Breaks – Big Deal Interview


Crud’s Alan Sargeant pokes and probes the industry mechanics of ROUGH TRADES ‘s latest signing, the BRAKES. Here’s how they got signed. Here’s how they celebrated. Here’s how they intend to f**k it all up. Just sign here boys …

Here’s the deal. Here’s the BiG DeaL. That shitty four-piece you’ve been in with your mates since Year 8 eventually managed to get some daft industry type to hand over a blank cheque and to tell you were going to be famous. Very famous. You wouldn’t have to talk to your former classmates at school. You wouldn’t have to get up early. They only thing they didn’t tell you was that music was more than just writing songs and shaking your balls on stage. It was about being there on time. Releasing something on time. It was about being famous on time.

And sometimes it wasn’t always quite so simple. Sometimes there were other bands; bands you tried out, swapped saliva with, blew speakers with and split practise room fees with. And sometimes they didn’t work out. So sometimes you have two, three or four bands before you have your first big deal. And sometimes (just sometimes) you’ve had your first ‘big deal’ already. That’s how it was for Brakes, the prickly Brighton 4-piece fashioned from the fibres of British Sea Power (Eamon Hamilton, guitar/vocals) , Electric Soft Parade (Tom White, guitar Alex White, drums) and The Tenderfoot (Marc Beatty, bass). They’d all had deals before. They’d all had breaks before. They’d all been the ‘best new band’ before. What better start for new band, best or otherwise?

But even now, ‘new’ doesn’t really come into it. So far Brakes have released one scatty, jangly beast of a record (‘Give Blood’), praised for its direct-to-tape enthusiasm, its immediacy, its bile, its waspish intractability and the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder by which it was later diagnosed. And this year Brakes backed Belle and Sebastian and Editors in the UK and Europe before heading to Texas for the South by South West festival and a debut tour of Italy. But there is something new in the off’ing. The band are set to release ‘The Beatific Visions’ through Rough Trade this coming November after hightailing it to Nashville to record with Stuart Sikes (Cat Power: The Greatest, White Stripes: Red Blood Cells). And again it’s been recorded fast-to-tape with the minimum of studio gimmickry. It has some additional lapsteel courtesy of local axe hombre, Kevin Teel and Elvis’s Muscle Shoals member, David Briggs on ragtime piano. And all for the price of a beer and a packet of fags.

Recorded at ‘The House of David’ studio, famous for producing records like JJ Cale, Yo La Tengo and Elvis Presley should give you a fair indication of what to expect. Its feverish, its vital, its cantankerous, its wretched and yet it comes freeqwheelin across the stereo with a tenderness and a sweetness hitherto unimagined. ‘If I Should Die Tonight’ breezes by with the twangy jocularity of a line-dancing Frank Black, ‘Mobile Comminication’ evokes the whimsical technophobia of ‘Sophtware-era’ Grandaddy, ‘Isabel’ is waiflike acoustic magic, and ‘No Return’ recedes into the ether like some weary damp-eyed whisper. That’s aside to all the preposterous punkery of ‘Porcupine or Pineapple’ and the sheer beatific joy of ‘Beatific Visions’.

‘the rollin’, bowlin’, tumblin’, toilin’, boilin’, wheelin’, bleedin’, blood givin’ buddies that have been throwing eyes into the valleys of the blind and sending mp3s to the moon or further for over three years now’

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you BRAKES. Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

How did the band come together?

(Emaon Hamilton) We were drunk in a Brighton bar and thought it’d be a good idea. I’d been singing some acoustic songs that needed a band, and press-ganged Tom, Alex and Marc into playing. It all worked out fine.

What were the first songs you started playing together?
The first practise we had, we did ‘Pick Up The Phone’, ‘Hi How Are You’, ‘Heard About Your Band’, ‘What’s In It For Me’. It was joyous. The songs sounded amazing with a band kicking them from behind.
What do you remember about your first gig?

We were supporting Mower at The Freebutt in Brighton, in front of about 7 people. It was ace, it was our first gig and the seven people there went wild.

How did you get signed?

We’d recorded our first single ‘I Can’t Stand To Stand Beside You’ in Brighton for £30’, and Rough Trade’s sister label, Tug Boat Records offered to out it out after they’d seen us live. Rough Trade offered us five days recording in a studio, so we recorded everything we had. I think they were pretty impressed with our work ethic, and offered to put out the album. It was all done on a handshake. Geoff Travis said “50/50, no funny business” and we said “yes”.

How did you blow your advance?

We didn’t get one for the first record, they gave us bits and bobs when we were truly skint and helped out with touring costs. For the second record, we got enough money to pay ourselves £500 a month for twelve months, which, with rent at £350, and bills at £80, doesn’t leave much to ‘blow’. I buy potatoes, cans of tuna and mayonnaise mostly. Sometimes I’ll buy a chicken and roast it, then make soup out of the carcass.

The first famous person you met?

I met J Mascis at a Strokes gig in Brighton and shook his hand. He didn’t say much, but I was very happy. Four days later I met David Dimbleby in a service station on the A23 and shook his hand. Two heroes in a week! What a week!

Best thing about Rough Trade Offices?

It’s great down there in the little basement, but it gets pretty stuffy during the summer. It’s pretty chaotic, and there’s always music playing. That’s the way a record company should be.

Daftest story they’ve ever invented about you for the press?

We don’t really invent anything for the press. Lies always catch up to you. I learnt this when I was nine and let off bangers in my village, then said ‘no’ when my mother asked if I knew what the banging was. Believing it wasn’t fireworks, a neighbour called the police to report gunshots, and the next thing I know there were all these police swarming around the village lanes. I had to come clean.

Does your label or your management support or discourage unruly rock n’ roll behaviour?

I’ve always thought that bands acting like dickheads smacks of insecurity in their music.

What would you NOT be prepared to do to promote yourselves?


What’s the closest you’ve been to rewriting a famous song?

I came up with this great melody and took it to a practise, but after about sixty seconds Marc said ‘Eamon, that’s ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ by The Monkees’. So we stopped.

What was the last major decision your label or your management made that you were reluctant to accept?

We’re in safe hands with Sam our manager and Rough Trade as a label, so we pretty much say yes to most things they suggest. Sometimes playing three gigs a day can get tiring (instore, gig, club gig), but coffee and whisky help.

Who chose the producer for ‘Beatific Visions’?

Geoff Travis suggested Stuart Sykes, who was great, a big silent Texan with amazing ears. He got us hammering out each song until we got it right, and we trusted him implicitly with his decisions. It all worked out.

Here’s the deal: you’ve made an excellent record and some unscrupulous hack handling the press release is about to screw it all up with some grotesque misuse of our mother-tongue. What words would YOU use to describe the release?

Ten out of ten.

If it were all to collapse tomorrow would you go back to your old job?

I worked in a supermarket giving out free wine samples, but ended up drinking a few too many myself. Not the healthiest of jobs. I don’t know what I’d do if it all fell apart. Probably travel.

‘BRAKES’ – ‘The Beatific Visions’ Out 06.11.06 on Rough Trade.

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