After the release of their successful debut LP Other People’s Problems and an extensive tour around the globe, Roman Rappak and his band mates Adam Ainger, Ian Patterson, Ryan McClarnon and Daniel McIlvenny retreated in early 2013 to create their second LP War Room Stories. This time Breton’s own genre-splicing tendencies take root in increasingly more skilled and nuanced ways. You find traces of hip hop, electronica, indie, and every genre in-between interplay under tracks that are, at face value, still surprisingly accessible. Constantly challenging and pushing against the boundaries of what it means to be in a band in 2013, War Room Stories is the second chapter of a group that isn’t afraid to stick their neck on the line and think about things a little differently. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Roman Rappak been so kind to answer us some interview questions that underline the special musical approach of the band.
Hey Roman, can you name us some major influences – musical and non-musical – on the second Breton album War Room Stories?
Roman Rappak: One massive influence been the photographs of Gregory Crewdson. His hyper-realism and his way of doing things on a large scale affect us. With this record we have done things bigger than ever, adding gospel choirs, 40 piece orchestras, and even going to Istanbul to record street sounds.
What did you find most challenging about the work on the new album?
Roman Rappak: Just getting to grips with the scale of it, but trying not to loose the immediacy and sense of experimentation we had since the beginning. We are basically still just five friends trying to make music that means something to us. I feel like if that's what we focus on, we won't loose our way.
Can you describe the relation between your work/ the band's work and your identity/ the band's identity?
Roman Rappak: I think that this record is a much more personal album for all of us. There is a lot of our collective experiences and aesthetic all over it. I feel like if you know the record, you know us a little bit.
What does the title War Room Stories symbolize? Is there a particular concept behind the album?
Roman Rappak: The idea behind the title refers to Churchill's war rooms in London during the Second World War. It's about locking yourself away and trying to process every idea and every melody, in an environment where everything becomes distorted because you are separating the outside world and yourself. In the same way you would try and process what's happening in the outside world if you were in a bunker or an underground war room.
What are the general topics the lyrics deal with? And where do they come from?
Roman Rappak: Each song is different, they deal with different topics and from different view points. They talk about Anorexia, WikiLeaks, long distance Skype-based relationships, the Industrial Revolution, and Social media... But there's also a love song in there.
What were the main compositional and production challenges for War Room Stories?
Roman Rappak: The main challenge was making a balance of electronic and analogue music, and how instrumentation would lend itself to an album that works on headphones, as well as on stage. The hardest thing with contemporary music is understanding the limitations of the tools, but also the point you have to stop tweaking, because these tools are so powerful, that you can accidentally correct all the soul out of a track or film.
How strictly did you separate improvising and composing?
Roman Rappak: There was a natural cut off point, in the sense that we moved from the rehearsal to the recording phase in one day. We knew we could experiment, but also knew that there would be a day we would have to let the songs go.
There are some real nice pop moments on the album – how come?
Roman Rappak: Pop music is a logical response to mass culture, and pop art itself is an amazing vehicle for transmitting ideas. It's nothing new to dress up a complicated idea in simplified and accessible ideas (Hitchcock/ Warhol/ Bowie), but for us it was liberating to express ideas in a simplistic, inviting way, but also use them as an entry point to a more complex sound or concept.
What kind of field recordings did you use this time? If so: can you name us some?
Roman Rappak: One of my favourite sounds on the album is of a French painter we met in Germany who completely fascinated us, and who seemed to have a gift for telling stories and also an incredible knowledge of contemporary art and pop culture. We included a very short extract on the opening track of the album. Another field recording I love is of a woman in Istanbul complaining to a customer in her coffee shop that people were much more rude these days, while at the same time a fire engine passes and you can hear kids shouting and playing in a school over the road.
What influence did Berlin have?
Roman Rappak: The influence of Berlin was not one of Berghain, Bowie, or Reed, but mostly the idea of a city where you can escape, or create your own world. We didn't find this in the Friedrichshain part of Berlin, we had to travel outside of the cool hipster district, to Nalepastrasse, where you don't have cool coffee shops and clubs, no one had tattoos or fixie bikes. Here we could rent an enormous hall where we rehearsed, and developed ideas without anyone bothering us.
What influence did the place have on the whole body of work in specific?
