We Should Go Driving | Single Premiere and an Interview With Breathless

As one of the more beloved bands from the post-punk underground, Breathless have remained a powerful force in our hearts and minds, and have been a forever favorite since they first kissed my ears. Since their inception in the mid-1980s, the band has crafted some of the most delicate, stunning, and affecting music on this side of the spectrum. While their early records, including 1986’s The Glass Bead Game and 1987’s Three Times and Waving feature a vital, swirling post-punk sound that’s equal parts powerful and delicately dreamy, their evolution has been exciting to watch unfold, with latter day masterpieces such as 1999s’s Blue Moon and 2012’s Green to Blue tapping deep into the universal ache, utilizing more freeform structures and sprawling, atmospheric arrangements. The band’s trademark sound centers around multi-instrumentalist Ari Neufeld’s excellent musicianship, Gary Mundy’s gorgeous guitar work, and of course, Dominic Appleton’s heavenly vocals. Some may be more familiar with Appleton from his work on This Mortal Coil’s Filigree and Shadow and Blood, but for the uninitiated, there’s much of the same thread running through Breathless’ stunning catalogue, a series of aural delights worth poring over for hours on end.

With that in mind, it’s with great pleasure that we premiere “We Should Go Driving,” the latest single from the band and the first taste of new music since 2012. The track is featured on the upcoming album See Those Colours Fly, slated for release on July 29th, with a vinyl edition due August 5th. The album, produced by Kramer, is a triumph, if only slightly bittersweet due to the absence of drummer and key member Tristram Latimer Sayer, who is recovering from an accident. Even still, “We Shall Go Driving” is a delight, a perfect moment to capture a melancholy, breezy, gorgeous summer evening, when the sun dips below the clouds but the light still lingers. Listen below:

WE SHOULD GO DRIVING (SINGLE)

We also had the chance to check in with Ari and Dominic about the album’s recording process, threads of inspiration, and all things in between:

There’s a vitality to See Those Colours Fly that feels so refreshing, and even dare I say, hopeful. What inspired the record?

ARI: Lots of different things inspired the album, as it was written over such a long period of time. But the layered dreamy sound of the album became more prominent during lockdown, as the more time I spent on editing the album the more carried away I got with adding drones and ghostly layers.. But obviously the real transformation came from Kramer, with his amazing mixes.

DOMINIC: Yes, I agree. Kramer had a massive impact on the sound and he had a lot of sounds to play with! Recording from home just gave us so much time to experiment without the pressure and the expense of a recording studio. Ari learnt drum programming! Also, although Ari, Gary, and I are very comfortable with one another in terms of experimenting and trying new things in front of one another, working alone you can really take your time and take more risks which, when they work, take things in different directions.

Tell us about your songwriting process. How did this record come together?

ARI: In the past we have mainly written by jamming. Usually one person would come up with a riff and we would jam round that for hours and then sift through what we had recorded at rehearsal, choosing the best bits and refining them into a song.

But with this album everything changed because of Tristram’s accident.

We had already written “We Should Go Driving” with him and performed it live in Italy in 2014. And we were about to go into the studio when he had his car accident. He was in a coma for quite a while and we didn’t know if he was going to survive or not, but we decided not to cancel the session and went ahead and recorded the song using a very basic drum pattern. We had already used this mode of working on Green To Blue, where we recorded to a drum machine, adding the real drums later and assumed we would do the same with this. But weeks passed and although Tristram came out of his coma, we could tell it would be a long road to recovery.

We had already started writing differently on Green To Blue, with each of us bringing fully structured songs to rehearsal, rather than just a riff or idea. And we took it even further with See Those Colours Fly. So someone would bring a song and we would work on the various sections- expanding or contracting them, moving stuff around- but the end result would still be fairly close to the original idea brought to rehearsal. A lot of the times these ideas had a simple, generic drum beat, which I then tried to vary to create a dynamic for different parts of the song and generally make more interesting.

