Hot on the heels of their two most recent, critically-acclaimed releases, including the 2020 release of Voodoo Treatment as well as an EP from late 2020 / early 2021 entitled A Date With Destiny, Chicago’s most prolific instrumental surf-rock band The Breakers return in stellar style during the Summer of 2021 with Torch Light. The 18-track Torch Light clearly demonstrates just how and why Breakers guitarist Jim Abrahams has evolved into quite a productive guitar instrumentalist and composer on the early 2020’s surf-rock scene. Calling The Breakers a creative surf-rock band would be an understatement as just about every genre of the modern-day guitar instrumental sound is explored to the max on Torch Light.
As on their earlier releases, Torch Light features the expert Breakers rhythm section of Marc Lockett (drums, percussion) and Jayson Slater (bass). Fans of the other Breakers albums will note Marc Lockett’s attention to playing percussion as well as his top-notch drum fills on tracks such as “The Other Side Of The Clock”. On top of highlighting the core Breakers band, Torch Light also features guest spots from other fine musicians including Bruno Kriese (bass on “Escalator For Two”), Dan Klapman (sax), Gary Kretchmer (trumpet) and Jeff Bond (guitar), with the icing on the cake being contributions from Breakers producer Craig Williams (production, guitar).
With its inescapable surf-flavored melody, “A Trip Through Life” opens Torch Light with its most memorable guitar vision. Soon enough, track 2, “Ocean Of Fire” lives up to its title and kicks up quite a whirlwind. The title track, “Torch Light ” features Jim’s impressive pizzicato guitar picking and power chords with a ‘strum and twang’ effect, while a powerful Breakers cover of the Gordon Lightfoot mid 1970’s folk music classic, “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” is an unexpected delight with its pulsating guitar twist take on one of Lightfoot’s most fabled folk melodies.
With a haunting synth meets theremin flair, “Orphans Of The Storm” takes the modern day instrumental guitar genre to unexpected heights, while “Never To Be Found” has a brief but mercurial melody that almost borders on Steve Howe / Yes inspired prog guitar meets 1950s soundtrack sounds, only better. In true Breakers style, the band closes out Torch Light with a blast of an instro rocker called "Egyptian Surf", which is actually a remake of the "Arabian Song" (a/k/a "The Streets Of Cairo”) which, depending on the Wikipedia entry you rely on, was said to be composed in the mid 1800's or even as early as 1719!
Among the other favorable sonic side effects of Torch Light is that the album clearly demonstrates just how tight the Breakers have become, with a special mention regarding Marc Lockett with his powerful drum sound that really drives the Breakers sound over the sonic wall. In fact, all of the melodies and arrangements as well as the emotional force on Torch Light are pushed to full impact by the contributions of Marc Lockett and Jayson Slater. In Jim Abrahams own words, “Marc and I live pretty close, so we are always talking about our music multiple times for the week, while Jason always changes some things around as well and adds his own flavor.” Suffice to say, supercharged with 18 hard-hitting cuts, Torch Light is certain to be regarded as one of the best guitar-centric surf-rock albums of 2021.
mwe3.com presents an interview with The Breakers
mwe3: Would you say the new Breakers album Torch Light is the band’s finest album yet and what inspired the title and the title track, “Torch Light”, which is actually track 4 on the album? Is that track the band’s heaviest track? Your guitar playing has never sounded greater and more powerful.
Jayson Slater: I really like all our albums equally for different reasons!
mwe3: What about the band’s incredible tightness on Torch Light and can you mention some of the other musicians that guested on Torch Light? When was Torch Light written and recorded?
Jim Abrahams: Well, we have gotten pretty used to playing together by now, so if we have the songs and a plan pretty decently down going in, it usually goes pretty quickly. Then again, we usually change a bunch of stuff up when we get into the studio, but it all works out!
We had Dan Klapman, Marc’s cousin, on sax. He’s a great sax player who was also on our last album. Gary Kretchmer, who is a pretty highly regarded trumpet player around here, worked the horn lines out with him, and played awesome.
Bruno Kriese, our buddy who has played on some of our other stuff, played bass on one tune, and Jeff Bond contributed some guitar on “Tide Pool”, which is a real ripper!
We have been scratching to get some solid practice time & get out live again. We are about a month delayed, there, but we’ll get it done soon enough.
Marc Lockett: We started writing Torch Light around the beginning of the lockdown. It really wasn’t too difficult, because we didn’t have much else going on, as far as live shows. It felt like a very natural, easy step for us to go create more music.
mwe3: Torch Light is a most worthy follow up to Transmissions From A Hornet-Free Environment,Voodoo Treatment and A Date With Destiny. For me Torch Light is the Breakers most varied and best-sounding album yet.
