If you need a new perspective on your art, you better move to Berlin. Many artists have done this, and British indietronic collective BRETON are following in the footsteps of BOWIE, Bono and others by relocating to the historically creative city. After the release of their critically acclaimed 2012 debut Other Peoples Problems the group was forced to leave their familiar environment – the BretonLabs studios in London – behind. The old building was demolished, leaving the band up in the air. The former GDR ‘Funkhaus’ became a new home for the five guys, providing a new environment that was both isolated and full of creativity. The result of it – the sophomore album War Room Stories – will be released on February the 3rd.
NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION talked with BRETON about the special atmosphere of the German capital, the visual aspect of their art and the troubles of touring life.
Many fans know that you are actually a film-making collective that formed a band as a means to show your short films. With the years hoewever, you became primarily known for your music. Do you think that most people connect more easily to music than to visual art? How do you feel about that?
Well I think that music, more so than any other medium of expression, has the most immediate effect on a person. Music can evoke strong feelings, ideas, memories, in a very direct way. It is much more of a universal thing to turn to music for comfort or enjoyment or in times of sadness, than it is to, say, be moved by a painting, or a piece of cinema. No doubt these other artistic forms can achieve the same thing that music can, but music can do it in much less time, and is often much more powerful. Music can intensify particular moments in a persons life. Music, especially live music, is also a collective experience, and I think that heightens the effect it has on the individual. I think it’s relatively natural that arguably as the most universally accessible mode of expression, people are drawn to our music, or find out about us primarily through the music we make.
In the 1980s, musical short films became popular with “Thriller” and “The Wall”. There seems to be a revival now within the Hip-hop and R&B scene. We’ve seen longer-form films such as KANYE WEST‘s “Runaway”, PHARELL WILLIAMS’ 24 hour video “Happy”, or BEYONCÉ’s new “visual” solo album. Personally I love these videos, but sometimes it seems that they are even more important than the actual songs. What do you think about this trend?
It seems like quite an obvious progression for musicians, especially artists as big as those you mentioned, to want to move into more projects that encompass more than just their music. The speed at which people consume and digest information has increased so rapidly over the past decade, and these films by big name artists are a direct reaction to that. You have to stay ahead of your peers and keep people interested by offering them as much stimulus and innovation as you can. I don’t think it always necessarily works, but I think much of the BEYONCÉ video-album is equal in quality in terms of music and video output. I was a big fan of Runaway too, and I think people like KANYE are setting the precedent, especially amongst his peers. On a more grass roots level, the democratisation of technology – hi-spec cameras becoming affordable, editing and computing technology widely accessible etc – means that kids are able to create some truly incredible stuff, and get it out there, much quicker.
If you could choose any band/musician to do such a musical short film for, which would it be? And who would be your favourite director to work with for a movie soundtrack?
DAMON ALBARN. He seems incredibly creative and his output is consistently brilliant, so it’d be cool to work with him on some sort of film. If not ALBRAN, then Ricky Rozay. We could dress up him up like Henry the IIIV and just film him going about his business. And I’d love to work with DAVID LYNCH on a soundtrack. Although it’d probably be a complete mind fuck.
Your video for “Envy”, the second single of your album “War Room Stories”, has just been released. It is very unusual for you to properly appear in your music videos as a band – usually, only short and modified snippets of you can be seen. Can you tell us a bit about this video?
Envy is effectively a pop song, so we thought it’d be good to match the explicit pop-ness of the song with a very clean-cut visual aesthetic. Also we wanted to dispel some of the ‘mystery’ that supposedly surrounds us. The song is, vaguely, about what happens when you don’t express your feelings explicitly, or keep them knowingly contained, and what effect that can have on you; the character in the video is related to that internal conflict. It was shot on a red-cam, so it was really fun to watch him smash up all these objects in such detail.
BRETON: “We compare touring to going to war”
Your new album “War Room Stories” is going to be released any day now. What will be different about this album, compared to “Other Peoples Problems”?
I think this album has much more a physicality about it. Other Peoples Problems was very electronic, very insular in a lot of ways. All the songs on War Room Stories were recorded live, in single takes, which is dramatically different to the way Other Peoples Problems was recorded. Hopefully the live aspect will translate and people will be able to hear the difference. After touring Other Peoples Problems for so long, we got to witness all the different kinds of environments people listen to music in. At festivals, in small clubs, in headphones on a bus, in a room, in the bathroom through a phone… it made us think about what kind of songs we wanted to write, which environment would people be listening to this record in? I think there are more points on War Room Stories that are more immediate, maybe slightly less cryptic, but that’s for other people to decide I guess.
In order to record “War Room Stories”, you moved from London to Berlin. I just moved from my hometown Berlin to London and keep being asked: “Which city is best?”, and always find this question a bit odd, given that London and Berlin are pretty much alike, with Berlin being cheaper. What’s your opinion? Did Berlin influence your sound in a particular way, compared to London?
I’m sure anything I’d have to say regarding Berlin has been said before, by many people… it’s strikingly unlike anywhere else in Europe. People talk about Berlin for a reason, you know? It is an amazing place. I would say that Berlin’s recent history, it’s scarred history, seems to differentiate it from London, or anywhere else. In a sense, Berlin is the the culmination of a 150 years of geo-political and social history… It’s a very distinctive place in that sense. And there’s the Berlin underground, something that is genuinely visceral, and we only lived there for a few months… It’s one of those few places where there’s a tangible electricity to it. It feels like a place where anything could happen. And it also feels so young as a city, it’s still discovering its sense of self, whereas London has a very established sense about it. I love them both in different ways.
The year 2014 will start in the same way as it will end for you: Touring, touring, touring. Are you looking forward to this, or do you miss your studio and creative work? Any tips on how to cope with the exhausting part of touring – long bus rides, lack of privacy…?
It’s been a while since we did any intensive touring so yeah we’re really looking forward to it. Like any band, we’re really excited about playing the new songs to people and gauging the reactions. We compare touring to going to war. You need the same amount of conviction and the same amount of socks. Of course, I’m being facetious, war is much more serious and you need much more drink to get through it. I think just having something to stretch your muscles out after long bus rides is good. Like a football, or a speed-rope. Or maybe just run along side the van, that’ll stretch them out.
Do you stay in hotels on tour? Who shares rooms and why?
Yeah we usually stay in hotels. Room shares depends on who’s doing what on each night. Sometimes if one of us wants to have a chilled one – for whatever reason – we’ll share rooms accordingly. It basically depends on who’s in the hotel lobby when the rooms are chosen. Although once we woke up to find Ryan asleep, standing up, in the corridor. He was too drunk to knock or something.
I’m interested in knowing what the words “Hope” and “Passion” mean to you, your art and the band as a whole?
Hope and Passion is Love. And Love is all. Peace out.
Last but not least, what I always wanted to know: who is the person talking at the end of “Edward The Confessor”?
It’s a friend of ours, but if I told you their name I’d have to kill you.