Brooklyn-via-Philadelphia guitarist / singer-songwriter Steve Gunn was the focus of this week’s Key Studio Session in advance of his upcoming Time Off LP. Backed by a bassist and drummer, Gunn performed three tracks off the album – stream and download “Old Strange” below and get the full set here. He’ll be headlining Johnny Brenda’s on June 22nd. Tickets and information can be found here.
Philadelphia indie-punk power trio Break It Up came together by chance. Singer-guitarist Jen Sperling and drummer Casey Bell connected online – a rare example of a Craigslist musical partnership that lasts more than a few months – and wound up recording some of their earliest songs with guitarist / engineer Dan Morse. He, eventually, made his way into the band, and the trio popped up publicly on the Philly scene a couple summers ago with the lively, infectious rocker “Excavate” (a Bandcamp single). They barnstormed a slew of shows and traveled to South By Southwest in 2012, then went into seclusion mode to flesh out their live setlist into a full album. Working with Jeff Zeigler at Uniform Recording, the album was completed over the fall and winter, and just released digitally last week. We’ve been spotlighting the self-titled set all week, digging into its blend of anthemic, poppy punk and more searing, dissonant moments tapping into the players late 90s indie rock roots. How did they come to bridge these two worlds? I grabbed beers and nachos with them at MilkBoy the night of the album’s release to talk through their journey.
The Key: The album was over a year in the making; some songs you had in place since you recorded your Key Session, others came later. Tell me about the progression of that.
Casey Bell: It’s funny. Some songs are really old, like before Dan even joined the band, and then through the process of writing, some of them proved to be better than early stuff, and we sort of just cut earlier stuff to make room for the newer songs. Overall, I guess maybe it’s been a year? Right? Which is one of the cool things about the record, I feel like it represents this great area of growth of the band. Like how we wrote songs when we were first very new at it, and how we wrote songs at the end, when we had this way of communicating down. So it’s sort of a span of a period of growth that the album represents, which I think is really gratifying to be able of hear all in one place.
Jen Sperling: The last song on the album was mostly written in the studio, actually. Which was something new for me, and an exciting, more spontaneous way to have a song come together.
TK: Tell me about that. I’m curious. I always tend to assume bands have songs, for the most part, ready to go when they go into studios, or maybe there are parts like “oh, this transition needs some work” or “this bridge isn’t working” and it gets kind of tweaked a bit. But I feel like it’s less common, unless you’re John Mayer and you rent out to Electric Ladyland for a month, to write a song in the studio. So how did that work for you guys?
Dan Morse: We had most of the arrangements done ahead of time. We even knew the tempos. I think we tried to stay open to trying different things – more sonically, rather than in terms of arrangement. We tried weird vocal stuff, where Jen was in this like bank vault.
TK: Bank vault? Jeff Zeigler has a bank vault?
DM: [Laughs] Yeah. He lives there [NOTE: not in the bank vault. –ed.], but also he has a whole floor dedicated to the studio with different rooms. And part of it is this big safe where you get this weird echo affect. So we had plenty of time to fiddle with that, which was great. And Jen and I had the luxury of having a lot of time to experiment with guitar sounds. Almost any time we’re playing, it’s at least two different amps, at the same time, which was awesome. We we’re able to do that because Casey finished all of her drums in one day, which was ridiculous. Continue reading →
The new, self-titled album from Philly indie-punk power trio Break It Up was made at Uniform Recording, the Eraserhood studio helmed by Philly producer Jeff Zeigler. When they had downtime between takes, the bandmates took turns filming one another as they laid down tracks, did vocal warmups, explored Zeigler’s treasure trove of gear and got friendly with his studio golden retriever. Go inside the studio with them in the video below.
Break It Up is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted single “Amplify Me” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review and check back later in the week for an interview and more.
The two songwriters in Philly’s Break it Up always wore their 90s indie roots with pride.
Singer-guitarist Jen Sperling, in her previous band The Fourelles, played a snappy, catchy blend of Riot Grrrl aggression and radio-ready alt-rock – Sleater-Kinney with maybe a touch of Veruca Salt. Meanwhile guitarist (and sometimes singer) Daniel Morse, in his prior group The Wigwams, comes from a more dissonant, mind-bendy art rock world – the stuff of Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth.
I love all of those bands, which is why it probably took me zero time to decide I like Break It Up as well. But here’s the thing – they’re a good example of musicians not simply parroting their influences as much as they use them to create a new whole.
For the most part, Break it Up’s Break It Up sounds like Break It Up. Even Morse’s spotlight moment “Suzuki” – which, of the batch, is the most overtly drawn from the band’s record collection – has a notable flair thanks to his cathartic delivery railing against numbing prefab homes and suburban sprawl. It might remind you of Thurston Moore circa Sonic Youth’s DGC era, but he makes it his own.
Elsewhere, Sperling has her own go at reminding us what she might be have listening to – there’s a teeny bit of Mika Miko in the angular bop of “Out of Time” – but the rule across the whole of the album is being less overt with the homages and simply writing solid songs. See “Amplify Me,” the single we’re spotlighting all week. It’s got no clever references, no tricks, it’s simply an anthemic rocker about the power of music to make your voice heard – or even to hear your true self among the din of the workaday world. “Just turn it up, turn it up,” Sperling hollers, and it’s tough not to comply. Continue reading →
It didn’t take long to figure out that I was a fan of Break It Up. When their energizing, inspiring debut single “Excavate” popped up on Bandcamp in summer of 2011, I promptly asked the indie-punk power trio them to swing by the station and record for us, even though it was the only piece of music I heard from them. Turned out they had at least three other songs of equal awesomeness in their repertoire. And seeing them live over the next year and change, that number multiplied even further, showing a mix of feisty power-pop and aggressive, punked-up noise. Last week, the band released its self-titled debut LP to Bandcamp, and it explores these avenues even further. All week we’re digging into the album on Unlocked, The Key’s recurring spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia artists. Tomorrow I’ll have a review, later in the week an interview with the band and an examination of the lively album cover that it collectively drew. Today, we bring you a free download of the song “Amplify Me.” It comes from the decidedly poppier wing of Break It Up’s catalogue, and uses music and performance as a metaphor for self-empowerment. Thanks to the band, we’re making it a free download all week, so get your mp3 below, and check back all week for more on Break it Up’s Break it Up.
Philly indie-rockers Break It Up have released their self-titled debut today. It’s available for purchase (for a mere $5 from now until June 14th), as well as streaming, over at their Bandcamp. The album features two previously released singles, New Penzance, and Excavate, as well as eight other tracks of entirely new material. The trio has yet to announce any local shows dates, but we’ll dig deeper into the album (and find out when they’re performing next) when we explore Break It Up next week in Unlocked, The Key’s regular spotlight on new and significant albums from Philadelphia artists. Listen to the album via Bandcamp below.