Roman Rappak: Every aspect from the sound of the drums to the way we approached learning the songs. The synths we used and the takes we chose were affected by that place, and how it made us feel.
Can you tell us what was on your mind when you drove with all your stuff from London to Berlin?
Roman Rappak: We were thinking that we were doing the right thing. That the band would die there and then in Berlin, or we would start the new chapter.
Do you think you could have made War Room Stories if you hadn’t moved for recording to Berlin?
Roman Rappak: I think the interesting thing about recording as a process is that you are effectively "capturing" an atmosphere, which means that where you are, and what your feeling directly influences the record. Not only would the record have sounded different if we had made it outside of Berlin, but it would have been different if we had recorded it five miles away!
On the album you also feature collaborative works. How come? And what do they mean to you and the band personally?
Roman Rappak: Collaborating with other artists is very important to us, and is a natural extension of the way we work. It's amazing to bounce ideas off people, and it is the best way of making sure you don't fall into the same old traps.
Which of your new tracks are you most proud of?
Roman Rappak: They all have such different ideas in them and were challenging in so many different ways that it's hard to answer. I think Brothers is one of my favourites, because it has a particularly brutalist structure, and also some really "difficult" sounds, however there was a point where we asked ourselves. "What's missing?" And the answer was "a gospel choir!" So we ended up hiring one for the session and they sounded amazing!
Did Breton again do it all – cover design, video shoots etc. pp.? If so: why?
Roman Rappak: Yes we did every creative aspect of this record, however we are not afraid of enlisting help. For instance the artwork is made from photographs, Brooklyn photographer Alastair Casey made for us. It's important to know when you find something truly special, that you know to share it and work along side it, rather then being DIY for the sake of it.
What do the items on the cover mean to you and the band? It is said they are found objects.
Roman Rappak: They are objects that are taken from everyday life, and were bought on the streets of New York. It was important that each one had a symbolic value to each of us, but also that they were not the same symbol for each person.
Do you believe that objects keep their very own ghosts with them?
Roman Rappak: Absolutely, I also think that this extends to places and buildings. Whether or not anything is really there or not, is irrelevant. Your own feelings or you understanding of a places history can have a profound effect on its atmosphere, or the art you create there.
The relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly – has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
Roman Rappak: I think the technological boundaries between disciplines and mediums get more blurred all the time, wether it's as simple as the web and YouTube presenting video and audio in a new way, or the fall in price of digital recorders, HD memory and projectors, it's obvious that the tools are changing, so the art changes, and eventually so does our way of understanding it all.
Will there be remixes? If: who will do them?
Roman Rappak: Yes lots of remixes, from very unexpected corners of music!
Do you record different versions of the same songs?
Roman Rappak: The album itself is the product of hundreds of versions of songs. We wanted them to be able to played on a piano or a moog or a cello and still make sense.
Are you cautious about being put into a box? If not: in which box you would feel home?
Roman Rappak: A deluxe box set of Breton songs and videos, available at fnac.
It’s said your strongest fan base is in France. True? You play there in big television shows. How did all this happen in your eyes?
Roman Rappak: We were amazed by the speed the band was understood in France. We were playing in front of 10.000 people before we even had an album out. We are grateful that it meant so much to people, but also glad that we could concentrate on the new record before putting it in front of that many people in other countries such as Germany, USA, and the UK.
Of whom of your fans are you the most proud of? Is there any special one?
Roman Rappak: There is someone in Poland called Adriana G?o?niak, and it is said she understands the band better then we do ourselves. Her brother drove her to our show in Poznan for her birthday, and it meant a lot to us to meet her.
What was the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you or the band while you were playing on stage?
Roman Rappak: In Australia a man knocked himself unconscious and needed to be carried away. We didn't stop playing however.
What was you most magical live moment in the past twelve month?
Roman Rappak: Playing a festival before Mos Def, where there was everything you could have hoped for – stage invasion, crowd surfing, massive moments of cinema and dance music crushed together.
Did you already perform the new album? And did you notice a difference in the audience’s reaction to new material versus old material?
Roman Rappak: We have only played a few secret shows around the world. I'm writing this as we return from a show we played in Paris where we played six new songs in front of about 200 people in David Lynch's Silencio club. The recreation was amazing, and we can't wait to bring it to the rest of the world.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your/ the bands artistic work and/ or career?
