Break Science Interview at The Bowery Ballroom 2.1.14
For the past seven years, Borahm Lee and Adam Deitch have built their passions into the Break Science identity. Having combined backgrounds in jazz, hip-hop, classical, funk, and soul, Break Science is an expression of Lee’s (keyboardist and producer) and Deitch’s (drummer and producer) deep love of producing and fervency for many genres. They have continuously brought us fresh tracks, incorporating hip-hop, glitch, jazz, soul, vinyl drum breaks, dub, and trap….The list will keep growing. When I’m trying to turn a friend onto their uncommon sound, I have a lot of trouble describing it. Their sound is built around open-mindedness and free expression, and their name, at least to me, refers to breaking the “science” of music, breaking the boundaries. Their work both in the studio and live with other producers and musicians is another manifestation of their receptiveness to new influences and an expression of their sort of mantra, to follow what you love, your instincts, what gets you off, even if that means breaking the rules you’ve learned or the ones you’ve set for yourself.
I’ve seen Break Science live around six times now, so at The Bowery Ballroom, I knew to expect an original take on their tracks and likely some guest collaborators, but beyond the macro-level, their sets are largely unpredictable. After Ageless and Paul Basic warmed up the crowd, Break Science entranced us with hard-hitting bass, hip-hop beats, and Deitch’s tight drumming mixed with the ethereal, glitch-inspired, melodic sounds of Borahm’s keys. And in true Break Science fashion, they wove in live collaborations with guest horns and vocals, and especially showcased Borahm’s dream-like keyboarding style that night. This combination of musicians only performed for their New York tour stop, which is a testament to their improvisational strengths and their open souls as musicians as well as as producers. Some personal favorites were hearing: “Zion Station” with CX (the MC on the track) live, their variation of “Goin’ Down,” a reggae and classical-inspired track from their EP, Twilight Frequency (produced in collaboration with Michal Menert), and “Way I Feel” off their new record, Seven Bridges, with Danielle Parente (the featured vocalist on the track) live.
Before their headlining set went down last Saturday (2/1), Sensible Reason sat down with the duo for an interview at The Bowery Ballroom, focusing on their creative process, their influences, and their views on modern music in their scene.
Sensible Reason: So this is the last stop on your tour. How was it? Did you have a favorite place that you played? You mentioned a new light show…. Are you just premiering that tonight?
Adam Deitch: The visual projections have been with us the whole tour, but tonight’s the culmination of a lot of work with the guys, and we’re really happy with it. And tour’s been amazing. Some stand out cities were Philly… Also Portland, ME. We had a sax player, our friend from Lettuce, Ryan Zoidis, sit in with us and that was great. Then in Boston we had a percussionist play with us, my friend Atticus Cole. It was also really cool having extra musicians up there, kind of adding to the vibe.
Borahm Lee: When we started tour, we were reluctant because it’s so cold with the whole Polar Vortex, but just the show of fans and everybody coming out has really pumped us up, people coming out in sub-zero climates just to see the show. It’s taken us to a whole new level of appreciation for the fans.
SR: So tonight do you have other musicians? I’ve never seen you guys incorporate brass live before. I can hear a trumpet player downstairs…
BL: Tonight we’re collaborating with some old friends of mine that have played a lot of gigs with Moby’s collective, an alto sax player and a trumpet player. Then we have two of the vocalists from our new record at the show tonight – an MC and a singer. We have CX, who is actually a long time collaborator on all of our records, then Danielle Perente who sings on “Way I Feel.” And we might even be blessed with some percussion. Most of the people we’ve worked with live here but they’re usually on tour so it’s about finding out who’s around.
AD: I used to go see Borahm and these guys play all the time in New York and they would do these amazing reggae afrobeat nights – that was super chill. These horn players have been in the scene for while.
SR: Borahm, is that something that you still do?
BL: Definitely! I’ll never stop playing with my friends and musicians I like to play with, but Break Science really takes up most of my time so I’ll do other things where I can. A lot of time is just devoted to making new music for Break Science – composing, producing, mixing.
SR: You’re both musicians before producers – I’m curious how electronic music and producing came into your lives, how each of you how you went from producing other artists’ music to producing live with Break Science?
BL: We both come from different backgrounds. Adam has been producing for many years before Break Science, and he’s produced on a lot of big hip-hop records, like 50 Cent. And I actually wrote music by hand for piano before I ever touched a computer. My first approach to writing was through writing for the piano, but as I got into more keyboard sounds, I got into the computer aspect of it. And just from there it’s just been a culmination; it’s been a building process for me and Adam. Then we just started collaborating together. We put our minds together. It’s definitely an equal process. Like, Adam will bring in these whole fleshed out ideas and I’ll put my spin on it, and vice versa. I’ll bring in an idea and Adam will put his finishing touches on it. We don’t have one particular way to do anything. We’re really open to all kinds of methods.
