Interview: Breaking Laces’ lead singer Willem Hartong

Hi all!

Occasionally I have an opportunity to chat online or over the phone with an entertainer to get some insights into their motivations and processes. This past week I was given a chance to ask Breaking Laces’ lead singer Willem Hartong a few questions. He kindly responded with a few answers!

Q1: First, let me congratulate you and the band on a great album. I really enjoyed When You Find Out. It’s obvious that there are some stories behind the relationship-oriented tracks on the album. Any you’d like to share?

[WH] I tend to strive for plausible and/or entertaining versions of the truth. So some stories might sound odd in relation to the actual song. Suffice it to say, relationships are tricky. I’ve been on all sides of them including being in a lasting loving relationship at the moment which prompted the song “Here to Stay”. That’s a nice feeling. It’s a bit better than having shoes thrown at you, which oddly enough has happened to me twice. Maybe that’s why I wrote “What We Need,” because sometimes it’s “time to leave.”

Q2: Who are your influences? I heard bits that reminded me of Snow Patrol, Better Than Ezra, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and others…

[WH] The two on the edges are bands I enjoy. Dulcinea is a terribly good record, especially outside of the radio singles. “Windmills” absolutely slays me, what a beautiful song. I really liked Snow Patrol’s first album but haven’t gotten to the second. As a band we enjoy Radiohead and Built to Spill a lot. A few other formative albums for me are It’s a Shame About Ray, Exile in Guyville, Blue Screen Life and Ruby Vroom. Collectively I’ve probably listened to those about a thousand times.

Q3: What’s your personal songwriting process like? Do you get the idea for the lyrics and music at the same time? Separately?

[WH] No matter how often I do it, I always feel like I’m starting from scatch as to how to go about writing a song. So the methods to the madness are many. I do write in a big sketch pad and I always write by hand. That way I can draw little pictures when I get stuck.

Q4: It’s obvious you, Rob, and Seth have a great rapport going… How collaborative is the process of creating the songs and then tweaking them for audiences and recording?

[WH] It used to be me bringing in a song or idea and we’d go at it together to shape it. Lately Rob and Seth have been there at the beginning which has yielded some great results. It’s largely due to our “New Music Days” which are long rehearsals when we do nothing but work on new material.

Q5: Where did you learn to play guitar? What are some of your favorite covers to play solo or with the band?

[WH] I picked up the guitar at 16 when our rhythmn guitarist quit “In the Attic” my high school band. I was just singing and not really in love with just singing. So i busted apples to get up to speed so I could sing and play with the band. That’s how it happened for me. I love to play Cat Steven’s songs solo. I also think Nirvana, Radiohead and Lemonheads songs are fun to go at alone. With the band I particularly enjoy covering Radiohead and Built to Spill songs as they are challenging and fun to try and get right.

Q6: If there was one thing you wanted to tell your fans that you haven’t been asked yet, what would it be?

[WH] Boxer briefs.

I want to thank Willem for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him and the band the best of luck with their tour. If you haven’t listened to When You Find Out, I’d encourage you to give it a go. Breaking Laces has a great sound and I hope they continue to put out new music to enjoy!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Breaking Laces – When You Find Out

Hi all!

Sometimes it’s tough not to reflect on the musical influences in my life. Most came from my exploration of music in high school and college, but I’ve done what I can to keep open to new voices. That said, it’s bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Better than Ezra, The Presidents of the United States of America, the Indigo Girls, The Nylons, Heart, The Police, Sting, and others that make up a good chunk of those influences (yes, my tastes run to the eclectic!). Notice the glut of bands with big releases in the 1980s and 1990s…

So I’m always encouraged when I listen to my radio and find that new bands are coming up through the ranks that sound quite a bit like some of my favorites. Breaking Laces came into my consciousness when I heard “God in Training” in the car. Their sound takes acoustic pop and a bit of electronics but doesn’t stop there. With a bit of Better than Ezra, a little Maroon 5, some Snow Patrol, and some of the layered vocals and lyrics of Toad the Wet Sprocket, I was hooked. The mix of folk influences, humor, and a pop sensibility I haven’t heard for a while just works for them.

When I was offered a chance to hear more, I jumped. Breaking Laces’ album When You Find Out offers a cool mix of styles that varies enough to provide a rich musical landscape. The shape of the album explores the gamut of relationships, from breaking up, to moving on, and finding new love. It crests and falls with a life all its own, but each song can stand on its own. I love it when bands remember that assembling an album is more than just collecting a bunch of songs!

Brooklyn-based Breaking Laces is the trio of Willem Hartong (singer/guitarist), Rob Chojnacki (bass), and Seth Masarsky (drums) that has somehow managed to play more than 500 shows in 5 years around the country. Their hope was to take some simple pop songs and “make them bigger than life,” according to Hartong. And I think they’ve done that in spades with these 12 songs.

