July 16, 2010

Perfect Strangers

By Lily Zahn


Photo Credit Piper Ferguson

With a blazing debut album, killer live shows and a pile of synchs, METALKPRETTY put their best accent forward

MeTalkPretty is all about defying odds. Overcoming language barriers, a lack of resources and gender stereotypes, the New York City-based rock group with a female immigrant lead singer has found success through an intense DIY work ethic and emphasis on live performance. They craft a heavy rock sound with a penchant for drama, catchy hooks and a pop sensibility. But as hard as they rock, they are equally disarmingly genuine and humble. MeTalkPretty, led by Romanian import and lead vocalist Julie Proetu along with bandmates Leon Lyazidi (guitar, keyboard), James Kluz (drums) and Nate Meng (bass), has appeared several times on the Vans Warped Tour, at the SXSW and CMJ Music Conferences, and has collaborated promotionally with retailer Hot Topic.

Their first official single, “Wake Up, Wake Up!” has been featured on EA Sports’ NHL 10, The Sims 3: World Adventures, and Rock Band, an incredible reception for a debut track. And now, armed with a new label and producer and plenty of buzz, MeTalkPretty is poised to let loose their heavily anticipated full-length debut, We Are Strangers on July 27th. Preotu and Lyazidi took a break in between touring to call Playback to explain the band’s compound name, their no holds barred creative process and the importance of building relationships with fans.

What is the significance behind the name MeTalkPretty?

Leon Lyazidi: It came from the David Sedaris book Me Talk Pretty One Day. It talks about the experiences that Sedaris had while he was overseas in France and trying to acclimate. And there’s a pretty funny parallel with Julia because she’s only been here in the United States for a little over five years from Romania, and she basically taught herself how to speak the language and learned all the cultural differences and tried to acclimate in a very similar way.

JulieProetu: I believe that it’s my guys’ way of making fun of me.

Speaking of Julia’s story, when you were first forming she actually responded to an ad the band put out for a male vocalist. What made you guys decide to take a chance on a female singer and how has that affected the evolution of MTP?

LL: It was a major shift when Julia walked into the room; when I immediately knew that that was the right vocalist for me. And it was true, we were looking for a male vocalist, or let me rephrase that: we weren’t looking for a female vocalist. In all honesty, she didn’t really ever express that she was a female when she showed up. She just signed the email with a letter J. So basically after that, when she started to sing it was over. We’re a heavy rock band. We’re dance, we’re alternative, we’re loud, and Julia can pretty much compete with any male vocalist out there in terms of the power.

As far as the creative process of writing goes, does music or do lyrics generally come first?

LL: It’s a mix. When we first started off as young songwriters, we kind of put ourselves in a box. We didn’t really allow the flow of ideas or music and lyrics to happen. The more that we grew up as songwriters, the more we realized that there aren’t really any rules. If the music comes first, or the melody or lyrics, so be it, as long as a statement is made and it basically fits.

Do you all share writing duties?

LL: Yeah, it’s a pretty open forum in terms of the songwriting process, but most of the time Julia and I come up with the bulk of the music. Julia writes all of her lyrics. We start somewhere and present it to the rest of the band—James and Nate—and they color it with rhythms and textures.

Julia, is it a challenge to write in English?

JP: It was very challenging in the beginning, and it was very scary for a lot of people when I told them I would like to write my own lyrics. As years passed by, I was really trying very hard to catch up on a lot of things, reading and all that, and right now I’m very happy. Every single word I wrote, it’s mine and I’m very grateful that my guys give me this huge trust.

LL: You know, obviously the accent is never going to go away but I find that to be very charming, and I don’t want her to lose it. She put in a lot of work so that she could express herself properly in English. She has the ability now to say and express what she wants, and for me that was the biggest turnaround for this band, having your vocalist express deeply what he or she really wants to express.

So before working on We Are Strangers, you released an EP and a demo. Was it different working on a full-length album with We Are Strangers?

LL: Yeah, absolutely. Having more than three songs, five songs, which were our previous releases, kind of broadened our perspective in what we can bring to each song. I know that sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but we had more time and we really dissected and really looked into what each song needed—layers and sounds, harmonies, things like that—which we were never able to do when we didn’t have a lot of money or time to do it.

JP: I feel like we were given an amazing opportunity to write our first record. Every band is dreaming to do that. And when we had the opportunity to write a full-length record, for some reason something just happened and suddenly everybody got so inspired, and we were just shooting out songs. The bottom line right now is the record is done, and we feel very proud of what we wrote. It came from all our struggles in making it as a band and our personal lives. Everybody has big crazy stories, and We Are Strangers is our introduction to the big world.

Speaking of which, what inspired the albums first single, “Wake Up, Wake Up!”?

JP: It’s my mom’s story. She passed away, so the song reflects her memory. Leon had a riff and then I went back home to Romania for the funeral, and when I came back we put the song together.

Could you talk a little bit more about your vibe or experience in the studio? Do you come in with material written, just a rough idea, or do you start experimenting there?

JP: Everything.

LL: Well, the way that we did this record was very different from any other recording that we did. We had a really strange road to get to even starting pre-production on this record. When we got to actually writing or recording tracks, we understood what kind of record we were going to make and that was no rules, no strings attached, everything goes, and whatever happens, happens. And for the next two and a half months, all the way leading into the last mix of the record we were still writing and still tweaking and remixing and adding parts and changing. It wasn’t because we weren’t happy with what the songs were; it was just because we decided that we didn’t want to put a stop to the creative process.

JP: There were moments when we had to let go of entire parts, like entire choruses in certain songs, or entire bridges that were either too happy or too slow. We had to learn that even if you wrote a part, you have to let go if it doesn’t make sense to the song and if it does not support the main idea of the song.

In the studio, you have more of a heavy rock sound, but for live shows, you’ll sometimes play an acoustic set. Is that acoustic sound something reserved for only certain live performances?

LL: The funny thing is that we never thought of ourselves as an acoustic or a soft band, and it wasn’t until last summer when we were doing the pre-production of the songs that we starting doing acoustic shows just to hear what these songs really were about. We really understood that if you strip away all the distortion and all the effects and if you can play a song with an acoustic guitar and a voice and it stands up to any other song, then you really have something special.

How else would you say your live performance differs from recording in the studio?

JP: I believe seeing the people performing their own music you understand why the music or the lyrics are the way that they are. Like suddenly everything makes sense to you more. Seeing live a band, it’s like a door opening into their world.

It’s no secret that the record industry and how albums are sold has changed drastically over the past few years, but you seem to have a very steadily increasing fan base. How have you, and how do you plan to market yourselves?

LL: For us, it’s all about relationships. We made it very important to develop relationships from day one with everyone that we met, whether it was a casual fan that walked into a bar or a music writer or a label head or whoever it may be. I think it’s a testament of this band’s history of just doing the right thing and being good people and basically never burning a bridge and never really not understanding what the other side is going through. It’s a building process and we’re taking it slow and doing it the most correct way we can possibly do it to develop a long relationship with our fans.