We Talk With Roman Rappak of Breton
Breton is an electronic rock group from the UK who definitely has been turning heads with their debut LP, Other People’s Problems. What makes this group especially interesting is their heavy focus on cinema and the visual presentation of their music. I held a phone conversation with lead singer, Roman Rappak, upon his arrival in D.C. to kick off a US tour. Breton plays here at Bowery Ballroom tonight.
What have you found most different playing for foreign audiences?
To be honest, we don’t play that many shows in the UK! We play a lot of shows in Germany, France, Belgium, and Holland. You do see differences, in the U.S., crowds are always more excited to see music. I don’t know what it is; if it’s the type of music we play or if it’s that we’re an odd band. I’m sure everybody thinks their band is difficult to describe. We love all these different types of music and have to include all these sources in our sets to feel like we’re pushing forth an honest account of our music. Americans seem to pick up on that most quickly. Actually, the first blogs that ran stuff on us were U.S. based.
You mentioned you don’t often play for audiences in England. Why is that?
Our shows work best on a massive stage with big screens and decent sound systems. The problem with smaller venues in the UK is that they have bad production values. In France and Germany, really early on they got the idea that there were elements of cinema to it that translate better on a bigger stage.
Can you tell us a bit about Breton’s origin as a short film collective?
We started out doing lots of stuff, like photography, design, and film. The original idea was to get these films screened, but we found that pretty tough. The short film network in the UK is pretty long and drawn out, and conforming takes a lot of the fun out of it. You only get shown at short film indie festivals, with like fifty other films.
So we got these shows, but as a band, we were pretending that we were a band with some visuals. We played regular sounding songs, and the soundtrack to our films. This way we could invite our friends to come see our films, and it wouldn’t involve the ordeal of watching twenty other films at a cinema. It grew from there, and here we are today in D.C.
Since visuals are a very central part of the band, how do they work in a live performance?
We have a VJ that we bring with us; he plays a keyboard, where each key corresponds to a different clip, and each track has its own short film. He is literally playing the film and editing it live. I’ve seen him do cool stuff, like change the narrative to a film, or change the ending.
So every song currently has a short film for it? Is that something you plan to continue with future recordings?
Definitely, we love doing that. I am hoping to carry on the balance we have now. It’s an honest thing to play music and to play it live. I don’t want it to become too much of a weird art installation.
How does the balance work when recording a song versus making a film?
There’s been a couple different experiments. Sometimes the song is written, and we shoot the video for it. Other times we’ve got a big screen and project on a wall while we’re playing so we can come up with stuff and write ideas down. There’s a couple of tracks that have been started just with visuals, which we then try to wrap the music around. That’s the way a sound design or a film school works.
You can be inspired by anything really. Some of the tracks have started with conversations or traffic noises in a loop, which can actually have a weird melody. You loop someone’s conversation, as soon as its repeated you can hear a rhthym to it.
Your song, The Commission, is my favorite off the record. Can you talk a bit about how that film idea came down, especially the science fiction elements?
The whole song started by someone sending a sample they recorded of a building they lived next to all their life falling down. We were looking for what the album could end with. It felt like a logical choice to use this collapsing track. We talked to a lot of people about the theme. We met this guy, Stuart Sinclair, who does graphics, such as car effects and CGI. In his spare time, he was making these incredible scenes of satellites and space. So we thought, “how about we use that?” We have this narrative of a guy who’s up there on his own, and basically commits suicide, or however you’d like to interpret it.
What’s next for Breton following this tour?
We play this tour, then head to France for some European dates, and then get to work on the next album. The London Short Film Festival has asked us to do a live cinema, with a couple of guest directors where we’ll soundtrack their work. Also, Hauschka, a Berlin composer who did the strings on the album, will score one of our films live. We’ve got loads of projects coming up.