New Jersey indie-rock quartet The Break Lights don’t belong to this world. With bold instrumental arrangements, howling distinct vocals, and deeply emotional lyrics, the band has crafted an otherworldly genre of music. The band is composed of Jake Roggenkamp on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, Michael Saiewitz on lead guitar, bassist Raaj Shah, and new drummer Ryan Minieri. With two EPs already under their belt, The Break Lights’ upcoming EP, The Bright Life, will mark their third release in just a few years. If their current discography is any indication of what fans can expect from them later this year, then we want more and we want it now.
Two years ago, the guys released Knockout, six tracks of sprawling indie rhythms and inquisitive songwriting. The EP opens with “Dream Girl,” in which a beachy percussion line kicks off a bittersweet love song. Lead singer Jake comes in with his distinct drawl, singing simple lyrics while deep bass peeks in through the quieter moments. “Always You” is an upbeat classic rock tune dealing with the in-your-face tragedy of heartbreak, while “Second Chance” follows with a soft, aching plea for another chance at lost love. Clocking in at six and a half minutes, the track brews with persistent percussion and strings before building for a swirling prog-rock rhythm floating above Jake’s desperate, impassioned voice singing “Can you love me as I am?” On “Everything Store,” a peppy plucking bass line leads an intriguing singalong with catchy rhythmic pulses. Next, “4th of July” acts as a melodic tribute to independence, buzzing drum beats merging with folk harmonica and reedy vocals a la Bob Dylan. Knockout ends with its standout track, “Holiest Ghost.” Here, The Break Lights come together for a sonic experience that builds with a creeping, constant instrumental crescendo. Untamed vocals howl poetic lyrics like “I’m turning my back on the Holiest Ghost just for you / Girl, you make a believer of me,” all while layers of pure rock abound with an impressive unity and vibrancy.
Listen to Knockout below and read on for an exclusive Buzz Artist interview with the guys of The Break Lights, who chat a little about their love for Sofar Sounds, getting high praise from NPR, and their upcoming EP:
Buzz Artist: First, can you tell Buzz Artist a little about yourselves and your music?
The Break Lights: We are a four-piece indie-rock band from New Jersey drawing influences from classic and alternative rock.
BA: Describe each member of your band using 5 words each.
TBL: Jake: Singer, surprising, passionate, unique, ambitious. Mike: Guitarist, determined, thoughtful, creative, helpful. Ryan: Drummer, friendly, conversational, dedicated, brotherly. Raaj: Bassist, comical, chill, spacey, introspective.
BA: What is the music scene like in Jersey and how has it influenced your work?
TBL: The New Jersey music scene has treated us well so far, and so has New York. We’re grateful to have access to so many great venues within a 30 mile radius. Living in New Jersey has influenced our work in a number of ways, but as music has become easily accessible, we find ourselves even more influenced by the music of a number of regions and time periods. We try to incorporate our collective tastes into our compositions.
BA: Your Tiny Desk Contest submission got a (well-deserved) shout-out from NPR. What was it like to be recognized out of thousands of submissions?
TBL: Our initial reaction was total shock. We had seen so many fantastic submissions, so to be recognized on a short list of videos that NPR loved was an absolute honor. Furthermore, it validated the years we have put into writing and playing our music.
BA: You played a Sofar Sounds NYC show a few months ago. What was that experience like?
TBL: It was an incredible experience. We performed in a loft gallery in Chinatown. It was on the fifth floor and there was no elevator. Collectively, we have the upper body strength of a small child. We were sweating after bringing all of our gear up, but it was worth the workout. We played an intimate set to a crowd of music lovers who were there to discover new artists. Sofar Sounds encourages audience members to be present, refrain from talking, and enjoy the music. In our experience, those characteristics haven’t always been present in the performing world. It’s great that they have taken the lead in creating that sort of environment for both performers and listeners. We are looking forward to more gigs with Sofar Sounds.
BA: What was the production process like for your 2015 EP Knockout?
TBL: We recorded track-by-track in Mike’s basement using a few microphones, a mixer, and GarageBand. We were eager to release it, so Mike ended up recording a few of the bass and drum parts due to scheduling complications. Listening back now, there are many things we would have done differently but it was a great learning experience. We are proud of the songs on Knockout and are even more excited to share the next EP.
BA: Where do you get your songwriting inspiration from?
TBL: We draw inspiration from everything. From art, entertainment, books, current events, and music — there is a lot to take in. Our songwriting tends to center around situations from our personal lives, but pieces of all those things have a habit of turning up in our songs.
BA: What can listeners expect from your upcoming EP releasing this fall? How has your sound evolved since Knockout?
TBL: For the new EP, The Bright Life, we did our best to make every song unique and thrilling. We focused on creating music that moves and builds with layers. The songs evoke different emotions and feelings and we hope this translates to the listener. The biggest change since Knockout is that we have a new drummer: Ryan’s passion for music has truly inspired us. We’ve also grown as songwriters, singers, and musicians since our last release.
BA: If you could collaborate with 5 musicians, alive or dead, who would you choose?
TBL: John Lennon, John Paul Jones, Robin Pecknold, Blake Mills, Michael Kiwanuka
Buzz Artist: Finally, what’s next for The Break Lights?
The Break Lights: Playing as many shows as we can and getting our new music out there!