While most guys in their late teens would be happy to spend their days playing beer pong and video games, few things could be further from the minds of Sam Beresford, Jacob Berger, and Olen Kittelsen. Despite their youth, the three founding members of Breach the Summit are incredibly focused, seriously talented, and they mean business. While navigating the treacheries of college applications and freshman year as undergrads, these dedicated musicians have managed to juggle a busy schedule of writing, recording, and playing live shows. This past spring, they snagged a nomination for an OC Music Award in the category of Best New Artist and their latest EP, The City, is a collection of five feel-good indie pop tracks that show both range and a surprising level of maturity in terms of both lyrics and composition. Sam, Olen, and Jacob may no longer be living in the same city (Sam is at UCSB, Olen is at Pepperdine, and Jacob is finishing his last year of high school in Orange County), but the distance hasn’t slowed them down one bit. They took some time away from writing and rehearsing over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to chat with me about their musical influences, The City, and what their plans are for the year ahead. If they have their way, their next stop will be Coachella, and I have a feeling that Indio just might be getting a taste of Breach the Summit before too much longer.
Hey, Sam, it’s Ashley. How are you doing?
SB: I’m good. How are you?
Good! Are you expecting Olen and Jacob to join in as well?
SB: Yep, they should join in any minute.
Okay, great! How’s your Sunday going?
SB: It’s pretty good, pretty relaxing.
OK: Hey, this is Olen.
Hey Olen, you’re on with Ashley and Sam.
OK: Oh, okay, cool! I’m in the right place.
Yeah, you found us! How are you doing?
OK: I’m doing okay! How are you?
I’m good. Why don’t we go ahead and start and Jacob can join in whenever he gets on the line. Has it been a big shift for you guys to now be working remotely since you are all in different places for school?
SB: It’s been better than I expected it to be, because Olen and I have ended up going back to Orange County pretty much every weekend. We’ve had a lot of rehearsals, written a lot of new songs, and been to a pretty good amount of shows. So, it’s been pretty successful.
OK: It’s definitely a struggle as school is going to pick up for these last couple of weeks, and then we’re home free for winter break, but it’s also annoying too, to have to jump through all these hurdles to make it happen. We’re definitely willing to do it because that’s the situation right now, but we’d love to be doing music full-time.
Was school always a definite for you guys or did you consider bypassing that route altogether and just going straight into a full-time focus on your music?
SB: We thought about it, but it didn’t make a ton of sense for this year because Jacob is still in his last year of high school.
OK: Yeah, we’re exploring possibilities with next year as far as making the band more of the focus, and being able to pursue it full-time, but as far as commitment goes, it is the #1 thing in our lives.
SB: But this situation has caused us to realize how much we really want this. We’re experiencing what college life is like, and it’s made me realize how much I really want to be doing music.
I know that Sam and Jacob met through a mutual music teacher. How did Olen find his way into the mix?
SB: Four years ago we needed a drummer for our show because our ex-drummer had a conflict, and a different member of the band, who is no longer in the band knew a guy [Olen] who could drum. We brought him out, he drummed for the show, and he could sing too. Slowly, he started singing more and more of our songs until our old lead singer wasn’t really singing any of the songs any more and he eventually left the band. So [Olen] started out on drums and kind of slowly worked his way in on vocals, too.
OK: It sounds kind of devious when you say it like that. At the time, the other guy in the band, Brandon, and I were pretty much sharing lead vocals. He left the band to go to college and he was just too busy. Before that, we were writing songs, and he would sing one and I would sing the other. It was more shared at that point and we did a lot of harmony stuff, too, but once he left, that’s when I became the lead singer.
How would you describe Breach the Summit’s sound?
SB: Oh, that’s a hard question. Most of the words people use to describe genres today don’t really mean anything, but I think we’re just a melting pot of everything that the three of us listen to. There are some things we have in common that we all listen to and then each of us listens to some things that the others don’t. We’re just a big mix of modern rock, I guess.
OK: I’d kind of put us as an indie pop group, but Sam’s right. The words themselves don’t mean anything.
What is it that you hope to bring your listeners or what would be the best compliment that someone could give you about your music?
