It all made sense in theory for The Breton Sound: The follow-up to the New Orleans band’s 2015 EP, Don’t Be Afraid of Rock & Roll, Volume 1, would be, well, Volume 2.
“Then life got weird,” singer-guitarist Jonathan Pretus says.
The Breton Sound recorded an EP’s worth of material with Better Than Ezra’s Tom Drummond in early 2016, but a day after tracking was finished, Pretus says drummer John Bourgeois suffered an undisclosed accident that “put him out of commission for a bit.” After that, guitarist-singer Stephen Turner battled some health issues and also needed time to recover.
“All of a sudden, it’s been half a year where we couldn’t really work like we wanted to,” says Pretus. “And [during that period], we sat with this EP, and it just started to reveal itself to be not what we wanted.”
When they were finally ready to get back to work, Pretus says they’d lost interest in the Don’t Be Afraid sequel and decided to shelve it.
“I always feel weird when I hear about a band, especially an independent band, shelving a record,” admits Pretus. “It seems indulgent, and [as a fan] I feel like, ‘How do you get it wrong? Just play and record!’ But as a songwriter, when you realize the final version of your song isn’t right, it’s really hard to put that out. It had never happened to this band before. We just all realized that the tracks weren’t right. The songs were strong but needed a different approach.”
The seeds for The Breton Sound’s subsequent project were planted last year, when the band was working on a song called “Why Are You Still Here?” at Esplanade Studios, a 14,000-square-foot facility in New Orleans’ historic Treme neighborhood. A dark cloud of sorts seemed to hover over the proceedings: The tune had already gone through a lot of changes, and Pretus remembers the Drummond-produced session as “a bit tense,” and collectively, “we just weren’t clicking.”
Enter Jeff Glixman
As the band members were packing up for the night, Esplanade owner Misha Kachkachishvili suggested they meet the guy who was mixing a project in Studio B. It was Jeff Glixman, whose credits include albums by Kansas, Gary Moore and The Georgia Satellites. Glixman asked to hear what The Breton Sound had been working on, said he liked the song and exchanged contact info with the band.
Soon thereafter, Pretus says, having Glixman take a shot at mixing “Why Are You Still Here?” seemed like a great idea. “But once we started digging into the tracks, we just didn’t love what we had,” admits Pretus. Meanwhile, Drummond’s schedule was quite full with Better Than Ezra concert dates and recording other acts, and that meant returning to the studio with him as producer was not happening anytime soon for The Breton Sound. So Glixman offered to produce the song, provided the musicians wanted to redo it.
They did — although not from scratch, per se. Starting with Pretus’ original demo (“It just had an energy and a vibe that we didn’t better,” he says), bassist Joe Bourgeois and drummer brother John added their instrumental tracks to Pretus’ existing rhythm guitars, then Turner recorded his guitar parts.
“I redid the vocal,” adds Pretus, “and just that easily, it was the energy of the demo that everyone loved, but the whole band playing it.”
And just like that, Pretus and Co. had the eventual leadoff track for The Breton Sound, released July 20. Speaking of redos, the band rerecorded “Illuminate” (which first appeared on 2015’s Don’t Be Afraid) for its self-titled four-song effort — and once again, a demo version played a big role in the end result.
“When we wrote that song, it was in a rehearsal, and we recorded it on the spot on my phone so we wouldn’t forget, [then molded and changed it for Don’t Be Afraid],” Pretus recalls. “The band was definitely thinking we should redo it, and when Jeff and our manager heard that crappy phone recording, they both came back and said, “This is what this song should be.’ ”
The 2018 version of “Illuminate” is in a different key, with fewer transitions and less production. “It just feels like us in a room, because that’s what it is,” says Pretus.
The Breton Sound is putting the finishing touches on a video for “Why Are You Still Here?” Looking ahead, the band plans to tour throughout the fall and winter. Oh, and Pretus, Turner and the Bourgeois brothers already have a head start on their next release: “Ghost” and “The Last Song,” recorded during their sessions with Glixman in March and April, are on tap for an EP that Pretus expects to come out before the end of 2018 or in early 2019.
“No more long gaps between stuff,” he promises.
— By Chris M. Junior