The Saturday night downpour at this year’s Building Man Festival was heavy enough to deal a fatal blow to any DJ’s laptop on the nearby Solar Saucer (that solar-powered spaceship-looking contraption often seen around town at farmer’s markets, Gallery Stroll and Park Silly Sundays). Umbrellas were getting blown inside out, and shoes were soggy.
But then there was Talia Keys, spitfire tomboy girl, drumming and singing vivaciously with her band, Marinade on the Main Stage. Live music, oh yeah, much more doable in a drizzle, but still an endurance test. “There was literally an inch of water on my drums, and I was wiping off my cymbals after every song. We could’ve stopped, but we decided, everybody’s already wet, let’s just have a wet show!” says Talia of Marinade’s rainy performance.
Talia, front man of reggae/funk band Marinade made us forget it was pouring with the choicest remedy for the crowd’s rain-induced slump: body-moving, soul-grooving, energy-improving live music. And a dash of Talia’s political opinions and well-spoken public service announcements (“Girls, stop peeing on the damn porta potty seats! Sit down!”). We’ll get to that later.
Self-taught on drums, vocals, guitar and bass, Talia received her first instrument when she was in the fourth grade: a drum set her mom bought for her from Sears. At 16, Talia was covering songs from Sublime and Bob Marley when she got her first guitar. Her hobby evolved into playing at house parties and regular gigs at local venues such as the Hog Wallow Pub, the Green Pig and Pat’s BBQ. When she was 22, she decided that music could be her career, not just her hobby. Now, just turning 30, between putting out a new EP, working on three different music projects and performing with all three, she’s got a full time job – or a few. Her gigs have been so regular, up until last year she would often lose her voice, prompting her girlfriend to gift her four voice lessons for Christmas, Talia’s only vocal training unless you count singing along in church.
“Music is what gave me my confidence,” says Talia, who describes her young self as a shy, sport-playing, Catholic-school-going, bowl-cut wearing Elvis impersonator. She claims she is still very shy, and by her down-to-earth off-stage presence, and her rock star on-stage presence, you start to get the idea she has quite a duality to her. Not surprisingly, she’s a Gemini. “As soon as I get on stage I’m a different person. Something takes over I don’t really know how to explain.” Her unique onstage charisma and sassy vocals have a way of caputring the audience.
“I remember the first time I saw Talia play with Marinade,” says longtime fan Mason Collins. “She had this really raw, beautiful thing going on. It immediately grabbed me. I love the band, but I’m specifically drawn to her energy,”
Consisting of Keys, band mates James Trevino aka Dad (bass), Jimmy Lauscher (guitar) and Spencer Kellogg (saxophone), Marinade has been playing together since they haphazardly formed, playing funky reggae music gigs at Salt Lake house parties in 2009. Talia also plays guitar and sings in the recently formed rock band, Lady Legs; also in the group is Rick Gerber on keys and vocals; Jeremy Whitesides on guitar; Josh Olson on bass, and Nate Barkdull on drums and vocals.
Now Talia is revving up to release her next EP, her first solo effort, fittingly named Gemini Mind. Lady Legs and Marinade headline the album release show this month at the State Room, with Michelle Moonshine (acoustic) and Grits Green (hip hop) opening. The EP release kicks off a busy summer for Talia: playing with local women musicians Mary Tebbs, Secily Saunders, and Bronwen Beecher in a “female super group” at the Utah Pride Festival in June, going with the Jenkstars to Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Michigan, and embarking on her first solo tour for a month in the Southeast United States.
Audience members in the South on this summer’s tour don’t know what’s coming. Talia is not afraid of speaking her mind on and off stage, even if it draws mixed reviews. “I’m outspoken about human rights. I’m very open that I have a girlfriend.” At Building Man 2014, her audience cheered when she spoke enthusiastically about the state’s 10 days in December when same-sex marriage rights were legal, and all the work that’s left to do. But Talia regularly deals with plenty of criticism.
During a recent show at the Spur in Park City, she called out an audience member and his girlfriend who were rolling their eyes at her remarks on human and gay rights. They got up and left. “You can’t win them all,” she says.
The first night at a packed house show in Keystone, Colorado, Talia talked about human rights, leaving out anything personal about being gay. “Nobody seemed offended by what I was saying,” says Talia, “You can tell when people are feeling you and when people aren’t.”
But the bar owner pulled her aside the next day. “I felt like I was getting called into the principal’s office. He said, ‘People from all over the world come here. If you talk about the things you were talking about [last night], you’re going to piss people off.’ Part of me wanted to pack up and leave and drive back to Salt Lake that night. Stuff like that makes me so sad because it just keeps breeding closed minds,” says Talia. “He said, ‘You need to clean it up or we won’t have you back.’ Alright, we probably won’t book another show there, because it’s not a good fit.”
There are two political songs on her new six-set EP, Gemini Mind. The first, titled “Scary Tales,” has satirically happy-go-lucky saxophone instrumentals, yet her lyrics get deep on the lies we tell our kids about simple happily-ever-after’s. After references to Happy Meals, shooting games, blaming the musicians, Fox News, corporate greed and our fear-based economy, the chorus writes them off with a soulful, caramel-voiced, irony-soaked Lalalala and you know it’s just like that. We gonna paint them fairy tale lies just like that. Talia says opening the EP with this song is a risk. “People might hear it and say, ‘Oh, we don’t need this.’ But somebody’s got to say it.”
Back at last month’s Building Man, Talia’s live music performance was winning over electronic music fans such as Michelle Loomis. “I love the message she portrayed. Her tight-knit family band had us all hopping around and getting down to funky-tastic beats.” As the wife of James Loomis, (DJ Illoom), the well-known DJ in the Salt Lake City bass music scene, Loomis has lately paid more attention to the electronic dance music scene than to live music. “The experience revived my desire to be at live shows.” Michelle voiced her appreciation to Talia later that night, during her husband’s set.
“That’s what I’m out here to do,” says Talia, thrilled by Loomis’ praise. “I want to keep people inspired by live bands. The whole DJ/EDM movement is great, but at the risk of sounding like a complete dick, it’s so programmed and perfect. It’s computer generated. Those DJs play those songs, there’s not gonna to be a mistake in the middle of it. There’s not gonna be someone laughing in the middle of it because something funny happens. Nobody’s gonna tell a story about acid at Desert Rocks.”
Talia sometimes worries that live music is becoming an endangered species. But if she keeps re-converting the wives of DJs and rained-out EDM-lovers back to live music, she’s definitely making progress. As for playing and voicing her political opinions for conservative crowds, we’ll have to check back with her when she returns home from her tour in the South at the end of July, and see what tales she has to tell of her adventures.
Talia’s EP Release Party
Who: Talia Keys with Marinade & Lady Legs.
Opening: Lady Moonshine and Grits Green.
Where: The State Room,
636 So. State St.
When: June 19.
Doors at 7, show at 8.
Admission: $10. (21 and over)