We chat to drummer Max Portnoy and vocalist Justin Bonitz about the birth and development of one of heavy music's most potent new bands.
If you are familiar with Tallah, you will know what an incredible, intoxicating and bludgeoning intense beast they are. If you aren't familiar, now is the time to get acquainted.
Combining the sheer brute force of hardcore with the discomforting atmosphere and unhinged attitude of nu-metal, the band aim to prod and probe at all of the extremes that life has to offer, perfectly represented by their debut full-length 'Matriphagy', a concept record detailing the exploits of a son pushed to the edge of insanity by his abusive mother and eventually snapping in the most stomach-churning way imaginable, which was released last year via Earache Records.
And this is just the beginning.
Though before the next step, we went right back to the start with drummer Max Portnoy and vocalist Justin Bonitz to find out how one of heavy music's most exciting bands came to be...
So where do the roots of Tallah lie? What were the first inklings of what this band could be?
Max: “I didn’t even meet Justin till a day before our first show, so that’s how things were at the beginning. Though I started putting it together in September of 2017. I knew Cooper [Bass} and Derrick [Schneider, guitar] previously. Derrick was in my old band and Cooper was in the scene with some of his other bands. There were a few different line-ups but we cycled through a bunch of people. The root was that I just wanted to start this really heavy band. I didn’t have a specific type in mind, I just knew that I wanted it to be heavy but still structured. It was when I started writing that it ended up becoming this nu-core thing.
“I knew Justin just through YouTube. We started talking through email and he did his vocals to the songs we had in a week. He then drove down to Pennsylvania and we played our first show.”
Justin, what was it like entering into a band like this? What was it that excited you about it?
Justin: “In the beginning, it all felt pretty normal. Max just sent the instrumentals and said that I could create a concept to go along with it. It didn’t really get magical for me until that time that I drove down and we practised. Until then I had only been in really crappy local bands. So sitting there and thinking, ‘These guys are professionals’ was pretty amazing. Everything sounded so tight and everyone was so into the music. It was immediately where I felt like I belonged.”
So did the pieces of making it look and feel like Tallah come in more and more as time went on?
Max: “I knew the vibe that I want. I knew I wanted it to be dark and heavy but structured in a way where we are able to still have choruses. ‘Placenta’ was the first full song, and that was when I got the specific vibe of how it was going to be. Once I was thinking within the confines of that vibe and atmosphere, the rest came quickly after it.
“So we had the EP ‘No One Should Read This’, which was ‘Placenta’, We, The Sad’, ‘Cottonmouth’, ‘Kungan’ and ‘Red Light’. They were tracks we had before Justin joined or even knew about the band. So after that and when we started working with Earache, that’s when we turned it into a full-length. I definitely knew what was going on by that point, so it was easier to get those last six songs down and personally I think they came out a little bit better.”
So what do you remember about that first show? What was it like all being together in the same space for the first time before then taking to the stage and playing together…
Max: “It was great, just because we didn’t know what the fuck we were going to do if we didn’t have a vocalist. Everyone was tweaking out, but in the back of my head, I knew we would figure it out. So it was around Christmas that we started writing and working with Justin and then that’s when we asked if he wanted to come and play. I still think it’s crazy that he drove all the way from Massachusetts to meet and play with us strangers.”
Justin: “A six and a half hour drive. It was so weird. I didn’t even know if they were going to sound good live or not. I just listened to the demos and wrote to them. The show was on January 07 as well so it was so quick. It was like I was studying for a test, trying to remember all of the words and singing them on my way down there.
“So I had a following on YouTube already, so we had fans already. People came out for the first show, like four of five people, who came just for us even without any music out. Then there were a bunch of people there who wanted to see Max as well. It felt so awesome.”
Max: “The first time we rehearsed was so awesome too. We had auditioned some other vocalists before and it never worked out, but I had been looking for someone who had that crazy energy that matched how everyone else felt. The moment we started playing with Justin it just felt like it was the perfect fit. It was very reassuring having that.”
So how did you set about bringing this dark and diabolical story to life through the music?
