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With their third album, Talk Of The Town (Snap!! Records/Hurrah! Musica/Beluga Records, 2022), The Speedways have firmly established themselves as one of the most exciting and talented acts on the international power pop scene. Pretty impressive considering the U.K. band originally launched as a reluctant solo project for Matt Julian (guitar/vocals), formerly of The Breakdowns.
“The first (Speedways) album, Just Another Regular Summer (2018), was very different because I played and sang all the parts so it was a one-man show kinda thing, and even though I had my producer Tony Foster to bounce ideas off, it was a pretty lonely experience. I was really intense and insecure about it. That’s why I sat on it for a while, I was too nervous to play it to anyone,” Julian told me in the interview below.
The current line up came together with the band’s stunning second release, Radio Sounds (2020), including Maura Venegas (guitar/vocals), Adrian Alfonso (bass/vocals) and Kris Hood (drums). On Talk Of The Town, the talented quartet added Venegas and Alfonso to the songwriting credits, and supercharged their huge choruses with screaming guitars.
“Everyone brought in really strong songs and we also had our producer Jez Leather on board right from the demo/rehearsal stage so that he would be familiar with the material by the time of recording,” Julian said.
Stand out Talk Of The Town tracks include “Secret Secrets,” “Shoulda Known,” “A Drop In The Ocean” and “A Song Called Jayne & A Lie Called Love,” all four delivering masterclasses in modern power pop songcraft.
Key influences are on display throughout these 13 tracks—ranging from Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe to The Kinks and Flamin’ Groovies, even occasionally veering into classic rock territory in the Sloan vein—but those winks and nods play more like an invitation to the guitar pop party than any kind of overt revivalism.
“We like to see people dance. And of course we love ’80s pop and new wave so the synths were out again. We recorded the drums ‘live’ with the full band too, so that really adds power to the pop. We were all bringing in ideas (nicking bits) from all sorts of different bands and artists. It was good fun.”
I caught up with Julian by email as the band prepares for some 2023 European tour dates.
Congrats on another great album. How did Talk Of The Town come together?
Matt Julian: Cheers Steve! Fairly straightforward really in terms of the process—we all had songs and shared the demos around. We couldn’t rehearse much during 2021 for various reasons, so when we did we were really focused. I think we had about 15 or 16 songs kicking around between us until we settled on which ones would make up the album. We began tracking in early 2022. I had a dream that The Speedways released a record called Talk Of The Town and a year or so later we did!
How did your approach to this album differ from The Speedways’ previous releases?
Matt Julian: Obviously the first album, Just Another Regular Summer, was very different because I played and sang all the parts so it was a one-man show kinda thing, and even though I had my producer Tony Foster to bounce ideas off, it was a pretty lonely experience. I was really intense and insecure about it. That’s why I sat on it for a while, I was too nervous to play it to anyone.
Radio Sounds was the first full band record where thankfully I had Mauro, Adrian and Kris on board. I think it still felt like the second half of the initial project though, where as Talk Of The Town really is a new chapter and a proper band at work. I’m really proud of all three records for different reasons.
Many of the tracks on this album are firmly rooted in power pop, but the songwriting and performances seem to spread their wings a little. Was that by design?
Matt Julian: It was, yeah, 100%. I think we wanted the guitars to feature more prominently this time around. Also, we’re all big Soul music fans, it’s on heavy rotation in the van, so it was cool to let the bass guitar really shine on tracks like “Secret Secrets” and the title track.
We like to see people dance.
And of course we love ’80s pop and new wave so the synths were out again.
We recorded the drums ‘live’ with the full band too, so that really adds power to the pop.
We were all bringing in ideas (nicking bits) from all sorts of different bands and artists.
It was good fun.
Matt Julian: It contributes a great deal, of course. It gives a fresh perspective and attitude. Everyone brought in really strong songs and we also had our producer Jez Leather on board right from the demo/rehearsal stage so that he would be familiar with the material by the time of recording. He was as crucial to everything as ever!
Ultimately it all sounded very ‘Speedways’ though—even when it didn’t, if that makes sense? Like the song “Weekend 155” is really different for us, but it still sounds like us. I like that about this record.
