Jive Talk leaves it all on the dance floor. As Covid vaccines rolled out in 2021 and music venues across the country reopened, the Nashville-based quintet hit the road and their popularity exploded on the live music circuit. You can see their extravaganza of a live show for yourself on Tuesday when they play at Purgatory in Bushwick (you know, where you go when heaven is full and hell is just too damn hot). This will be their first-ever Brooklyn gig.
Friends Oliver Pierce and Isaac Middleton created Jive Talk 10 years ago while in college, and five years in, Middleton’s childhood friend Ben Dunn joined. And last year, Philip Walker and Andrés Ahogado rounded out the group.
The band ham it up and tear it down on stage at every show — Pierce doesn’t just chew the scenery, he devours it — in a spectacle you have to experience for yourself.
Jive Talk’s sound is like The Killers meet the Talking Heads (minus the sometimes-inflated ego that comes with stadium rock and performance art). If you’re not being a wallflower at their shows, chances are you come into direct physical contact with Pierce as he cavorts off stage. Plugged in and behind the drum kit, Ahogado, Middleton, Dunn, and Walker keep a sexy backbeat and groove moving while Oliver sweats it out across the venue.
Ahead of their show in Bushwick on Tuesday, the members of Jive Talk joined Brooklyn Magazine over Zoom to talk about their show at Purgatory, a shooting that happened outside a venue in Mobile, Alabama, why Pierce puts more energy into a show with 20 people than he does for bigger crowds, and the new music they have in the works.
Here’s our conversation with Jive Talk, edited for clarity and flow. You can also download an exclusive live recording of their song “The Gardener” just for Brooklyn Magazine readers.
How did you link up with Purgatory in Brooklyn?
Philip Walker (drums/vocals): We’re supporting The Districts on a few shows this fall, that’s why we’re heading up to New York in the first place. We were hunting for day to fill on an off day, and somewhere between heaven and hell, our agent found Purgatory.
Are you familiar with the venue? They have drag shows, spoken word, etc.
Oliver Pierce (lead vocals/guitar): It’s more like a performance art space, which I think is really dope. With a name like Purgatory, you can’t just be a bar.
What are some things people can expect from a Jive Talk show?
Pierce: You should expect the unexpected. Don’t expect the expected.
Walker: I think for now, one thing you can always expect that Oliver will be sweating.
Pierce: I will be sweating. I do like to move a lot. I think the main thing to expect is to be engaged. I like connecting. We’re all there, together, experiencing this thing that will not be the same again. It’s a fleeting moment and in Brooklyn we’re going to share this special space together on Tuesday and have really a good time.
Ben Dunn (bass/vocals): We have a semi-setlist that we float around, but every night is different. I don’t think we phone it in like that. We like to keep changing it up, adding things, taking things away, and trying new parts to keep it fresh for ourselves.
Have you played shows in Brooklyn before?
Pierce: It’s our first one, baby. I lived in New York for three years, but I was in Inwood in Manhattan. So Brooklyn was a bit of a hike. I didn’t spend too much time there but I did see a couple shows in Brooklyn.
Andrés Ahogado (guitar/synth/vocals): Yeah! I love Brooklyn. My brother lives in Brooklyn. So I go there a lot. I love it. Big fan.
Pierce: Go Mets! That’s what I say.
What’s the story behind your name?
Pierce: The band started off as a bedroom project 10 years ago with Isaac and me in college. I was big into the Bee Gees growing up and their song “Jive Talkin’,” and I was like hey, I don’t see anyone else with this name, we’ll just use it for now. And here we are still using it.
Who writes the music, who writes the lyrics?
Pierce: I write most of the lyrics and the music comes from a lot of different places, but it’s usually fully fleshed out by Isaac, our multi-instrumentalist. Then we throw it into a mishmash at the studio. It’s been fun at the live shows to have Andrés’s take on these songs that we finished a couple of years ago, adding a synth line or a guitar riff or, and when Phil adds a different feel on the drum section.
What’s everyone’s favorite musician or band?
Dunn: I’m a big fan of The War on Drugs. I listen to them all the time and I just got to see them at the Ryman Auditorium when they were in Nashville. They’re really good live, they’re really good in the studio. They work with amazing producers to get great sounds.
Pierce: Mine’s probably The National.
Walker: My favorite musician is probably Paul Simon.
Everyone: [Oohs and ahhs.]
Isaac Middleton (guitar/synth/vocals): My favorite band is Mew. They’re a Danish band from the early 2000s, but they’re still doing stuff now. They’re awesome.
Jive Talk is a very visual band. On stage you wear oversized t-shirts, overalls or tracksuits and the you use bright neons. What are some movies or visuals that inspire you?
Middleton: I would say for me the Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense.” Their performance was super impactful for me pretty early on about performance art when it comes to bands.
Walker: Favorite movie? I love “Heavyweights.” It’s a good one.
Pierce: My favorite movie is “Synecdoche; New York.”
Ahogado: That’s a heavy movie. For me it’s “Enter the Void.”
Dunn: That’s a depressing movie. Mine is “There Will Be Blood.” I’m pretty big fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies.
At a show in April, the band came on stage to a pre-recorded track and did a great synchronized dance to open the show. Whose idea was that?
Pierce: I choreographed it. I whipped these boys in the shape! No, Isaac and me did musical theater in college and that influences a lot of the things we do on stage and our presence. For that show, we recorded a little overdub track to dance to. We usually do our shows in some kind of uniform to make us all feel connected and that we’re clocking in to work.
I was at your show in Mobile …
Pierce: Remember the shooting outside the venue right before the show? People were running.
Yeah, I was on the balcony when that happened. I don’t think anyone was shot, though. Right after the show, Oliver jumped off stage, left the venue and ran around the streets. Is that what it takes for you to come down from a performance?
Pierce: There weren’t a lot of people at that show, and for some reason during those kinds of shows, I give more than if there were 5,000 people at the show. I don’t know what that says about me, but I was really out of breath after that one and I had to jog to come down.
You’ve done a ton of shows in the last 18 months. With the band trying to go full time, how do you balance it with your lives back in Nashville?
Pierce: Being in a band is like a full time job that you kind of get paid for sometimes. We all have different hats that we wear. So we divvy up the responsibility, on top of handling the wife and kids and the cats. Phil is our day to day manager, who keeps us professional and on top of our deadlines. Big shout out to Phil for doing that.
Everyone: [Golf claps for Walker.]
Middleton: Ben works as tour manager when we’re on the road, which is also very helpful.
Everyone: [Golf claps for Dunn.]
Pierce: I don’t do anything. I work at a coffee shop and and watch a lot of good TV shows. It’s hard to balance that, I’ll tell you that right now.
Middleton: We all work service industry jobs except Phil. We’re all barbacks or kitchen people by day, just doing whatever we have to do to make it work.
Walker: I work in music booking and I’ll do freelance event production. Random side hustle stuff, but yeah, booking is what I do day to day.
Pierce: The goal is to get this on its feet enough and moving to where we don’t have to do that and can devote our whole mind, body, and spirit into making this even better and going out on the road even more.
How are people finding you and your music?
Pierce: I think word of mouth is how people are finding us. We played in Atlanta recently, and to see a handful of people singing your words and music back to you is really cool. In terms of like playlisting or Spotify or stream numbers, they’re not crazy or anything, so I would have to say the biggest factor is people coming to the live show and bringing two friends to the next one.