This rock 'n' roll band is gaining local ground quickly, and maybe it's only coincidence that their new EP happens to be titled "Maps."
It’s a big week for New Orleans rock ‘n’ roll four-piece The Breton Sound. On Tuesday, the band released their punchy, five-track EP Maps (or Cartography of Art and Generalization) and they will make their Jazz Fest debut this weekend. “I didn’t even think we’d get Jazz Fest,” says vocalist and guitarist Jonathan Pretus. “It’s more focused on the roots aspect, funk and brass. They tend to leave the rock thing to Voodoo Fest, so I was surprised.” Stephen Turner, who co-founded the band with Pretus in 2010, laughs and says, “Well, we’ve got the opening slot.” The Breton Sound will play one of the first sets of Jazz Fest on Friday.
Maps came together rather quickly for the band; The Breton Sound never intended to release an EP, but with an impending festival appearance they decided to take their most recent material to the studio. The result is a fast-paced, fully amplified record that differs from the band’s first EP Eudaemonia, a record written entirely by Pretus and Turner that preceded the band’s current line-up. With drummer Jon Alcon and bassist Brian Pretus – brother to Jonathan – now on board, Maps can credit four minds for its creative songwriting instead of two.
“It’s a lot more cohesive,” Jonathan Pretus says. “I think you get something better at the end of the day versus having one dictator handing out parts.” Producer Tom Drummond of Better Than Ezra also played an important role. “Tom heard the original arrangement of ‘Standing on the Edge of the World,’ which was a plodding-type tempo,” says Jonathan Pretus. “He said, ‘I don’t think that’s right. It needs to be faster, it needs to be straighter, and it needs to have a riff’.” The Breton Sound chose to take his advice. “We literally rewrote the song in 20 minutes,” Brian Pretus says.
Some of The Breton Sound’s earliest material came together while Pretus was still a member of touring rock band Cowboy Mouth. “I played parts that someone else wrote,” Pretus says. “This is more rewarding, but it’s nice to have seen what that career path is. Now I can say, how do we get to that? Our goal is to be touring full-time.” A first step towards that goal was raising enough money for Maps, so The Breton Sound took on a series of cover gigs at a Baton Rouge casino to earn the funds. “It made us super tight as a band,” Brian Pretus says. His brother agrees. “We were able to play together for three hours a night, three nights a week,” Jonathan Pretus says. “It was 75 percent covers and 25 percent originals. The interesting thing about learning all of these covers is you start to pick apart and dissect what makes other songs that you like work. You put these things in your back pocket for next time.”
While money can take a band far, The Breton Sound recognizes that it’s the audience that matters most. Marketing a rock band in New Orleans is a challenge that these four members can attest to. “I think we’re still trying to find what our route is,” Jonathan Pretus says. “You can’t flyer anymore, so that sucks. It’s a matter of trying to find some repetition without being annoying about it and losing the momentum of it. Unless you have some kind of advertising budget, it’s tough.” And while there are communities of punk rock and indie bands in New Orleans, it’s more difficult for a band that plays straight rock ‘n’ roll to find a niche. “Brian’s really into the punk scene, and they’ll all go see each other play even if it’s a Tuesday night,” Jonathan Pretus says. “We don’t have that kind of scene that we’re in. We talk about this a lot, and while there’s specific cliques and niches, we don’t think we fit into them.”
But fitting in has never made much of a difference in rock ‘n’ roll, anyway. The Breton Sound’s latest release packs in loud guitars and thunderous drums, sounds that could easily fill an arena. And as gritty and punk rock as Maps is in places, it still has its breathing room. Take the reverb-soaked guitar and piano intro to “Brighter than the Sun,” for instance. And then there’s the 40-second instrumental titled “Interludacris.” “I look back on that, and I say to myself, ‘Did we really title one of our tracks “Interludacris”?’” Jonathan Pretus says, laughing. “Yes. Yes, we did.”
The Breton Sound will play Jazz Fest Friday at 11:40 a.m. on the Lagniappe Stage. The will also host a multi-artist rock show and fundraiser called Rock ‘N’ Hops on Saturday, May 4 at NOLA Brewing. More information can be found here.