Taken from their bio Before Breakfast are self-described as:
‘Sometimes poetic, often beautiful and always honest. Before Breakfast weave strong melodies and ethereal cello with sweet harmonies in songs that rise up from the insecure depths of womanhood’
Before Breakfast are made up of three ladies, Gina Walters, Lucy Revis and Debra Finch.
Firstly, may I ask how did you come together as a band?
Gina: I’ve been working on material for a while and after my last band [Screaming Maldini] broke up I never thought I’d ever get in to it again. It took me about a year before I’d pulled together enough songs to a finished point. I really wanted to give them a bit more life than just me and piano but I wanted more depth. It’s funny that me and Lucy lived together for 5-6 years but hadn’t really thought about writing music together. We all went to university together and studied music but found each other by the end of our degrees.
Lucy: The first time you asked me ‘Would you play cello on my song?’ and I was like ‘Of course I will play on your song.’ Then Debra came along …
Debra: Well you played me your songs and showed me that process of writing which you’d never shown me before and I just thought it was really moving. It was a real honour to be asked to play a bit of piano.
Which famous musicians do you admire?
Gina: I wanted my music to be very melody driven so for me it’s Kate Bush. Lyrically I wanted it to be a lot darker so I like the sound of Marika Hackman [English vocalist, multi-instrumentalist] and C Duncan [a Scottish composer and musician] and Burt Bacharach [American songwriter and composer] for harmonies. Lots of different influences.
Lucy: And we all love classical music too so a lot of influences come from there.
Debra: For me, I’m a Bird Now by Angelina Johnson has some really thick harmonies and quite aggressive playing but with some gentleness too and that’s something I think I aspire to.
Why do you think you were drawn to play the instruments you play now?
Lucy: When I was eight, the cello teacher at my school did all this cool stuff with a string quartet and a pianist and out of all the instruments I thought the cello was cool. And I’ve never wavered from that. It is my one true love. Best instrument ever. I feel pretty privileged to play this instrument.
Debs: I had two big sisters growing up and a keyboard at the house. I just wanted to be like my big sisters and begged at five to be able to have lessons. I lied about my age and sneaked in to a class!
Gina: I’ve always sung apparently. Apparently, there’s this story of when I was young I was at a birthday party and got bored of the magician so I just got up and walked in front of him and started singing songs because I thought I was better than him. And I’ve not changed!
What inspires you to create your songs?
Gina: This first batch of songs are borne out of a lot of me – personal stuff. They’re my babies. I feel like I’ve gone through a lot of therapy with these songs. I’m always very open and honest in my writing and I wanted to tackle lots of things like body image and how that’s deeply affected me over the years. Women in music are still in a minority. I don’t want it to sound like we’re here as our sole purpose to empower women as it’s just about us making music- but people identify us as women and of what we sing about as women. That has come up a lot more in people’s reactions but that’s no bad thing, it’s comforting to know that we’re going in the right direction. I write the lyrics then bring the lyrics to Lucy and Debra and arrange this together – the melody, piano and Lucy’s cello part. That’s not how I always want to work going forward and I’d like to write more collaboratively in future but that’s how it works for now.
What are your fondest musical memories?
Gina: Growing up – probably the magician!
Lucy: Because no one in my family is a musician – in my family it was all about the sports – I came home with a cello and my mum and dad were like ’What the hell is that thing?’ But they were supportive. And I remember when I played my first concert solo age nine they were just buzzing. They loved it. I remember being on stage thinking ‘No one else on this stage is as good as me!’ on my primary school page where there were only eight people playing the cello… But I was proud of myself. And I wanted to be just like my cello teacher. I wanted to play the cello and teach the cello for the rest of my life and now I do!
Debra: I think one of the more recent ones that I look back on was where me and Gina sang at a wedding together. We had sing outside in the cold. They placed our microphones right in front of the drinks table so the guests had to keep coming right up to us to get their drinks and it was horrifying in every single way – that was really funny.
Gina: My old band [Screaming Maldini] went on tour to Japan a couple of years ago and there was this really weird moment when we’d travelled over to Tokyo. We were so tired and were taken to this venue. The venue was rammed with hundreds of people and they knew all the words to all our songs. It was this really weird few days where we were in this famous pop band in Japan. It was a surreal week in our lives which will always be really special.
How are your personalities reflected in your work?
