A cliché a lot of musicians like to say when they’re out of fresh ideas is that there are only so many things you can do with 12 notes. This is where the Canadian band Body Breaks make things interesting.
The project founded by the duo of Matt LeGroulx (Expwy, Galaxius Mons) and Julie Reich (Bile Sister) started as a way to explore microtonal instruments in conventional pop song structures. Their resulting debut album Bad Trouble — out June 18 on We Are Time (preorder) — creates the feeling of a lost indie rock classic being played in a tape deck melting under the harsh rays of the sun. Notes warble and blur as they go in and out of tune, with Reich’s vocals providing powerful hooks that snap everything into focus.
Microtonal music first peaked LeGroulx’s interest in high school, but it wasn’t something he started reading up on until he really wanted to start making music on his own. While other bands, like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Horse Lords, have experimented with this kind of music — going as far as having instruments defretted and refretted to achieve that tonality — Legroulx was forced to improvise and work with the tools that were available to him. In a way, it helped him to create a sound that was all his own. One that seemed ingenious in how disrespectful it is towards conventionality.
“I didn’t have anything like that, obviously, I needed to adapt the instruments I had available to me, and those are guitars,” said LeGroulx. “I just ripped the frets off my bass and was able to play the other notes because I didn’t have two basses. So I had to physically adapt one. So the quarter tone thing was really, I was kind of forced into it. But it was also a kind of taste decision as well because I liked how bad it sounded.”
The project initially started when LeGroulx began recording in late 2013 in an attempt to learn his way around microtonal instruments. When he reached out to Reich to contribute vocals in 2015, she was blown away because she had been similarly fascinated by the works of microtonal musicians like the influential composer Harry Partch. With LeGroulx located in Toronto and Reich in Montreal, the project went back and forth online until it was finally completed.
For Reich, singing these songs was a hurdle that inspired her to reach beyond her typical level of comfort. It’s a feeling she is constantly chasing with her music.
“I like things that are accessible but push the boundaries,” she said in an interview with Ears to Feed. “At some point, somebody has to do something a little different and hopefully it can open up the possibilities for what is possible. Possibilities for what can happen and what can be liked.”
Lyrically, Reich covers many difficult subjects like infidelity (“Between the Heart and the Mind”) and a specific heartbreaking case she witnessed when working as a support worker and advocate for the neurodiverse community where a woman on the autism spectrum was forbidden from dating by her conservative family (“Work For The Man”).
In the song “Eyes to Brightness” Reich reckons with her struggle with insomnia which has soured too many early morning sunrises for her.
“The sun reminds you that you’ve just been [up],” she said. “it’s been rough and now there’s no escaping it. Like the truth or reality that you’ve been up all night and this day is ruined.”
With the long-gestating project finally finished and out in the world, LeGroulx and Reich are beginning to consider a way to represent the album in a live setting.
“I’ve wanted to perform this live from the beginning,” she said. “And Matt knows this. And we’re lucky to have so many people who have offered to do it. Because I think they just all recognize the songs are good. And they want to be part of it. Who knows when we’ll be able to perform again, you know, with COVID. Who knows what’s gonna happen?”
Watch the new video for “Eyes to Brightness” below.