A track from EXBX, the new EP from Tallahassee punks Ex-Breathers, is streaming over on big brother BrooklynVegan. It's recommended listening. Specifically, it's a fun blast of hardcore built to resemble Hüsker Dü back when those Minnesotans could legitimately lay claim to being one of the fastest bands around. There's also a smidgen of the core-inflected chaos that Florida outfits seem to do so well, along with a quarry of other touchstones Ex-Breathers manage to smash to bits during the 12 songs they deliver in 11 minutes. EXBX is slated to hit shelves in October via the winningly named Texas is Funny Records.
Of course, you hear something else in Ex-Breathers besides wild energy and well-chosen influences: The band has a spirit recalling a bygone age of DIY and that indescribable drive to play music no matter the physical, emotional, or financial costs. Needless to say, they were the perfect candidates to see how the xerox zine section of the punk scene is currently managing in modern times. In between tours, I caught up with David (guitar/vocals) and Jack (bass/vocals) and asked them about road life, band life, and what it's like to be kicking around a digital era when you're old souls.
What are your favorite albums, how did those influence you, and were any of those touchstones for the new record?
David: Some of my favorite albums include Fugazi's The Argument, Converge's Jane Doe, and Modest Mouse's The Moon & Antarctica. Since we were trying to write a more no-frills, intense record with this 7", only Jane Doe really comes through, along with a lot of Minutemen for songwriting influence. But for our next record, some of the cool, intricate recording ideas from the other two are probably going to come into play on my end.
Jack: I can say that for me, Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade and Youth of Today's Break Down the Walls are two records that have always stuck with me and I've often found myself trying to capture the energy present on those recordings, especially on this upcoming 7". We try to keep our influences pretty varied though and we are always hoping to grow as a group and push the barriers of what we can play.
I'm glad you mentioned Husker Du and Minutemen, since I heard quite a bit of Metal Circus (along with Land Speed Record) and The Punch Line on the new EP. In that light, do you find it harder to write shorter songs? Were there riffs you didn't want to cut that had to go to keep the flow?
David: We've always mixed it up between long and short songs. With this EP, we definitely set out to write as many songs as we could fit on a 7", so we specifically wanted to do shorter songs. We didn't have to re-write anything to make them shorter, that's just naturally how they came together once we had that goal. A few of the songs are older and were written before we thought to do the EP, so it was nice to have some ready that we could include.
How did you work this set out? Were these songs battle-tested live or did you work everything out in a practice space? Is there a right answer or do songs just work themselves out, regardless?
David: Usually either Jack or I come in with a complete song and we each add our own touches. There were a couple that we all finished together though. About half of them we were able to play live a bunch which helped with adding some subtleties here and there, but the others we wrote right before we recorded. I record our stuff, so it's easy for us to demo songs and work on them like that.
Do you feel like Ex-Breathers will have a definitive sound or will it shift more towards what you're feeling at the time? If so, what directions are you toying with?
David: We're always kinda writing songs that are influenced by what we're listening to at the time, and we try to listen to a good variety of different genres, so I feel like it's always shifting. But that's just my perspective, maybe for other people it all sounds punk to them? We have close to half a full-length written, and it won't be like the 7" or even really Collision. I mean, it'll sound like us, but I'm always a fan of bands that audibly grow and add new facets to their music with each record, so hopefully we can do that.
Jack: We've been in 7", super-short-song mode for a while now so it will be nice to get back to writing songs that can breathe a little more. The new stuff will probably bear the Fugazi and post-punk influences a little more than before, at least in my songs. As far as playing around with different artistic directions within the band, we try not to be too conscious of where we are headed and just let our influences work their way in naturally. The three of us are always exploring different artists and genres and we want Ex-Breathers to reflect who we are at any given point. Obviously the music is going to be rooted in hardcore punk for a long while, but if we ever totally move away from that, it'll be an honest expression.
Where do you want to take the band? Is this something you feel like you, for lack of a better phrase, need to do? (Kind of in a creative release way.) Do you want to make this a career? If the latter, do you have any worries about that?
David: It's definitely something we need to do. We've all played music for most of our lives, and for me it's really the only skill I'm confident in. If I didn't have music as a release, I'd be in such bad shape. This EP especially got me through a really rough time. We try not to look too far in the future though. We're just looking forward to working on our new record and touring a bunch. If this became a career it'd be the best career ever, but that's not something we can expect or plan for. We'll just keep working on our stuff and see what happens.