Justin: “I basically wrote out a story for a whole album when Max first contacted me. That’s when I first asked if I could write a concept album, simply because I like doing them and I find it easier to write songs when I have an overarching idea of what’s going on. All Max said to me was, ‘Just make it dark’, and I was like, ‘Oh, I can do that’. When we found out that we were going to turn all of the songs we had on the EP into ‘Matriphagy’, I bought a lot of the parts that I had to throw away initially back and then expanded on other ones. It was a lot easier when we were expanding because Max knew what order the songs would be going in and put these musical themes in places. So the breakdown at the end of ‘No One Should Read This’ sounds like the beginning of ‘Placenta’, so I would do a lyrical throwback to ‘Placenta’ in ‘No One Should Read This’. When the music started to follow a concept on its own, it made it even easier for me to write.”
To play with music, be it instruments or your voice, in such a way adds such depth to things that the bare-bones look minuscule in comparison to the finished product…
Justin: “I’ve been making music on my own since 2006, so I’m pretty used to hearing my own voice back and knowing what I’m capable of. So adding that to this incredible display of musicianship was the icing on the cake of the band, but actually hearing the cake come together with all of these other elements was so cool.”
So what has it been like watching people dive into this album and dissect all of those pieces that you have toyed with and worked on?
Max: "Being able to get something out which is 100% true to our vision and what we wanted to do is really good. Everybody has been loving it really. The last show that we played before everything changed was packed. It was in Massachusetts, so kind of like our hometown despite having five different hometowns, but there were people there who knew the songs and knew what we were about. Now we can only check out reactions through the Internet.”
Justin: “Yet reactions through the Internet are cool as well. When people make reaction videos to our songs, I always wish I could make a reaction to their reaction. It’s always so awesome seeing people dig us like that.”
With people having to sit down and listen to these songs more intently than if they were at a show, have you noticed them delving deeper into this gruesome world than you imagined?
Max: “We went into this with that vibe in mind, so when people tell us they have found a certain thing within it then that’s the vibe we were going for.”
Justin: “I know that people are getting the full story in this personal way, but when you’re able to see this band and these songs live then that’s when it becomes chaos incarnate. Everything you have been listening to, you’re now going to see us perform. When you see me become the character and you see Max standing on his drumkit during the middle of a breakdown and everything is even heavier and louder, it’s almost like right now the fans are only getting half of the experience right now.”
The fact that when you play these songs you also become these songs is another huge element of this. You’re not just playing music. You’re living it...
Max: “Something that me and Justin have talked about from the very beginning is that we don’t want our shows to ever just be a bunch of dudes playing their songs on stage. We want it to feel like a full show and a full experience. We make sure that there is more to it than what you would get just listening to the record on its own.”
Justin: “When we’re playing live, and especially when you know the story and what the songs are about, we’ve had people say to us that they were afraid. People have been upfront and said that had to move to the back because they didn’t know if someone was going to come offstage and get them. They don’t know what’s going to happen but they can’t take their eyes off us.”
Now, this piece of the band is out there forever, what do you feel as though your intentions are for Tallah as you move forwards?
Max: “I think that we are a much better band than we were at the beginning now. Being around each other for the last year or so has helped the chemistry to develop.”
Justin: “The chemistry is a lot better now.”
Max: “There’s also a better idea of what to actually do next because of that. Me and Justin already know what the next album looks like. It’s pretty much done, without saying too much.”
Justin: “It hasn’t been recorded, but we have pretty much all of the songs have been demoed and are ready to go.”
Max: “So there’s much more of an idea of where we can go, rather than where we were at the start and it being all over the place as we just wanted to go stuff out there.”
Justin: “Everything is more full now. It’s not a guessing game anymore. We know what we want to do and we know how to do it. We have all the key factors in place and it’s all going to be recorded at once. Right now it feels like we’re a loaded gun. This band has a whole lot of frustration that they’re waiting to get out. We’re ready to go.”
And how does it feel to have a creative outlet such as Tallah in your lives now?
Max: "For me, it feels like something that I need to do. I don’t know what the energy is that I need to get out, but it’s always just there. Tallah allows me to do that."
Justin: "Everybody needs something that they are working towards, and for us it’s Tallah. It’s this continuous mountain climb where you reach the top of one and go, ‘Woah, look at all of these other mountains!’ It’s not over yet by any stretch. Everybody needs something to make them excited to wake up in the morning.”
The band have just launched their own Patreon page, featuring tonnes of exclusive merch and content. You can find out more about it right HERE