Making Meaning: Working Breed on “Turtle Race”

Today we’re Making Meaning with Erika June Christina Laing! Erika is the energetic and multi-talented frontwoman of Pittsburgh-based art rock quintet Working Breed. Erika dances, sings, and plays a ton of instruments!

Working Breed debuts their music video for “Turtle Race” on Friday 12/14/18 at Spirit Lodge in Pittsburgh with special guest Wreck Loose and dancing & karaoke with DJ Gam Gam. They also release their 8″ two-sided single featuring the two very emotionally contrasting songs “Turtle Race” and “My Chimera”  from their forthcoming album Transparent Raven. These discs will be 8″ picture-embedded lathe-cut records featuring two beautiful works of art by Contemporary Artist, Lennon Michalski. Only 25 available so they are extremely limited!

Keep up to date with Working Breed by following them on Facebook and Instagram. Learn about all of Erika’s creative activities (including the awesome podcast about women’s creativity, Petticoat Rule) by checking out her website!

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Erika June Christina Laing as Astral Erika in “Turtle Race” video. Photo by Kevin Kukler.

Let’s make some meaning…

Making Meaning: The Background

Working Breed is an art rock quintet from Pittsburgh, PA. They infuse their performances with theatrical elements and use unique instrumentation. Their songs fuse blues, jazz, ska, dance, and rock to create something that has been described as Zappa-esque!  They started making music in 2014 and have released two EPs: Live from WRCT in 2014 and Method: Observation in 2015. Look out for Transparent Raven sometime in the future!

On Friday 12/14 Working Breed premieres their video for “Turtle Race” to the world! They’re also releasing an 8″ single featuring “Turtle Race” and “My Chimera,” two songs from the forthcoming Transparent Raven.

We’re excited for the opportunity to premier the song, “Turtle Race!” I’ve also had the chance to preview the accompanying video (we’ll post it here after the debut show!) and WOW it’s EPIC! It has a little bit of everything, and I think that’s the point, as the song and the video are expressing intense and sometimes contradictory or surprising emotions.

Working Breed is: Erika June Christina Laing (vocals, songwriting, brass, synths, musical saw); Mike Dugan (guitar, songwriting, vocals); Jonah Petrelli (bass, songwriting, vocals); Jeremy Papay (drums); and Chloe Weicz (keyboard, backing vocals).

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Working Breed in “Turtle Race” video. Photo by Kevin Kukler.

Making Meaning: The Song

Listen to Working Breed’s new song “Turtle Race” and learn what meaning Erika makes:

 

Lyrics by Erika June Christina Laing; Music by Working Breed (all). Track credits: Erika Laing (vocals, sheng, saw); Mike Dugan (guitar); Jonah Petrelli (bass); Chloe Weicz (keys); Jeremy Papay (drums); (additional: Cello by Jacob Nathanson; Violin by Patrick Forsyth; Harp by Becky Gard). Recorded, engineered, and mixed by Matt Vaughan at Hollywood Studios of Pittsburgh. Produced by Working Breed and Matt Vaughan. Mastered by Michael Denten.

Lyrics to “Turtle Race”

Painting a black canvas red / Black and blue pictures of you in my head / Haunting my thoughts, the words I’ve been fed / The earth is still warm where you left

She can have your hollow bones / Your gift horse throat / Your swindled hope / She can have your brick of gold / Your country club / I’ve had enough

Biting my lip on the telephone / Every day of my life is a dial tone / Swallowing blithe sustains my life until I see the light / I hope I don’t miss it, I hope its bright

She can have your cheap parade / Your palisade / Your turtle race / She can have your turpentine / Your sterling shine / But your sorrow, your sorrow is mine / Its all you left behind

If you love somebody, you’re fucked / If you love somebody, you’re fucked / If you love somebody, you’re fucked / If you love somebody, you’re fucked / You’re fucked, you’re fucked / You’re fucked, you’re fucked, you’re fucked, you’re fucked / You’re fucked, you’re fucked, Fucked

She can have your charm and grace / Your smiling eyes / Your soft embrace / She can have your entire being / As you can see clearly you meant nothing to me

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Erika June Christina Laing on the set of “Turtle Race.” Photo by Kevin Kukler.

Erika Speaks

“Turtle Race” is unlike most Working Breed songs in that it has an uncharacteristically somber tone, which stems from its intense emotional content. The writing of the song began when Mike Dugan (guitarist) sent a recording of a guitar lick that had an exquisite kind of sadness to it. His musical idea touched me in such a way that all these lyrics came tumbling out, lyrics about the bitterness and grief I felt following a difficult divorce I had gone through not too many years earlier. Since my divorce, there have been many times where I feel overwhelmed by my emotions, trapped by them, and unable to share them for fear of being a burden to those around me. I simply feel too vulnerable to admit how much pain I am in. But through this song I started taking some small steps.

