Interview With Breaths
"Heavy Music Has A Lot In Common With Veganism"
The debut album of Breaths will be released in March. I had the chance to talk to founder Jason now. We talked about his music and his vegan life.
I have already listened to Jason's debut LP "Lined in Silver" - for me it is already one of the year's discoveries. You can get a little taste of the record below. If you are a fan of post-metal, blackgaze and post-rock, you definitely need to give Breaths a try.
Anne: Hi Jason! Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview! I am pleased to get to know you better. How are you doing these days?
Jason: Overall I'm doing well. My family is healthy, my job is intact, so I have a lot to be thankful for during these crazy times.
Anne: You are planning to release your debut album "Lined In Silver" on March, 26th (I already wrote a piece about the pre-released song "The Forgotten Ones" ). You must be excited about that, are you?
I recorded the album all by myself
Jason: I am excited! It is the first full-length album (and the first set of songs) I'm releasing as a solo artist. I'm amazed at how well everything fell into place with the writing and recording of the record. I actually started Breaths because I was writing a bunch of songs that just didn't fit with where my other project (CHNNLR, a duo with my friend back in Austin, TX) was going, so I decided to record them on my own and release them as something outside of that project.
Anne: I had the honour to listen to "Lined In Silver" before the release, and I think it is pretty awesome. Are you also happy with the outcome of your work?
Jason: First of all, thank you for listening to the album, and I'm really humbled that you enjoyed it!
"I am pretty happy with my record"
I am personally more than happy with how "Lined in Silver" turned out. The album was sort of lightning in a bottle moment in time for me. I had learned a lot about home recording while working on the EP my other project (CHNNLR) released this past summer. My role on that EP was to record my guitar and vocal parts and send them to my friend who then tracked bass, mixed and edited everything together, and mastered it. We did some mixing together on conference calls, and I just learned so much from working with him on that.
The fact that I'd played guitar in bands for over 25 years off and on, and recorded EP's, albums, and singles in studios all around also helped a lot. In all honesty, though, I wasn't super confident at first that I could capture what I was going for both musically and with the production/engineering. I had never programmed drums, tracked bass, edited vocals, mixed, or mastered before. I finished the title track for the album first, and when I was done with that track, I just remember thinking to myself "maybe I can pull this off."
I'm writing for the next album already, so hopefully, I can capture that magic again and make another album I'm this proud of.
Anne: "The Forgotten Ones" is about all the animals we put into cages and behind slaughterhouse walls which are being tortured and killed every day. Is the whole album about this topic? If not: Did you follow any other concept when writing the songs?
"My sleep paralysis inspired me"
Jason: I did not centre the whole album around veganism – just that song. The album as a whole is a concept album that started with my first and (so far) only episode of sleep paralysis a few weeks after my son was born last February. The sleep paralysis was a crazy experience, and that's what the song "In Nightmares" on the record is about. There was this shadow in my room and a low growl in my ear, and I was paralysed.
A few weeks after that, the pandemic came into full swing in the US, so the idea was really that my nightmare followed me from sleep into the real world and was manifesting in this crazy pandemic. The song "The Weight & The Bellows" on the record is about that idea.
Then you had the murder of George Floyd and all that stemmed from that. The song "A Year on Fire" on the record is about all of that this past summer. It's basically my protest song, for lack of a better description.
The rest of the songs deal with feelings brought upon by isolation and everything universally that we as a collective people experienced during the pandemic. Or at least, how I imagined people could be feeling. A lot of it is personal, but the really dark places still have hope and were more of me putting myself in others' shoes and trying to shine a light in the darkness.
"My daughter joined me on two of the songs"
The album itself and the title track, and then the last track "In Repose" are about my family being the silver lining surrounding all of the darkness. My wife and kids got me through this last year and will continue to help me through tough times. My three-year-old daughter makes a guest vocal appearance on both the title track, "Lined in Silver" and the song "Like Wires" on the album.
