White Hot Guilt is the side project of Josh Warburton (July Talk) and Toronto producer Thomas D’Arcy (Small Sins/Bros./Tommy Hawkins). On their self-titled debut EP, the pair delves deep into various forms of dance music, blending the past—Warburton’s smooth Bee Gees-esque vocals and Motown-ish horns—with the contemporary—percussive analogue synths reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem. However, overriding everything is White Hot Guilt’s commitment to having fun.
Warburton and D’Arcy met while working at Toronto’s Dream House studios many years ago. At the time, Warburton was struggling to overcome substance abuse issues, while D’Arcy was aiming to quit the life of a touring musician and concentrate on becoming a full-time producer/co-writer. After a year of these life changes taking hold, the pair found mutual inspiration in making positive-themed music together, and White Hot Guilt was born.
They are extending that positivity by donating proceeds of the EP’s sales to SKETCH, a Toronto-based community-arts-development initiative that creates equitable opportunities for young homeless and on the margins people from across Canada to experience the transformative power of the arts. Find out more at whitehotguilt.com.
What made this the right time for the two of you to make this record?
Shortly before the recording of July Talk’s second record Touch, I had some scattered free time, and some additional song ideas that I felt might not fit as well into the July Talk mould. Thom had been off the road for a while as well, focusing on building Taurus Studios and shifting into a producer role. The timing was kind of perfect as Thom was developing his skills as a studio guy and I was looking to build a project from scratch. We both love playing indie-rock and have dedicated most of our lives to that style, but the idea of stepping out of our comfort zone and embracing a pop-centric sound felt promising. It felt like the right type of project to work on at the time if only to broaden my ideas and creative interests going into making the second July Talk record. It obviously ended up becoming much more than that for the both of us.
What ideas did you bring into it, and how did the recording process unfold?
My Mom, being a child of the 70’s, was a huge fan of disco, and I guess it left an impression. There’s something about the groove from those old dance tracks that’s undeniable. We knew that the bedrock of WHG would be this referential back end, on top of which we could incorporate whatever felt right to us at the time. Although it was a blast to spend days in the studio as just the two of us, half the fun of the process was recruiting additional players from an array of musical backgrounds. Swaggering horn performances and waves of live percussion helped us lock into that throwback sound, and almost by accident we found this fun fusion between more contemporary chord and melody choices and disco-era arrangements. Lyrically, I knew that the songs were going to be fairly positive in tone, even if it felt forced to me at the time. At the start of the project I was freshly sober after years of struggling with alcoholism, and in a way I had emotionally stopped growing, which felt incredibly selfish and depressing. White Hot Guilt was kind of an exercise in cognitive behavioural therapy; let’s try to make something so fun that it conditions you to feel a certain way. That being said, it only made sense to me that the project’s style tap into the music from my childhood. I have a lot of happy memories listening to the Bee Gees with my Mom.
What makes White Hot Guilt unique from other projects you've done?
White Hot Guilt has kind of become an “ideas catch all.” That is to say, we really approach the project like an improv troupe, where we don’t say no to each other during the development process—at least not all that often. The biggest difference between WHG and our other projects has to be that with this playful approach we really eased up on questioning whether each creative decision we made was contributing to something that felt “cool.” It was easy to laugh at ourselves early on, and this project could definitely be skirting the edges of cheese, but for some reason it always felt right and the more we developed WHG the more we embraced that earnestness.
Why did you decide to donate proceeds to SKETCH?
Prior to July Talk, Peter Dreimanis and I were in the music video production world. One of our first videos was for our buddy Michael O’Connell’s band Culture Reject. Michael is such a great dude, and during production of the video he brought us to check out his day gig at the old SKETCH studio on King Street West. Michael explained to us how there were all of these creative opportunities that SKETCH offered to the city’s marginalized youth. Peter and I were blown away by how cool it was for these kids—a number of whom were living on the streets—to be able to come into this all-inclusive space and make art together. Considering that my own experience in making the White Hot Guilt EP became somewhat therapeutic, Thom and I couldn’t help but think that directing any proceeds from the project’s launch to SKETCH would only be appropriate.
What's your best touring story?
A couple of years back while touring the U.S. West Coast, July Talk was joined for a few dates by this crushing three-piece band from Seattle. Prior to the shows I ended up befriending and hanging out with the band’s bassist Cody, a super easy-going dude who, to be honest, seemed very familiar to me. Cody was a crazy technical player, ripping the bass like he was a lead guitarist. One night we were talking about Toronto venues and he mentioned to me that he had only played The Opera House on Queen East. That’s kind of a big venue to be the only place you’ve played in Toronto, so I asked which group he had been there with. “Blood Brothers,” he replied. I almost fell out of my chair.
Blood Brothers is one of my favourite bands of all time. I mean, like, a life-altering band. They were the group that inspired me to ignore the perils of pursuing music as a career. They were the group that my wife and I first musically bonded over. In fact, I had been at his last Opera House show eight years earlier. I specifically sought Cody out that night to introduce him to my then girlfriend, now wife, thinking that would impress her. Cody Votolato is one of my musical heroes, and here I had been hanging out with the guy for days, oblivious to whom he was. I imagine he got a kick out of my immediate fan-boy transformation, and I’m sure I embarrassed myself to no end. He gave me his number at the end of the tour and I still haven’t texted him. I’m terrified to.