Roman Rappak: I think finding the lab and deciding we would bring together the musicians, writers and organisation we needed to try and do something really special before we gave up on life.
Will there be more videos? If so for which songs and how do you realize them?
Roman Rappak: The next video will be a collaboration with an artist we will name over the next few months, and we are really excited to get to work on it. It may feature a car crash or the Scottish highlands.
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/ social/ creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
Roman Rappak: The role of an artist has always been to use the tools that are around him (or her) and to attempt to make sense of the world that surrounds us. The tools have changed, but the responsibility remains the same. Raymond Tallis talks about trying to express a "universal wound of a finite life full of incomplete meanings". I think this is as true as it always was.
Do you think pop music should push the boundaries of social thought?
Roman Rappak: I think pop music has a unique role in our lives, and a singular quality which enables you to make huge statements in an effortless and unpretentious way, but like all things that rely on simplicity, is very difficult to get right, without loosing it's elegance or effectiveness.
Who is you favorite film maker and why?
Roman Rappak: Jonathan Glazer is one of the greatest living directors for me, purely because he balances complex and abstract artistic statements with immediate and powerful mainstream formats.
What was the last movie that really overwhelmed you?
Roman Rappak: I rewatched The Skin I'm In recently. The complexity of the story, but the concise way it's delivered is inspiring.
What is your favorite music video of all time?
Roman Rappak: It changes all the time, but Just by Radiohead is mind-blowing.
What are your hobbies beside music?
Roman Rappak: It is difficult to think of music as a hobby, but I enjoy cooking.
What was the last track that sent shivers up your spine?
Roman Rappak: The new Burial EP!
What makes a track/ song exceptional to you? Tell me a classic that you feel is really outstanding and describe what it is about it that moves you so much.
Roman Rappak: Born Under Punches by Talking Heads is never the same track twice. I don't know if it's the layers of music that weave so brilliantly together, but it always keeps me guessing. Also the entire Endtroducing... album by DJ Shadow.
Who would you want to play you in a film about your life?
Roman Rappak: I would like them to use a different character for each four year section of my life please. All of them unknown actors please. And I would like to play the final (and dead) version of myself if that's ok.
What's your favorite album to listen to after a bad breakup?
Roman Rappak: It hasn't happened to me often enough to have a ritual yet (thankfully)!
What means money to you?
Roman Rappak: It's a tool I need to carry on making films and music (and eating).
What does your parents think of your music?
Roman Rappak: They are really disappointed I don't do a real job.
How do you spend your time in public transport – with music, a book or internet?
Roman Rappak: I have a kindle with loads of "complete works of" which is a good way of reading things that are important books which you should read, but so you don't feel you have to force yourself through, because you can scroll until you find one that means something to you.
Carhartt WIP presents Breton European Tour:
06/02/2014 - West Rock, Cognac, France
07/02/2014 - Charada, Madrid, Spain
08/02/2014 - Be Cool, Barcelona, Spain
09/02/2014 - Bikini, Toulouse, France
10/02/2014 - Rockstore, Montpellier, France
11/02/2014 - Kao, Lyon, France
13/02/2014 - Lanificio 159, Rome, Italy
14/02/2014 - Covo, Bologna, Italy
15/02/2014 - Magnolia, Milano, Italy
17/02/2014 - Komplex Klub, Zurich, Switzerland
18/02/2014 - Les Docks, Lausanne, Switzerland
19/02/2014 - La Laiterie, Strasbourg, France
20/02/2014 - MTC, Cologne, Germany
21/02/2014 - La Condition Publique, Lille, France
23/02/2014 - Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
24/02/2014 - Uebel & Gefaehrlich, Hamburg, Germany
25/02/2014 - BETA, Copenhagen, Denmark
26/02/2014 - Privatclub, Berlin, Germany
28/02/2014 - Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands
03/03/2014 - Louisiana, Bristol, UK
04/03/2014 - Soup Kitchen, Manchester, UK
05/03/2014 - Village Underground, London, UK
06/03/2014 - La Cigale, Paris, France
07/03/3014 - Le 106, Rouen, France
08/03/2014 - Le Echonova, Vannes, France