Shape Breaker interview with Patrick Hickey

March 26, 2015

Shape Breaker interview with Patrick Hickey

There’s a little bit of anything that you want going on in Shape Breaker, with deep fried fuzz cloaked guitar freak-outs and catchy as hell vocals soaked in reverb, left echoing and shivering out in a distorted winter of frozen noise.  There are equal parts early 60s garage and mid 70s psych rock teamed with a ridiculously devastating proclivity for wicked hooks and gnarled and twisted pop sensibilities going on in Shape Breaker’s music.  From early beginnings as a one-man solo-project to the fully-realized lineup that performs the music live at this point, Patrick Hickey has been refining and perfecting the sound that will define him to the world then they bother to catch on for years at this point; and trust me it’s only a matter of time before people start to take notice!  Philadelphia is home to so many great bands that it boggles the mind, but Mike Polizze’s Purling Hiss and Birds Of Maya jump to mind immediately and it’s kind of hard to top that for me, it’s some of my favorite stuff to have come out in the past decade frankly.  Shape Breaker however is far from left in the dust, instead they hover shimmering and glowing in the smoked out haze of a dusky sunset, sultry crooning tunes floating over decimated and punctured sound waves, winging and hemorrhaging directly into your eardrums.  Eyes Wide, Hickey’s second release under the moniker, is with out a doubt some of the coolest home recorded stuff I’ve heard in forever and I’m particularly fond of that stuff so I listen to a lot of it to be honest.  The raw, simplistic, and at times, feverishly intense and personal ambiance of the album lend themselves perfectly, not only to the songs, but to the very heart and soul of what Shape Breaker’s music seems to be all about.  Limited to only 50 copies Eyes Wide ain’t gonna be around for long, luckily though Hickey is working on recording a new album right now and I may have just managed to finagle a couple of details out of him in our recent powwow about all things Shape Breaker.  That’s all the tidbits you’re getting out of me though sucker!  If you wanna know anymore you’re just gonna have to read on, check out one of the coolest interviews I’ve had a chance to conduct in a long while, get the skinny on Shape Breaker for yourself and then eventually cave in and buy some music if all goes according to plan, mwha-ha-ha-ha!  Shape Breaker for global domination in 2015!!!