“The writing of the song began [with a] recording of a guitar lick that had an exquisite kind of sadness to it. His musical idea touched me in such a way that all these lyrics came tumbling out…” – Erika on writing “Turtle Race”

When we first started performing the song live, I felt ridiculous and embarrassed. In the middle of the song we break from the death march into a searing bridge driven by Jonah Petrelli’s bass line, and there is a line where I sing, “If you love somebody, you’re fucked,” and I repeat, “you’re fucked, you’re fucked, you’re fucked” over and over again until raising into soaring pitches and a witch scream denouement back to the death march. At first when I sang this in front of people, I felt naked and afraid, and quite honestly, dumb, for having the feelings and for screaming them so loudly and basely. But the band kept encouraging me, especially our drummer at the time, Sam Stein. Whenever I wavered, he always pushed me to sing this song.

As time went on, this particular lyric became one that people took their time to let me know spoke to them. The lyric isn’t meant to be as despondent as it seems; it is a straightforward fact of life: if you love, you will experience the pain of loss. It is unavoidable for most mortal beings. People connect to this in different ways though, which I think is beautiful. Some feel that their loss is the loved one when they die, or the relationship when it dies. Some feel the loss as their selfish pursuits, which can no longer take priority once in a loving committed relationship. It is a statement that feels wrong to admit, but is something everyone can relate to, deep down.

“At first when I sang the song in front of people, I felt naked and afraid, and quite honestly, dumb, for having the feelings and for screaming them so loudly and basely.” – Erika on performing “Turtle Race”

The music video for this song came about after we completed a side project for a friend, Eric Lorenz, who asked us to craft a piece of music for a short film he was working on. To return the favor, he wanted to help us by directing a music video. I sent him the tracks we have been working on for our forthcoming album, Transparent Raven (due out early next year), and he selected “Turtle Race.” It spoke to him and his imagination was wild with possibilities.

It was an intense creative collaboration to put this video together, as Eric and I met many times to figure out how the story could be conveyed. We all wanted the video to be highly narrative, and he was the one that came up with the Erika Trio, which is comprised of a Real Erika who is experiencing the story behind the song, a Mind Erika that represents the excruciating pain which keeps Real Erika trapped in a state of misery, and an Astral Erika that represents the ultimate intuition and higher knowledge that we all possess if we are only able to listen. Mind Erika is in chains with the band and she sings the lead vocals. Astral Erika has complete freedom to move about the world to watch all that goes on, though no one can see her, and she sings the backing vocals. In the video, Astral Erika is often depicted singing these lines towards Real Erika, who doesn’t want to hear the truth. Of course, she eventually does, and then some shit goes DOWN – but I don’t want to give it all away! You have to watch it.

“It was an intense creative collaboration to put this video together… We all wanted the video to be highly narrative, and [Eric Lorenz] was the one that came up with the Erika Trio…” – Erika on writing the video for “Turtle Race”

Creating the video was an intense emotional challenge. In the weeks leading up to the shoot, I had many nights where I had flashbacks to the most painful parts of the divorce. It is a kind of pain one never wants to relive. I had a few panicked moments where I tried to step out of myself to observe and confirm that I was not creating this video out of spite or bitterness, but out of a place of healing. Ultimately, the song and video are not about the event, people, or circumstances, but about the pain, and the long, slow, plodding journey of healing, hence the name Turtle Race. There have been times where I thought it would never end, or that I could never accept the pain, and I have felt so alone, but the irony is that many others are walking the earth right next to us in their own states of such grief. Be it from loss, injustice, or struggle, our society does not leave much room for these big, heavy feelings, but our hope with this video is to normalize these emotions by creating a space for them to exist.

“Ultimately, the song and video are not about the event, people, or circumstances, but about the pain, and the long, slow, plodding journey of healing, hence the name Turtle Race.” – Erika on “Turtle Race”

We also had a lot of goofy fun putting this whole thing together and there are many elements of humor peppered throughout, especially as our keyboardist Chloe Weicz is prone to make delightful bloopers, and our current drummer Jeremy Papay is always willing to get weird with us. We aren’t taking ourselves too seriously or trying to be superheros – we are just revealing ourselves, and if even one person feels less alone, then we completed our mission. In the end, over twenty-five people poured their hearts into the “Turtle Race” song and video, including a monumental effort by Matt Vaughan at Hollywood Studios of Pittsburgh, who made all our string section and harp dreams come true in the final mix of the song. With each of these incredible people devoting their complete time and energy to their part, the effect has been that now they own a little piece of my pain and my burden is lessened. 

“We aren’t taking ourselves too seriously or trying to be superheros – we are just revealing ourselves, and if even one person feels less alone, then we completed our mission.” – Erika on “Turtle Race”

It has been a beautiful and humbling experience for me, full of ups and downs, and if I am honest, I am still scared to let it go, but that’s exactly what I am going to do. – Erika June Christina Laing of Working Breed

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Erika June Christina Laing in “Turtle Race.” Photo by Keven Kukler.

Thanks to Erika for sharing the meaning she makes from their song and video! It’s so interesting to learn about the process of creation – from sad guitar lick and tumbling lyrics to trial by live performance to expression through visual narrative. This song and video illustrate the healing power of music. Thank you for making meaning with us.

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Working Breed at The Stage at Karma.

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