It’s been a little over two years since the Neptune City-based group Smalltalk stormed upon the local scene. Comprised of Zak Kaplan (vocals, guitar), Jamie Goldfarb (drums), John Chladnicek (bass), Tara Jones (vocals, percussion) and Pete Steinkopf (guitar), the band harkens back to a pre-Brit-pop era of 80’s UK romanticism. A cross between indie-pop and post-punk, Smalltalk list darker guitar-driven acts like The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Jesus and Mary Chain among others as chief influencers.
“John Peel once said ‘The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the ‘Rock n’ Roll’ era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong.’ I would never dispute that. The 1980s, the UK, guitars; those are some of the big influences,” shares Kaplan, who is the contributor of the quotes presented throughout this piece.
In the years leading up to the formation of Smalltalk, Kaplan refined the tools he would later draw from playing in varying styles of bands.
“When I was 14 I was one-half of an acoustic folk rock duo. We were like a teenage boy version of the Indigo Girls except we sang a few octaves higher than them because we hadn’t hit puberty yet. When I turned 17 I got a car and started going to hardcore shows at the Stone Pony; I saw a ‘punk’ band in 1995 called Worthless, I ended up joining that band a year later and did that for the better part of a decade. It totally ruined my life. After that, and during, I played with a number of other groups – now I croon in Smalltalk.”
Smalltalk’s debut LP, Plus!, is the culmination of four three-song EPs released steadily from April of 2014 to August of 2015. The album teems with shimmering, lush textures amidst driving punk or slow burn structures as the band takes stock of real life changes and their own roots.
“My relationships with all the guys in Smalltalk go back pretty far. I’ve known Pete, Jamie, and John for 20 years now – we all come out of the 90s New Brunswick punk scene, we’ve all played together in other bands together in the past or have had other musical dealings through the years.”
It was “Geography and dark times” that initially brought Smalltalk together. “Lots of breakups and stuff to write mopey songs about. Jamie, Pete, and I were all living on the same street, so it was kinda like a recovery group. A lot has changed since then, most of us are in better places now, I’m sure the music will suffer as a result.”
Although more settled since their formation, Smalltalk bring a sense of urgency to everything they do. Whether in their great live performances or their recording output, the lovelorn anthems and ballads in the Smalltalk’s repertoire are the marks of a group with no time for presenting anything else than what they were feeling in the moment.
“Since we started, this band has been very collaborative; I think the longer we do it, the better we get at collaborating, and as a result the songs get better too – at least that’s the hope.
We didn’t have a plan when we started recording what would become the first EP. Initially, we were just going to record one song, that turned into three, we didn’t have a band name yet. We started recording the second EP before we released the first one before we played our first show.
When we were finishing up the third EP we really started to see this as a collection being formed and it was only on the fourth EP that there was any thought given to tying it together in a cohesive way.”
The fact that these four EPs blend so seamlessly together without planning on combining them from the outset speaks to just how well Smalltalk works with their aesthetic. Plus!, and the band’s sound, is cinematic in a way as it manages to arrange its emotional arcs like a Screenwriter would. As to whether there are any underlying differences in thematics from EP to EP, that is for you to parse out, dear listener.
“I don’t think there are any changes – I mean there are, but none that I would divulge.”
Plus! is available in several formats including a run of special vinyl LPs.
“We used a custom die-cut jacket that exposed these nostalgic floral patterns on the inner-sleeves, then by inserting the inner-sleeves in different ways, it created the appearance of multiple versions – there were corresponding vinyl colors dependent on what version way being displayed on the front. We’re very fancy.”
With that sense of urgency, Smalltalk managed to release twelve excellent tracks in waves over the course of a year, well, plus. With a new crop of changes, Kaplan welcomed a daughter last Fall, things are bound to be at least a little different for Smalltalk moving forward.
“To be honest, I don’t know. There is really no reason for us to repeat ourselves. We have a bunch of new songs, that’s about as far as we’ve gotten so far.”
The future and recent past all look bright for Smalltalk with Plus! set as an instant classic for us all to enjoy now, and for a crate digger to hopefully stumble upon and draw inspiration from someday.
Be sure to catch Smalltalk live as they’ll be playing the Asbury Lanes Family Pop Up Series at Parlor Gallery with Pkew Pkew Pkew and The Great America Satan on May 14th and Asbury Park Yacht Club with DJ Values on May 28th.