It starts with a breakup in “What We Need.” As Hartong sings “at least you know we tried / time to leave / and I will take this bit of sorrow if it’s all I have to borrow…” With a mix of acoustic and electric guitar, a steady drum beat, and a bass line that drives it from start to finish you can feel the angst as the relationship ends.

But it was “God in Training” that initially caught my attention and is still one of my favorites on the album. The quirky quality to not only the lyrics, but how it’s sung and the simple arrangement just sells it. “But once I quit my paper route / she’ll want my body…” The song goes on to talk about being “loved in foreign nations” and “mobbed whenever I go out” as he says “hey mom I’m gonna sing four tracks down in my basement…” It made me smile – the disconnect of youth captured beautifully.

From there we move to the questioning lyrics of “When You Find Out.” What happens when she finds out he’s in love with her? “What will happen next if things don’t go my way? I’m up I’m down, my thoughts confounding everything I say when you find out I’m in love with you…” We’ve all been there. How do you tell the target of your affection how you really feel? And the pop sensibilities of the band shine through with an arrangement that’s just enough without going overboard.

The album goes on from there, but I won’t spoil it. There’s something special about the way these songs are constructed and I hope Breaking Laces goes on to record many more albums. Please pick up When You Find Out at your favorite music store (online or brick-and-mortar) and support these guys!

Also be sure to check out their website at BreakingLaces.com!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up When You Find Out from Breaking Laces here:

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Music Review: Kat Maslich-Bode – The Road of 6

Hey all…

Sometime in the mid-2000s I came across a group known as Eastmountainsouth – a folk/rock duo composed of Kat Maslich (now Kat Maslich-Bode) and Peter Bradley Adams. Their self-titled album “Eastmountainsouth” was the only album the duo produced, though it had a few songs used in film and television soundtracks. And the song “Hard Times” has haunted a corner of my mind ever since.

In this time of job and economy woes, the lyrics of “Hard Times” still plead for tough times to “come again no more.” “Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears / while we all sup sorrow with the poor / there’s a song that will linger forever in our ears / oh, hard times come again no more.” With its Americana/folk roots, the acoustic guitar and duet between Kat and Peter has just the right balance of gravitas and hope.

So when I heard that Kat was releasing her first solo album since the duo split in 2004, I wanted to give it a listen. The album title – The Road of 6 – comes from the number of years it’s taken to complete it as a labor of love and friendship. She says “I am truly blessed to have so many amazing friends, musicians, and singers join me on the record.”

Though a short album, coming in at about 25 minutes and 6 tracks, it features some interesting choices, such as a cover of Tim Easton‘s “JPMFYF” – a controversial song about the state of Christianity today. And I have to admit the album came as a bit of a surprise to me. Whereas Eastmountainsouth had a good mix of upbeat and ballad tunes, The Road of 6 comes across as a bit depressing.

Kat wrote “March” for her husband on their wedding day, and uses the heartbeat of their daughter (then in-utero) to open and close the song. With guest vocals by Mary Chapin Carpenter, the song definitely comes across as a slow love song that would work well as a wedding march – sharing the joy one partner shares with another when you’re in a marriage that works.

“Sky Falls” features Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) and Neilson Hubbard on background vocals. The lyrics are about trying to be someone you’re not and watching as the “Sky Falls” around you as a result. Of all the songs on the album, this is one of my favorites. I think coming to terms with your true self and what you need to do is one of the hardest things a person has to do in life. And the steady, but not too-slow beat keeps the song chugging along behind Kat’s soaring vocals.

And “Poor Old Town” is my other favorite, though it focuses on getting out of a small town that’s fading. Background vocals are sung by Jim Lauderdale, a Bluegrass/country artist who’s been performing since the early ’90s and has written songs for George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, and others. I love his expressive country voice behind Kat’s – it adds a whole other dimension to the song. Like with “Sky Falls,” this one deals with leaving behind everything you’ve known to start over and the melancholy of the new life and the life left behind.

Overall, I thought The Road of 6 was a strange mix of songs – from the personal (“March”) to the controversial (“JPMFYF”) to those about the human condition (“Sky Falls” and “Poor Old Town”). The arrangements were good, but the balance of the album seemed to be falling into a very sad place. I don’t mind sad songs, but there has to be more hope and energy for an album to be truly great.

The Road of 6 from Kat Maslich-Bode is available now and she’ll be touring and working on her full-length follow-up album throughout the next year. Fans of Eastmountainsouth will want to give her a listen and I hope that her next album can strike a better balance. Check out her webiste at KatMaslichBode.com for more details about the album and her tour schedule!

This article first appeared on BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Here are a couple of albums to check out:

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