We had two abortive recording sessions in two different studios, from which we managed to salvage a song from each. I then took the recordings and started building on them, adding overdubs at home. I guess that boosted my confidence and after that I actually started recording things from scratch. Songs that we had pretty well perfected in rehearsal. So I would record the drums and bass and maybe some guitar and then send the songs to Dominic and Gary who would add their parts at home and sent the files back to me. It’s a really fantastic way of working and I really can’t imagine going back to the old way of doing things.
We’re sending our best to Tristram, by the way. Hope he is healing up quickly. 
ARI: He is so much better than he was, but he still isn’t up to coming to London to rehearse or tour. Though we have invited his son, who is a drummer and used to come to rehearsal with Tristram, to come and play with us live, so Tristram is still involved in some way.
Were the songs written in one quick flurry, or was it more of a piecemeal process? 
ARI: No, definitely piecemeal. We were working on them for ages and it seemed like we were never going to finish the album and then one day Dominic said I think it’s all almost there now and we suddenly realised we had nine songs that we really liked.
DOMINIC: Yes that was strange. We had been working so piecemeal that we didn’t initially notice that we had an album rather than a bunch of songs.

What kind of sounds inspire you these days? Is there anything outside of the musical realm that is equally influential?

ARI: There hasn’t been much that has got me excited recently musically. Though I do remember seeing Orville Peck playing his first London show a few years back, in a pub that looked like a set from Twin Peaks, and I was absolutely blown away by him. I also really like Nadine Khouri who I go and see a lot and Hot Wax.

Film has always been a big influence, and the way music is used in film, both incidental music and soundtrack. I have just finished the new Breathless video, which I shot on my iPhone! I absolutely loved doing it. I studied film and photography at college, but haven’t made a film or video for years, though I want to do a lot more now.

DOMINIC: I love that there are so many ways to hear new music these days. In the past, British radio was incredibly limited if you wanted to hear alternative or experimental music.  Also now, instead of relying on reviews, you can listen stuff yourself, trawling the internet. I’ve always been a music junkie, constantly looking for something new. I listen to a lot of music from very left field to very pop. I’ve no idea how those things come through in what I write and do. Add that to the fact that Ari and Gary have quite different taste is probably why we have such a unique sound.

I do read an awful lot of poetry too. Oh my, I can hear a collective yawn from anyone reading this. Ha, well I don’t care, I love it. What I love, and what is important for me, is the way in which poems find beauty in the mundane. It makes us stop and think about the things and emotions we take for granted. I’m a dreamer, I always have been, and with poetry, just like music, I drift off into myself. Please don’t think I’m a w**ker to bang on about this. I know it’s massively self indulgent. Well that’s the bloody point. I have to confess a lot of the time I don’t understand a lot of it but I guess that’s half the fun.I really like John Burnside and Julia Copus and Simon Armitage. Obviously, I use it as an inspiration for lyrics too (though funnily enough I don’t particularly like poetic lyrics. I really try to make them conversational and direct. You be the judge if I succeed or fail!). I read a hell of a lot of fiction too. I’ve always got a notebook on the go jotting down phrases that inspire me.

Oh gosh yes, that reminds me: the album title is stolen from a poem! I wrote the chord sequences for “My Heart and I” and played them to Ari and Gary when we were still rehearsing in rehearsal rooms in Camden. Once they had added their ideas, the phrase ‘My heart and I’ was the first thing that came to me through the melodies but it seemed so strangely familiar to me I worried I was stealing it from some other song so I googled it which lead me to the Elisabeth Barrett Browning poem of the same name. Ha, I think I must have been channeling her spirit because we were coming from a very similar place. It was massively inspiring and I did out-and-out steal the line  ’See those colours fly’ straight from it.

One other thing that has obviously affected this album are the rooms we wrote the songs in. In the distant past, we used to rehearse a few times a week using a couple of different rehearsal rooms. They had very different sound and as such, specific songs worked (and evolved) in one room and not the other. These days songs evolve in our headphones, where you can change the sound of the ‘room’ at the flick of a plugin. There are endless possibilities. We’ll just have to see where that takes us!

