The new album from indie pop act The Breakups recently came out and the group is celebrating with a release show at The Syrup Loft downtown on March 9th w/ The World Record and a special mystery band (performing a SXSW warm-up set).
We asked The Breakups' lead Jake to write about the recording or making of some of his favorite tracks on the album. Here are streams and his own words.
“I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 99”
There are a few recurring themes on running jumping falling shouting. One is willful self-delusion. There’s a lot of that going on in “1 and 99.” The couple in this song is too selfish to give each other what they need. They are doomed and they know it, but they stay together because they are used to each other. They would rather lie to one another and themselves than be alone.
We’ve been known, from time to time, to think of ourselves as a power pop band (whatever that means) so we planned on starting the record off by smacking people in the face with loud guitars and drums and harmonies. My friend George suggested “1 and 99” as the opener. I believe my response was, “Are we allowed to do that?” The longer the idea simmered, the more I liked it. I think it creates some mystery about what will follow.
This may have been the most difficult song on the album to record. I won’t even tell you how many years it took. It’s probably enough to say that it literally did take multiple years. It wasn’t a straightforward band song, and it took a lot of experimentation to figure out how it should sound. When everything was finished except for Wendy Wang’s backing vocal, I still wasn’t sure it was all working the way I wanted. Then Wendy sent me some ideas she had for the section with the “ahhhs,” and I remember a huge smile spreading across my face and saying out loud, to myself… “It’s done.”
“run from rock’n’roll”
This might be my personal favorite on the album. It’s probably a cliché, but it’s a song about how frustrating it can be to run a rock’n’roll band. But more broadly, it’s a song about when pursuing your dreams becomes so exhausting and disappointing that you surprise yourself by giving serious thought to abandoning them entirely.
If there is a quintessential breakups sound, this song is probably about as close as you can get; weird keyboards, layered guitar, synth melodies, two-part backing vocals. Obviously, we don’t always sound like this, but I bet when people think of us, this is what they think of. And I’m totally okay with that.
I love how many of my friends are singing on this one. Suzanne Santo (honeyhoney), Richard Parsons, George Lewis III (The Other Also), and Robert Bonilla (The Hectors) all lent their lovely voices to this song, and it warms my heart every time I hear them singing.
I also owe my girlfriend Lexy a debt of gratitude for forcing me to come up with a more melodic guitar solo than I had originally written. At first I got really defensive about it, but as she lay sleeping on the bed next to me, I worked and worked on the solo. Every once in a while she would wake up and give me a half convincing, “It’s good.” Finally, when I had worked out the solo that is in the song now, she woke up, gave me a big smile and said, “You got it,” then immediately passed out again. She was right.
“better off alone”
Every once in a while I will start a song with a drumbeat. “better off alone” was one of those songs. I had that beat banging around in my head when I was driving one day and the stutter vocal spewed out of my mouth: “G-g-g-g-g-girl, you’re better off alone.” I’m of the opinion that you can never go wrong with a stutter vocal. Should you do it in every song? Obviously not. But when it happens organically, don’t question it. It’s clearly the correct direction to go.
Originally, I wanted to try for a Queen-ish sound on the harmonies by having each singer sing all of the parts. It didn’t end up sounding anything like Queen. It just sounded weird, muddy, and bad. I’m much happier with the way a more straightforward approach ended up sounding. Jillinda Palmer, Blake Collins, and Richard Parsons added so much texture to the vocal stacks, especially in the outro.
It’s pretty obvious what this song is about. Sometimes a man isn’t the answer to your problems, ladies. Sometimes you are. Cue the jingle from NBC’s “The More You Know” PSAs.
I co-wrote the music to this song with Jacqueline Santillan from Wait. Think. Fast. I absolutely adore that band, and Jacqueline and her husband Matt (also in WTF) are two of my favorite people in the world. So when the three of us got together to jam on the seed of an idea I had for this song, I was just happy to be hanging out with them. But when I left their rehearsal space, I was leaving with one of my favorite breakups songs to date. It didn’t sound like anything we had ever done before, and I was wired from the bliss of collaborative, creative triumph.
I went home and recorded a demo immediately, some of which ended up in the final version of the song. I sent it to Jacqueline when I finished mixing it early the next morning, and she loved it. The lyrics took quite a bit longer to finish.
“Sentimentalitis” is a term I came up with for people who suffer from chronic nostalgia, of whom I am one. More specifically in this song, it’s the rational person in a relationship telling the irrational one that everything he/she is clinging to is nostalgia for a love that no longer exists. That person is in love with the love he/she used to be in, not with an actual human being in front of him/her.
Jacqueline sings backup and plays piano on this song. Her vocals are bloody gorgeous. I also think our drummer Phil’s playing on this song is fantastic. The feel he gave the part really taps into the emotion of the song. This might be tied with “run from rock’n’roll” as my favorite on the album.
“the fall and rise of gracie rose”
Jillinda Palmer gave me a CD of piano demos she had recorded to see if any of them might spark an idea for a breakups song. One, in particular, caught my ear. The night I heard it for the first time I was so inspired that I almost immediately adapted it into “the fall and rise of gracie rose.” Her demo was slower, and I believe it was a waltz, but I could clearly make out what became the melody for the verses in the song, and I loved it because it felt like an idea I never would have come up with on my own. And clearly it was inspiring because by sunrise the song was done.
I vowed never to fully explain what this song is about because I think it takes away from the listening experience to have all of the gaps in the story filled in. Rest assured is about something very specific. I will say that one of my favorite images on the whole record is that of falling head over heels as the snow comes down. Growing up in Michigan, I used to love staring up at falling snow with a dark sky behind it. If all you could see was sky and snow, your depth perception would start to go and it was almost like you were floating. That is one of the few uncompromising moments of positivity on the entire album. It’s peaceful and innocent, and I’m really glad I managed to fit just a sliver of hope onto an album that is predominantly on the “glass half empty” side of the fight.