The Breton Sound is making waves very quickly in the New Orleans rock scene with anthemic, catchy songs that would feel right at home on larger stages and the band seems be headed in that direction.
I sat down to talk with them at the home of guitarist/lead singer Jonathan Pretus and ask how the band formed, where they’re headed, and how they feel about playing their first Voodoo Music Experience as the Breton Sound.
The band began when Jonathan Pretus was still touring with veteran New Orleans rock band Cowboy Mouth. “The Breton Sound started in theory in 2010,” says lead singer/guitarist Jonathan Pretus, “when I was on break from Mouth tours. Stephen Turner and I would be talking about writing songs, with the idea, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do something with it?’ Then, once I decided to leave, we thought when I got home we would pick it up in earnest. My last tour with Cowboy Mouth was in August of 2010. I stepped off the bus on a Sunday morning, got home, showered and Stephen was over by one o’clock.”
Turner and Pretus have been friends for 12 years, since both were students at LSU and had a Weezer cover band. “The almighty Tweezer” says lead guitarist Turner. “Not of Washington DC, the better Tweezer from Baton Rouge,” he adds to laughter from the rest of the guys. Turner continues, “We only had one original in Tweezer, a cult classic called ‘Emo Jam’—which was basically just us harmonizing the word Emo. I think we’ve done better than that since.” The band makes each other laugh a lot and they all laugh at this.
“Jonathan and I always talked about how us being in a band together could never work,” Turner adds. “He likes Oasis and I like Van Halen; but as we got older, we started thinking about how interesting it would be to mix our styles and see what happened.”
“I have very little hand in writing the melody and lyrics,” Turner says of his role in songwriting contributions. “Sometimes Jonathan will throw songs at me to get my take on them but I’m more along the lines of guitars and what the overall sound of the band is like. I can hear it in the songs we write together. You kind of go, ‘Oh, that’s definitely Stephen’ or, ‘That is Jonathan for sure’”
Turner mentions Eddie Van Halen as a guitar influence and it is apparent in his own playing, which can be blindingly brilliant while remaining amazingly catchy at the same time—much like that of the famed Van Halen. “I saw Eddie Van Halen play; Jonathan came with me,” says Turner. “He was standing there on stage cradling his guitar like a little baby and just … shredding your face off. But it’s not just pointless notes. You can actually feel something from it, you know? There’s people crying because of his playing … that’s why I picked up a guitar.”
Writing songs together rekindled Turner and Pretus’ friendship and creative partnership and soon the two headed into the studio with a bass player and drummer to record the band’s first release, Eudaemonia, which was produced by Better Then Ezra bassist Tom Drummond, who brought the experience of a platinum selling artist with 20-years experience on big-time rock stages. It showed in the production and the songs as both make the band sound like seasoned veterans of the arena-rock scene. “It was great because he’s a great teacher,” Pretus says of working with Drummond. “He’s not going to give you the answer and tell you what part to play, but he’s going to give all these little sweet things to try that’s gonna make all the difference.”
After the release of Eudaemonia, Turner and Pretus played an acoustic show. “It was magazine release party for a magazine that never got released,” says Turner to more laughter. “A month or two after that show we realized we needed a band,” Pretus chimes in.
The Breton Sound didn’t have to look far for a bass player. They asked Brian Pretus, Jonathan brother, to join the band. “He’s a guitarist by trade, a phenomenal guitar player,” Jonathan says of his brother’s playing. “Miles better than I am. I just can’t play bass and sing at the same time.”
I mention to Brian that his brother told me he is a far better guitar player of the two. He shrugs and says jokingly, “Oh yeah, I’m incredible” to laughter before adding, “No, we just play different stuff.
“At first I was filling in until they could find a bass player,” he continues, more seriously. “That was the initial plan because they needed some help at the time. I played guitar since I was seven years old but my first band that actually played shows, like 7th or 8th grade, they asked if I could play bass and I just wanted to be in a band so bad I said yes. I went and bought a shitty Ibanez bass and ran it through the Peavey Combo amp I was using for guitar. I pretty much played it like a guitar. When I joined this band as a bass player it took me a while to figure how to play like a bass player and not just play power chords on the bass the whole time ‘cause I like the way it feels.”
Jonathan picks up the story here: “Once Brian joined, we went back into the studio with a different drummer and Tom Drummond producing again to record Maps.”
Pretus recalls how working with Drummond helped his brother Brian in the studio. “It was great because as Brian was sitting there working on his parts and Tom could say, ‘Try this one little sprinkle thing that will make it sound like a bass part and not a guitar player playing bass.’ And he’d try this one little thing and it would make all the difference. We watched Brian take that same idea and apply it to other things and all of a sudden we watched Brian turn into a bass player.”