– Listen while you read:  https://shapebreaker.bandcamp.com/
I know Shape Breaker has been around for a number of years at this point.  Is this the original lineup or have you all gone through any changes since you started?
Pat:  Well, Shape Breaker is a semi-solo project.  The first two records were almost all me.  My friend Piotr started playing drums with me like a year and a half ago, he’s on the Gary Records 7-inch.  Then about a year ago, my cousin AJ started playing bass so we could play out, and that’s the current live lineup.
Are any of your currently in any other bands or do you have any side projects going on currently?  I hesitate to call stuff side projects as I know most musicians really trying to make a go of it these days often have more than one thing going on.
Pat:  We’ve all been in assorted different projects, but as far as stuff that’s currently active, I play bass in a band that my friend Kiel Everett fronts called Tin Horses which is in kind of a traditional phase because of some band member changes.
Have you released any music with anyone else in the past besides Shape Breaker?  If so, can you tell us a little bit about that here?
Pat:  Tin Horses has a few releases, and another that should be out sometime in the next couple months.
How old are you and where you originally from?
Pat:  I’m thirty-one, and originally from Norristown Pennsylvania, which is like a half hour outside Philadelphia. 
What was your home like when you were growing up?  Was there a lot of music around or anything?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in that when you were a kid?
Pat:  There wasn’t a ton of music around the house when I was growing up.  I mean, I definitely remember my dad listing to music sometimes, but neither of my parents were huge music nerds or anything.  One of my uncles was in bands, and toured, and that kinda blew my mind as a kid.  He liked the Smashing Pumpkins, so I started listening to the Smashing Pumpkins, ha-ha.
What about the local music scene where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows or get very involved in that scene?  Do you feel like it played a large or important role in shaping your musical tastes or shaping the way you perform at this point?
Pat:  We moved to South Jersey when I was like ten, and there wasn’t a lot going on in general there.  Right before high school I discovered punk, and like most kids that age that start to get into punk music, that was immediately all I gave a shit about and I started going to any shows I could.  It played a big role in shaping my music tastes for sure. 
What do you consider your first real exposure to music?
Pat:  I remember going with some friends to see the band Plow United at a VFW hall, and that being the first time I was exposed to the fact that there were these smaller bands around playing shows that where not in real venues, and that they were putting out records on their own.
If you were to pick a moment, or a series of moments, where your mind seemed to open up to the infinite possibilities that music presents, what would it/they be?
Pat:  Probably that show I just mentioned, ha-ha! 
What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get that?
Pat:  My first guitar was an old acoustic guitar that I got from my uncle.  I had it for years before I actually gave a shit about it.  Sometime around sixth or seventh grade, when I started getting more interested in music, I dug it out of a closet and had someone in the neighborhood show me how to play some songs. 
When did you decide to start writing and performing your own material, or was that just kind of always the case and it was naturally that way being given a new opportunity to create something of your own and express yourself in a new way?
Pat:  I really started working on writing and recording my own music like, nine or ten years ago.  I had been in bands for years, but was just kind of getting frustrated with the lack of progress at times, and realized the only real way to make the music that I really wanted to be making was to just do it and not wait for anyone else.
How and when did the members of Shape Breaker originally meet?
Pat:  Well AJ is a second cousin of mine, so I’ve known him forever.  Piotr actually just responded to a post I put up online looking for a drummer.  We had never even talked before the first time we played together.
What led to the formation of Shape Breaker and when would that have been?
Pat:  Around 2009 I had a handful of songs that were pretty different from the mostly acoustic stuff that I was working on at the time, and I just decided to try to form them into an actual project, and that became the first Shape Breaker album.
What does the name Shape Breaker mean or refer to in the context of your band name?  You seem to pull sounds from a wide array of different places and kind of defy simplistic genres and didn’t know if that had something to do with your name?  I’m pretty prone to reading into things a little too much sometimes…  Who came up with it and how did you go about choosing the name? Are there any close seconds that you almost went with you can recall at this point?
Pat:  Yeah, that’s actually kind of right.  I was just kind of playing with words trying to come up with something I liked.  Somehow Shape Breaker just kinda popped into my head, and since it was a solo project, and my musical tastes kinda jump around a lot, I expected that the sound of the band would change over time, so it kind of felt appropriate.  I’m actually surprised the sound has stayed as stable as it has. 
Is there any sort of shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that Shape Breaker shares or lives by, spoken or unspoken?
Pat:  Hmmm…  Not really. 
Where’s Shape Breaker located at this point?  How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at?
Pat:  Philadelphia.  Philly’s got a great music scene.  There are lots of great bands, and lots of venues of different sizes and types, bars, DIY spots, so there’s usually something going on somewhere in town.
Are you very involved in the local scene in your opinion?  Do you book or attend a lot of local shows or anything like that?
Pat:  I don’t usually book shows, but I go to as many as I can.
Do you feel like the local music scene has played an integral role in the sound, history or evolution of Shape Breaker or do you think you all would be doing what you are and sound basically like you do regardless of where you were at or what/who you were surrounded by?
Pat:  Yeah, definitely.  I have lots of friends in bands in town that are doing all different kinds of great stuff, it’s super encouraging, and I’m sure has influenced things that I’m working on.
Are you involved in recording or releasing any music for anyone besides yourself/Shape Breaker? Are you affiliated or involved in the running or recording of any material for any labels or anything?  If so, can you tell us about that here briefly?
Pat:  Not really.  I record all the Shape Breaker stuff myself at home, but I haven’t really worked with other bands as much.
I kind of hit on this before, but I feel like you all pull sounds from a lot of different places and make them your own.  I love doing interviews for Psychedelic Baby and getting to talk to awesome bands such as Shape Breaker is always awesome, but explaining how they sound to our readers who might not have heard them is a rather daunting task at times.  I always feel like I’m screwing it up, putting too many of my own perceptions and stuff in there.  How would you describe Shape Breaker’s sound to our readers who might not have heard you all before?

Pat:  Oh man, I have the same problem.  I hate trying to describe music I’m working on.  Honestly, I would just say they should check it out for themselves!  
Who are some of your major musical influences?  I feel like there has to be a pretty big pool of stuff that you draw on.  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually? 

Pat:  Yeah, I’m definitely into lots of different genres.  I would say that Shape Breaker comes from a combination of early punk, 50’s rock n roll, late 60’s-70’s rock/psych, and fuzz heavy 90’s bands.
What’s the songwriting process like for Shape Breaker?  Is there someone who usually comes in to the rest of the band with a riff or a more finished idea for a song to work out with you all from there, or do you like to just get together and kind of kick ideas back and forth until you hit on something that you’re all interested in working on from that point?