Lucy: I think we all have very different personalities. Gina is a show-woman at the front but we all are as well – we are all happy and comfortable on stage, probably because of our training, I guess, but each one of us are engaging with the audience in our own different ways. The audience can look at Gina and she’s doing her thing, I’m enjoying myself with my hair everywhere and Debs is the serious one playing keyboard. That’s interesting. We’re equal in different ways.
Debra: I think our relationship on stage gives insight in to our friendship in some ways. Our songs are quite dark and serious and then there’s light relief when you two inevitably and without meaning to are having a joke together.
How do you feel messages are reflected through your music?
Gina: People listen differently to music. I always listen to lyrics when I listen to songs – my boyfriend’s a bassist and listens to the drums or the bass and doesn’t listen to the lyrics at all. For me lyrics are deeply important and they’re how I connect to a song at the time. I give so much of myself in my lyrics and I am honest.
Lucy: She wears her heart on her sleeve.
Gina: Yes – heart on my sleeve. And that’s how you forge a connection and affect somebody. If you don’t affect them that’s fine – it’s not for them in that moment. I think it might be a bit too much for some people as some people just want a nice song and a nice gig.
Lucy: But at the same time, you could just listen to the melody of the songs – I love the lyrics but I’m not a lyrics person. I’m an orchestral cellist and for me what’s going on between instruments is more important. That’s good and that’s why we work well together. People can listen to our songs and if they’re like me it’s about melody. The intricate stuff they hear will be really interesting and not what’s going on lyrically. They may only notice afterwards that Gina’s told a little of her life story and they should be crying!
Do you find social media is something you embrace as a band?
Lucy: We approach it on three levels. Debra doesn’t like it, I’m in the middle and Gina loves it. I think because I work in social media I sometimes want to throw my phone away as I’m addicted to it. I don’t use twitter and I hate that I use Facebook so much. I remember the first time I used Twitter I just loaded my name because I didn’t understand what to do!
Lucy: You have to choose which way you use it. Musically with some bands, the band is their all – we want it to be our all and it will be. We’re all musicians full time and then there’s the band. We want to redress the balance but it’s hard knowing how to do that. Debs is directing a musical, I’m working with loads of different bands doing session work and Gina does music five to six days a week.
Gina: The thing I learned from my time with Maldini, is that you can try as hard as you like, pushing things and paying PR firms to send out hundreds of emails to agents and managers. But at the end of the day, the music speaks for itself to a point. I have faith in that this time that I don’t need to sell, sell, sell this. We just need to keep do the gigs we want to do, record when we have the money with the right people. I think it will reach the right ears.
Can you tell us about current projects? Things that are happening for you at the moment?
Lucy: We’ve got our first CD single – Fat Child. The next thing is to record some of our live sound. We’re going to be making a music video then an EP or an album. It all depends on how much time we’ve got!
Gina: I work with an ensemble of string players and we do ensemble pieces – recently with Reverend and the Makers, then Jon Boden from Bellowhead. We are coming together to create a 25-piece orchestra playing a mixture of classical music and songs from Before Breakfast. It’s in aid of Sheffield Women’s Conversation Club, a charity teaching English, making friends and conversation for asylum seekers and refugees. It will be a great music event in a really cool space: the Merlin Theatre in Nether Edge and we’re really looking forward to that.
Debs: Mike Hughes is a local artist who is working on a new album. We’re supporting him on 30th June at The Shakespeare.
What do you think are some of the most inspiring things happening for Sheffield’s music scene?
Lucy: I think the guys at Riffley are doing great things –what they do is amazing. They do so much. The time and resources the boys put in to Riffley is huge. The standard is incredibly high and they do it out of their own time and should be given respect for that. Giving artists their time, a platform and a video out of their own time and money is amazing. They’re really lovely guys. We’re on for them at Tramlines. They have really bold ideas and they need to be heard!
Gina: There’s loads of classical stuff happening in the area and I’m trying to get people together to do chamber music, string quartets and maybe do sessions and I’m applying for funding currently for children who can’t afford to get music lessons to be able to get free tuition. Also, teachers have come together to promote classical music to people who wouldn’t normally be able to access live classical events. Ian Naylor at the Sheffield Hub is transforming music for children and young adults enabling them to access music which is really important. With this project in place, there will be some amazing young people coming through the system which we find really exciting.
Before Breakfast play Archordia Strings Presents in Sheffield on the 10th June……..https://www.facebook.com/events/1206583156134104/
KATE O’ BRIEN
PHOTOGRAPHY: MAL WHICHELOW