"I have learned how important it is to dive in so that you know what you need to be aware of with others"
Breakaway have just released their new EP 'Death Valley', and it's an incredibly vital listen.
Not just serving as their first extended output in four years but also a stark and sincere take on the brutal effects of mental health on a person, it's an infectious and intense collection of pop-rock that represents some of the darkest moments of the band's lives recently.
We jumped on the phone to talk through the creative and emotional process of putting the EP together with vocalist Sam Biland...
Is this EP a reaction to the circumstances of the last two years, or is it something that you have had from before then?
"It’s a weird one. The whole ‘Death Valley’ thing, especially the song ‘I’m Feeling Dead’, has been with me since before COVID even existed. I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the last four or five years, and it was almost a reflection of how I have felt within the bad period. COVID then came along and made everyone feel that way. I had a lot of people who had no concept of what it’s like to have depression or bipolar or anything coming to me and saying, ‘I get it’. Many people who had before said it wasn’t a real thing or that I was dramatic suddenly understood what it was like.
"But this release was something we were always going to do. Because of the themes within it, we felt like it was more important to get it out in the world now rather than later because a lot of people are struggling. It made more sense than to wait until afterwards."
In many ways, it takes a lot more to talk about these things as something you intend to get out there rather than as a reaction. It must have been quite a strain getting it down on paper…
"It was. When I had the idea, and we sat down to talk about it, I realised I had never been able to talk to them previously about what I had been thinking or wanting to talk about in a song before it was written. Usually, I finish a song, bring it in, and then off we go. There was never a conversation about what it was about or why I was feeling that way. But this time, because of what we had been through in the previous years as a band, we sat and had that conversation. It wasn't easy to have such an open book approach, but I found it interesting that as I explained what I was going through, other members would chime in and say things they had never talked about. We were telling each other things we probably always should have, which changed us. Everybody is so much more forthcoming and supportive, and understanding. This is also the first time we have ever done anything without a producer, so it’s the first time just the five of us working on something. Every decision was just us. I was pretty nervous we wouldn’t all be on the same page initially, but it was so easy."
And it’s not like this is the first time you’ve ever got together to write music. Like, it must be crazy to think how you’ve got this far without sharing such things…
"I feel like it’s not even just with band members. I feel like it’s something that I could touch on with all of my male friends. We can be close but still brush the surface. I have learned how important it is to dive in so that you know what you need to be aware of with others. There might be certain things that can send someone on the spiral, and if you’re not aware of that, how can you avoid it? Now we are all so aware of what is going on in each other’s lives."
And when it’s just the five of you, what you have at the end of the process becomes the purest version of what you as a band can produce. What does that feel like?
"It was odd, just because we finished it the day before we went into lockdown. So we didn’t get to sit back and listen as a group. We still haven’t been able to be in the same room and do that together. But we have enjoyed it separately and realised how well we did. It’s weird not having a producer there in that almost parent role telling you what’s good and what’s not, and because of that, we all had to be so open to criticism because we were playing that role."
It must also feel pretty incredible but daunting having people come to talk to you about these very personal things now that they are out in the world…
"It’s nice because it’s a way to connect with people at a time where we can’t see anyone. It’s almost an excuse for people to reach out, which has been great. It’s still crazy to me that you can connect with absolutely anybody in the world through social media. I could be talking to somebody in Germany one day and a girl in Poland the next. And if you can make a difference to the life of somebody on the other side of the world with your art, then why would you ever stop doing it?"
For you to still have those feelings and still have those connections after all this time must be one of the most satisfying feelings you can have…
"When we started the band, our biggest hope was that one of our songs would get to a thousand plays, and we would get to go on tour. Everything that has happened since that has been such a wonderful extra."
So what does it mean for you to still have Breakaway as a place for you to express and build these things?
"It sounds cheesy, but we have formed a family with this band. Many people have their group of friends who might play football together on a Sunday or have a book club. We go and make music. That’s what we love to do, and it’s what we will keep on doing it. Being completely independent then means that nobody can tell us that we can’t go and do that. Does it get any better than that?"