Pat:  I usually have stuff mostly structured and demoed before we start working on it as a band.  Now that there’s an actual band though, it isn’t unusual for one of the other guys to play something, or suggest something that changes the song in a way that I didn’t expect, which is pretty great.
What about recording?  Over the years recording has been the death of a lot of great bands in my opinion.  While I think that most musicians can appreciate all the time and effort that goes into making an album when they’re finally holding that finished product in their hands, getting to that point, getting things recorded and sounding the way you want them to as a band; even seemingly little things, like getting it properly mixed and mastered can prove to be monumentally annoying tasks.  What’s it like recording of Shape Breaker?

Pat:  I do all of our recording at my house.  With Shape Breaker I like recording in layers rather than live because it allows me more room to experiment.  Basically, I have Piotr come and play drums to a demo, and then I re-track everything to those drum tracks.  For the other guys, I think the most annoying part of recording is just wondering what the fuck I’m doing with the work they did after they left, ha-ha!
Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out exactly how a song’s going to sound before you record it, with the arrangement and composition all worked out and airtight beforehand?  Or do you like to get a good idea of what something to sound like while allowing for some change during the recording process where you feel is prudent?

Pat:  A little of both.  I demo a lot, so I usually will have lots of parts that interact in a way that I’m dead-set on.  But once I’m tracking the finished version of a song, I almost always end up changing something or adding another layer that I hadn’t originally envisioned.
Do you all like to take a DIY approach to recording where you handle most of the technical aspects of that on your own, maybe so you don’t have to work with anyone else or compromise on the sound with them?  Or do you like to head into a studio and let someone else worry about that headache so that you can concentrate on the music and getting things the way you want them from the start?

Pat:  I like to have a lot of control.  I’m thinking about taking the new release I’m working on out to get mixed though.  It can really be helpful to get someone with fresh ears to work on a project.
I think a lot of people don’t know how to take the next question, but I’m always curious so I ask anyway.  I don’t mean it any base or demeaning fashion, people have been tapping into the altered states that drugs and alcohol produce for thousands of years for the purpose of creating art and I’m always curious about their usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally enjoy and ‘consume’.  Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes for Shape Breaker?

Pat:  Nah, not at all.  Haven’t done any of that for years…
Let’s talk a little bit about your back catalog.  Your first release that I know of is 2011’s self-released CD no fun.  Can you talk a little bit about the recording of the material for no fun?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience for you all or more of a nerve-racking proposition at that point?  Where was that recorded at?  Who recorded it and when would that have been?  What kind of equipment was used?

Pat:  no fun was recorded in a one-bedroom apartment into a laptop.  It was kind of a learning experience for me.  I was still learning Pro Tools, and had never mixed a full album before.  A friend played drums for no fun, and I tracked the rest.

You followed up no fun in 2013 with the Eyes Wide cassette tape.  Was the recording of the material for Eyes Wide very different than the earlier session(s) for no fun?  Who recorded the Eyes Wide material and when would that have been?  Where was that recorded at?  What kind of equipment was used this time around?

Pat:  Well, I was trying to put together a live band after no fun, and then the guy who had been playing drums for me bailed.  I wanted to start playing shows, but being back to square-one I decided to focus on more recording instead.  Eyes Wide I did all on my own.  I’m not a drummer, so I took a really simple approach to the drum tracks, mostly just using a floor tom and a snare, and layered cymbals.  It kind of resulted in the album feeling stripped down and raw I think.

Last year in 2014 you all dropped sick split 7-inch for Gary Records with Fuck Mountain who I’m also going to try and talk to!  The split features an exclusive track “Spellbound”.  Was that left over from one of your earlier sessions or was it written and or recorded specifically for the single?  If it was recorded for the single, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Pat:  It was recorded just for the 7-inch.  The track was something I was working on, but wasn’t really sure if it fit with the other songs that are going to be the new record.  So, when they asked us to do the split it was immediately the song I thought would work best as a stand-alone track. 

With the release of the Gary Records Fuck Mountain split last year, are there any releases in the works or on the horizon for Shape Breaker that you can talk about?

Pat:  The new record should be finished in the next couple months.  Hoping to have it out in the world one way or another by late spring/early summer, we’ll see….

Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your stuff?

Pat:  Honestly, right now the easiest thing is to just go through our Bandcamp, or one of the stores listed here for the Gary Records split. 

With the completely insane international postage rates I try and provide our readers with as many possible options as I can for picking up imports. Where’s the best place for our poor overseas and international readers to pick up your music?