The Speedways serve up note-perfect power pop, but the band also seems keenly aware of the genre’s pub rock roots. Is that accurate?
Matt Julian: I mean, yeah, the Stiff Records stuff in particular is a big influence. Wreckless Eric’s ‘Whole Wide World’ was an anthem for me when I made Regular Summer. We all love Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer, Graham Parker, as well as Squeeze and Eddie & The Hot Rods. You know the names.
I don’t know as they would all strictly come under the ‘Pub Rock’ umbrella, but I reckon it’s close enough. I think what stops us being full on in that style is our love of the American side of things equally.
Talk Of The Town songs like “Secret Secrets,” “Shoulda Known” and “A Song Called Jayne & A Lie Called Love” are some of the best power pop songs I’ve heard in recent memory. What’s the trick to writing a great hook?
Matt Julian: Thanks a lot. For me it’s having a great title. Once you have that you can start to picture the song. I really like to have an accompanying image to go with a new song, like a makeshift record sleeve. For example, I had a picture of Julie Christie waiting in line at the supermarket and I wrote the piano intro to “Weekend 155” to fit that image. I use locations in my songs all the time too so you can picture where we are.
I know that doesn’t really answer the question about hooks, I think for me it’s about familiarity and sticking to the rules if you want a good chorus.
You’ve just gotta listen to The Beatles and you’ll be fine.
Matt Julian: Yeah, I’m sure we have similar record collections to them, and draw from familiar places!
In terms of other Power Pop bands, Uni Boys are ace and seem to be doing really well. I hope they come over to the UK. The Whiffs and The Reflectors are often mentioned alongside us is reviews or whatever. I love both of those. Alvilda from France have put out a great record and they’re brilliant live too. We played a secret show with them in Madrid earlier this year and they’ve been over to London as well. Baby Shakes are still the very best at what they do. They’ve been a big part of the Speedways story and are good pals of the band. The Number Ones of course…there’s a bunch
The opening of “Drop In The Ocean” really brings a smile to my face as it briefly travels from The Kinks to Flamin’ Groovies before settling into something more akin to Elvis Costello. What was the inspiration for that one?
Matt Julian: Nice one! Thanks. It’s actually the oldest song on the album. I wrote it when we needed a final song for Radio Sounds, but I’d also just started writing ‘In A World Without Love’ too and that was more of what we needed.
The inspiration was my regular inspiration at the time.
I don’t remember why I threw a Kinks riff into the mix. I can absolutely hear the Flamin’ Groovies in the jangle and I’m giving it my best Elvis Costello for sure! But it’s never intentional. I think I just naturally phrase words like him perhaps? I get it a lot, it’s a really cool compliment though.
Matt Julian: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s definitely become our second home. It’s nice to have an audience and genuine interest in the band. The people love to party and have fun. It’s a very different vibe. It’s something I’ve wondered for a while—why the scene is such a hot-spot for bands—I don’t really have an answer, but we appreciate that it exists!
Any other favorite countries to tour? Where would The Speedways like to tour?
Matt Julian: We haven’t toured outside of Spain really, although we’ve been over to Germany a couple of times, which is great, and we played Sweden for the first time this year too which was a really cool experience.
Next year we have a few more European trips planned which we’ll be announcing soon. In terms of everything we do—physical sales, Youtube views, downloads, etc.—Spain and the United States are always number 1 and 2, so America is absolutely the dream. We would love to go there but it’s a hell of a task to arrange. Fingers crossed it will happen one day. Japan is the other wish.
By comparison, what’s the power pop scene like in England these days?
Matt Julian: Kinda the same as it has been for a while to be honest! I don’t know as there are any new kids in town. I’d love to see a good young UK band come along with great songs and style.
Our guitar player Mauro runs a club night called ‘Some Weird Sin’ who have an annual Power Pop Weekender. Speedways are kinda the house band I guess (and why not?), but bands fly over from everywhere to play it. It’s definitely one of the highlights each year.
Last question: What are five songs that are in heavy rotation for you right now?
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