Anne: Your music sounds very well composed – whole and polished and also rough and hard. I love how you combine shouting/screaming with singing. I think this could be your brand mark. Also, the creative mixture of post-metal, doom gaze, blackgaze and post-rock catches me. How many artists are there on "Lined In Silver". I mean: Is that all you (except in the songs, your daughter sang in) or did you collaborate with any guest musicians?
Jason: "Lined in Silver" is all me. I recorded, engineered, programmed, did all the singing/screaming, mixed, and mastered it all. The only exception would be the two clips of my daughter on the record.
Anne: Tell me about your music projects before you started Breaths.
"I've started playing in Bands when I was 16"
Jason: I've played in bands since I was 16 and I'm 39 now, so I've had a few. I played guitar in a metal band in my teens called Eighth Ground (back in the late 1990s/early 2000s). It was sort of a mixture of nu-metal and hardcore. After that, I played guitar in an alternative metal band called Subcore which morphed into another band called Furthest From the Star.
Those two bands took me through most of my 20's. Then I dropped out of the music scene for almost a decade. I joined an indie band for a short time on guitar back in 2015, but then decided it wasn't really what I wanted to do.
Then I met my wife, and we moved up to Richmond, VA (from Austin, TX) back in 2017. She really supported me to start playing again, so I found a band here and played the guitar with them for a bit. It was supposed to be an instrumental band, but I had always wanted to sing in a band and eventually convinced them to let me try. We settled on the name Conductor and released a 3-song EP back in 2019. That was my first recording where I did lead vocals, which helped me feel like I could do it.
"CHNNLR is a remote project"
Then I started CHNNLR remotely with my friend back in Austin as Conductor was coming to an end, and then Breaths after about a year of working on CHNNLR.
Anne: Who are your influences? I mean musical and in general?
Jason: Musically, so many. I have a soft spot for the metal I grew up on, but then it expands outward from there. Deftones, Cave In, Dredg, Radiohead, Converge, Boysetsfire, Agent Fresco, Leprous, Deafheaven, Isis, Underoath, Zao, Hum, Nothing, Between the Buried and Me, Mono, Copeland, Thrice, Thursday are some of my favourite bands – I could go on forever.
I also really love dystopian fiction (both books and movies), which influences a lot of how I exaggerate specific ideas and emotions into more grandiose concepts.
Anne: If you've had to choose one favourite record of all times: Which one would it be?
Jason: Dredg – El Cielo. Since the day it was released back in 2002, I have listened to that record, and it's never once gotten old. It's timeless, and every time I listen to it, I discover new things that I love about it. That would probably be my most played album of all time if that data were out there.
Anne: That's cool. That's exactly how I feel about "El Cielo". It's true. Every time you put the album back on after a while, you discover something new. It's fascinating. But Dredg is also a fantastic band. You told me you and your family went vegan about four years ago. Who or what convinced you to do it? Did you have any role models?
"Earthlings changed everything"
Jason: I gave up red meat when I was 22, so 17 years ago. Chicken and pork (everything but fish) came later when I was around 29 or 30. Then I went back and forth between being vegetarian and pescatarian for probably 5 or 6 years. My wife (girlfriend at the time), who had been vegan before and gone back to being vegetarian, challenged me to be vegan for a month with her. It just meant giving up cheese and eggs at the time, since I had decided to be entirely vegetarian again, so I said sure. A few weeks into that month, I watched the documentary "Earthlings" with her, on her recommendation.
That documentary just flipped a switch inside for me. I cried, got super angry, felt all the emotions watching that documentary. From that point, I decided I couldn't go back, and I committed (alongside my wife) to living an ethical vegan lifestyle, not just eating plant-based. We've since been living the lifestyle with no regrets other than not doing it sooner. Side note, my kids and dog, are also vegan, and they are doing perfectly well.
Anne: There seem to be a lot of people who keep telling you all the time how much they love animals while chewing on their steaks. Since I went vegan, it happens nearly every day that I think "Dude, it is so obvious! You need to stop eating animals if you say you love them!" What do you think why is that?
