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Escape Velocity

Toast Of The Town: For Breakfast Interviewed
Patrick Clarke , March 7th, 2022 10:05

As they premiere new video 'Heavy Horse Museum' exclusively with tQ, London seven-piece For Breakfast speak to Patrick Clarke about the mix of ambition and anxiety that goes into their maximalist, multi-genre music

Photos by Simon Thompson

For Breakfast’s music is full of wild contradictions. It’s itchy and restless. The minute the band get comfortable in a groove, in a flash they’ll destroy it and start up another. What begins as an elegant cosmic folk track will end as a chaotic barrage of fuzz. “We release six minutes of six one-minute songs,” jokes guitarist Omar Zaghouani. Yet at the same time, it is incredibly assured; it’s rare that a group at this stage in their career – they have released just one EP, 2020’s Songs In The Key Of O, with the second, Trapped In The Big Room set for release on May 20 – play with such poise.

Their confidence has only intensified in the time between the two EPs. Trapped In The Big Room is just as freewheeling as its predecessor, but adds an increased emphasis on cohesion. “There’s still the same balance of extremities, just the bridge between them is less of a jump,” says bassist Sam Birkett. They’re no less maximalist, says lead vocalist Maya Harrison, but they’re learning how to helm those impulses. “In the past there was a thing about wanting desperately to be heard and always having to play something, whereas now people might be more confident to step away for a minute.” Take lead single ‘Heavy Horse Museum’, premiering exclusively with tQ below, a manic jazz squall that rushes and trips across tempos and rhythms, sometimes charging in an all-out stampede, sometimes collapsing into abstraction under its own weight, sometimes slipping back into moody, spacious electronics.

Their music might sound bold and confident, but it has its roots in anxiety and pressure. "It's this idea of tension and release," says Harrison. "There's an overarching theme of being an 'other' in the world, but also being held in place by something and trapped." Both assured and on edge, it’s a sound that mirrors the contradictory realities of life as a creative person in their mid-to-late 20s (the group's seven members are all aged between 25 and 28), afloat in the strange generational gap between the youngest millennials and the oldest Gen Zs. Peers who followed a straighter path earlier in life are forging ‘proper’ careers, having children, getting married, or getting mortgages. The band, who churn through roll-up cigarettes as we speak in a chilly Dalston pub garden, say they’re conscious that it’s probably time to give up smoking.

“We’re objectively not old,” Birkett points out. In their respective day jobs in fields like NGOs and publishing, they’re in fact rather young. The music industry’s inherent ageism, however, can make those anxieties feel far more acute. “My cousin works for Universal and says they won’t even look at bands who are over 25,” says Harrison. “They want to pick you up at like 17 or 18, and mould you into something the industry can churn out. I know there shouldn’t be, but there is this thought in the back of my mind like, ‘I have to be a certain way.’ if I’m not cool enough, then I’m the person that’s gonna let the rest of the band down.”

At the same time, however, it’s an age at which other pressures begin to ease. “You go through your early life thinking ‘I’m gonna be this amazing thing, I’m gonna be special, then you get to your mid 20s and you realise that that doesn’t actually matter,” Harrison continues. “You start to feel like, well I’m doing this because I enjoy it. I say this to people on a diet, you’re gonna die at some point, so eat cake! If you’ve never tasted cake, what’s the point in being alive?” Adds Birkett: “You have to contend with the fact that it doesn’t really matter what you’re achieving, or when, as long as you’re doing something you’re proud of.”

What makes For Breakfast exceptional is that they embrace both sides of that duality. “Being way past the age of making a big break in music, the pressure’s off. We can be as weird as we want,” Birkett says. Within that weirdness they take all those feelings of mid-20s untetheredness and turn them into something totally enthralling. In a sense, it’s their way of processing them. “We’re all anxious, stressed out little people,” says Harrison. “It feels like an extra bit of release. I can’t express all this stuff that I’m feeling or thinking about, then I get into a room with all these people and I can do whatever I’m thinking.” For Breakfast is as much an opportunity to connect with friends as it is to make music, says flautist Gail Tasker. “It’s a way of hanging out together and doing something fun. I don’t know if that sounds boring, but it’s something to look forward to every week.” Adds Birkett: “You end up becoming close with the people you’re in a band with. Having something creative that comes from hanging out with your friends is special.”

For Harrison, the joys of independent musicianship are a stark contrast to her first introduction to creative life at drama school. “There’s a brutality about the acting industry,” she recalls. “The director is your god and you have to do what they want you to do, you have to say the lines as they are written and then you’re much more likely to get along. My problem was I didn’t have much discipline. I would ad lib based on the vibe of the scene. It’s also so competitive; I know music’s competitive but not in the same way. With acting, you’re not fat enough to be a comedy role and you’re not thin enough to be a romantic lead. You’re not brown enough to play a brown person and you’re not white enough to play a white person.” She was exasperated and drained and eventually dropped out, but still felt the creative urges that had sent her there in the first place. “And then we started doing this together, and it was like ‘Ah, shit. This is actually what I love doing!’ At drama school there’s people pretending they’re Quentin Tarantino or something, but what’s nice about the band is that we’re all the boss.”

Beginning as a jam session between Birkett and bassist Joe Thompson while at university together, with Harrison joining shortly afterwards, at first For Breakfast’s membership kept changing. “People dropping in and out whenever life suited,” as Harrison describes it. “There’s quite a mid-20s thing of being like, ‘Argh! Commitment!’ and then skedaddling.” A trio of dark and unhinged post-punk demos uploaded to Soundcloud in 2018 and 2019 capture them in a state of transition, with nervous edges softened by the weaving flugelhorn melodies of now-former member Elliott Morley. At that point, says Harrison, “it was still just basement bedroom stuff, just with a flugelhorn.” The line-up wasn’t assembled with any sound in mind, “there was never any mission to have this many woodwind instruments or this many guitars,” says Birkett. “It was just through knowing people that happened to play certain instruments.” Nevertheless, from the outset there was an exploratory instinct at the group's core. Just by virtue of there having been a flugelhorn, the band felt emboldened enough to embrace whatever textures would come their way in the future.

Throughout our conversation, For Breakfast are keen to stress the informality with which they came together. “We all just wanted to be in a band,” says Tasker matter-of-factly. When she and her bandmates talk about the importance of the group, it’s in terms of the positive effect it has on their social lives as often as it is about creative expression. “I think it’s funny to even say the words ‘music industry’,” says Tasker when it comes to the prospect of making money. “We’re not even in it!” There was little forethought to their sound – in one way its unsettledness can be put down simply to a clash between the members’ respective tastes – but to paint the band as casual, or hobbyish, would be unfair. Partly by design and partly by circumstance, their creative process is free from many pressures, but they use that not as an excuse to take their foot off the pedal, but to give themselves space to be as ambitious as they please.

For Breakfast's new EP Trapped In The Big Room is released on May 20 via Glasshouse Records