It’s always been a dream of mine to see Breathless perform. Will you play live to support the record? 
ARI: Yes!
I’ve always admired how each and every album you create is a new world in itself, both familiar but pushing new boundaries and reaching new euphoric highs. How do you feel the band’s music has evolved over the last 30+ years?
ARI: Someone sent me a bootleg of a concert we did in Rome in the 80s and I was astounded how aggressive and punky we sounded in places. We did a version of the title track on Three Times And Waving and it sounded more like the Ramones than Breathless!

I think it’s just that we really hate repeating ourselves, so we are always looking for new sounds. I remember as early on as Ageless, we already felt we were in a rut, and Dominic and I went out and got dulcimer and flute lessons. My dulcimer never made it on to record, as we could never figure out how to mic it up at rehearsal, but Dominic’s flute is there loud and clear on Stone Harvest.

At the start all I could do was play one riff all the way through a song, as I was frightened of missing the cue to change and fuck up the timing! But within a couple of years I was playing the bass more like a guitar and went on to learn six-string guitar too.

Although I can hear how we evolved over our first four albums, the big change came with Blue Moon. We went into the studio after releasing Between Happiness And Heartache and recorded what just sounded like a less good version of Between Happiness. So we scrapped the whole thing and recorded Blue Moon with everyone playing live together, only adding the vocals later. We asked the engineer (who then left), where to place the mics for the best sound and recorded most of Blue Moon directly onto DAT and in the case of one song, “No Answered Prayers,” directly onto cassette! (great compression – listen to Keith’s acoustic guitar on “Street Fighting Man,” also recorded on a cassette as testimony to that) And then, as if that wasn’t enough, recorded a limited edition, instrumental album Moonstone, as we wrote it, in one take!
Most people totally got what we were doing, but some thought we had fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford to record at Blackwing anymore!
DOMINIC. I think it’s a very natural evolution. What keeps us together is always feeling that we’re working on the best album we’ve ever made and because we are our own record company we aren’t under any pressure to release things that we’re not completely happy with.

I’m a big fan of [Mark] Kramer’s production after falling in love with Galaxie 500 and Low over the years. The way he works with space and reverb seems to be a natural fit for Breathless. Tell us more about the production of the album and how his touch helped to bring the album to life.

ARI: See Those Colours Fly sounded good when we had finished recording and compiling it in London, but Kramer has taken it to a whole new level with his mixes. It just sounds so big and dreamy and otherworldly. There is no doubt about it he totally transformed it!

We really liked the mixes he did on the three songs on Green To Blue, and like you, are big fans of his work with Galaxie 500 and Low, but we have never trusted anyone with a whole album of ours to mix. I think Dominic and Gary were a bit surprised when we first got the mixes back, but for me the songs sounded exactly how they did in my head, how I always hoped and imagined they would sound. We only asked him to make a couple of minor tweaks, far fewer than we ever have in the past, when we have actually been in the studio ourselves, contributing to the mixes!
DOMINIC: Ari is right. The very first time I heard Kramer’s mixes I found it confusing. I couldn’t hear things where I expected them and did hear things where I wasn’t expecting them. That was the whole point of sending the tracks to him: to get a fresh take on what we’d done.
I’m glad to hear you’re tapping into other spheres of creativity in regards to the video. Can you tell us more about it? 

ARI: It was pretty weird as I got Covid after about a week of editing it. It’s very psychedelic, with lots of movement and colours and half the time I couldn’t tell what was actually on screen and what was in my head!

The video is for the single “We Should Go Driving” and is just a very trippy view from a car, of trees and lights. I wanted it to echo the album sleeve (by Jay Cloth) and the publicity photos that Kevin Westenberg took for us. Then one day, I was in my friend Sarah’s Fiat, with an open roof, and noticed how incredible the trees looked against the sky, so asked her if we could come back another time and just drive up and down the road until I got enough footage, which she kindly did. I filmed the whole thing on my iPhone and then got a friend to come round and help me set up Da Vinci Resolve and just got totally carried away with all the crazy effects and colours.
Would you ever consider playing in the United States? 
ARI: We did some shows with the wonderful Scenic a few years ago now. It was just great to be able to watch them soundcheck and play every night and of course hang out. Yes, we would love to come back.

 

Photos by Kevin Westenberg

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gothicpop, indie, Musik Tipps, postpunk