Noise Annoys: The Breeze are on Thin Ground - and On The Record

This week, words on the debut album from local alt-folk ‘supergroup’ The Breeze

The men from The Breeze plot world domination while seated around a table at Madden's Bar in Belfast
(Niall Taggart)

WHAT’S better than a top local group? Why, a top local supergroup, of course. A case in point is Co Armagh’s The Breeze, a trio comprising Noise Annoys favourite Stevie ‘Malojian’ Scullion, his buddy Decky ‘The Basement’ McManus (also drummer for Malojian) and their chum Chris ‘Lost in The Fog’ Coll, who have gotten together with the intention of making some sweet, country-fried alternative folk with a full-band sound.

You’ve already read about their first couple of singles Goodbye Heart and The Whores of Life right here on these very pages – the latter being acclaimed as no less than “a catchy, countrified rock and roll delight”, in fact – and now the trio have released their debut album proper featuring both those tunes alongside nine other new originals.

Nurse, the screens.

:: The Breeze – Thin Ground (album, Style Records)

Out now on Stevie’s very own label, Style Records, Thin Ground is very much the sound of three, talented and like-minded dudes enjoying being in a band together: Chris and Stevie share the singing and main songwriting duties, Decky does the drums, and they’ve enlisted the help of keyboard wizard John McCullough to help fill out the spaces in-between on the record with some judicious ivory-tinkling/organ grinding.

Chris Coll’s appealingly raspy, emotive baritone contrasts nicely with and Stevie’s slightly more Neil Young-esque pipes, adding variety to Thin Ground as the pair trade-off lead vocals in a track-about manner throughout.

Kicking off with a familiar one-two punch of the Chris-sung The Whores of Life and Stevie-led Goodbye Heart, the record finds the trio successfully combining an abundance of melody and groove with laid-back vibes and soft-focus introspection for a transcendent and mildly psychedelic front-to-back listen.

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It’s easy to see why they front-loaded the singles, the grungy, country rockin’ strum of Whores and the lighter, acoustic guitar and keys-heavy sound of Goodbye Heart showcasing two different sides of The Breeze right off the bat in fine fashion.

From there, Chris’s We Used To Play Around Here in The Summer offers something in-between, a slow-dance country shuffler loaded with an abundance of mouth organ-fuelled country-wistfulness building up to an ethereal ending, while Offer it Up To the Lord changes tack again for a more groovesome, T-Rex-flavoured slice of hand-clappin’, psychedelic-gospel blues.

Instrumental interlude Stood in The Breeze Nowhere Else to Be – a band theme tune of sorts, perhaps – clears the decks at the end of Side One with more playful mouth organ/organ-augmented mellow strumming over hushed/brushed drums prior to Thin Ground’s centrepiece: the five minute-plus epic Water is The Answer, an apocalyptic morning after lament where dusty acoustic guitar combines with vibe-enhancing electric guitar dissonance, warming washes of organ and a doomy Johnny Cash-on-downers vocal from Chris.

“Water is the answer, rivers are the road / you gain another chance or drift off into the unknown... find something you can’t own”, he croons ominously on this stand-out moment.

Lonely Days are Over and Imaginary Childhood Friends lighten the mood again with the former’s playful, oboe and piano-led love song seguing nicely into the latter’s upbeat country bop, replete with church organ vibes and reverb-bolstered early rock ‘n’ roll guitar wrangling.

Bring The Loving Home is another Stevie-sung slowie, a wonderful hazy/lazy ballad that’s a neat warm-up for the sprawling, spooky Black Sky White Earth, Thin Ground’s penultimate number: this one is a low-key epic, starting slow and low with Chris exploring his full vocal range and the band gradually building up a nice head of highly atmospheric steam behind him via some skronky electric guitar embellishments and plenty of echo-laden FX.

The hand-drawn cover of Thin Ground by The Breeze

Finally, Look There’s A Rainbow ends things on an appealingly ramshackle, loose-limbed, ‘Nirvana Unplugged with squelchy synths’ note. “Bring your wife, your kids and dog too” coos Stevie, neatly summing up the mass appeal qualities of The Breeze’s highly accomplished debut.

