Comprised of duo Sarah de Warren and Feri Gyemant, XTALK’s first single “Wasted” was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 and the duo also performed live on BBC Introducing. Despite only forming last year, XTALK have already played at various British festivals, including Kendal Calling, and have appeared at Sofar Sounds in Sheffield. The group’s electro-pop sound has drawn comparison with the likes of Massive Attack and Lamb and launched their latest single “Full Of Nothing” at Manchester venue Soup Kitchen in July.
blu: For those who don’t know the band, what are your names and what are your roles in the band?
Sarah: I write and sing the vocal parts, and I also play keys.
Feri: I’m mainly responsible for the production and also part of the writing process. I use Ableton Live and their Push controller to create a truly live music set from stems, mixing and manipulating live with added live synths.
You’ve recently formed XTALK in 2016, can you tell us a little about how you met and what made you guys decide to work together?
Sarah:+ We met at a networking event in Manchester, but were both aware of each other’s work beforehand. Feri sent me some instrumentals he’d made and one of them instantly inspired me so I wrote the vocals immediately. We turned that track around in about a week. It’s called ‘Dreams’. Seemed only natural to continue writing together due to the musical connection.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you before?
Feri: It’s very emotional with lush, atmospheric vocals. Sarah’s voice talks to every generation and everyone can relate to the lyrics. In contrast to Sarah’s vocals the music is electronic, sometimes dark with cool beats sometimes leaning towards modern dance music. However we’d still classify it as alternative / electronic pop.
Is there a story behind the name XTALK?
Sarah: Yes there is! We are both audio geeks, Feri obviously being a producer and engineer and myself having studied acoustics. ‘Crosstalk’ is the term for an audio effect between the loudspeakers and the listener, where the left channel reaches the right ear and the right channel reaches the left ear. We both liked the name but felt that using an ‘X’ would look cool, so we adapted to ‘XTALK’ (pronounced as spelt: ex – talk).
At what age did you guys first find a love of music?
Feri: I’ve been a music lover since I’ve been born. I had my first cassette deck in elementary school and was non-stop listening, finding new music, exchanging with mates. Then later when I was 12 I started to show interest in playing instruments so my mum enrolled me into a music school where I learned classical guitar. From there I played in several heavy metal bands and when I moved to Manchester in 2000, electronic music took over my life. It was only natural that I started learning programming, creating beats and sounds, so I could make all the music I loved dancing to.
Sarah: I started writing at the age of 13 but my passion really developed when I moved schools at 14, where songwriting became an essential outlet for me. I’d spend hours at the piano, weaving melodies around these incredibly emotive lyrics that seemed to come very naturally to me. I remember people being quite taken back by the complex themes in my writing! At the age of 18 I moved to Manchester and began gigging several times a week. That’s when I fell in love with music all over again, but in a totally different way; singing to a room full of strangers and feeling connected with them all.
Who did you guys grow up listening to and how have they impacted your music style today?
Feri: I used to listen to a lot of heavy metal bands – Metallica, Pantera, Machine Head, Slayer. I also listen to a lot of guitar music – Al di Meola and Paco de Lucia are my masters. However, this all changed when I started to show interest in electronic music. I’d say the biggest influence on my musical taste was by Massive Attack, Portishead, Lamb, Sasha and Digweed. Lamb is my ultimate favourite.
Sarah: I grew up on heavy stuff thanks to my older sisters. System of a Down, Placebo and Korn were my favourites and I have no doubt of their influence on my music. Ok, it sounds crazy – I know the music is so different, but all of my writing foundations lie upon dark themes, haunting melodies and moving harmonies, all of which I found in my favourite bands.
Feri, you’re from Hungary originally, do feel you bring an element of Hungarian culture to your music, and if so, do you think this is something XTALK is being recognised for among your British following?
Feri: This is a tough one because XTALK is very Western and modern. The whole writing, style and vibe is so far from anything you can hear in Hungary or would have roots in Hungarian music. Although we are currently working on a remix of a very famous Hungarian song! I don’t think XTALK will ever be recognised for any direct influence, but with this remix we’d like to honour Hungarian music!
Have the people you’ve worked with inspired you to take to the stage and perform in XTALK rather than work behind the scenes producing?
Feri: Yes, 100%. Also because I always played in live bands my goal was to deliver the same in electronic music. So yes it’s very inspiring watching others on the stage and once you’re up there making music live to which the crowd (and Sarah) respond in a positive way it’s just magical. One would only understand the feeling if you created and played music with others.
How did it feel to have your debut single ‘Wasted’ aired on BBC Radio 1?
Sarah: It came out of the blue! I read and re-read the email about a thousand times before sending Feri like 20 texts not making much sense at all. Absolutely buzzing.
Feri: I was on holiday in Malta at the hotel reception and dropped my phone when Sarah emailed me.
Have you seen a growth in your following after the exposure?
Sarah: We’ve certainly had a lot of Spotify streams following on from the airplay and we were approached to make a music video with a local university for the song. It’s turned out absolutely awesome as well, check it out:
Do you think gigs and festivals in the underground music scene offer something different to mainstream gigs?
Sarah: I think people go to underground gigs and festivals with an open mind, thinking maybe they will stumble upon their new favourite band. Mainstream gigs…well that’s where people go to hear what they already know and love. Both serve a very important purpose, but there is definitely a difference!