Pat:  Same deal.  I’d say to just download stuff, or go to one of the shops listed on the Gary site
And where would the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news from Shape Breaker like upcoming shows and album releases be at?

Pat:  Find us on twitter or Facebook.  We’re easy to find. 
Are there any major plans or goals that Shape Breaker is looking to accomplish in 2015?

Pat:  Finish this god damn record and get back to playing shows!
What, if anything, do you have planned as far as touring goes right now?

Pat:  Nothing planned right now, just been taking some time to work on recording.
Do you spend a lot of time out on the road?  Do you enjoy touring? What’s life like out on the road for Shape Breaker?

Pat:  We’ve mostly played in town at this point. We’re trying to get our shit together as a live band. Hopefully this year…

Do you remember what the first song that Shape Breaker ever played live was?  When and where would that have been at?

Pat:  The first show we ever played was at Kung Fu Necktie in Philly.  Not sure about the first song, probably “Climb Down”.
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with overt the past few years?

Pat:  OBN IIIs, Juniper Rising, Raw McCartney, Purling Hiss (Interview here), Amanda X….
Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that
represent the band to a large extent, stuff like flyers, posters, t-shirt
designs, cover artwork and the like?  Is
there any kind of meaning or message you’re trying to convey with the visual
side of Shape Breaker?  Is there anyone
you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to that kind of
thing?  If so, who is that and how did
you get hooked up with them?

Pat:  I just try to go with visuals that I feel make sense for the sound of the band.  No real master plan.  My buddy Dan Judge will help with art design sometimes.  He did the first two records.
With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various mediums that they do.  Do you have a preferred method of release for your music?  What about when you’re listening to or purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, what is it and can you tell us a little bit about why?

Pat:  I’ll always prefer vinyl, I just feel like it’s more satisfying in everyway.
I grew up around my dad’s enormous collection of killer music and both of my parents encouraged me to listen to just about anything that interested me from a pretty young age.  I think it was my dad taking me out to the local shops on the weekend when I was a teenager that left the biggest impression on me though.  I developed a whole ritual for listening to music, one that I’ve never abandoned and has led to a lifelong obsession, or fascination, depending on who you talk to, with physically released music.  There’s just something about having a physical object to hold in my hands, something that’s concretely connected to what I’m hearing that seems to offer a quick glimpse inside of the mind of the artists who created it, if even for a fleeting moment.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?
Pat:  Yeah, I think that’s one of the reasons I prefer vinyl, you have to physically interact with it more.  For some reason that’s just more rewarding than pushing a button.
Like it or not digital music is here in a big way right now.  I think it mostly depends on how you look at and deal with things, I mean, there are always going to be ups and downs to any given situation. Digital music is really just the tip of the iceberg anyway.  When you combine it with the internet, that’s when things get really interesting!  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by and allowed for an unparalleled level of communication between bands and their fans, thereby eliminating geographic boundaries and limitations that would have crippled bands in the past.  On the other hand though, while people are being exposed to all this amazing new music they’re relay not that interested in paying for it at this point. I think a lot of people have begun to see music as a sort of disposable entertainment to be used and then discarded when they’re done with, a kind of free soundtrack to their lives that will always be there whether they pay for it or not.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

Pat:  It’s got its pros and cons for sure.  I mean, I can put out a record on my own tomorrow morning online and someone on the other side of the planet could be downloading it a minute later, that’s wild!  But, at the same time, I do think it’s caused recorded music to be kind of devalued by a lot of people.  
I try to keep up with as many good bands as I possibly can but there’s just not enough time to sort through all the amazing stuff that’s out there right now.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?
Pat:  Tons!  Amanda X, Spacin’, Purling Hiss (Interview here), Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler, Chris Forsyth, Hound, Birds Of Maya (Interview here), Ecstatic Vision, The Writhing Squares, Ruby The Hatchet, I’m sure I’m forgetting some…
What about nationally and internationally?
Pat:  Honestly, I’m way behind on new bands. 
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me so much about the band.  I know this took some time to finish but I seriously appreciate you taking the time to make it this far!  Since you’ve been so generous with your time is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you might just want to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?
Pat:  Not that I can think of…  I think you covered most of it.  You’re welcome, and thanks!
(2011)  Shape Breaker – no fun. – CD-R, Digital – Self-Released (Limited to 50 copies)
(2013)  Shape Breaker – Eyes Wide – Digital, Cassette Tape – Self-Released (Limited to 50 copies)
(2014)  Shape Breaker/Fuck Mountain – Gary Records Split with Fuck Mountain – 7” – Gary Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2015
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