"If you are not vegan you love pets – not animals"
Jason: My stance on that is that you don't love animals if you are not vegan – you only love pets. I think it's that people separate what they eat from the actual animals themselves. There's a disconnect between them seeing a cute calf, cow, or pig and then eating that dead animal. For me, there was that separation until I saw "Earthlings". That documentary just helped me make that connection and really feel empathy and passion for veganism. I've also talked to those who get the connection, and just don't care or claim not to care. That's another issue altogether, I feel.
Anne: Only like two per cent of all humans are vegans. Shouldn't there be more of us?
Jason: I feel it should come naturally that we as people would not want to harm animals. However, the issue comes from learning through culture and traditions and just general societal norms that eating animals is okay and normal. It's not; we need to unlearn this. Vegans have unlearned that programming.
Anne: Blackgaze, shoegaze, post-rock: As good as f*** but only a small crowd. I think I can sense some sort of similarity here. Is this the sound of veganism?
Music and veganism – the dichotomy of beauty and brutality
Jason: I feel like being entirely vegan takes a lot of passion, love and dedication. Being a musician playing a style of music that isn't going to (most likely) do a lot for you career-wise also takes a lot of the same passion, love and dedication. Also, heavy music has the dichotomy of beauty and brutality or can be both simultaneously. Being vegan is like that, too, in a way. You have to see and own the brutality of living as a non-vegan to start to see the beauty of being vegan.
Earth Crisis actually introduced me to the idea of veganism back in the 1990s, long before I became vegan. Then there was Cattle Decapitation, which showed me that you don't need to present the idea nicely or easy to digest. I can be brutal and graphic, as it is in reality. So veganism definitely has strong roots in the realm of extreme music.
Anne: Belinda and Justin from Crippled Black Phoenix, who are also both vegans for many years now, told me they are using their music to transport the message of compassion and empathy towards animals. Would you say that this is also one of your intentions when it comes to music?
"In the future, I would like to write more songs with a vegan reference"
Jason: Absolutely! I plan on writing more vegan-centric songs on the next album and in the future. 'The Forgotten Ones' was kind of my first attempt at it. Now I feel comfortable that I can write about veganism in a way that can still be up for interpretation. But I may have a few more direct songs in the future. That is the beauty of not answering to anyone (label, PR, management, etc.) and also not looking at this as a career – I am free to explore sounds, genres and themes with my music.
Anne: How did you come up with your band name? I think it sounds quite catchy and it also leaves a lot of room for interpretations though. Does it have a special meaning to you?
Jason: I was thinking of band names after I had an idea for the album concept, so the theme of Covid affecting breathing came to mind. Then with the murder of George Floyd, the thought of just how terrible and scary that must have been for him to die that way. Also, with COVID-19 patients suffocating, their lungs failing them. It's just one of the scariest ways to pass to me, suffocation. The name was sort of an idea that stemmed from all that, trying to give something back to those still with breaths left to take.
Anne: What's up next for Breaths? Did you already make plans for the time after your big release? I guess touring is not much of an option in these weird times of the pandemic.
"I'm already working on my next album"
Jason: I am just trying to promote the release as much as I can on my own, and with a full-time career and family. I have already started writing the next Breaths album. I'm not far along but have a decent amount tracked for a song. I've been mainly working on getting the right drum tones to make this next record even that much bigger.
I'm also working on the debut full-length from my other project, CHNNLR with my friend and collaborator. We've got a concept for the album and a working title. We've got two songs in progress, with more in the works.
Anne: Thank you very much for this sympathetic interview! It was great to hear a few insights about your music and life! I am looking forward to "Lined In Silver" and wishing you all the best for the release! I am pretty sure it will be a great success for you!
Jason: Thank you for challenging me with these questions, and for letting me be a part of this. I really appreciate it!
With his mixture of post-metal, post-rock doom gaze and blackgaze, Jason hits the pulse of our times. You can get a taste of his upcoming LP in my review of the pre-released song "The Forgotten Ones".