Artist Spotlight: Breatherrr
above photo by Will Bater
Who are you and where are you from?
Hi! My name is Michael Espinach, aka BREATHERRR. I’m from Long Beach, CA.
How did you come up with the name Breatherrr?
It started with my old band, I’mU. We were a 3 piece psychedelic shoegaze instrumental group (such an easy pitch to the layperson right?). When we would play live, I’d often have to change tunings between songs, which could take some time. Since I didn’t initially have budget for more than one guitar, and guitar techs aren’t customary with bands playing local shows on Tuesday nights, I had to do it the old fashioned way. The stage banter to fill that space was not really in line with the vibe of the music, so I had made one of my first interludes on Ableton, and called it “Breather,” for the express purpose of using live to break the silence. When I eventually went solo late-2013, I just used that moniker initially to identify my solo stuff, and it stuck. The added R’s were 1) to combat other bands that have Breather in their name (no I’m NOT the Christian metal band) 2) it’s much easier to Google and 3) it looks good, and odd enough to leave an impression
Above: Michael Espinach
When and How did the project start? It was a solo project at first, how did you go about deciding it was time to bring a band in? And how did you go about finding bandmates?
Thats like the eternal singer / songwriter struggle.. writing songs then finding people who want to play them with you.
So my first shows in Long Beach were with I’mU. We were regulars at Dipiazza’s for a long time. While we were recording our first record, we ended up splitting, and I started demoing tracks that we’re not on the record. Initially I was looking to do guitar, noise drone, and film audio samples. This became my first foray into sampling from records, TV shows, movies, you name it. I did my first official BREATHERRR show in January of 2014 at Dipiazza’s. I remember my mom came to that show and her review was, “well Michael… that was weird.”
Slowly after that, I had gotten the DM-1 Drum app for my iPad, and started messing around with drum sounds, and that’s where everything shifted: I was starting to fill out these guitar based songs with full instrumentation. Next thing you know, I’m borrowing an APOGEE audio interface from a homie and I’m recording my first record on Garageband in my parent’s home office. Eventually I started performing out live with a somewhat bigger arsenal: Me, a guitar, my pedal rig, a microphone, a dead floor tom drum, and a laptop (Roland 404 in the beginning). Eventually, I ended up getting really involved in the scene when I emailed Casey Terrazas of Porch Party Records and he got me set up at a show for JP Bendzinski’s DANK STEAK nights at Que Sera.
During those first 3 records, I was the sole producer, and the only personnel, besides any featuring artists, that I had to really gauge any feedback on was my engineer and now-bandmate, Paul “BDR” Rhoda. So 99% of creative decisions were on my shoulders. With everything contigent upon me, from writing, recording, performing, merch, booking, and touring, it all began to take its toll. I started getting very burnt out. During the recording of my 3rd record, FEAR FLORA, I was also booking shows for a residency, ODD FAUNA, at 4th St Vine Wine Bar (now VINE) AND I was running a studio in Chinatown, 369 Underground, with my buddy Ernie Mora. I had way too much on my plate and music was no longer a joy but a boulder that I was carrying.
During ALMOND NOIR and FEAR FLORA, I started collaborating with other artists, and it instantly created a very interesting jolt to the music. Here were individuals who were bringing fresh perspectives and sounds to my songs, and in an even bigger sense, were expanding the sound of BREATHERRR was always meant to be. I remember some initial recording sessions with JP during the ALMOND NOIR days: “Man, if you had me playing live with you, and a drummer, this shit would be unstoppable.” I was still very attached to the solo entity and didn’t want to give up control just yet, or the illusion that I’d only have something interesting to say if I said it by myself.
One fateful evening around 2015, I wound up at a show at Alex’s Bar and the band HOLOPHRASE was on tour from Colorado. I was absolutely stunned by the drummer, Tyler Lindgren, to the point of texting my friends, “YOU HAVE TO GET DOWN HERE! THIS GUY IS AMAZING!” I chatted briefly with Tyler that night after buying some merch, but there was zero discussion about collaborating. We stayed in touch in hopes of doing shows together, but what eventually occurred was us being in a room jamming together, and there was instant chemistry. Some of our initial recording sessions had me picking my jaw up off the floor: I couldn’t believe what this guy could do.
Out on the patio of Alex’s Bar that night, however, I was talking to JP and Joel Jasper about having their band at the time, Forest of Tongue, be my backing band. Although Forest of Tongue did not become my backing band, JP and Joel eventually did. Also that night, I had met Jacob Connelly, previously of the band Asi Fui, who was my synth player for a bit of time. All because I decided to go to a show on a Thursday night.
