[Originally for DC Music Download, 21 September 2012]
For the readers who’ve followed DMD for a while, it’s no surprise as to why I chose to profile electronic-rock trio, Heavy Breathing. Not only do they have a keen ability to mix and create their experimental rock offerings, but own a live delivery that sucks the audience into a blissful rock euphoria.
Heavy Breathing, comprised of guitarist Erick Jackson, drummer Jeff Schmid, and keyboardist Amanda Kleinman, grew up together in the D.C. area and formed The Apes in 1999. Under the moniker, the group released a number of albums, toured internationally, and played over 500 shows together with three additional vocalists. After several years of performing as The Apes, the band decided to downsize to a trio in 2010, and replaced live vocals for the flexibility of working with sample recordings. The change was brilliant-putting the instrumentation at the forefront.
While the band has made efforts to post new tunes on a monthly basis to their Soundcloud page, Heavy Breathing decided to take the plunge of releasing their debut full-length, Body Problems (scheduled for release this Saturday). It was an honor to speak with Erick Jackson for a few moments about their new release and finding out more about what makes the band tick.
D.C. Music Download: First, congrats on your new full-length! What was the process like of putting it all together?
EJ: Everytime we had a song finished, we’d just put it online-just to test it out and to put it out there. At first, we were just gonna put out four songs, and then we actually had more, so we said “Why don’t we put out a full-length?” At the time we were just like “Oh wow, it doesn’t cost that much to put out vinyl, and it would be nice to have something documented other than on the internet”. We put out with another band 7-inches ourselves, but never a full-length. It was another like “Oh, I wonder if we could do this”.
DMD: Where do you guys record all your material?
EJ: Our drummer’s-we’ve been practicing in his basement since the ’90s, and he lives out in the ‘burbs [out in Gaithersburg], so there’s tons of space. There’s no noise issues, so we can just be as loud as we want.
DMD: A lot of your music incorporates sample recordings-where online do you find all this material from?
EJ: There’s all sort of kooky people out there that upload themselves singing, haha. I don’t know why they do it, I guess it’s the day and age where they’re just like, “Listen to me!”. And so, with all the recording programs now that are really advanced, you can basically breakdown any sort of vocal or sound into almost syllables or words-and you can actually retune the whole thing and chop it up in totally different ways. We were just experimenting with it once, just in terms of the vocalists we had. We said, “Llet’s try editing our own vocalists” and I said “Oh my God, it doesn’t represent anything of the original at all-and yet it sounds pretty decent”. Then it was just about finding sources, so luckily there’s enough crazy people out there, haha. There’s all sorts of sites that say free samples of people doin’ stuff, and it’s kind of cool.
DMD: It sounds like it’s been great in terms of flexibility.
EJ: Definitely. We had three different singers with The Apes. It’s difficult-especially live performing night after night, I mean, their throats go out. It’s just an extra person that you have to weave the music around, and singers are very different personalities-and a lot of it is just dealing with the personalities. The three of us [Amanda and Jeff] all grew up together, and it was probably always hard with an extra person to have to deal with our personalities. Part of it was just, in the past, we had two records which we never even put out just because of vocalist stuff going on, haha. Because it’s like, OK, this person left-are we gonna put this out or not? And at least this way, we know that’s not going to happen. We can finish a project and put it out, I think that’s why we called the album Body Problems I guess, haha.
DMD: I was actually going ask you about where the title came from…
EJ: Yeah, I just think it for us it meant human problems, haha. When everyone starts out doing music at first it’s all like “Yeah! We’re gonna play this show-awesome!” And then, when other stuff starts arising, it really takes over people’s lives, especially when you’re touring a lot.
And then, they have friends and family, and futures to think about. With music, it’s hard to actually try to have any sort of plans, or financial stability. I think it takes a toll on a lot of people. If it’s not something that they’ll end up just doing anyway, even if they were broke or whatever, it doesn’t give anyone much incentive to continue after a certain age. I think you realize if it’s for you once you’re doing it, and a lot of people realize “Wow, this is kind of cool, but I don’t want to be doing this past a certain point, because now, I get the idea”-kind-of-thing.
DMD: What’s your creative process when coming up with all band’s collages?
EJ: Sometimes, I get the images from Amanda, because she does a lot of drawings-so I incorporate that. But yeah, I do the majority of the collages. I do a lot of visual arts, that’s what my other gig is. I think over the years, we’ve had an aesthetic interest. I always find humorous stuff, there are a lot of sexual images as well as violence-but I don’t find them to be violent in terms of being horrific as I find them to be more optimistic-or I find them more feeling of just what I associate with a good time.
