Over the phone from her home in Orillia, Ont., Elizabeth Powell pauses when asked to describe the feeling she had of returning to the stage after a seven-year hiatus.
“It’s just too moving,” she says. “That’s all I can say.”
By music industry standards, it’s been a curiously long time since Land of Talk last released its last album, 2010’s excellent Cloak and Cipher. Powell formed Land of Talk in 2006 as one of the country’s most talked-about indie bands, and then, at what was seemingly the height of her band’s popularity in 2011, Land of Talk seemed to all but disappear from the musical landscape.
It wasn’t until last year that Powell started to slowly emerge from exile, playing a handful of shows and posting messages on social media hinting at new music to come.
In talking to her, it’s clear that Powell's absence can be attributed to no single event, but rather a culmination of things. After releasing the band's 2006 debut EP, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, Bucky Wheaton, the original drummer for the band, left for personal reasons. After releasing the band's breakthrough album, Some Are Lakes, in 2008, Powell lost her voice, suffering a hemorrhagic vocal polyp. And then, after releasing Cloak and Cipher in 2010, Powell lost all her working demos to a crashed hard drive. All of this, combined with a general disenchantment with the music industry, led to an extended hiatus in 2011.
“I just wasn’t really inspired,” she says. “I was just working a job and trying to live what I thought was a normal life. But, there’s no such thing as a normal life, as I quickly found out.”
In 2013, Powell was hit with the news that her father had suffered a stroke, and returned home to focus her energies on helping him recover. She soon found that the meditative sounds of classical, ambient and Japanese tonkori music greatly aided in his recovery process. These mantra-like sounds also started to influence her own approach to songwriting, as she found herself building tracks from hummed melodies and programmed loops. However, while she was starting to make music again, Powell wasn't sure if she’d ever be able to make it back onstage.
“I wanted to make music and do it in public again,” she explains, “but I just didn’t know for the life of me how to do it. I didn’t think I had the tools to re-enter. I felt like I had this pipe dream but I didn’t want to let go of it.”
Eventually, after reuniting with Wheaton — and with some help from Sharon Van Etten (who can also be heard harmonizing on the album) and producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth) — Powell hammered out the song “This Time,” which eventually served as a thematic centre point for the album.
When you hear Powell sing the chorus — “I don't wanna waste it this time/ do you see the fate that's the end of me?/ I don't wanna waste it, my life/ to think it was in front of me” — it’s hard not to hear the catharsis in her voice. And it seems to have an immediate connection with audiences when she performs it.
“When we play it live, it’s so uplifting. You can feel the room lighten up a bit. People close their eyes.”
While the songs on Life After Youth may have started from a more meditative place, the album is packed with catchy indie-rock gems, from the soaring, gorgeous opener “Yes, You Were,” to the shimmering jam “Loving,” to the sweetly sentimental “In Florida.” Throughout the album you can hear the optimism and gratitude woven through the songs.
Powell performed several well-received comeback shows in 2016, including dates at the Bowery Ballroom and Baby’s All Right in New York (which instantly sold out). That fans remembered her and received her back with open arms was something of a surprise.
“I remember after the New York show feeling really overwhelmed and crying out on the street,” Powell says. “I was just so moved. It’s been a really great learning experience. I can’t believe it. I feel like [while I was away] the music was still doing the work and letting me have a break. People were still listening to it, and that’s probably the coolest thing, that my music is still out there.”
She pauses. “I kind of lost sight of that.”
We have Life After Youth streaming here a week ahead of its release date. Pre-order it here. Land of Talk will be headlining a North American tour starting on June 12 in Montreal. See tour dates here.