and Phé to be on it as well. We have an all-female house band, which is going to be sick, and I’m super lucky because all of them have been part of my band for talker stuff.

We’re all kind of rotating and playing for each other; I’m playing keys for a lot of the other artists, and Leah is playing guitar for other people. Instead of having five talker songs and then five Fiona songs and five Phé songs, and everybody’s leaving in between, you’ll hear a song by me, you’ll hear a song from Fiona, and you’ll hear a song from Leah, kind of rotating. We put together the setlist, and it’s a well-curated show. I’ve never seen a show like this, so it could either be something where I’m like, “oh my god, what did we do?” or it could be really fucking awesome, and I think it’s going to be really fucking awesome.

What about rehearsals? How are you preparing?

It’s definitely more labor-intensive than just having your songs, sending them to the band, and having a four-hour rehearsal where you’re just working on your own music. I’ve been putting together all the packaging to send to the band for different tracks we’re running and figuring out who’s playing on what, so I have everything really streamlined to try to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing. Essentially, we have it very specifically written out, like, “okay, on this song, this is who’s playing and this is what they’re playing.”

Our first rehearsal, we had a few hours where it was like, “okay, for an hour, we’re going to work on the talker songs, the next hour, we’re going to do the Fiona songs.” We’re super lucky to have an amazing band where they’re able to learn the songs quickly, and they kill it, so you’re not having to teach the music to people so much as just run through the songs and work out any kinks. I don’t know, rehearsal sounded great, man. I had no idea what to expect going in and I came out of it feeling really stoked.

What’s next for you after this show?

I’ve been writing a lot and I think EP 2 is going to be written and finished pretty soon. I have, like, four weeks where I’m going to be out touring with Frenship again, so I’ll be playing keys with them and then as soon as I’m back, we’re going to get into the studio and start recording the second EP. Hopefully, the first song will be out by the late summer; that’s my goal. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but that’s what I’m trying to tell myself so that I can get it out as soon as possible. Yeah, just more music, you know? I have a lot more and I want to keep building on the momentum. I don’t think you’re going to be hearing any silence from me.

If you could tour with any artist, who would you choose?

This is a loaded answer because I love and am obsessed with Wolf Alice. They’re a huge inspiration for me, so thinking on a realistic level of the next few years, I would love to open for them on a tour.

But the dream–I have a weird obsession with Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters. I don’t know why; I just love Dave Grohl so much. I want him to be my uncle or something, and in dream world, I want to open for them in a stadium tour and just have him know who I am. I think at the end of the day, if I could have Dave Grohl and Ben Gibbard be aware that I exist as a human being, I’ve made it. They don’t even have to like my music. They don’t even have to bring me on tour. Just for them to know that I make music and I exist. [laughs] Of course, I wouldn’t say no to touring.

 


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