Break To Broken
Interviews

Post, Post-Punk Pioneers: BREAK TO BROKEN ressurect the sound and spirit of the DIY good old days through modern means

As the story so often goes, BREAK TO BROKEN came together after discovering they all shared a passion for the same band. Beyond that, not much else can be said about them that would be considered typical. The three piece formed during a period when most musicians found themselves shutting down their in-person collaborative efforts to focus on solo projects. Pushing aside the traditional ingredients and circumstances needed to function as a band, they began to collaborate remotely. Despite living on opposite sides of the earth and without ever physically being in the same room, they started to churn out multiple songs. Fueled by persistence, technology, and trust, they may have stumbled upon a model for how bands can succeed in a world that suddenly and inescapably embraced virtual connection.

BREAK TO BROKEN’s debut album, The War on Sparrows, summons the soul of the 80s and 90s Do It Yourself hardcore scene. Every aspect of the LP from the recording and production to the album artwork was done by the band. The 12 songs on Sparrows showcase an impressive range spanning from ripping punk bangers to introspective, dreamy indie rock with a dash of melodic pop thrown in for good measure. From across the globe, BREAK TO BROKEN’s members speak of their formation, creative process, and what’s in store for them.

The War on Sparrows delivers 12 songs ranging from ripping post punk/hardcore to introspective, almost dreamy, indie rock. The individual style, vocals, and lyrics of each member merge throughout the album, creating a unique sonic connection through their virtual collaboration.

What was it that brought you three together and when did you form?

Eli Nowak (New Jersey, USA): I suppose our formation can be dated back to October 2020. I was not particularly active on social media at that time. The initial Covid-19 quarantine sparked my desire to connect with like-minded musical folks. I joined some music-related Facebook groups, including one devoted to the band Fugazi. During a rare glimpse at Facebook, a post on the Fugazi group caught my eye: a guy from Australia (now known as Clint) inquiring as to whether any other group members might be interested in collaborating with him on original music. The idea of working on original music with someone on the other side of the world was incredibly intriguing! Also, the idea of having Fugazi as our common musical touchstone was inspiring and I quickly responded that I was in. The fact that the other dude that responded (now known as Justin) and I resided in the same geographical location in the U.S. was also pretty amazing. Clint and Justin were the first to share their ideas/demos. Once I heard what they brought to the table, I was even more excited. I began sharing ideas as well, and a musical union formed rather organically.

Clinton Maher (Sydney, AUS): After spending recent years acquiring mixing equipment and recording what seemed like a million demos with no actual album, I decided it was time I actually got something done! I was stubbornly reluctant to make music with other people after making music with only my two brothers in the past, so I began to think where I might be able to find passionate people with similar taste in music. Fugazi was the first thing to spring to mind and I was actually a little surprised to find there was a Facebook fan group… I made a post looking for people to join a “virtual band” with me in the hope of making an album or an EP at the very least. Justin and then Eli responded and it went from there.

Justin Rauschkolb (Virginia, USA): Due to the lockdown related free time I had in 2020, I was able to get back into recording and writing music after a long dormant period. I wasn’t actively looking to collaborate with anyone though. I was a guest on the Alphabetical Fugazi Podcast and learned of the Fugazi facebook group from showhost, Ian James Wright. I saw a post from Clint asking if anyone wanted to start a virtual collaboration. I typically don’t respond to things like that but since it came from a fellow fan of my favorite band I felt compelled to reply.

So the three of you have never met in person and have almost exclusively communicated through text chats. How do you even begin to collaborate and write, let alone record a full album that way?

Justin: I think a huge part of being able to do this successfully is that fact that the band functions as a true collaboration with no one-person dominating the writing process. Typically one of us will come to the table with a basic track that serves as a rough outline for the song. We all then layer our ideas on, listen objectively, and then mutually decide what stays and what goes. Rarely would we outright reject anyones idea. We’d often just build upon it or evolve it to propel the song forward. I almost compare it to the rule of “Yes, and…” used in improv comedy. It was cool because sometimes the song would end in a place that was completely different that what we imagined on the outset.

Eli: I agree with Justin. Preparing to share an artistic idea of any kind can leave one feeling vulnerable and hesitant for many reasons. With Clint and Justin, I’ve only felt excited to share ideas freely. During the initial writing and demo phase of composing this album, we operated with a “try anything on any song” system, which was very effective and a lot of fun. Sometimes ideas worked well and other times they didn’t, but it was all an essential part of the process. Once we began to recognize each of our abilities and strengths, we felt comfortable making various suggestions, even encouraging another member to execute one of our own ideas that we felt could serve the song more effectively. Coming from a “no pressure/no rush” space, yet having our own excitement propel us to keep moving forward steadily has been a really great balance that we’ve been able to achieve. Having busy lives, as well as some unexpected events occurring prevented each of us from being as productive as we would have liked at times. However, we all remained patient and understanding throughout the process, which was very helpful for all of us.

