I spent the day with Breakers. It was a Wednesday. They were working on their first EP.
- Corey Hines: Guitar
- Samford Justice: Vocals
- Lucas Carpenter: Bass
- Carson Sanders: Percussion
- Peter Mavrogeorgis: Producer; co-owner, Dollhouse
I pull up to the Dollhouse on my rickety black bike and Luca is outside having a smoke so I join him. It’s just before noon. I give him a hug, we exchange the pleasantries that good friends do and amble into the studio.
Everything’s concrete and beautiful and exactly as you’d want it to be. There are a few levels, all connected in open air. A makeshift bar sits below, a stage above. Scattered on the ground are hundreds of sleeved vinyl records. The outside wall of the studio’s control room is plastered with miscellaneous office paper: a 1972 receipt from the American Cryogenics Association and forms from unions disbanded decades ago.
When I walk in, Peter is digitizing a 1961 recording of Barbara the Gray Witch whose voice instructs us on how to use “the secrets of witchcraft to find the child you once were.”
Everyone sits differently. Corey, who I work with and sort of under, is slumped, sunglasses on. He tells me he had himself a pity party the night before and briefly emerges from his hangover to crack a wry smile.
Luca, tall and thin, sits legs tight and Samford more open, both close on a leather couch, the two reveling in the work they’d done the night before. I sit on the arm of a chair, an observer. Peter hunches over the soundboard in manic poetry.
Soon Sam begins passing out cold PBRs. We crack them and begin to search: for the children we once were or maybe just a remedy to last night’s poison. Someone puts a video on the hanging flat screen t.v. of a dubbed Kings of Leon concert. We see the band playing to thousands of fans and hear perfectly synced squeals and tone-deaf crooning.
“The last time I saw these guys,” Peter says of the Kings of Leon, “I urinated myself violently.” We laugh and the young musicians around me, I imagine, maybe dream of being rockstars like him, professional and successful and productive.
Luca rises and slips into a crack between the recording room and sound room. I peek in. He’s soldering two speaker wires I think. He’s quiet, focused and very connected with the process. I think about asking him what he’s doing but don’t want to disturb.
I follow Sam into the recording room. He shows me different guitars. “This one,” he says, holding up a black Sears, “sounds like a toy piano. It’s amazing.” He shows me different gadgets and tools and instruments and his descriptions echo off the walls. He approaches one cupboard-sized wooden box with a mesh face and an inch-wide slit near the top. It, Sam tells me, is an analog approach to something now done digitally; a relic.
“It’s a Leslie, it adds waves and pulses to tunes,” he says and he beckons me in, “You can feel the disc spinning.” I lean in and am brushed with stale wind.
In the back corner there is a smaller, sectioned-off booth for percussions. A quaint lamp with a faded beige shade sits on a nightstand near the drumset and it reminds me of the 1950s and Mad Men and innovative t.v. dinners.
Corey records first. The rest of us sit and watch from the control room. His legs, in tight jeans, are stoic, the rest of him rocks slowly; his chin is cocked toward his sternum as he plays and though the music sometimes speeds up there is a calm slowness to his performance throughout.
The sounds are sublime and the other band-members whoop and holler as he finishes each take; though immediately after they lob suggestions, tweaks and critiques. He takes them well and refines his performance until subtle barely-there differences crescend into something strong and very much distinct from what we’d heard just minutes before.
Sam, Luca and I step outside for a smoke. More than step, we stumble. The bright sunshine of daytime is blinding. It’s as if we are coming out of a long binge or have been cooped up at casino tables gambling away our futures and have just confronted bankruptcy. The sun is hot, very hot and crashes onto our eyes and skin like buckets of water.
“You’ve never experienced the tedium of recording, have you?” Sam asks me. I haven’t. He likens it to play-acting. You sit around, mostly bored (thus the beer) and bide time until, at a moment’s notice, you have to do something, perform something that is very much purported to be a product of passion and love and inspiration.