Jim Abrahams: I think so. We tried to continue to blend in some more progressive and psychedelic influences, along with the more standard stuff. We generally do that, but maybe a little more this time. Marc had some new percussion ideas, I tried to inject some atmosphere with some of the echo effects, and Jayson always holds down the bottom with what’s right - on for the song.
mwe3: How would you contrast recording the new album with the earlier Breakers albums?
Jim Abrahams: We had actually started to record some of this along with A Date With Destiny, but when we decided to release that EP, we felt we had enough done to get some of it out and leave some space for some of the other things we were working up on a full album, so it’s more of a continuation we think, than anything else.
mwe3: The influences are much more varied on Torch Light, say track 14 “Orphans Of The Storm”, what inspired that track? There’s some wild sax soloing on that track. Does it kind of veer into jazz and even progressive rock? What kind of sound effects did you employ on that track and what else can you tell us about “Orphans Of The Storm”? The title is way over the top! lol
Jim Abrahams: Yeah. “Orphans Of The Storm” was the name of a pretty well-known animal shelter close to where I grew up, but I thought it was a picturesque title, as well. I wanted it to be one of our more atmospheric, Pink Floyd-y things, and I dialed in a combination of some spacey echo and reverb effects, and added a couple of brief Theremin parts.
Marc came up with a moody rhythm and percussion effects right off the bat-bell hits and cool accents, and Jay immediately dialed in a deep grove on the bottom end.
Danny wrote a great horn line on the spot, we honed it in quickly and he and Gary went off in the studio and created that ascendant part. It actually reminds me a little of some of the early more psychedelic tracks from UB40, oddly enough.
Dan Klapman: I had never heard the track before coming to the studio, but I had the advantage of listening to Jim record his guitar solo. It slowly progresses up the register and I wanted to do something dramatic up to the higher notes, then back down. With the trumpet harmonizing on the last two bars, thought it turned out great. The song has a Dark Side of the Moon theatrical vibe to it that really resonated with me. Can’t wait to play with that hook live!
mwe3: You were saying how Marc Lockett’s percussion ideas really influence your sound, and we were talking about “The Other Side Of The Clock” which really shows off his drums skills. What can you tell us about that track? It sounds like a psychedelic style track with a great melody.
Jim Abrahams: That really developed out of a very simple psychedelic thing, similar to “The Owls Are Watching”, in my mind, anyway! Marc quickly heard another couple of percussion parts that could come off of that, explained them to Jayson and I, and it changed how the song went. I get a big smile on my face every time I hear the percussion section at the start of that song. Craig Williams, our producer jumped in on acoustic rhythm guitar on that one, which gives it a little bit of a Spaghetti Western feel in places.
Marc Lockett: I knew I wanted the drums to start on the toms, and once we started playing it, I felt the pull of Neil - Peart, of Rush - and it hit me; like an anthem, arena feel for the intro. As far as the beat goes, I wanted something a touch off, to give it a kind of an offbeat, but not “off” kind of feel, if that makes sense.
mwe3: How about “Never To Be Found”? It sounds very experimental. Tell us about making that track. It has a kind of early 1960s sound.
Jim Abrahams: That was the very first song we recorded for this project. We had a kind of a beach at sunset kind of vibe we were going for with that. That was nearly the first song on the album; we were going for a kind of a wistful feel on that one, and added some theremin parts to really get it there. We decided to withhold the percussion from that one, to give it a mute spacey feel. We figured it would also make a fitting closure, and then we followed it up with “Egyptian Surf”, after recording that one for one of a couple of songs that we offered up for an upcoming Surf Raiders tribute album. That kind of put the exclamation point there after the closer!
mwe3: “Guilty As Charged” sounds like a spy/surf TV theme song. Did you have a distinct mission on that track? Do you look at tracks in that way, like a theme song or a more progressive type of track?
Jayson Slater: That bass line was inspired when I was listening to the Surfrajettes. I was actually going for more of a traditional surf groove and then I started playing around with it with a blues progression and it just kind of evolved from that by adding the horn section and Jimmy's wild guitar sounds...
Jim Abrahams: We do look at all of the tracks with a view to how they feel and what they convey. So in that way, I suppose each one has its own personality or feel, and we try to put them together so the whole album has kind of an arc all the way through it.
That was recorded with an excellent Hallmark 60 Custom that I purchased from Bob Shade as a Christmas present a few years ago, with an original, one-of-a-kind flame paint job from Wayne Jarrett. It was the main guitar on the Hallmark Facebook page; I inquired about whether another one like that could be made, and Bob said, “I’ve got it in my closet! Nobody ever bought it!”
