Body Breaks make unconventional music for unconventional people

Photo by Natalie Logan

Body breaks emerge out of proven greatness. Formed of Canadian DIY veterans Julie Reich and Matt LeGroulx, whose musical background include expansive and sublime outfits such as Bile Sister, Galaxius Mons and Expwy. The duo have crafted a debut album, Bad Trouble, that plays like a 70’s art rock infused hidden gem of wondrous and wonky paths. The album was written instrumentally by Matt as a way of showcasing his love for microtonal tuning. With Julie later on adding her vocals and stories over the top to craft an album that will both leave you encapsulated by its unexpected twists and turns, and grooving along to every wavy beat and riff. Although the album will eventually be released this month via We Are Time Records, the music has been in the works for much longer than your average album cycle. “The tracks that I recorded in 2013 were the ones that Julie used” explains Matt. We spent a calm Saturday evening talking to the duo to learn about how they came to meet and where the albums long chrysalis into becoming released.

The duo first met after trying to play on the same bill together for a concert. “We were connected through the DIY music scene in Toronto and Montreal. As big of a world it is, it’s such a small world, especially within these communities” explains Julie. “Matt and I connected through a show, it may have been Galaxius Mons and he was coming to Toronto and he asked Bile Sister to play”. But timing meant that Julie couldn’t make the show and ended up afterwards going to see Matt play where she was left in awe at his proficient musicianship.

They continued online conversations, connecting over their shared love of microtonal music and the world of craftsmen and instruments around it. Eventually the duo realised that this connection could be fruitful not just in a matter of friendship, but through a joint venture into each others art. Matt had been working on a new album for Galaxius Mons and was collaborating with various other artists for vocal features. “I contributed, but he asked me last minute and the timing was so tight for me” explains Julie. “I got my version to him just in the nick of time but he had already sent things to mix so I didn’t make it on the album they released. So we had this unfinished business, this need to collaborate with each other”.

They continued talking until Matt showcased one of his many projects to Julie. “Matt told me that he had an album of music that he had already recorded and he wanted to collaborate with the vocal part of it all” says Julie. “So knowing his talent and just being super connected musically I just said yes straight away. Then I heard the music and of course I was like “this is an automatic hit!”. And that’s how it started”.

For many microtonal music may seem like the newest novelty, but for Body Breaks it’s been at their core since the beginning. “What I love about music is being surprised and not knowing what’s coming next. And if you grow up listening to western tonal music then microtonal music is quite surprising and novel so it was immediately attractive” says Matt. For Julie though the sound has become her baseline, her return to normalcy from the far-flung corners of the musical spectrum. “I come from an experimental background, so I started in noise and then I worked my way towards something more formal and organised” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to music from all places and especially the idea of tailoring western scales to something that is a bit different. With the sound, as much as it may be surprising for some people, for me it makes total sense. When I hear it, it’s not like it’s so shocking to me, it’s just other notes that work together”.

Some people may have first heard the word microtonal used when King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released their 2017 delve into the eastern style tuning Flying Microtonal Banana. But Body Breaks and other DIY outfits have been using the sound much longer than that. “King Gizzard only started doing it recently, but you have a band like Horse Lords, who I don’t know if they’ve been doing it since 2013 but they’ve been doing it for quite a while” says Matt. “When I wrote the music in 2013 I wasn’t aware of any other bands that where doing that. So if it had gotten released back then, then who knows what would have happened” he remarks. “Hahaha, sorry Matt!” laughs Julie.

Although microtones play a large part in the albums sound, the other equally distinctive and captivating aspect comes in the form of Julie’s vocals. Ranging from the bold and brash on “Eyes To Brightness” to the sweet and surreal on “Bad Trouble”. “I recorded “Eyes To Brightness” in a style that’s closer to Bile Sister. After I recorded that song, I put so much thought into this and I kind of developed a character for the album. I was influenced by glam rock men like Lou Reed and David Bowie” she explains. “I recorded all the vocals myself and mixed them. Nyles Miszczyk did the final mix of them. I wasn’t using as many effects for most of the songs, I recorded a majority of them dry. There’s reverb added onto them afterwards, but you can really hear what i’m saying and singing. It was more of an attitude that I wanted to bring and I wanted people to hear the lyrics”

Where the stories touch on subjects of heartbreak and lost connections to the world, they come from both reality and inspired messaging . “They are in a way speaking to people, almost like advice. “This is what i’ve been through, maybe I can help you learn from it” says Julie. “Each story is from my own experience, except for “Generation Y”. That song is about me, but it’s more of a tale about talking to other people to not forget these people from the past, where you come from. It’s important to pay homage to the history of music and art and the sacrifices people made. So many people went unknown and I really relate to those unknown people, coming from an experimental place”.

Summing up the themes of the album Julie says that “It’s about this generation of artists and the things they are doing. My relationship to that. The struggle with work and being an artist. The struggle as a woman ageing and personal relationships. The generational thing is a big one as generation Y is recognising the past”.

