Break It Up has yet to play its first official show as a band, but it’s already one our favorite new local acts. Just last week, the trio—which features Jen Sperling (ex-Conversations With Enemies) and Dan Morse (current Wigwams) on guitar and vocals, and Casey Bell bell on drums—released its debut song via Bandcamp. The song, titled “Excavate,” is a guitar-driven, hook-laden throwback to some of the band’s ’90s indie/riot-grrrl influences—and it’s been on steady rotation here in the office since we first heard it. Prior to Break It Up’s inaugural performance (this Sunday night at Kung Fu Necktie with Sub Pop’s Male Bonding), The Key spoke with the members of the band about the their musical roots, getting out of one’s own comfort zone, and the importance of a having a good editor.
The Key: So, Jen—before forming Break It Up, you and Casey played together in the band Creatures Of Prey, correct?
Jen Sperling: You dug up Creatures Of Prey, did you?
TK: You mentioned it in an email.
JS: Oh, did I? [Laughs.]
TK: Specifically, you said that Break It Up “actually started as an all-female five-piece super-group that played under the name Creatures Of Prey.”
Casey Bell: I had put an ad on Craigslist looking for other female musicians with the goal of starting an all-female band. Jen was one of the first people who responded, and we hit it off immediately. We had a musical chemistry, and both of us had wanted to start an all-girl band. With Creatures Of Prey…we were playing music with our friends and it was a lot of fun, but we hadn’t found the direction that either of us wanted.
JS: Individually everyone in Creatures Of Prey was incredibly talented, but as a group our creative process was always to keep adding things on. So when we recorded, we specifically asked Dan to come in with fresh ears and help us focus that tendency. It was definitely a turning point for us to have someone taking on that critical role of “editor,” but it was more that he proved to have a gift for removing extraneous bits and moving things around…We lost some members around the time we were recording with Dan, and he had such great ideas, we asked him to join.
TK: What were some of Dan’s “great ideas” in the studio?
CB: [Laughs] Dan’s just a really great songwriter. Songwriting, simplifying, and getting to the point in a really interesting way. I feel like we kind of have a tendency to meander.
JS: One of Dan’s strengths, from my perspective, is as an arranger. When he was recording Creatures Of Prey, he was acting more in a producer role. The one song that carried over to this band is a song called “Architect,” which Casey actually wrote on guitar. It was more of a folk song almost. It was a lot slower, and it kind of meandered a little bit. And Dan had some ideas to turn it more into of a, uh, rock anthem. [Laughs.] Well, maybe not a “rock anthem.” It’s a rock song, but it’s definitely one of the more ballad-y songs that we play. And it’s always a lot of fun for us to play it for that reason. I don’t know. What were your great ideas, Dan?
Dan Morse: Um… [Laughs.]
TK: Complete silence.
JS: We all have talents in this band. With Creatures Of Prey, we really wanted everyone’s great ideas in every part all the time. And I think that there’s a lot more editing now that it’s just the three of us. It’s a smaller group. There are fewer opinions, and more decision making…And by working together we discovered that we liked and respected each other’s talents and could help each other grow as musicians and songwriters. So at a certain point our all-girl aspirations just became irrelevant, because we were writing music that we felt excited about and compelled by—which is why we had started Creatures Of Prey to begin with. The open, collaborative environment we value has been maintained; we’re just writing much more concise songs.