The band has benefited by working with two popular New Orleans bands from the ’90s: the platinum-selling Better Then Ezra (which you can hear in their records and music) but also by the work ethic and connections Pretus picked up from his time on the road with Cowboy Mouth, a band which did not enjoy the same success in record sales as Better than Ezra but has remained a steady touring band since 1992.
Determined to take Breton Sound on the road, Pretus lined up their first Midwest tour this spring, when they played 10 dates (including Milwaukee’s prestigious Summer Fest, which Pretus had played with Cowboy Mouth) in 12 days.
Drummond was instrumental in getting them opening dates on the road with his band Better Then Ezra recently, during which they were joined by what the band is hoping will be a permanent drummer in John Bourgeois, who has been with them for two months now.
“I play in a ska/reggae band with Brian called Dead Legends,” Bourgeois says. “We’ve known each other for like 10 years.” The chemistry of these lasting friendships is apparent in the music and camaraderie that is genuine and filled with mutual respect.
“I played my first show with the band at House Of Blues Rock 92.3 NOLA Rock show,” adds Bourgeois. “It was really rocking. Kicked some ass. The following week, we played with Better Than Ezra in Texas. That was cool.”
“After our set with them in Dallas,” Jonathan Pretus adds, “Brian and I were up in the balcony watching Ezra and he turned to me and said, ‘Dude, this is surreal. You know I grew up listening to these guys and here we are playing a show with them at House Of Blues.’ It was crazy. It was nice ‘cause Ezra has always had a great track record of trying to help bands they record and work with, so we hope to play more dates with them.”
Turner took part in the interview via cell phone from Texas, where he was working. At this point in the interview, we heard screeching tires and clanging glass over the phone. Jonathan asks, “Hey man, we heard a noise, you alright?”
“Yeah, I just had to slam on the brakes and my bottle of scotch flew off the seat,” Turner replies. The rest of the band in New Orleans laughs hard at this point as Pretus adds, “Put that in the interview, please!”
Voodoo Music Experience is the next big show for Breton Sound and they are excited.
“It’s my first time playing Voodoo and it’s awesome,” says Turner. “Being able to say ‘I played two hours before Nine Inch Nails.’ I’m gonna freak out that day.”
Brian Pretus adds, “I actually played Voodoo when I was still in high school with this other guy’s band. But that’s all it was. It didn’t mean as much; it was cool and all but it’s way more fun to be playing in a band where I have creative input and am friends with the band.”
“I played Voodoo before, with Fatter Than Albert,” Bourgeois says. “I was with them for a handful of years. I remember packing my stuff and heading over to see Rage against the Machine. There were, I don’t know, 6,000 people and you couldn’t get close to the stage. But it was still loud and clear, man. Rage Against The Machine, one of the most epic alternative rock bands ever. It was just awesome.”
“It’s really exciting to be playing Voodoo,” Jonathan Pretus says, “because the last time I played, it was 2009 with Cowboy Mouth and … when we started Breton Sound, we set some different goals to say, ‘This is how we know we’re making progress.” And this is definitely one of them. So it’s nice to hit that goal and Jazz Fest in the same year.”
Brian adds a favorite Voodoo memory: “Let’s just say for the record I got really drunk and waited all day to see Weezer. Didn’t care about anything in the world except watching Weezer. I met all these weird dudes around me that I would never normally be friends with and we became best friends for the day. As soon as Weezer started I got so pumped that I took everything in my pockets—my cell phone, my wallet, all of my money—and just threw it all in the air as high as I could and never saw any of it again. I had the best time of my life.”
“I hate to be the guy who’s like, ‘The first one was the best,’” Jonathan then counters. “But the first Voodoo was so great. It was in Tad Gormley Stadium; there was a stage on each end, so you literally had like five minutes between each band. And it rained that morning so crowds were light. I remember walking in and one of the first bands of the day was Marvelous Three—showmanship like I’ve never seen, just blew my mind.
“Playing in bands I had been just a musician,” he continues, “but watching these guys who were visually just so good; I mean, they were all over the place. The songs were all so catchy; I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is incredible!’ And an hour later Ben Folds Five played and that was one of their last shows and it was incredible. The whole day was just this feast of amazing music: Wycliff [Jean] played, Third Eye Blind. And there was a surprise set and it was … Dr. John! I couldn’t believe it. I was like 18 at the time and I just thought, ‘This is an amazing experience.’”
Friends who rock together, write together and make each other laugh are the heart of what makes for great rock n’ roll bands. The Breton Sound is well on their way to being one that a lot of people will be rocking along to in the near future.