Talk in Tongues Were Born in the '90s, But Their Sound Is Pure '80s Shoegaze

Talk in Tongues
Talk in Tongues
Photo by Matt Wignall

The crowd is thick surrounding Bardot's stage. Onlookers stand close as Talk in Tongues whip through one psychedelic pop jam after the next.

It might seem as though the band has been playing its big-guitar, harmony-heavy tunes since the shoegaze wave of the late 1980s and early '90s, but that moment happened before these musicians were born. Still, they play with all the passion pressed onto those now-collectible Creation and 4AD records.

Everything is fantastic, until the sound goes out.

It's the musician's equivalent of that dream when you try to scream but can't. In a situation like this, other bands might drop their instruments. But Talk in Tongues exchange a couple "We've got this covered" glances as they continue playing.

Little more than a few strums are audible. Their mouths move; their bodies do the guitar-sway as if nothing major has happened. In the final seconds of the set, the sound comes back for an all-too-brief final blast of guitar.

After the show, singer-bassist Waylon Rector — at 18 the youngest member of the group — laughs off the technical difficulties. It was the last song of the night and, eventually, the sound did kind of make a comeback. No big deal.

Talk in Tongues are the kind of band you want to cheer on as it prepares to unleash its debut album, Alone With a Friend. They are four old souls who sound like bands on a reunion circuit — think Ride and Slowdive — that draws fans old enough to be their parents. Even inside Bardot, the crowd is significantly older than the musicians onstage. They're a throwback, but they do it well, maybe as well as the shoegaze first wave. Their music forms a link between Gen X and Millennials, between the 20th and 21st centuries.

They haven't been a band for long. Talk in Tongues formed a little more than a year ago and played their first gig in February 2014. A few weeks before their turn at Bardot's School Night party, they played eight times in five days at their first South by Southwest.

"I was really dreading it," drummer Bryan De Leon says of the trek to Austin. "I feel like with South by Southwest, you have to dread it in order to enjoy it."

In the end, it wasn't as nerve-racking as they thought it would be. They played industry-oriented shows and gigs for people who just wanted to party. They celebrated the 21st birthday of their touring keyboardist, Cassandra Jensen. It was a good time.

Two days after the Bardot gig, the band hit the road again, this time to open for The Bright Light Social Hour. They're support-slot veterans, having toured separately with Cibo Matto, The Wytches and Surfer Blood.

John Paul Pitts of Surfer Blood says Talk in Tongues are "the most punctual band" to tour with his group. They actually arrive early to shows. "It might be lame to comment on a band for being professional," he adds, "but these guys, they're just really good."

Not long before South by Southwest, singer-guitarists McCoy Kirgo and Garrett Zeile arrive at a Little Tokyo coffeehouse, looking slightly out of step with their generation. Kirgo, 22, is bundled up in a pea coat. Zeile, 21, is dressed in a striped shirt and a cardigan. Both wear Chuck Taylors. As they share a cigarette in the chilly night air, they look like an image from the L.A. indie-rock scene that existed before Silver Lake was cool, when hip Angelenos took their style cues from British music magazines.

Inside, they namedrop influences. Kirgo, the son of two musicians, grew up on Buffalo Springfield and Gram Parsons. Zeile, who has a DIY studio set up in his mom's industrial space in Thousand Oaks, is a big Primal Scream fan. "I get a lot of inspiration from that, just the way the band has chosen to guide their career," he says, mentioning Primal Scream's knack for bridging rock and electronic music.

They banter about when Big Star released the seminal album #1 Record. They love vinyl but are grateful for the Internet music culture that helped them get exposure.

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Kirgo spent a semester studying music at College of the Redwoods in Humboldt County. He thought that would be the way to start a band, but the musicians he met were more into Bob Marley covers and jam sessions.

Zeile briefly attended Santa Monica College, where he made a friend who introduced him to the crew that would become Talk in Tongues. Kirgo and bassist Rector tried to recruit Zeile as their drummer, but guitar and vocals were more his style.

The trio writes Talk in Tongues' songs. Drummer De Leon rounds out the original four-piece.

Talk in Tongues
Talk in Tongues
Photo by Matt Wignall

After its first show, the band started recording in Zeile's studio, which is filled with gear he has been amassing since he was a young teenager. "We had all been in bands that had played a lot of pointless shows," Kirgo says. "With this band, we had a plan, and I think that was important."

Step one was to record music. Step two was to get the music online. When they were ready to play out again, they wanted to make sure that more than their friends were in the audience.

Talk in Tongues are at a critical point in their career. They are on the road so much that the band has become their full-time gig. After stints at several pizza joints and a deli, Kirgo said goodbye to the day-job world. Zeile quit working as a valet — "I was awful," he says — but recently signed up to be a Lyft driver, although he hadn't picked up a ride yet. De Leon also is a Lyft driver: "What other job is going to be chill with me leaving for weeks at a time, months at a time?"

Most of the members still live at home with their families. Rector jokes about how encouraging his folks have been, saying they would love to see their names in this article. "We all have really supportive parents," De Leon adds. "I feel like a lot of us get embarrassed about it. It's so much better than having a dad breathing down your neck about why you aren't in college or the Marines or something."

The sun is still out on the evening of their Bardot gig as Talk in Tongues run through soundcheck. They've been meeting up frequently in Glendale to practice, and it shows.

With a single for "Still Don't Seem to Care" already out and debut full-length Alone With a Friend ready for a May 19 release, they know that they have to nail the collection of songs live. "There was no pressure," Kirgo says, "but I think we all felt the pressure internally."

When asked if there was a time when they sucked live, the band members all answer in the affirmative. "In hindsight, we sucked," De Leon says. "After our first show, we thought we were the best band in the world."

TALK IN TONGUES | The Bootleg, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Silver Lake | Fri., May 1, 8 p.m. | $12 | foldsilverlake.com


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