When it came time to perform the songs from FEAR FLORA live, I knew that the songs had a power that I could not pull off alone: the MUSIC wanted more than to be slammed through a laptop and PA system. For the initial lineup, I tapped Tyler, JP, and Jacob to join me on stage, which took no arm-twisting to pull off: They were in. We got to debut that lineup at Alex’s and the Teragram Ballroom in 2019, where we go to open a SOLD OUT show for HEALTH and Youth Code. As of 2022, the lineup is Tyler, JP, Joel, Paul, and myself.
Drummer Tyler Lindgren and Michael Espinach
photo by Will Bater
What is your writing process like?
In the beginning, everything started on guitar. Eventually when I learned how to record, ideas would originate from drum tracks or grooves, and just blossom from there. Rarely do I start with vocals, but it does happen from time to time. On this newest record, we have a song called PFEIFFER, which started based off a vocal melody I sang into my iPhone while on vacation in Carmel at Clint Eastwood’s ranch. Most of the time, a song starts with me waking up at 6am, having a cup of coffee, and just going for it. It feels like the whole world is asleep. Lyrics come during the tracking process. I’ve always been obsessed with words and track titles. Usually when I lay down an initial demo, the initial title ends up being very indicative of where the lyrics stem from. Even if the final product has transformed from its conception, I do believe there is an intuitive gut feeling that permeates what the song.
Any songwriters, engineers or producers that you’ve worked with? What were those processes like? How is it different from self producing and recording?
When I worked with Broken2th (thats me, dear reader) on ADULT, that was my first foray into true collaboration, where I laid down some initial sounds, and eventually vocals, but didn’t really dictate direction or structure. … also introduced some sounds, specifically some Nintendo sounding synths, that I would never have thought of using which was very exciting. That collaboration is very similar in terms of technical production to how my band has had to work during COVID: email. Sending files back and forth. It’s the future, baby. I’ve done some feature work for a band called MESS as well, which saw me playing guitar, noise, and vocals, and I had no productive control on that, which was very nice. Just show up and play, let them sort it all out.
How have you navigated moving from writing and producing as a solo artist to incorporating a band into the mix? What are some of the challenges and successes you’ve faced bringing others into the mix?
Right after I finished FEAR FLORA in 2018, I started writing what would become our 4th record (which I’ll refer to as “BC” for the time being until release). Later in the year, Tyler, JP, Joel and I started working on some demos. We approached it in a David Lynch-esque Tarnscendal Meditation way, or simply, HOT POTATO. I would track an initial idea, or skeleton of a song, and as soon as the inspiration or initial heat was leaving my grip, I’d pass it to Tyler, who would track drums and some synths, who would then pass it to JP and Joel, who’d track guitars, synths, bass, vocals… whatever it’d need to be filled out. Paul would come in after the foundation was set and act as a very hands-off producer: look at the big picture, not direct, but help accentuate and fill in what we didn’t cover. Tyler and JP are both excellent engineers, so we were able to keep everything in-house.
J.P. Bendzinski on Bass
photo by Will Bater
With this group of people, I really feel as if the world is my oyster. Tyler, beyond being one of the best drummers I’ve ever seen, works very much like myself: frantically like a rabid dog. Making the transition to have a live drummer was incredibly easy and essential having him in the mix. He really is the backbone, and helps set the foundation for these songs.
JP, since day one, has been this absolute jack-of-all-trades. He knows exactly what a song needs, and his contributions are always on-point. He has really helped shape what the BREATHERRR sound.
Joel is someone I’ve always had a kinship with, and I’ve always been such a fan of not only his left-of-center writing style, but his taste in music. I tapped him not just because he’s an excellent musician, but he has an approach to pop music that I coveted for BREATHERRR’s harsh palate. He also has such an interesting voice, that plays very well off my androgynous one.
Joel Jasper on Guitar
Photo By Michael Espinach
Paul has been there since the genesis, and has the most experience working with me. It was a natural progression to add him to the group as he not only is an excellent engineer, but can look at everything objectively, and he was crucial to giving body to this album that would not have been earth-shattering without his involvement.
Above: Paul Rhoda
With every band, scheduling is always a challenge. I would say luckily though, everyone brings their A-game to this project. I believe a huge reason for that is not only because everyone is a professional, but everyone besides me has other projects that they’re involved with, so when they clock-in for BREATHERRR, they’re dedicated to the task at hand. COVID did prevent us from getting in the studio TOGETHER, however, it did not stop us. Over 2 years, we emailed files back and forth, and I’m proud to say we have a completed record on our hands. I’ll go as far as to say it’s the best work to come out of the BREATHERRR camp, ever.