But he says Peter makes it fun, more fluid. Things that are typically stressful and static, like recording vocals, become flowing. “I used to hold the mic steady six inches away from my mouth, very cautiously,” Sam tells me. “One day Pete told me to use the mic as an instrument and I began to stray backward and forward, away and toward the mic. I was having fun.”
He slipped out of self-consciousness and into a performative ecstasy. “I look up and Luc and Blake are going wild.”
We go back in. They play a new song that half the band hated but now, maybe, loves. Sam’s voice seeps out of the speakers in the sound room:
We smoke the same smoke // I showed her Waylan // She showed me …// We smoke the same smoke.
A few more PBRs are passed around and drunk. Things don’t go hazy but very flowy and the clocks sometimes tick backwards. The tedium of recording is very much alive. It’s a tedium that moves in many directions: forwards and sideways and spins very fast around us and in us.
At some point Carson shows up. A very small drum kit is brought from the recording room into the sound room and plugged into a system that trips the strums and beats into new beautiful sounds. On cue Carson sits down and drills out something incomprehensible to my tipsy, inexperienced ears. The band and Peter, who through the day is fully a member of the band, are ecstatic with the results.
At another point Sam and Corey go into the recording room, leaning in together and add serenading, choral vocals to a track. Their voices sound layered like gregorian soccer chants — Olé, Olé, Olé — and when slipped into the song sound as if they had always been there or had always meant to be. Corey didn’t want to sing. Sam pleaded. Corey conceded. Both exit the recording booth happy, the band and its goals temporarily sated.
Another moment: A song, everyone concludes, is missing something. Missing something very much intangible. Peter pulls out a magazine-sized soundboard, plugs it in and begins producing nothing reminiscent of music or pleasantries, nothing remotely intentional. Luc offers up: “Let me try, I’ve got a good sound for this.” He grabs the small box and fiddles around a bit and soon reverberating waves, something like whale calls, something like submarine echoes, are cascading out of the speakers and the whole room sits transfixed.
Luca has been quiet through much of the day. Not unnoticed or silent but distinctly not outspoken. Corey was loud in his hangover and performance; Sam a preacher and the music his bible; I, maybe, his convert; Carson was late and the foremost professional; Peter was in his domain, comfortable and inviting and ever-facilitating. But Luca, my good friend with wide eyes, was slipping in and out of roles through the day, and mostly so in quiet.
But here, as he spoke, everyone listened and gave attention. He offered and we, I, the band, Peter, we took. The sound was inspired, answering perfect to the specifications of a call, a need, nobody could define.
A few more beers and we listen to a few of the songs in succession. They are poppy, relentlessly poppy but beneath the exterior there’s a bleakness lurking or even supporting the pop. A cold, sometimes shivering darkness. Sam says he’s most inspired by doom metal and it courses through much of his and Breakers’ ethos.
How am I gonna pay my rent // How am I gonna pay the dealer, Sam sings with no triumph.
I look at my phone. It’s six pm and I’ve got to go. I leave the boys and their music. They give hugs and daps and make quick jokes and I, in my best efforts, return each and every gesture.
A few hours later I bump into them at the bar Corey and I work at. I had meant to grab a single quick drink to end an early evening but am swallowed into their throng of people, all young and beautiful, and we trek to Pinkie’s where the realities of the next morning are loudly rejected and protested through shots of Fernet, cheap beer in tall cans and huddled cigarettes on the street as cars buzz by.
It’s five in the morning and I’m on my bike and Sam is behind, on foot, sprinting down the middle of the street. We’re coursing south on Abercorn and Sam’s white Converses are kicking out to the sides of his body with each stride and we aren’t heading anywhere in particular, maybe a friend’s, maybe a different friend’s or maybe nowhere at all, but we are moving with veracity, with intent, with a certain combustive direction that might make for a rough hangover but that’s in the future and that’s only temporary and in due time we do end up somewhere, somewhere warm, a friend’s house after all and soon I bike back to my tangled house and the night and the day come to an end, a very late end.