As one of the more beloved bands from the post-punk underground, Breathless have remained a powerful force in our hearts and minds, and have been a forever favorite since they first kissed my ears. Since their inception in the mid-1980s, the band has crafted some of the most delicate, stunning, and affecting music on this side of the spectrum. While their early records, including 1986’s The Glass Bead Game and 1987’s Three Times and Waving feature a vital, swirling post-punk sound that’s equal parts powerful and delicately dreamy, their evolution has been exciting to watch unfold, with latter day masterpieces such as 1999s’s Blue Moon and 2012’s Green to Blue tapping deep into the universal ache, utilizing more freeform structures and sprawling, atmospheric arrangements. The band’s trademark sound centers around multi-instrumentalist Ari Neufeld’s excellent musicianship, Gary Mundy’s gorgeous guitar work, and of course, Dominic Appleton’s heavenly vocals. Some may be more familiar with Appleton from his work on This Mortal Coil’s Filigree and Shadow and Blood, but for the uninitiated, there’s much of the same thread running through Breathless’ stunning catalogue, a series of aural delights worth poring over for hours on end.
With that in mind, it’s with great pleasure that we premiere “We Should Go Driving,” the latest single from the band and the first taste of new music since 2012. The track is featured on the upcoming album See Those Colours Fly, slated for release on July 29th, with a vinyl edition due August 5th. The album, produced by Kramer, is a triumph, if only slightly bittersweet due to the absence of drummer and key member Tristram Latimer Sayer, who is recovering from an accident. Even still, “We Shall Go Driving” is a delight, a perfect moment to capture a melancholy, breezy, gorgeous summer evening, when the sun dips below the clouds but the light still lingers. Listen below:
We also had the chance to check in with Ari and Dominic about the album’s recording process, threads of inspiration, and all things in between:
There’s a vitality to See Those Colours Fly that feels so refreshing, and even dare I say, hopeful. What inspired the record?
ARI: Lots of different things inspired the album, as it was written over such a long period of time. But the layered dreamy sound of the album became more prominent during lockdown, as the more time I spent on editing the album the more carried away I got with adding drones and ghostly layers.. But obviously the real transformation came from Kramer, with his amazing mixes.
Tell us about your songwriting process. How did this record come together?
ARI: In the past we have mainly written by jamming. Usually one person would come up with a riff and we would jam round that for hours and then sift through what we had recorded at rehearsal, choosing the best bits and refining them into a song.
But with this album everything changed because of Tristram’s accident.
We had already written “We Should Go Driving” with him and performed it live in Italy in 2014. And we were about to go into the studio when he had his car accident. He was in a coma for quite a while and we didn’t know if he was going to survive or not, but we decided not to cancel the session and went ahead and recorded the song using a very basic drum pattern. We had already used this mode of working on Green To Blue, where we recorded to a drum machine, adding the real drums later and assumed we would do the same with this. But weeks passed and although Tristram came out of his coma, we could tell it would be a long road to recovery.
We had already started writing differently on Green To Blue, with each of us bringing fully structured songs to rehearsal, rather than just a riff or idea. And we took it even further with See Those Colours Fly. So someone would bring a song and we would work on the various sections- expanding or contracting them, moving stuff around- but the end result would still be fairly close to the original idea brought to rehearsal. A lot of the times these ideas had a simple, generic drum beat, which I then tried to vary to create a dynamic for different parts of the song and generally make more interesting.
What kind of sounds inspire you these days? Is there anything outside of the musical realm that is equally influential?
ARI: There hasn’t been much that has got me excited recently musically. Though I do remember seeing Orville Peck playing his first London show a few years back, in a pub that looked like a set from Twin Peaks, and I was absolutely blown away by him. I also really like Nadine Khouri who I go and see a lot and Hot Wax.
Film has always been a big influence, and the way music is used in film, both incidental music and soundtrack. I have just finished the new Breathless video, which I shot on my iPhone! I absolutely loved doing it. I studied film and photography at college, but haven’t made a film or video for years, though I want to do a lot more now.
I do read an awful lot of poetry too. Oh my, I can hear a collective yawn from anyone reading this. Ha, well I don’t care, I love it. What I love, and what is important for me, is the way in which poems find beauty in the mundane. It makes us stop and think about the things and emotions we take for granted. I’m a dreamer, I always have been, and with poetry, just like music, I drift off into myself. Please don’t think I’m a w**ker to bang on about this. I know it’s massively self indulgent. Well that’s the bloody point. I have to confess a lot of the time I don’t understand a lot of it but I guess that’s half the fun.I really like John Burnside and Julia Copus and Simon Armitage. Obviously, I use it as an inspiration for lyrics too (though funnily enough I don’t particularly like poetic lyrics. I really try to make them conversational and direct. You be the judge if I succeed or fail!). I read a hell of a lot of fiction too. I’ve always got a notebook on the go jotting down phrases that inspire me.
One other thing that has obviously affected this album are the rooms we wrote the songs in. In the distant past, we used to rehearse a few times a week using a couple of different rehearsal rooms. They had very different sound and as such, specific songs worked (and evolved) in one room and not the other. These days songs evolve in our headphones, where you can change the sound of the ‘room’ at the flick of a plugin. There are endless possibilities. We’ll just have to see where that takes us!
I think it’s just that we really hate repeating ourselves, so we are always looking for new sounds. I remember as early on as Ageless, we already felt we were in a rut, and Dominic and I went out and got dulcimer and flute lessons. My dulcimer never made it on to record, as we could never figure out how to mic it up at rehearsal, but Dominic’s flute is there loud and clear on Stone Harvest.
At the start all I could do was play one riff all the way through a song, as I was frightened of missing the cue to change and fuck up the timing! But within a couple of years I was playing the bass more like a guitar and went on to learn six-string guitar too.
I’m a big fan of [Mark] Kramer’s production after falling in love with Galaxie 500 and Low over the years. The way he works with space and reverb seems to be a natural fit for Breathless. Tell us more about the production of the album and how his touch helped to bring the album to life.
ARI: See Those Colours Fly sounded good when we had finished recording and compiling it in London, but Kramer has taken it to a whole new level with his mixes. It just sounds so big and dreamy and otherworldly. There is no doubt about it he totally transformed it!
ARI: It was pretty weird as I got Covid after about a week of editing it. It’s very psychedelic, with lots of movement and colours and half the time I couldn’t tell what was actually on screen and what was in my head!
Photos by Kevin Westenberg