Just share a cool story about your recording process.. rad setup? Cool chain? Summoned demons from hell? Tell us!
One story that comes to mind that is highly indicative of how this album came to fruition is how the song OUT came to be. One Friday morning, I got up at 6am, had that cup of coffee, and started tracking. In the back of my head, I was thinking of the song “One More Time” by The Cure. First the 80s drums, then some bass and synth. Now I’m hearing guitars. Then something that didn’t happen very often began to take shape: words immediately came to my mouth. “Dark no more, I’m all the way out.” Inside myself, I knew that it felt right, but was not speaking about something specifically. It’s now 10am and I’m texting with someone I was seeing at the time, “I think I just recorded the most beautiful thing I’ve ever written.” I was off work that day, the sky was overcast and beautiful.
I texted Tyler, “I’m sending this to you right now, or else I’m gonna fuck it up.” A few months later, he took that 30 second loop I made, and made a whole song structure out of it, complete with verses and a bridge. He sent it to me on my birthday and I got so scared listening to it. I couldn’t handle how beautiful and poignant it was to me at that very moment as I was not in the best mental place. About a year later, after JP tracked some synth for it, and Joel added backing vocals, we knew we had something very special on our hands. I remember one morning, I listened to it, and just started bawling crying. I knew what those lyrics meant, and more importantly, I no longer was the sole creator behind BREATHERRR, but a part of BREATHERRR. BREATHERRR has become something bigger than me, and I could not be more proud.
how do you deal with this constant demand for content? Is it a little exhausting at times? You’ve been at this for a while now, how do you keep your energy up for it?
OOf. It has been a challenge to say the least. in one sense, you have to be very aware of it. On the other end, you have to say, bluntly, “FUCK IT.” Because at the end of the day, if you’re only producing based off some arbitrary need to be relevant, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and it will destroy you. Beyond that, performance, at least my expectation of what we provide as a band, is very physically taxing, besides having to make sure a band of 5 people is being taken care of.
Above: Tyler Lindgren
Photo By Will Bater
I won’t put my band in a position where we are compromising our mental, physical, or emotional health to pull something off. I have only arrived at this place because I have seen the affect of burnout on myself and I know that no amount of “content” likes or stats can replace my health. We release things when it feels right. We perform when it feels right. Hell, we write and record when it feels right. A career in music, or of any art, is the long game. It’s a fuckin marathon. You really have to learn how to conserve your energy. Beyond that, as a consumer, I like incremental releases from bands.
I don’t like to be saturated with a ton of music because I’ll get overwhelmed with digesting what they’ve currently released. I want to spend time with it, and learn about them. Why just these 10 songs? Why those sounds or words? Why that album artwork? We put a lot of work into what we do, so we don’t want to overwhelm our audience before they’ve had a chance to acclimate to what we have to say. At the end of the day, I love this so much. It is my chosen vehicle for expression, and it opens the doors to other mediums such as film and fashion. It will always call to me, so I want to be in the right place to heed that call.
- Most dreaded question every band has to answer, how would you describe your sound?
We are an Industrial band informed by 80s synthpop melodies, rap production, metal heaviness, psychedelic textures, and postpunk immediacy.
- What do you want to communicate through your music?
As the sound has developed, we’ve made a huge emphasis on how everything FEELS, in every sense of that word. We want it to physically hit, as well as emotionally. I’d say catharsis informs a lot of what I write, as most times I write because I’m working through an issue, or being faced with a feeling or color I’ve never seen before. My performance has always been a very intense experience because I see it as a chance to be incredibly vulnerable and to really let go. That is not to say I don’t write happy things per se, but what I love about music is how often we turn to it when we feel alone. My hope is that I can communicate to the listener that they have a place to explore what they are going through, and that maybe it can be a soundtrack to their own catharsis. I would say though that in visual media and merchandising, we love humor and 80s horror, so we like to make light of our music in dark ways.
