James Boyle, aka Breakage, has never been one to be pigeonholed. Moving effortlessly through styles from drum & bass to dubstep, Breakage has proved himself to be one of the most versatile operators in either scene to date.
Breakage released his debut album This Too Shall Pass in 2006 and signed exclusively with Shy FX's Digital Soundboy imprint in 2007. He's been working on Foundation, his second album, since 2008 and last year we got a few tasters of what to expect with the single releases of Run Em Out featuring Roots Manuva and Hard featuring Newham Generals and David Rodigan. Foundation is out on Monday March 15th so we grabbed Breakage for a quick word about it...
You've been making this album for two years, why has it taken so long?
There are so many reasons. I started working on it and then I switched over to using Apple Macs so I changed operating system, sequencer, everything.
I knew what I wanted overall but I didn't know, in terms of direction, what kind of tracks I wanted and that took a while. I stopped writing tunes and made about 200 loops for the first year. Obviously working with vocals was a new thing for me as well.
Then, on the last day of finishing my album, my computer died! I hadn't backed it up so I lost about half my album and that set me back another six months. Even though it was a disaster at the time I now think it has worked out for the better as I just wanted to make better tunes than the ones I'd lost.
What's the thought process behind the album title?
I've based the album around the foundation of music that influences me. Obviously I'm really into reggae and dub and you can hear that but there's also house, r&b and rock influences on there. It's like an insight into what I listen to or grew up on.
You seem to have successfully made the transition from being perceived as a D&B producer to just a producer...
Yeah, with the first album I did, the second CD that came with it had tracks of varying different tempos and styles so it's something I've always done. I'm not the sort of person to stick to my comfort zones, that's not the reason why I make tunes. Obviously I'm known as a drum & bass producer, which is wicked and is a dream, but once you reach your dream you have to extend what you want out of that dream. You have to push it that bit further and see where it can take you.
Working around one tempo can be frustrating at times. There was a period where I wasn't sure if I wanted to make drum & bass any more but once I started working at different tempos and I came back to it I felt really refreshed. I'm enjoying it again like I did when I first started and I appreciate it a lot more.
Dubstep has really taken off since your last album and in many ways it's the perfect genre for you as you've always had a real dub influence to your music...
Yeah, the drum & bass I was making wasn't similar but it followed the same sort of guidelines. When I first heard dubstep I couldn't believe there was a whole scene I didn't know about sitting right under my nose, it was incredible. I know a lot of drum & bass people don't like it but I definitely think that dubstep has played a part in the drum & bass you're hearing now. I hate to use the word but the sort of minimal stuff. People realise it's not all about having a big massive loud beat and a huge lashing mid range bass, you can actually make a tune that works on a dancefloor with the bare minimum. I'm really happy about that.
Did a lot of thought go into the order of the tracks on the album?
Yes, Shy FX and I first sat down to plan the order just after my computer died and as I made new music the order and tracks on the album changed constantly. However Open Up is the only track that stayed in its place as I specifically wanted that as the opening tune. It's like a preview into the album. It's got a dark feel but from the second half changes into the rest of the album. It was important to have this first as it shows what I've done but also where I'm at and where I'm going. It's like the past, present and future in one track and sums up the album.
I wanted to make the order flow almost like a DJ set with contrasts but it's not seamless as I felt certain tracks needed intermissions and there are short interludes between tracks as well.
You're signed exclusively to Digital Soundboy, why did you choose them?
I had a few other offers but they wanted me to change my sound. Shy FX just wanted to sign me because he likes what I do. He's a very supportive person as well, there's no pressure to make a hit and I have the freedom to do whatever I want. When it came to recording the vocals he was there at every session because I was still finding my feet. He also lent me a pair of very nice monitors for the mixdown and helped when I made the switch to Macs.
How did the collaborations come about, did you sit down with a wish list and see who was available?
I had a very big wish list, probably enough for about five albums. It ranged from people like Newham Generals to Kate Bush! It was finding the right person for the right track. For example, I really wanted to make a tune with Roots Manuva but I didn't want to write a tune that sounded like he should be on it. Usually the vocalist doesn't even like the tune you make or it sounds too much like something they've already done. It was more a case of having a tune and then looking at my list and deciding who would work best on it. If they're not available or whatever you just have to cut your losses and put it to bed.
Doing the vocals really changed my way of thinking and how I approach music. It was really liberating to have a track and have somebody do a vocal over it. Once I send a tune to a vocalist I have no control over what they do. It's really exciting and something I want to do a lot more of.
A lot of people are particularly intrigued by the collab with the mysterious Burial, how did this come about?
His first album blew me away so I contacted him via MySpace and said I was a big fan. A couple of days later he got back to me and said he loved my tunes too. We got chatting and we have a lot in common as we're both from south London.
I said we should do a tune together but at that time I was living in LA and time passed. It got to the point where it was like we either do this right now or we don't. So I came back and we did three days in a row. Then I had to go back to LA but we kept working on a few different tracks every time I came back after that. We got used to working with each other and Vial came out of it. I think a lot of people will hear it and think it sounds like a Burial tune because of the 2step tempo but I really think we found a happy medium between our two styles with the mood of it. We're definitely both eager to do more tracks together as well.
Your next single is a collaboration with Donaeo called Speechless, tell us more about it...
We had met once before when he was working with Shy and we both wanted to work with each other but nothing had come of it. Then a group of us went for a night out to Yoyo. Afterwards Shy took us all back to the studio and about 4am Donaeo called randomly and ended up coming round.
He's a very creative guy, he was messing around on the synths came up with a riff and started singing over the top and I was like "that's the tune we're going to make". Unfortunately my cab had just arrived so I recorded him on my phone quickly and started working on it the next day. Once I hear a sequence of notes I can hear the whole tune around it within a few minutes. I rang him early afternoon with a first draft and he had made a demo with all the vocals and they were amazing! That pushed me even harder with the production. Then we got a guy called Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly in to play guitar and he smashed it. I'm really happy with it.
How are you going to do the tour?
It will be a DJ tour but promoters will be able to book some vocalists from the album if they want. I'll be doing PAs, I've already done some with Newham Generals, it adds a whole new dynamic to the DJ set. It adds that live element to it without it being too live. If I was going to do a live show it would have to be done properly and I haven't figured out how to do that yet. I don't want to do it until I've perfected it. I'd want it to be like Daft Punk's live show, something that you HAVE to go and see. Maybe next album there will be a live tour. I would definitely encourage promoters to book the PA as the couple I've done have gone down really well.
You mentioned earlier you were living in LA, why did you move there?
I'm actually living in London again now but I moved to LA because I like to travel and I really liked the vibe there. Where I live affects the vibe of the tunes I make and I wanted to hear how my music would sound living there. The core ideas that the album is based on were made in LA.
Why did you come back?
You're so far removed from the UK music scene over there and I came back because I needed to finish the album. You don't realise what's going on because it's not on your doorstep any more. My girlfriend still lives there so the last year hasn't been easy but it's a sacrifice I needed to make. Now that I'm back I've got a new appreciation for everything.
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