The Breathing Room has been around the bay for seven years but are just now releasing their debut self-titled album. Sean Spangenberg, one of the band’s founding members, joined MJ on West of Twin Peaks Radio for a conversation about the band’s chill, psyche- and jazz-inspired music, as well as their recent move from Berkeley to San Francisco.
“The Breathing Room album to some extent has become an ode to our old house that we lived in for those seven years,” Sean Spangenberg explains. “We wrote the music in our basement. The album artwork will be a rendition of that space. Now that we've actually left and that door is closed, it's definitely an ode to that…It’s kind of different chapters–from our oldest songs to some of our newest music–so it really is kind of an encapsulation [of that period]. Our band was really tied to that space and that house and everything that we got to do on ol’ Derby Street in Berkeley. It’s become sort of the narrative to the album.”
MJ: Tell me your meet-up story.
Sean Spangenberg: Garrett, Caleb, and myself all went to Diablo Valley Community College out in the Pleasant Hill area, more or less where we grew up. I was, like, sitting there reading a book and he walked up and started chatting, and we hit it off. We ended up roommates before bandmates. Garrett and Caleb had played together and known each other through school, and Caleb and I had played quite a lot of music in college together in different combos. We started to develop the band and started playing, and then after a few different drummers, Tori–she's a multi-instrumentalist and a great drummer as well–found our house on Facebook marketplace. She was also a roommate before a bandmate. That’s how we all came together.
MJ: You’ve been together for a while now. Is it difficult maintaining a band relationship, a friend relationship, and a roommate-living-in-close-confines relationship?
S:I feel like to be fair I’d have to let everyone answer that question themselves [laughs]. But I think as we've gotten older and more mature, those things get a lot easier. I mean, it has always been incredibly fun. These are my best friends in the world, and, you know, our mutual love of music makes things easier. But it's an interesting thing to be very much intertwined with people in so many ways for so long.
MJ: Would you say it eases the process sometimes because things can go unspoken between you, that you can just more easily find a thread or groove with people you know so well?
S:Musically, absolutely. Garrett and I have a pretty special ability to play together–all of us do–but Garrett and I have played a lot of stuff over a long period of time together in different bands, like a friend of ours, AJ Hicks, [has a band] Make No Bones, and we played his music for a while…[With the whole band] we really understand each other’s whole musical vibe and when something needs to be said, we can find a way to verbalize it a little bit more easily.
MJ: In terms of writing the album, is there one person that does the heavy lifting, or is it more of a collaborative effort?
S: It started as Garrett and I kind of sharing the work. We’re big Beatles fans and fans of the Dead as well, you know, these two-songwriters sort of bands. With a song like “Opaque,” we wrote that together, and we both sing on it. Usually if one of us is the primary vocalist, that’s who wrote the song, though that’s not exclusively the case. As time goes on, like, we’ve got a song “Lowlights” that Caleb wrote with another project that just sort of started working its way into our jams, so that'll be coming out in the future. On future recordings, Tori has a ton of music she's been writing, too. But for this album, it’s largely Garrett or I writing, with the exception of a couple of songs. But we write in such a way that–I mean, Caleb, there’s no way that any of us could write what he plays on the piano, he’s such a talented pianist, and Tori's very involved in the production of how we write the songs. So we all really have a pretty strong influence on how the music comes out.
MJ: The sound on your 2020 EP, Sound of the Morning, is different from the new singles you’ve released. Did you work on that consciously or did it kind of organically happen?
S: Our sound has definitely developed over time. That EP was almost…well actually, we didn't intend, but everything ended up having acoustic guitars on it, and it ended up being this very mellow, acoustic sound. We did a lot of the recording in our basement, and it was just easier to get good-sounding recordings that way, playing quieter…I don't know if it was an intentional move away from the sound of the EP, but there was very clearly a different sound and a different approach in terms of synthesizers and having groovier, upbeat songs.
MJ: You recorded it at Santo with Jason Kick?
Yeah, Jason Kick and mostly at Santo studio, a really great place in Oakland. Anyone who's trying to do any recording, I really recommend both Jason and Santo in general. We also did overdubs at other places–in our house and other studios–all working more or less with Jason, who was definitely involved in the production process as well as the engineering of everything. It takes us a long time to record stuff, and so the album started basically when the EP came out…It’s been such a labor of love. We’ve all been a part of projects all of our lives–I started playing in bands when I was 12–but this is the first full-length album that any of us have succeeded in releasing into the world. It feels really special. We’re really excited for people to hear it.