what song are you MOST proud of as an Artist? Why? (ill embed the link so people can listen)
Everything on this new record is probably my proudest work to date, however, if I reference my back catalog, I might say the song EVIER. Although much of my work has been cathartic, EVIER was the first time I feel like I really got to the root of my emotions. Instead of just being frustrated or sad and throwing paint at the wall, I feel like making this song exposed where all of it comes from, which is really a fear of loss. I wrote the song to my parents, as there was a time that every time I’d visit them, I’d just start crying as soon as I got in my car to leave. To love someone so much that the very idea of losing them breaks you down. It was highly influenced by songs such as “Secret Garden” by Bruce Springsteen and “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin as those songs hit a very special nerve in me. My eyes water just thinking of them. Tyler’s got some live drums on there, JP has some haunting guitar that plunges in you, Jacob’s Wurlitzer leads you down these soggy waterways. It also features vocal performances from Elise Elkie of Very Crush, whose voice just takes your hand, and Emily Wasilewski whose gentle cooing has been a backbone to the BREATHERRR sound ever since. I remember the day Paul and I mixed it, it was the last track to be mixed on FEAR FLORA. And as soon as we listened through the final mix, I just broke down. It was the first time Paul ever saw me like that and he got choked up. We ended up ending the song at 3:14 as those are the numbers of the date he lost his mom, and we wanted to honor in our own way.
- Gear: band gear list: Be as specific as you’d like!
What is your typical live rig? feel free to provide photos
what about the typical studio setup / writing sesh
We are currently implementing more instrumentation as we now have a 5 member group, but foundationally: various guitars (jazzmasters and jaguars are a staple) and their respective FX rigs, electric and synth bass, KORG’s minilogue being a workhorse for pads and leads as well, acoustic drum kit as well roland synth drum pads so we can pull off all those 808 kicks to make you shit your pants, and TC Helicon voice FX pedals. We are very adamant to not use any laptops live. I’m also predominantly doing vocals live, and everyone else is a utility player, which is a tremendous shift from the early days.
For the studio, I’m an ableton boy, the other cats are on protools. We actually do a lot of stuff in the box for synthesizers. Lots of softsynths. On BC, all the bass was synth. We LOVE Soundtoys as FX processors, they were very instrumental especially with vocals. Paul also used 7-string guitars on this, which is a definite first for any BREATHERRR record. We’re a nu metal band now hahahaha. We all have our own studios: I have a home studio a few blocks from the beach, Tyler is tucked away in Colorado with a live drum room, JP and Joel are over at Wizard Audio in the cut of LB, and Paul has various spots for tracking.
Photo by Casey Lewis
- what one piece of gear is crucial to your overall sound?
I definitely feel like it can’t be pinpointed to one per se, but some very essential pieces:
JP uses bass fitted with a Hot Rails Guitar pickup by Miguel of Stacks, and he tunes his E string down to a C with a Whammy Pedal, Octave Down. Bass is HUUUGE to this project and that gear is essential, especially live. He also uses a Stacks custom amp which has been huge to our sound.
As mentioned earlier, Tyler uses the Roland SPD-sx along with his acoustic kit. We would not be able to pull off some signature sounds if it were not for those pads. The kids want 808s. We got em.
Anything you want to add to the setup moving forward?
I’d love to get a Fender VI bass. All those Cure records got me fiendin. And some more hardware synths would be amazing. I’d love to snag a Sequential OB-6 and/or Prophet 6. Other than that, I love working with what we’ve got. Too many options can be creatively debilitating.
new releases coming up?
BC will be hopefully out sooner than later. When the timing is right, we can’t wait to share it. With things slowly picking up show-wise and vinyl record pressing-wise Post-Covid, we hope to present it by the end of the year, if not sooner.
long term goals for the band
while the band was tracking their parts for BC, I stayed busy writing. I’m at about 50+ demos of brand new stuff, so those are the docket. Who knows what will see the light of day, but we’ve got a lot of work up our sleeves. Another huge goal for us is to score or get placement in film. Our music has always been very cinematic and I see that as logical next step. Beyond recording, BREATHERRR has always been a visceral experience live and we want the whole world to see that. I want to play theatres, arenas. I want to tour with Trent Reznor. I want to write a song with Robert Smith. I want my music to be in any David Lynch production. I want to be standing at the Hollywood Bowl with BREATHERRR on the marquee. I plan on making that happen.
photo by Will Bater
do you want to Shout out to anyone special In the community?
There’s so many people here doing really cool things to keep the music scene vibrant and alive. Someone who comes to mind immediately is Jim Ritson. He was the previous owner of Vine, and he gave me so many opportunities I’m grateful for. He not only gave me a month’s residency when I was just getting my feet wet, but gave me a recurring residency for a year a half to curate as I saw fit, besides all the amazing shows he asked me to perform. I just saw it as so validating to the work I was putting in, and I’ll always be grateful for him taking a chance on me, and the connections I made because of it.
ZUU by Denzel Curry
I don’t drink, but the vibe’s always right at VINE.
spot to play
locally, I think Alex’s is the only spot that wont be destroyed by our Subs
*Stacks FX Artist Spotlight is a weekly blog that shines a light on local Long Beach Musicians every Sunday*