Jack: Things have been going pretty well with the band lately and we are really enjoying everything we've been up to. I guess we just want to keep doing what we've been doing all along, writing tunes and playing out. Some really rad people have reached out to us in the past year and helped us accomplish some of our goals (like the EXBX 7" coming out on Texas is Funny) and we're very appreciative of that. We're writing our second LP right now and we just want to focus on making those songs as cool as possible and keep playing. Writing and performing are definitely things I feel like I have to do to keep sane, and I'm not sure where I'd be if music wasn't such an active part of my life. It's certainly the first thing I'm passionate about and the most fulfilling thing I've ever been involved in. If I could be a career musician under my own terms, I'd be into that. . . but making quality art is cooler than making money so we'll just stick to that and see what happens!
Since you're approaching this more from the angle of doing it for the love of the music, how do you handle criticism? Is it weird to have people present these instant reactions after you've worked for weeks/months/years on your music? Does anything they say play into the future creative process or is it more important to follow your muse because you're the one in the trenches?
David: We've been pretty lucky with the response we've gotten so far, though this is the first release that has really had a wider audience. Everything we've done up to this EP has been self-released and relied on word-of-mouth and touring a lot, so the reactions to our past stuff has been pretty slow, haha. I've always gone into writing music that I would like to listen to and assume not many other people will share my tastes, so it's always a nice surprise when people are into it! I don't think criticism really influences our music though, we pretty much just write stuff that we'd want to listen to.
Jack: Like David said, we have been lucky with peoples' reactions to our music so far. . . we'll see if that continues. I realize that weird post-punk/hardcore/whatever isn't for everybody and some criticism certainly isn't a bad thing. You know you're pushing boundaries when people start to shake their heads, so maybe that's something to shoot for. It's nice to get feedback immediately on our songs, and it's funny and interesting to see what people have to say. So far, no sort of review or reaction to our songs has really altered our output and we haven't taken any of it too seriously. We have always played for ourselves, to satisfy our own artistic desires and I don't see that ever changing. You can tell when music comes from an honest place, and it's always better when it does.
Have you noticed anything different with the scene today that, say, the Minutemen jamming econo never had to confront, i.e. the internet? Is there anything from that time you wish you could recapture? Or is change inevitable and you just take it as it comes?
David: We try to jam econo too! Music definitely isn't the only thing we're influenced by when it comes to bands like Minutemen and Fugazi. I read Our Band Could Be Your Life on tour last year and a lot of it was definitely ringing true to our and and all our friend's experiences. Obviously the internet makes for a huge difference though. I feel like while it makes most things easier, it makes it harder to really stick out and make a quick impression. There seemed to be a musical innocence back then, where bands weren't all trying to fit into a genre or set sound (at least in the punk scene). I do wish I could have been a part of that, though I also think that right now there are a lot of bands coming up that are very unique and doing their own thing. We all seem to play together in each other's towns and it's really exciting and reminiscent of what I read from bands back then.
Jack: Well the Minutemen had people hating them right there at their shows, I'm sure they'd rather deal with some internet jerk sitting behind a screen then have spit in their faces! But we don't read too much into internet reactions or stuff like that because the disconnect makes things much less personal and people will just say anything, so it's not as significant. We certainly draw influence from bands back in the '80s and '90s, musically and ethically, but it's so hard to compare the scene back then to what we have now, especially from the perspective of somebody born in '86. Change is definitely inevitable but you don't have to just accept things as they occur. If you work at it, you can use what you have now and change things for the better, which is something we've been trying to do in Tallahassee for a while now.
How has the tour been going? Any crazy happenings? Do you enjoy the road?
David: This tour was the best. We were out with our friends Deism, and hanging out with them for two weeks and seeing a bunch of old friends everywhere made for some of the best two weeks of my life. There weren't too much craziness this time around, just a blown tire and walking into a Waffle House bathroom with a guy sleeping on the toilet. That was how we ended tour. I love the road. For the most part, my mood improves greatly when I'm traveling. Now I just want to see new places, like the West Coast or other countries!
What else is ahead?
David: We have a split coming out around November with our friends Gnarwhal, Woozy, and Ovlov. Next year we hope to put out our next full-length, which we've written about half of. Touring up the east coast in October, out to Texas in December, then hopefully a West Coast tour and we really want to tour in another country next year.