But there’s sometimes an element of maybe danger. Or, a lot of it is based on growing up, and our siblings were older and they had sketchy friends that would go out into the woods and listen to music and get high. Or, sit in a van and get high. It comes from more of the images of that place. Growing up, you’re drawn to it because there was danger to it and the unknown. There was the unknown, and you assume your mind created the world, and you know you’re like “Wow, what are they doing-what’s going on out there? I hear this music playing”.
Or before YouTube, you couldn’t see what happened during a show. Like someone would come back to school the next day and you’d ask them what they did last night. And they would say, “Oh! We went to this show, it was nuts! This guy got stabbed!”. In your head, you’ve built it up to where you think that when every time this band plays, bloods shoots out everywhere and so on, and it’s exciting. But if you saw it on YouTube, it wouldn’t be all that exciting. It probably wouldn’t look cool at all, but your brain actually builds up these images.
DMD: What I love especially when you guys perform- you’re really interactive with the audience-with Amanda engaging the audience in an androgynous voice while wearing her signature wig and mask.
EJ: Especially when you’re playing in the middle of nowhere towns, it’s something you have to do to get yourself excited, you know? I feel like there needs to be more interaction-when you’re up there, it’s kind of weird. Like hey, here are my friends and we’re up here-it’s just kind of funny. You’re there, and people want to be entertained and I think, entertainment as in, there needs to be a little humor. But I think people forget about that a lot. And I don’t know if people are shy, or they want to come across as deeper than what is actually going on.
DMD: Describe the creative process behind the music video for “U the One I Want”.
EJ: Well, I was making all of these extra collages and animated GIF things, and then Jeff our drummer knows how to do all those video programs-so this video was just like an experiment-almost like something we would do with the music. We sat and thought OK, we have this music-how are we gonna do it? How are we going put all this music together? And it’s sort of following the same process as we would making songs. It’s like, OK-how are we going to make this cohesive? I would just hand him stuff, and then he would come back to me and be like “OK, how about we put it together like this!”
Or, what kind of technology do we want to figure out. He was trying out new effects programs. That was sort of the inspiration for it-there were all these accidents that made us go “Oh look, we can do this for a video”.
DMD: What’s next for you guys? You mentioned a new EP-tell me more!
EJ: That’s the thing, we’re still trying to figure out if we should put new music out every month, or how should we do it. There really isn’t a big master plan of “We’re gonna do this!” It’s more like well-what are we interested in today-and what do we feel like doing? Versus, when you were with a label, there’s a real pattern that you followed. Where you record, then you do two months touring the U.S. /two months in Europe, and then you work on your next record-here’s your release date. You got to do press, now same thing. Every year was exactly the same-it becomes more job-like than a job.
DMD: How would you say the band has evolved between being in The Apes to now as Heavy Breathing?
EJ: Now we can focus a lot more in the music rather than figuring out how can we fit things to the vocals. It’s more now- we can be turned on by a sound, or maybe a vocal, or just a beat (or just different things that turn on) rather than, does this help fit into the narrative of the song. We focus more on the feel, the texture of the sound, especially in practice. You know, it’s not fun for a singer just to stand there while we try to figure stuff out, haha. There’s a lot more attention that could be paid attention to, and all aspects of the music, as well as possibilities. It doesn’t have to be a certain kind of feel just because a vocalist doesn’t want to sing a certain way, or they don’t feel comfortable with a certain kind of falsetto.
DMD: It must be nice to have that freedom of experimenting more with your music, and having more time available to do so.
EJ: It’s the same as when people go see DJs-they seem to enjoy the community of just hearing music loud and are not worried about who’s playing what. I think that’s also interesting, because I think newer audiences are much more open to hearing different kinds of formats. It frees up, at least for our band, to try different things out. I sometimes find older audience members…I could picture when hip-hop first came out they would say, “Well, how come there’s no drummer or musicians?”, haha. Luckily, especially younger kids, are just more open to anything.
DMD: You guys have been performing in the D.C. scene for a long time, how have you seen it evolve over the years?
EJ: Before, there were so many bands within a certain kind of scene. When I think of D.C. I think of a few government workers, non- profit workers, and everyone else was in a band. Basically everyone was on tour, and then you’d come back and hang out and it was like a little fishing village. Everyone compared stories about their tour. Or, you’d see them on the road. It was a very different music scene. It was based more on the punk-rock, or post-punk world. Now, it’s like every city basically-you can find everything you need to know anyway by just looking it up-there isn’t a regional sound anymore. There still might be in some places, but I feel like it’s different. I don’t think it’s bad, although a lot of people do complain about it. I just think everywhere in the country is just different. It’s not good or worse-people just don’t know how to react to it.
- Interviewed by Stephanie Williams
Listen to “U the One I Want” from Body Problems Below: