Photos by Brian Addison.
Michael Espinach stands alone on stage, his white Fender Jazzmaster guitar slung over his slender shoulder as ambient riffs seep from his fingertips. Behind an assortment of pedals, loops and sample machines the bespectacled artist blends genres seamlessly into a psych-rock tapestry known simply as Breather. Espinach started the one-man project early last year as a way to more fully express his musical vision—one that lacks boundaries in both influences and volume.
“I want to feel the ground shaking,” Espinach said.
The CSULB graduate has been performing as Breather since the beginning of this year, taking seven songs composed in his bedroom and blasting them through PA speakers from Shoreline Village to The Nugget Pub and Grill at Cal State Long Beach. And when he takes the stage at The Prospector on December 2 in support of his recently released debut album Resin Ballet [cover pictured left], he has no intention of keeping calm or turning down.
“A lot of the performance is very much based on what I’m getting back sound-wise,” Espinach said. “I like playing really loud because I can actually feel bass and it’s almost deafening. I love that. I hate it when I can’t hear myself.”
Resin Ballet takes the do-it-yourself ethos literally, all the way down to the flowers spewing out of Espinach’s mouth on the cover (he gathered them by hand from his East Long Beach neighborhood). Programming bass guitar into a sampler and using an iPad application to tap out the drum beats and add synthesizer accents, Resin Ballet is a labor of love that was stitched together in Espinach’s bedroom and mixed and mastered with the help from a friend at his rehearsal studio. The seven-song effort is eclectic in sound and visits topics of substance abuse, relationships and habits.
He admits that his first solo effort was daunting both because he lacked a sounding board in the form of other band members to give the thumbs up or thumbs down to song ideas, but also because he aimed for this album to be something people either really loved or really hated. Recounting a scene from the 2014 film Whiplash, Espinach said some of the most harmful words a musician can hear is “good job.” He didn’t want Resin Ballet to be lumped in with another bands’ sound and he didn’t want it to be “okay.”
“I didn’t want something of mine to remind someone of something from 10 years ago,” Espinach said. “I wanted it to be relevant. It made me think in terms of thinking of the project as whole and how much work I had to put into songs. What is it that I can do with this that could push it to that next level? I didn’t want someone to be okay with something. I want it to be very polarizing.”
Breather draws influences from sounds from all parts of the musical-spectrum. Espinach cited Miles Davis’ song "Round Midnight" for showing him that an instrument can narrate a song just as well as a human voice. His desire to play loud is a tip of the cap to My Bloody Valentine, as he recalled the volume rattling his clothing with each bass-laden riff when he saw them perform. And he credits Sacramento-based hardcore act Trash Talk for pushing him to incorporate his own vocals into the project, something he had little experience with prior to Breather. If they could shout their message in a two-minute song, he felt he should be able to do it in four minutes.
“Punk rock albums will be like 18 tracks and under half an hour and I was just like ‘that’s so incredible that you can get your point across in such a short amount of time just utilizing every moment of what you’ve got,’” Espinach said. “So a lot of it going into Breather was about how I could trim the fat with what I’m doing and make things even more effective.”
There was a lot of trimming, a lot of editing and a lot of tweaking that went into the production of Resin Ballet. Espinach believes that the biggest statement an artist can make is when they give their final stamp of approval on a recording. It’s a statement that says this is how you want to present yourself to the world. Some songs were engineered to his liking the with just a handful of passes through while others he revisited months after the initial recording. He wanted his statement to be something he was completely happy with.
The sixth track on the album title Stache, is the track that sticks out in Espinach’s mind as not only his favorite song, but as the song that best represents the effort he wants to strive for with future releases. The track, an off-beat ode to John Carpenter’s Halloween soundtrack which also incorporates some subliminal pornography samples, took the longest for him to be “okay” with, but also revealed to him the kind of effort that could be put into a song on the production side of the music. The resulting sound is something that Espinach said reflects the path he wishes to continue on.
“I have a bit more definition as to what it is I’m trying to do,” Espinach said about the completion of his album.
The most important thing is to continue to write music that make the hand labeling, hand cutting and distribution of his music worth it. Espinach likened his first effort to a fireball emanating from the palms of a gi-wearing video game character. And like the fighting arcade-game made popular in the 90s, he plans for his next release to have plenty more kick and punch.
“Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter, they do Hadouken,” Espinach said. “I feel like Resin Ballet was kind of like trying to shoot fireballs. Everything else after is learning how to combo. You have to build an artistic foundation before you can actually play with it and deconstruct it and expand upon it. Luckily I feel like this album created that foundation.”