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