SR: So when you do collaborate with someone else, do you come to them already having an idea? And for vocalists, do they write the lyrics for the track? Or is it something they wrote before and it inspired you to create the track?
AD: We suggest certain things. Sometimes the title will spark it off, or we’ll just explain the vibe we’re looking for. Like for one of the songs Borahm helped co-write some of the melodies and the lyrics. It really varies song to song, but as far as a song like “Victory,” it’s kind of self-explanatory. The song is called “Victory” and CX came out and just did this amazing rap about being a champion. A lot of times a title can spark it. And a lot of times it’s just a collaborative effort. The vocals have always been written specifically for the music.
SR: On Seven Bridges I read that you added vocals after the fact on some of the tracks. When you make a song, do you ever consider it to be complete or is it always changing and developing as you play it live?
BL: There’s always room for it to change and nothing’s ever set in stone but we know when a song is done. We won’t release it or put it out until we feel it’s done. Once it’s done though, we can certainly re-contextualize it and do something different with it in a live setting, remix it, or even use a piece of it in a new song we make. Definitely to that point, when we work on it, there’s a lot of hours that need to be put in before we both feel like it’s done. We’re always down to flip things and reinvent ourselves.
SR: Is there a particular venue or place you’d like to play that you haven’t played before? For me there are certain venues I love, and I like to think every artist loves playing New York, but I’m not sure if it’s really the same for an artist as it is for a fan.
BL: We really want to do Europe.
AD: We want to do London, Paris, Japan…. There are a lot of places we’d like to go, but the epicenter of electronic music is always going to be London. And we want to bring our American-style hip-hop based electronic music over there and see if they’re into it, and feel it out. It’s definitely a goal of ours to get over to London.
SR: Electronic music has really blown up in the US in the past few years and has become very mainstream. I think you guys have always had a very unique approach to electronic music, and it’s rare to find a group that uses live and electronic and does something different, that sounds interesting and keeps people engaged. Are there any artists that you see as up and coming that are sort of in the same vein of live and electronic that you might want collaborate with or that you think are especially talented?
BL: There are definitely a lot of people we have been fortunate enough to meet along the way at shows and festivals who we feel are our peers. Other duos, other people who play instruments but are also in this scene. But everybody, like you said, has a different take on it. We have our own way of doing it. There are so many artists to name….
AD: It doesn’t necessarily have to have live instruments for us to be involved with it. But a band that does do that and that we see as up and coming is The Floozies. They’re really good. And they’re kind of mixing electronic and funk in a new way. They have a drummer and a guitar player.
BL: Our friends at Exmag – we’re going to be doing a tour with them. And Cosby Sweater is also a great hybrid of live and instrumental electronic. But then there are the bigger bands that we’ve been friends with for years, like we know those Lotus guys and STS9. Those bands are kind of the first to bring electronic sound to the jam scene, but we also love Disclosure…. Those guys are also playing and singing. And SBTRKT too. We’re open to all of it and definitely try to absorb any influences we can.
SR: So you feel like your sound is always kind of changing and developing?
AD: It’s a constant, evolving process. Just getting more comfortable with technology, being able to execute our ideas as truthfully as to what we think they would be and not having to compromise and have to say, “Oh we can’t make this yet….We can’t make that three dimensional.” The more we learn about technology, the more we can let our ideas flow quicker and have a truer creative process. I think we’re just getting closer and closer to that, where we can jam in a room with just piano and drums and record that on a phone, take that and make that into something huge. We do that sometimes. Technology gives us many different ways to approach creating.
SR: Where do you see the type of music you create going? Like, a lot of music styles are incorporating more bass. Do you see that happening?
AD: Hopefully our message comes through that you don’t have to be in a specific genre. If you’re a downtempo artist, it’s not against the law to have an uptempo song. If you’re a trap guy, you could do a dubstep thing or spin a hip-hop song. You can mix it all up and break out of the boxes society wants to label you with – “you are this,” or “you are that.” People have trouble labeling us. They say, “These guys… what are they? What style of music do they do?” And it’s just a hybrid of a bunch of different stuff that we love. People in our scene that we see at the festivals, all the DJs, hopefully they’ll learn to branch out to whatever is the flavor of the moment. Basically, you should follow your heart, do what you love. If you do trap and that’s the thing that gets you high, then do that. But we get excited by a lot of different styles of electronic and non-electronic music, so we like to combine that all up into our stew.
BL: The lines are blurring more and more. The only thing that remains constant is that things change, so the future of it is that everything is dissolving, melting together. Like Adam said, the rules are falling away where if it’s this kind of thing you have to have that. You can bring together really dissimilar elements. Electronic music is an umbrella for so many types of music.