Listen and grab a copy for yourself at thebreezeband3.bandcamp.com and prepare to catch the band live in person at one of their upcoming dates: why not bring the wife and dog? (where permitted).

  • April 11: Cookstown, Vanilla Records, 7pm
  • April 12: Limavady, The Keady, Clachan, 8pm
  • April 13: Lurgan, Town Hall, 3pm
  • April 14: Bangor, Court House, 4pm
  • April 20: Belfast, Oh Yeah (Starr Records showcase with Arborist etc), 1pm
  • May 2: Kilkenny, Rollercoaster Records, 7pm
  • May 3: Belfast, Ulster Sports Club, 8pm
  • May 4, Drogheda, McHugh’s, 8pm
  • May 5, Omagh, Ophelia’s Loft, 8pm
The Breeze 2024 tour poster
2024 tour poster

The Breeze: On The Record

What better way to round things off this week than by revisiting my recent Q&A with The Breeze mainman Stevie Scullion, conducted last year just as the band were releasing their debut single - read on for behind-the-scenes info on the recording of Thin Ground, their live history and more...

Malojian man Stevie Scullion
Malojian man Stevie Scullion

How and why did the band come together?

I liked the idea of a project that was a proper band rather than any one person having more responsibility. It’s so much easier when there are three heads to make decisions rather than one.

Working on solo stuff there can be a lot of procrastinating and deliberating and it feels like a huge amount of energy gets wasted. This experience was the opposite.

Decky McManus had been playing drums in Malojian for a while and we’re also in another new band called Dead Goat, with Mark McKowski and Matt McGinn.

I’ve been working with Chris Coll for a few years now, trying to help him with recording and getting his music out. I really enjoy working with Decky and was telling Chris I thought it would be a good idea to try a day together in the studio just to see how we got on.

Chris picked the name. We were doing the usual rounds of rubbish band names when he came up with The Breeze. We all loved it right away.

His uncle Martin was a musician and he passed away just before we entered the studio for the first session. One of his favourite songs was Call Me The Breeze by JJ Cale.

Did you discuss what kind of sound you wanted or did it evolve naturally?

It was very natural. I think it surprised us how much it sounded like ‘a real band’ from the very first session. I remember us talking about that when we listened back.

I think we have a mutual respect and appreciation of each others musical sensibilities, so there’s a trust there which is a hugely important part of any collaboration.

How did you approach the songwriting?

The songwriting on this album was split equally between Chris and myself, with an additional instrumental track written by the three of us live in the studio.

We also have a few other co-writes that didn’t make this album, but more because of time constraints than anything else. They will hopefully be on album number two.

What was the experience of recording Thin Ground like?

It was really enjoyable and stress-free. We all have young families and other commitments, so the hardest part was getting time together. We didn’t have very many sessions but came away with at least a couple of tracks from each one.

The album was recorded with the three of us playing live and then we overdubbed some additional instruments. Towards the end, we brought in keyboard wizard John McCullough. He added some magic dust with piano and organs. He’s unreal.

Have you played many shows?

We took on some ‘pub gigs’ to get tight as a band. I think it’s important to cut your teeth in a semi-hostile environment and it seems to have paid off.

We’ve played some theatre gigs and a couple of festivals and did a short tour of England in September. The reaction has been really positive so far.

Is there going to be another record by The Breeze?

Fingers crossed we’ll be heading back into the studio in the early new year [ie, this year]. Everything feels good with the band at the moment, so I don’t see why there won’t be multiple records, all being well.

What’s happening with Malojian?

Malojian is sort of on hiatus but I might release something soon. I’m always writing and recording and have made a few records since HUMM, but I haven’t felt like releasing anything.

The music industry is in a bit of a bad state and ‘releasing’ music doesn’t give me any satisfaction really. I get a big reward from the process of writing and recording.

I used to work in architecture and have been trying to combine my skills and knowledge to come up with a scheme which would build a support system for artists of any discipline.

Basically, providing artists with an income as a reward for their creative process, rather than focusing on capitalising on their art.

It’s proving a hard nut to crack.