Deep Breaths | Interview

We constantly feature new & notable indie artists that drive innovation in all aspects of songwriting, production & performance. Meet our latest featured artist in an exclusive interview. Introducing You To Your Next Favorite Artist: Deep Breaths.

Comments from the Curators

Review by Enrique Llamas, Director of Playlists & Contributing Partner

I’ve been lying on the floor listening on repeat to the four songs that make up the debut EP from Los Angeles’ Deep Breaths—Daniel Berkman’s new project. His music features a unique blend of dream pop, synthpop and folk rhythms that immediately makes me think of Wild Beasts (especially due to the sound of Berkman’s vocals), Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes. Each song seems carefully made to create a simple yet intimate, introspective atmosphere.

Soon I find myself lost in my thoughts, almost like I’m daydreaming as the music I hear is really soothing. However, the lyrics and the feeling coming from the silky, sweet falsetto voice of Berkman reveals something deeper—grievous in some way—like we’re invited to experience a slow, painful catharsis.

Starting with the opening track “When I Was Younger,” you’re immediately introduced into this beautiful atmosphere created by a delicate arrangement of guitar, violin and cello strings. Distant waves that are almost imperceptible cover everything, evoking images of past memories.

“Easy Does It” is probably the darkest song of the four, taking us down into what seems to be some kind of toxic relationship: “So tell me that you need me, I don’t care if you lie, please lie…” he sings in an ominous voice just to change it a few seconds later to a more gentle, vulnerable tone: “So careful now, your love is a labyrinth”. The beat in the background seems to announce the inevitable, like walking through death’s row to a fateful destination. Maybe this is what he’s trying to tell us; amongst the confusion and the feeling lost, there is this knowing we’re going to a dark place that is not easy to escape, as he says “so easy to get in, so hard to get out.”

The next song, “Buried You to Keep You Safe” leads us into a calmer place, while its light guitars and keys slowly walk us through a hall full of dusty framed pictures, making us reflect on the way we idealize those who we have loved and how hard it is to keep an objective view on our memories: “Everytime I close my eyes, I create you anew. Each time further, from the truth”.

Finally we get to the beautiful “Bones,” a soothing acoustic melody that outstands for its simplicity, as it also gives some closure to the previous 3 songs; it seems to take us forward in time to witness the wounds still open, still grieving, to remind us that healing is a slow process.

I finish listening to this self-titled EP and I’m left with a strange feeling: I’m not daydreaming anymore. They say that when you need to calm down, taking deep breaths really helps, so I guess that’s what this album lets me do.

What are your top three favorite albums that inspired you to get into music?

There are so many records that have inspired me along the way, but here are the first three. I think these records really laid the foundation for me as a songwriter, even if I don’t consider them all to be amongst my biggest influences today.

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel

“The Boxer” was my first favorite song. I remember even as a kid getting lost in the fingerpicking and beautiful harmonies, and even though I wasn’t old enough to grasp the lyrics, I really connected to that feeling of beautiful melancholy.

Blue Album – Weezer

I must’ve burnt this tape out. I listened to this record everyday when I was in elementary school. “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here” will always be my favorite track on that record.

Third Eye Blind – Third Eye Blind

My older sister introduced me to this record, and I think every track on it was my favorite at one point. Growing up in the Bay Area they were definitely hometown heroes (along with Green Day). Third Eye Blind was also my first ever live rock show!

What are your fondest musical memories?

Sufjan Stevens – “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland Illinois”

I’ll never forget the first time I heard this song. I was driving in a car with a friend. It was one of my first few weeks in Los Angeles and this song came on and just devastated me. I was so lost in it, I was swept up in all of emotions I was feeling at a real transitional phase of my life. It really changed my trajectory as an artist.

Show in Bakersfield

I was on a short tour up the coast and we stopped in Bakersfield and no one was expecting much turnout-wise. But when we took the stage to play, the bar was packed and the crowd was so into it. You got the feeling that indie bands didn’t come through all that often and they were so excited to have bands like us come through. We all felt like rockstars that night.

Bon Iver – Sunrise Show at Hollywood Forever

I had just graduated from college in Los Angeles and I was about to move up to Portland, Oregon. It was my last night in Los Angeles and we arrived at the cemetery around 10 or 11pm and stayed overnight in sleeping bags on the lawn. Bon Iver took the stage at sunrise. It was an amazing send off to the next chapter of my life.

Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener?

I think the late 60’s and early 70’s are big for me with artists like Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, The Zombies, Dylan, Nick Drake…I could go on forever. The fingerstyle style guitar, harmonies and elements of psych rock are definitely influences for me.

I guess another period would be early to mid 2000’s. I really came of age during this period, so I think the songs that were important to me then, will always be important to me, whether it was the first time I heard Elliott Smith, Kid A, Sufjan, The National or Sigur Ros.

What is your creative process like? How do you approach the writing process? Is there a particular message or theme central to your creative works?

My process varies from song to song. Sometimes the song just spills out in minutes and other times I’ll have a progression for years before it develops into anything. I have a hard time saying anything is finished.

I try not to intellectualize the writing process too much. I feel I’m at my best when I’m writing intuitively and emotionally.

I really hope to create music that people can get lost in. When I approached my friend Aki Ehara about producing the EP, I told him I wanted it to feel like a trust fall. I want people to get lost in the songs. I think that’s why I tend to gravitate towards textural elements, like fingerpicking.  I feel strongly about putting a song in a place; making music that transports you. I know a song is important to me when I always miss my favorite part because I get too lost in the emotion of the song.

We’re a firm believer that the cities that artists are based in help craft their sound. How has it inspired you into crafting your sound?

At this point I’ve been based in a few different scenes/cities. I’ve now been a part the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Portland music scenes, and I’ve loved things about all of them but to be honest, I haven’t really felt like I’ve fit or truly belonged in any of them.

cover.jpgHow would you describe your visual aesthetic, in terms of album artwork, music videos, and artistry? How does the music you create contribute to your visuals? Does this extend to your live show experience?

Well I’m graphic designer so visual aesthetics are very important to me. I tend to gravitate to graphic images and clean typography.

Visual aesthetics can help to define how your art is perceived. But the visuals are only effective if they speak to music that you’re making. There has to be a connection.

A big influence on my design aesthetic would be Peter Saville and his work with Factory Records, especially his covers For New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies.

As for music videos, my favorite video of all time would have to be Bjork’s “All Is Full Of Love” directed by Chris Cunningham. Patrick Daughter’s work has been pretty influential for me. I love the Department Of Eagles Video for “No One Does It Like You”.

Deep Breaths has only played a few shows so far, but the visual aesthetics I’ve been defining will hopefully creep into our live show as we develop the means.

As an indie artist in the digital age, social media and streaming are essential tools for marketing and promotion. What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?

I think music sharing/streaming is a real double edged sword. As a listener, who doesn’t like to have all their favorite music always at their fingertips? It has certainly turned the music industry on it’s head for better and for worse. I still don’t think the industry has completely adapted, it’s a process, but once that door is opened, it’s impossible to close.

On one hand it really democratized and leveled the playing field for new artists who are no longer dependent on distribution from labels. It’s a real opportunity for DIY artists. It’s never been easier to get your stuff out there, but it’s never been harder to “make it”.

Since no one buys records anymore. Artists make money through touring and publishing. Because no one buys records, I feel like labels are a lot more cautious about signing new acts which makes things like tour support more difficult to come by.

As far as social media. I think it’s definitely a necessary tool. I personally hate self promotion and I’m terrible at it. I’m also not a big social networking guy. I have an instagram which consists of two pictures of my dog. I should work on that.

What is your dream collaboration and why?

Although I would be super intimidated, I’d love to work with Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, Aaron Dressner from the National or Nigel Godrich.

Which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community?

One song I’ve been really into lately is “Cardamom” by Weyes Blood. It’s so hauntingly beautiful.

I think Andy Shauf still seems to be a bit under the radar, although I feel like he’s been getting more recognition lately. I’m a huge fan. When I heard his record, “The Bearer Of Bad News,” I couldn’t listen to anything else for a month.

Jay Som is another artist that comes to mind.

What are you currently working on? Any new projects?

I’m really excited to get these songs out there! I’ve had some of these songs for a long time, so I’m eager to see if people connect to them in some way as I finish up writing for the next Deep Breaths EP. I hope to record the next EP this summer.

I also play in another band called “Sympathetic Frequencies” and we’re also about to record a new EP.

Follow Deep Breaths on Social: Facebook, Instagram & Bandcamp.