A Brooklyn-based Trio with a Flare for Music
by Vee Manzerolle
Brooklyn-based trio Breaking Laces recently released their new album When You Find Out. With its release, and an East Coast US tour, SoulMatters managed to squeeze an interview in with singer/guitarist/songwriter Willem Hartong. Here’s what Hartong had to say about his band Breaking Laces, and his experience working with an abusive robotic band mate.
SoulMatters: How did you guys come up the band name, Breaking Laces? And what does breaking laces symbolize (that is if it’s more than just a catchy name)?
Willem Hartong: When I lived in Boston I sometimes hung out with some girls who liked to hit the clubs and dance. Sometimes I'd go with and more often than not I'd be red flagged by the bouncer at the door for a dress code violation. These were trying experiences. The most interesting one was when I had the dude convinced my Skechers sneakers were special dancing shoes but he objected to the "breaking laces", apparently meaning the laces on my shoe's were too wide. That was really the last straw. I told the guy to fondue himself, said later to my friends and hit a dive bar down the street, just me and my breaking laces.
SMM: The band is made up of three members with yourself included. There’s Rob Chojnacki (bass) and Seth Masarsky (drums). What’s your relationship with your band mates?
WH: We tend to drift apart on some things and our lives are separate when they can be. I think the thing the three of us enjoy the most is the grind and glory of the road. That's the thing that brings us together the most, both literally and figuratively.
SMM: Has that relationship changed since working on Breaking Laces' newest album, When You Find Out?
WH: Given the amount of time it took to get this album up and out allowed us to find some space for ourselves and our own lives, which I really think was a positive for this band and us as individuals. In the three years before it we were on the road sometimes 6-7 months of the year. We'd love it, but when you get outside of it, that's really a lot and sometimes too much if you plan on having any sort of life outside of the band.
SMM: How did you guys originally come together on creative terms?
WH: We had a summit in Manchester, Vermont where I punched them both in the face and told them they would do what they are told. But we talked it out and settled on a democracy sprinkled with oligarchic leanings. Then they punched me in the face and we shared two ice packs between us.
SMM: Evidently your achievements have been accomplished on your bands own terms. I was wondering what exactly those terms are? And if you’re referring to being an independent band.
WH: It's not as if the terms were predetermined. If we've done anything independently it was either out of necessity or because it seemed the more worthwhile choice. Or it was because the choice seemed fun, or scary or different. DIY is nice because you have a ton of control over what you are doing, but we are always looking for help in all areas. We aren't under any assumption that their aren't people in the music business who know what they are doing. There are, they are just harder to find. And sometimes you have to keep yourself afloat until you can get to them, or they come to you.
SMM: Breaking Laces recorded When You Find Out in New York and Nashville with producer Ed Tuton. How do you think working with Tuton shaped the sound of the new album?
WH: It made the sound bigger without losing what we are. We knew that would be the trick in trying to take us out of the basement a bit. So we chose a producer who had catered to songwriters but who also had worked with bands.
SMM: What were the pros and cons of pre-production and working with an experienced producer?
WH: It took some time. But hopefully it was time well spent. The pros are that you aren't running around chasing your tail and leaving a lot on the table because you ran out of studio time or only had two days to mix a full album. That kind of experience has its own benefits, but we'd done it enough to know we were ready for something different.
SMM: If you had to describe each of your albums (When You Find Out, Lemonade, and your EP Astronomy Is My Life) with one word, what word would that be and why?
WH: There are a few that come to mind, but the one I have settled on this morning is "honest". I like to think we've never tried to be something we are not. Which isn't to say we aren't trying to grow, we're just trying to grow into ourselves.
SMM: You’ve been quoted saying that your album When You Find Out is “the best thing we’ve ever done.” Do you believe Breaking Laces is at its peak of creative success or do you believe your music will only continue to improve?
WH: I always think the next one will be better than the last, otherwise I don't know why I would keep doing it. I don't feel it will ultimately be up to me, whether or not the things you mentioned are true.
SMM: Your songwriting style has been described as honest. How do you characterize honest songwriting?
WH: Crap. Now I might have to change my answer above. Nah, I'm going to let it be. I know there is a tendency to be too poetic or flowery in writing a song. I've been guilty of it myself more times than I care to remember. And don't get me wrong, we are all casual liars to a certain degree. We have to be. But when you get it right it's wonderful. When someone explains why they love one of our songs, one of my reactions is often "well, that's because it's true." Or maybe it's because it's catchy or because they had sex while listening to it, who knows.
SMM: Originally, Breaking Laces began as a one-man project by you. What’s it like sharing the creative process with a band and its members?
WH: Helpful and frustrating. It's easier to work alone, but it's certainly more rewarding to accomplish something as a group. It's also less lonely.
SMM: Biker bars, heavy metal nights, and summer camps. What experience is the most memorable and why?
WH: Probably the biker bars and heavy metal nights. Because we went in and did our thing without apology and not only didn't get killed (which seemed like a remote possibility when we initially showed up) but many of the patrons actually liked us, or at least appreciated our naïve moxie/courage/stupidity.
SMM: Last but certainly not least. What was it like working with an abusive robot with an addictive personality?
WH: It was a battered relationship from the start. But it goes to show you what you'll put up with for some serious lead guitar chops. Then again the good thing about a robot is that you can blow him up if he gets out of control and no one is going to jail as a result. Maybe that's why we work with more machines than most bands.