Whilst she taps into these subjects of whole bodies of people, she voices her life and the struggles finding the balance between dreams and reality, in both the literal sense and her ambitions as an artist. “The element of sleep is one of the themes for me, with “Eyes To Brightness” also touching on that. I struggle with it so that brings me into thinking of dreams in a more metaphorical level of “What is real? What isn’t?”. How to make your dreams real and then the dichotomy of awake and asleep. And then the metaphorical dichotomy of reality and dreams and how to realise your dreams when all odds are against you. And when you’re equally struggling with sleep, how can you overcome this? The meta is looking at things where you’re “seeing the thoughts”, that is a strategy for meditation that helps me sleep. So there are all these parallels i’ve drawn between sleeping and trying to sleep and also realising my dreams so thinking what is actually realistic, what can I make happen?”.

Working as an artist is always between two worlds, struggling to make money from it and struggling to afford to do it. For Julie the everyday 9-5 grind that most of us find ourselves living isn’t sustainable anymore to fulfil human potential. “I don’t feel like it really reflects the natural rhythms of people and their dreams and desires and what functions best for them. I think that it’s based on a system that was created for order and for capitalism and to keep society pumping the blood. But it doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t reflect everyones style and I think younger people now are questioning this more and more and they’re trying to find other way to make money and to live a happy life. So it’s really a strange generational shift we’re witnessing with the age of technology where people can work differently now. Nobody likes to be forced to do something but you have to survive”.

For as much depth and detail that Julie puts into her lyrics and the tales she tells through them, Matt’s approach to songwriting matches his sense of humour; more cut and dry. “I just kind of write phonetically without much regard to meaning or expressing ideas. So when I wrote it at the time I wasn’t trying to say anything in particular, I just thought it was a line that sounded good” he says in regards to “Break The Icons Down”, the albums shimmering closing track that repeats the phrase “I don’t want to see your technology inside of me”.

But Julie soon steps in to offer her insight on Matt’s lyricism “I do think it’s relevant though. I’m just analysing you now and I could be wrong but it does seem like you’re more of an ‘in-person’ person. With the way you make music, you use Ableton and use all this technology but at the same time for Body Breaks you recorded all the instruments and a lot of people are producing things with technology and I think you still have that raw ‘in-person’, real former vibe about you. Maybe it was a Freudian slip in a way or some subconscious thing that you didn’t even realise, but that’s just me talking about you” she laughs.

“I just couldn’t figure out how to use the EQ in Ableton, that’s what the lines about” laughs Matt. “I’m in control of it now though” he adds. “You’ve got the technology inside of you now!” remarks Julie. “Well I certainly will when I get the vaccine” laughs Matt. Perhaps Matt knows something we don’t after all.

We then move onto the topic of live music. An unbalanced bridge that every artist is precariously trying to cross as concerts begin to partially re-open in certain parts of the world. When we spoke to the band Canada was facing stay at home orders so live music was the least of the bands concern. But that wasn’t the only reason that a live rendition of Body Breaks may be a while in the works yet. “The thing about this music too is that no-ones ever played it. I only ever played it once when I recorded” explains Matt. “There’s never been a band that’s played this music together as it would be pretty rehearsal intensive. I can see it going different ways. I wrote all the music down as there’s going to be a songbook coming out with the album, so I’ve got all the sheet music which would make it easy for people to learn the music and it could happen that we’d get together to rehearse and it would work fantastic first time through. But it could also have elements just not working. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where we have a show and we can have two rehearsals and they’re both disasters and we still have to play the show. I’d really want to workshop the music to make sure it works, because we have no idea”.

“There is also the issue where we live six hours apart from each other as well” he continues. “So we can’t just get together on the weekend and rehearse. I would have to go down there or Julie and the other musicians who are interested in playing would have to come up here”. Perhaps one day when the stars align and the world is a slightly less turmoil hell-scape then Body Breaks will be able to give Bad Trouble the live rendition it deserves.

Finally we ask the band a larger question of anything they would like to change about the music industry. “That’s like “What would you like to change about cancer?”” laughs Matt. “I mean don’t change the music, the music’s great. We’ll keep that” he adds. “That’s it! That’s our answer” laughs Julie before continuing on about how undervalued live performers still seem to be. “Artists definitely need more money. I think there’s an issue with live performance and money. It’s a big issue. People are complaining about not being able to play live but you weren’t paying the rent!” she says. “There are some artists who can make a living that way but live performers are highly undervalued and underpaid and they work so hard. Getting grants is hard, touring and paying for the visas. On the Canadian end if you want to go to the states, they make it almost impossible. There’s so many issues with that side of the industry that bug me. I’m shocked that people are complaining so much about not performing because it’s an opportunity now to call out things in the industry that are wrong. Why would you want to go back to making no money? And working your ass off doesn’t make sense. I also think a lot of artists don’t understand how to promote. Digital distribution, the business side of things really prevents so many talented people from success and it’s a shame. There needs to be more of a bridge I think”.

For Body Breaks their timing could perhaps be a blessing. Although this album has been years in the works, the usual process of touring and promoting the album can be left out of thought for now, allowing listeners to enjoy it for what it is. A brash, bold, borderline-psychedelic and all out whirlwind ride through the magical soundscapes that the mystical minds of Julie Reich and Matt LeGroulx have crafted.

Bad Trouble is released June 18th via We Are Time Records, pre-order here.

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