SR: So speaking of blurring lines, Adam, what’s it like switching from playing funk in Lettuce to playing hip-hop and break beat in Break Science? Is there cross over?
AD: Lettuce is more of an expression of my drumming and writing in the style of late ‘60s early ‘70s funk that we do. That’s the outlet for that but another side of my personality is Adam the producer. I grew up with my best friends being MCs and rappers so they didn’t really need a drummer in their band. They needed someone to make the tracks for them, so that was my place in high school from 9th to 12th grade. All I did was make beats on MPCs and ASR10s, and whatever gear I could find. So I wanted a band that showcased that part of what I do and then the drums are just, “let’s have fun and add drums to it.” But really it’s a producer’s art. And when I met Borahm… He’s so advanced on Ableton and so musical. He has a jazz background and a classical background. He’s played with reggae legends; he’s played with afrobeat bands. He’s worked with Kanye West. It made sense to help each others’ production styles come to fruition and help people understand that we love playing music, but we’re really producers, and we really love that part of it. Because I spend so much time producing, it probably affected my drumming in a certain way. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. Like, I’m not as fast as other drummers (laughs) but I know what kind of live drums I need to put with the tracks and with the production stuff. It’s an outlet for both sides of my personality.
SR: Do each of you consider Break Science your main focus or is it more of a project?
AD: This is more than a project. A project is something you put together, you do it, and leave it. This is turning into something we want to do full-time…. How old are the members of Daft Punk? 40s, 50s? That’s what I’m talking about. This may have started as “let’s try this and see where it goes” but it ain’t no project anymore. We’re about six, seven years deep and we’re into this 100%. It’s a band. It’s the real deal, and we’re extra focused right now. And we’re going to express that tonight on stage at the Bowery Ballroom.
SR: Because you’re involved in multiple musical endeavors, do some of your songs take, say, months to make, or is the process usually quick – you sit down, create a song and it’s done within a few days or a week?
BL: Sometimes. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes a year.
AD: We did one of our new songs in two days…
BL: But then on our last record, there was one song we couldn’t finish for a while.
SR: Which one was that?
AD: Chronoviser. It was tough.
BL: Sometimes we have to put songs away for a little while and revisit them because we need a breath of fresh air. But some of them come out like that – quick.
AD: Sometimes Borahm or I will make the ‘meat and potatoes’ as I call it, the bare essence of it — the beat, baseline, main chordal progression — and it’ll just be in this raw state for a while. Then we get inside it and that’s where the real time comes in. We start getting into it and the subtle things, the little bits of vocals here and there… We enjoy that part. It’s sort of like it’s on the operating table. You take the main piece and start carving it, and that might take up to a month or six months.
SR: So I caught you guys on your Twilight Frequency tour. It was pretty awesome. What was it like to make a whole EP with another producer? Have you known Michal Menert for a long time?
BL: He’s someone we get along with well, and we’ve known him for several years.
AD: He’s the most outspoken guy of the PLM posse. He’s the funny man, also highly intelligent.
BL: Mischievous (both laugh).
AD: He’s really just an amazing guy to be around. High energy, very talkative. He threw us out of our normal zone of working. We get kind of New York about it. We get in the zone, get serious, get it done. And he’s more laid-back, cracking jokes and making drinks. It was fun making that record, and we all kind of helped each other push each others’ creativity to get it done. Having different styles added extra variables to the process of making the record, and when you hear it, it’s really all three of us. We all put our spirits into it, so it was great experience.
SR: It definitely has a cosmic sort of sound to it, which I hear sometimes in your songs. Where does that element come from? How does it fit into your sound?
BL: I think the word is akin to psychedelic too. I think our take on psychedelic-ness is very cosmically intertwined. When you think cosmic sound, it’s kind of when you’re transported or taken away to another world, and we like to create real visual environments with our music. At the same time, we like a real hard hip-hop beat too. And then we like to blur the lines in between them: have a hard section but then go into kind of a bridge, or at least a place where we take someone to a real ethereal setting.
AD: A lot of that just comes from Borahm’s keyboard styles. The way he plays naturally is like he’s thinking of some sample that could sound cosmic. He’s got all kinds of different crazy samples at his disposal. The sound comes from his keyboard style and dub influence; that’s our sound. That’s what differentiates us I think. Other artists have the hard drums and the hard baseline and it’s like, what else are you offering? That with the chords and the textures… that’s what makes us who we are.
Download Break Science’s discography free on the Pretty Lights Music website.
See upcoming tour dates here.
You can follow Jenny on Twitter at @jay___mo
Check out this amazing gallery from Patrick Hughes Photography.