There’s some pretty unique things that happen when you play a Hallmark guitar through a Vox AC 30 amp. I tried to push it so it sounded like I was playing through a fuzz pedal, a little bit. The pickups are so hot, it’s pretty easy to do with that amp!
mwe3: “Egyptian Surf” is like neoclassical surf! Does it echo the 1960s, like the “Batman Theme” with a mid-eastern imprint! Why did you dig it up again, this time as a surf-rocker? How do you get to the “sunny side of France” ? lol
Jim Abrahams: Actually, I went to see our buddies The Aquaholics at one of the few live shows in 2020 locally and catch up. They played a fantastic live version, and I was like, “Ohhh! THIS thing!” I had not thought about it in a long time, and I started thinking about recording a cover version.
The first surf-oriented version of this that I know of was by band called The Temptations, obviously not the Motown group, and The Surf Raiders had a version. When we had a chance to contribute to the Surf Raiders tribute album for Bob Dalley that is coming out soon, we recorded versions of this and “Point Conception”, and this, we felt, had so much energy that it should close out the album.
mwe3: “A Trip Through Life” is a great ballad. It also makes a great track 1! The song kind of “sets the scene” with style. I call it Americana Surf. What do you say to that?
Jim Abrahams: I think we’d agree with that; and it has its own rhythm and emotion. It was meant to feel like a flipbook through life. Being a kid, growing up, going through life's changes, experiencing happiness, sadness, death and rebirth. The lows and the highs. We figured we would put a flipbook together of the band members’ family and life experiences. People might know it was us, but the idea is it could be anybody; anybody’s life in retrospect.
I was having trouble coming up with a decent title for the song, we were in the studio and I said I want the title to signal, like, "a trip through life", and Craig and Marc both looked at me, like, there you go.
As we were finishing the album, two of our very good friends, Pat Minx, who became a great friend to me in recent years and one of the very best friends I’ve had in my life, my friend Shawn DeAmicis, who was truly a brother and like an uncle to my kids, both passed away within a month of each other.
Both were great friends of the band members and huge supporters. Pat passed away after a recurrence of cancer that had been dormant for a decade, and a few weeks later, Shawn passed away in a car accident in Chicago by Wrigley Field, the morning after he and I had gone out for a couple of beers and dinner.
We decided to feature those guys, and a couple of other people who were very close to the band members, at points in the video. There are a lot of great moments in the video.
My favorite part is an area coming out of the pretty introspective middle section, where Craig, our producer, is throwing his arm up in the air to direct our buddy Chris Stavrou, who has played cello on a couple of songs on prior albums, to let it fly, followed by my daughter having the time of her life crowd surfing at Lollapalooza. Such is life.
That video, and a lot of others, can be found up on YouTube. I just wish the song was longer so we could show more. Marc and I worked for about four hours, overstaying our welcome at a local establishment working on the video and the photo clips for that song together.
Jim Abrahams: It’s really fun. It's like our “80’s" song, hahaha! Pretty straightforward, high-life, positive energy… feels like a breath of fresh air and energy, and seeing something really cool, like when you can see the moon and it’s still daylight out.
mwe3: At this time, what plans does the band have regarding live performances and even writing, recording and or producing other artists and releasing compilations and or any new DVD releases? Has there been a video with The Breakers?
Jim Abrahams: As I was mentioning, we have a few videos out there, but not many with us in them. We went into full-on recording mode over the last couple of years, and are maybe I’d say three or four practices away from playing out again, speaking about this in mid - September, 2021. We figured we would start playing again in 2022, but we should be able to play a few places around the Chicago area and knock the rust off live before the end of the year.
We have one original holiday song coming out as part of Mark Malibu‘s “Surfing Kitty Christmas 2” charity album that will be coming out. We recorded a version of “O, Holy Night” for the last one and one Halloween release and then the focus will really shifted to playing live next year, providing the environment supports it.
I should mention that we are all very appreciative of the support and friendships we have made in the Surf instrumental community... they have all been awesome, supportive, positive and life-expanding. We hope we have been the same.
mwe3: Any last minute updates on you and the other artists that play with you in The Breakers?
Jim Abrahams: We have just finished adding a couple of tracks - one for a Holiday compilation, and one for a Halloween release, and from here on, it’s really back to woodshedding to get tight on the songs live, getting out a couple of times before the year ends, hopefully, and planning for more live action in 2022.
We definitely want to thank everybody who has helped us make the recordings, our fellow local instrumental buddies who have chipped in with their talents on each project, our friends and families who have been so supportive, Craig, our producer, Sharawaji Records and everyone who has taken the time to listen to the music and had it resonate with them.
The surf instrumental genre has been one of the most welcoming and positive community to join, and we’ve made many quick friends among the other great bands in this fantastic genre.
Marc Lockett: I’d just like to add that this album was interesting, at times, for me to record. Two days after I dislocated my shoulder, I was back in the studio recording the last, maybe eight, songs, only Jay, Jim, Craig and I will know which songs those were though!
Again, The Breakers collectively just want to say, THANK YOU to all of our fans, friends and everybody in this industry!