Clint: This is a good question! Although it seems like it would be difficult to pull this off it actually didn’t turn out that way at all. It all went very smoothly and yes all our messages have basically been text based, sending files back and forward etc. Once we started getting all the songs together we settled on a pretty good routine for each one in terms of sharing ideas, gradually recording parts as we had time and tried our best to keep all the files organised along the way! There were a few ideas and parts cut along the way and some songs transformed quite a bit from the early demo versions. I think the thing that made it all work so well was that we all have a similar level of passion and determination. We had a goal in mind and despite busy lives with jobs and families we always found the time to get things done. Keeping everything 100% DIY from song writing, recording and mixing was a goal from the start and I’m happy that we managed to do all that ourselves and come up with an album we are happy with!

How has your shared love of Fugazi influenced BREAK TO BROKEN? Where else do you draw your influences from?

Justin: I’ve always admired Fugazi’s writing process and how their songs were more “assembled” than written. It’s not widely known that their drummer, Brendan Canty, would bring guitar ideas to the band and that other members would contribute outside their “assigned” instruments. I think those aspects played a huge part in shaping their unique sound – pushing them to explore different directions and ideas. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I think we tried to emulate that a bit with our creative process. We are all multi-instrumentalists and all ended up contributing different elements to the songs – even if we don’t end up playing or singing it on the final recording.

Eli: Agreed – the blueprint that Fugazi has created as a band (and as a group of people working together in any capacity, for that matter) has always been very inspiring to me. Each member seems to contribute equally to each song, performance, etc. It appears that part of their foundation as a group is rooted in their natural aim to do the right thing whenever possible. These values come through in their music and it’s really hard to not want to emulate that, as a band and as people!

Clint: I’m a big fan of no fuss bands that just play what comes out, stay genuine and don’t bend to the current trends. As well as Fugazi, bands like Fastbacks, Bad Religion and The Mark of Cain have influenced me a lot for that very reason. All these bands have always stayed true to the sound that made them popular and never wavered from what they believe in. Music with a message and intelligent lyrics are also important to me so I tried to incorporate those values into The War On Sparrows.

How do you view BREAK TO BROKEN? Is this a remote project that was merely formed out of necessity or is this a true band?

Eli: I absolutely view BREAK TO BROKEN as a true band. We’ve all never been in the same room together and it will likely be some time before we have the chance to play our songs together in person, but it’s as authentic of a creative union as any I’ve ever been a part of. Aside from the inability to perform or work together in person at the moment, this arrangement checks all of the most important boxes necessary for a functioning band in my opinion: the ability to openly share and discuss ideas without any anticipation of judgment, a mutual respect for each others’ talents and strengths, a collective sense of humor, and a mutual desire to create music that we all genuinely enjoy and feel that necessary spark from. It’s refreshing that there’s been no ego in sight throughout this process and that no one has taken themselves too seriously. The results have been musically gratifying, and it has also been particularly gratifying to have formed genuine friendships with my new bandmates. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done together, especially since it’s all been fully DIY!

Justin: Same. I may have gone into this thinking it was just going to be a “one and done” project but it was evident within the first song or two that we were developing something special. I don’t lead with the fact that we’re a “virtual” band when I’m asked about BREAK TO BROKEN. I think of it the same as every other band I’ve been in.

Clint: The band was formed out of desire rather than necessity, and I think it became clear pretty quickly that we didn’t really consider this as a “once off” thing. It’s only been days since finishing off the mixing for this album and I’m already looking forward and thinking about songs for another one. It’s great to have a laid back situation with no time schedules or outside interference which makes the process much more fun. Doing an album this way has had it’s moments of frustration and stress for sure – but the passion for the music always overrides those things!

Red Light Skyscraper

Now that you have your debut album out, what’s next? Assuming playing live shows is not an option, how does a virtual band stay active?

Eli: I really feel that we’ve hit our stride with our creative process. It’s been a lot of fun having each of us share seedlings of ideas and watching them take shape over time as we all contribute additional elements. Clint has been really great at sharing his knowledge about recording techniques, mic placement, etc. which has played a major role in helping everything sound as good as it does. Now that we’ve proven to ourselves that we can effectively work together remotely, it feels like we really have no limitations when it comes to creating and recording. Our influences are vast and it will also be fun to see how they will work themselves into our music as we continue.

Clint: We all know that this type of music is a little niche, but we’ll do what we can to get people that might enjoy it to be aware of it and be able to take a listen. Without any set timetable in mind I know I’ll be starting on some new songs pretty quickly and if even a small amount of people find and enjoy this album I’ll be more than happy. I feel there’s a gap in the music world where this type of music is lacking in quantity since the 90s and hopefully we can continue to contribute to filling that gap!

Justin: I don’t see us stopping any time soon. I really feel as though we have caught lightning in a bottle here. It’s rare to find bandmates who are all on the same page from both a personal commitment and creative standpoint. I think we’ll keep going as long as we’re still having fun and creating stuff we’re excited about. We’ve just finished this album and we’re already sharing new ideas and talking about what to record next.


The War On Sparrows is available digitally and on tape from Ripcord Records (UK): ripcordrecords.com

Post, Post-Punk Pioneers: BREAK TO BROKEN ressurect the sound and spirit of the DIY good old days through modern means
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