Breakers

Interview by Seth Clabough
Issue 70 • December 2018 • Charlottesville

For these alt rockers, music provides a language—and a context—to express that which would otherwise remain hidden.

Above: Vicente Arroyo, Vince Tarrance, Lucas Brown, Alex Angelich

“It’s part of my equilibrium,” said Lucas Brown, guitarist and lead singer for Breakers. “Playing music, writing music. I need to do that or else I feel like I don’t have a voice.”

I caught up with Brown, drummer Vicente Arroyo, and bassist Alex Angelich at Charlottesville’s Champion Brewing, a tucked-away gathering spot and venue just a few blocks off the downtown mall, for an interview over beers. Lead guitarist Vince Tarrance is the only member unable to join, but the band filled me in on what I should know: “Vince really likes heavy metal,” Angelich said. “He wears a t-shirt that says, ‘I hate Randy Rhoads’.”

“He has the lyrics to Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ tattooed on his torso,” Arroyo joked. The group laughed. The early exchanges set the tone for our conversation: the group is low-key, playful and thoughtful; friendly, yet acerbic and dry. At times, I’m unsure whether they’re serious or joking.

It’s an interesting time to catch up with the band, which has been described as proto-punk, garage band, alt-rock, because at the moment they are giving their voices a rest. After playing a string of shows, the band is taking a bit of a break. “We played six or seven shows mostly out of town,” Brown said, “and are hanging for the holidays and taking a break for December.”

Lucas Brown

Brown is using the time away from performing to get back in the studio and focus on thinking about and writing music. “Winter is my sweet spot,” he said. “There’s a good seven or eight songs that I’m looking forward to ducking down and getting to. I’m also consuming a lot. Before a period of creation, you need to go through that period of consumption.”

“What are you consuming at the moment?” I asked.

“Milan Kundera,” he said, referring to a Czech-born writer who was exiled to France in the 1970s. “Every time you read or hear something new, you definitely gain a new perspective and usually find something that relates to what you’re going through. I’m definitely feeling that exiled relationship with how things are going in our country.”

Vicente Arroyo

New perspectives have also arrived in the form of new band members. Though Brown and Tarrance have been there since the first year, Breakers is really in its fourth iteration. Arroyo, who moved to Charlottesville from Mexico when he was three, has been with Breakers a little over a year and joined after playing Tierra Caliente music in his father’s band. He got his first drumming gig when his father’s drummer was deported. Angelich, originally from Austin, Texas, started taking piano and singing lessons when she was in the fourth grade and has been with Breakers just eight months, during which she worked tirelessly to learn about twenty Breakers songs. Even as Arroyo works to pick up the Breakers music, his own style and sensibilities alters the music in new and interesting ways; the same is true of Angelich. Arroyo notes how his current favorite Breakers song to play is “Man in a Cage” because “finally the bass and the drums come through in such a pocket. It was a song,” he said, they had “been playing for a while, but with Alex now, it just gets in a great vibe.”

That vibe is doubtlessly rooted in Angelich’s influences and current tastes. “I listen to a lot of The Strokes, Blondie, Fleetwood Mac,” she said. “And, recently, Peter Gabriel.” Brown mentioned The Beach Boys, Green Day, The Who, and Paul Simon among his influences. One of his early musical memories is sitting under the piano for long stretches of time while his mother, whom he describes as “an amazing pianist,” played and worked on compositions. Brown would “tinker” on the piano, but soon got into playing guitar and Green Day, in particular—an influence that can be heard in his vocals on several songs.

Vince Tarrance

Doubling down, Angelich offered, “Vince, our guitar player who isn’t here, really loves Britney Spears and Aqua.” Arroyo joined in, “Aqua is his hype song before going on stage.” There’s an ease among the group, a shared sarcasm that is somehow friendly nonetheless. By comparison, Brown’s laughter is much quieter, understated, but he clearly takes pleasure in their banter. I notice he seems more at ease when his bandmates do the talking.

Brown, a self-described introvert, seems like the kind of person who would look forward to the inward-looking period of art consumption he has planned. I asked him how being an introvert informs the band’s music. “It does in a huge way,” he said. “There was a period of time where I had this notepad that was thumbtacked to my wall. I would write on that whenever I was feeling something and a lot of that has turned into the music we played. I think the desire to self-express is limited by my inability to do that in normal situations, so putting it out on stage or in the studio is super helpful for me. It’s therapeutic—more an expression of myself than I am capable of doing when talking in a group like this.”

In person, Brown is quiet, but engaged. Clearly bright and thoughtful, his voice is deep, low. There’s a hushed rasp in the way he talks that suggests bedtime is just on the horizon. On stage he appears confident, in his element. “I feel much more comfortable on stage,” he said, noting how people have often paid to come and hear the music. He’s less comfortable in small talk and interviews, because with writing and performing “you have time to get it right and you don’t in the immediate. So when I want to say something, I want to say it specifically, especially if it’s something I’m creating with words and frequencies. It helps me to say exactly what I mean to say without miscuing my words.”

Brown studied music at NYU. “There was a lot of composition,” he said. “I started to understand how Bach composed and I started to implement that into rock music. There’s something called counterpoint; it’s like one voice goes this way and another goes this way and they interact according to a very specific set of rules.” He remembered a teacher putting on the same Bach piece, but one was as jazz, another was metal. “They were all good,” he said. “That’s what did it for me. They were all doing the same thing. Point/counterpoint all in one song. I thought that might be the best way to go about writing music.” The idea of point/counterpoint is evident in Breakers’s music and overall vibe. At once serious and playful, thoughtful and irreverent, full of meaning, but not necessarily interested in pushing their own ideas of what their music might mean.

One of Brown’s favorite performances encapsulates this point well. When releasing their latest album, Rewrite, they performed with fellow Charlottesville indie rockers The Astronomers. But instead of the typical opener-then-headliner format, Breakers played both the opening and closing set, with The Astronomers taking a third set in between. Brown explained the strategy behind that sequencing: “When we opened, people were just sitting down and listening. Then, by the end of the night when we got back up there, they were drunk and really getting into it.” Point and counterpoint. “Opposite ends of the spectrum,” he continued, “it’s nice to enjoy that all in one night.”

Listen to Breakers’s new album, Rewrite, at breakersbreak.com.

Photography by Tristan Williams

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