SB: We were just talking about that. A big compliment would be if someone listens to our music and says, “Wow, I would listen to this on a regular basis.” We want to make music that people will enjoy. If someone is going to listen to it on a regular basis and enjoy it, dance to it, if it makes them feel happy, or they’ll love seeing it live, that’s pretty much all we really want to bring to people.
OK: As a drummer, I really can relate to music when I can feel the pulse. I think that’s why I relate to a lot of upbeat, indie dance pop. That’s another reason why I like to be the drummer as well as the singer. I get to kind of be the heartbeat of the music and there’s this rush I get when I’m both singing and drumming something that’s just completely four-on-the-floor and danceable. It really hits me.
SB: We really do try to make music that makes people move and dance. It’s just fun and that’s what we enjoy. There are certain songs that we’ll play live and I just can’t help moving to them, and that’s just what we want to do.
OK: Yeah, we want to give other people that feeling.
Where did the name “Breach the Summit” come from?
SB: It’s not interesting at all.
People want to know!
SB: Okay, we had names before that we didn’t like and we thought we needed a new one, which we did. We threw around a bunch of ideas and they all got rejected, and I was on the phone with Brandon, the guy who is no longer in the band, and we were bouncing ideas back and forth. At the end of the call, he said, “write down ‘Breach the Summit’,” and I said, “Why? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” He told me, “just write it down,” so I said, “fine.” And I still didn’t like it for a while, but eventually it grew on us a lot and other people who liked our music started to like the name. It seemed to be memorable, and now, I couldn’t imagine us with any other name.
Tell me about your recording process for The City EP. What did that look like for you guys?
OK: Tracking took place over the end of July…
OK: August, yeah, the end of August. Tracking took place over five days at ArtiSans Label Studios in Fullerton. It was produced by a guy named Barrett Slagle. We funded it ourselves, and we wanted to create something really cool, so this was the first time we’ve ever worked with a producer. We had recorded demos of the songs and we narrowed it down to the four we wanted with the help of Barrett. It was definitely really cool working with someone else, an outside opinion because I feel like you get so jaded when you’re judging your own music. It’s really hard to put a pin on what’s cool and what’s not, so when you have someone else there that will help you, I think that really helped. We came to [Barrett] with a collection of songs that we had finished demoing over the summer and we narrowed it down to the four and we took five days, pretty much day and night, and then it went back and forth with mixing for a while and we got it to a place where we wanted. When we finished mixing those four songs, we realized that the EP was sort of missing something and our bassist, Cody Buxton, offered to record a version of “I Get Lost”, which is the fifth and final song on the EP. It’s also the most different one, because it was recorded completely differently from the rest of the songs, in our Cody’s apartment building and it was mixed and mastered by Cody. It was something that we felt really tied the whole album together. It’s not simple or plain but it’s very broken down as opposed to the rest of the songs on the EP, and that’s the final dynamic that we wanted people to see.
People have compared your sound to the sounds of a lot of other great bands like Two Door Cinema Club and Imagine Dragons. What are some of your musical influences that you think people might be surprised by or that might not be immediately obvious in your sound?
SB: I listen to a lot of Death Cab for Cutie, I really love Bastille at the moment, and…
OK: Sam, are you looking at your iTunes library right now?
SB: …actually, I am looking at my iTunes library right now. (laughs) I’m also a big fan of Portugal. The Man. I listen to them religiously.
Yeah! I just got turned onto their music recently and Evil Friends has found a permanent place in my rotation.
SB: They have something like seven albums out and they just have so much good music. They’re just amazing songwriters.
OK: For me, I listen to Passenger.
SB: A big one for Jacob is Kings of Leon.
OK: Jacob and I also both really appreciate John Mayer. We think he’s super talented, and then for me, the band, Mae. They’re a little old school but I listen to their album The Everglow a lot. Oh, and then, of course, Bon Iver.
Oh, Bon Iver is definitely a personal favorite.
OK: Oh yeah, he’s just super talented, and then, Volcano Choir, which is his offshoot; it’s one of his groups, too. Yeah, I definitely listen to a lot of those softer, not as dance-y types of music as well.
Well, you guys definitely have a lot going on right now between school and all of the things that are on the horizon for Breach the Summit. What are you guys looking forward to in 2014?
SB: Well, on January 2nd, we’re actually having an EP release show at the House of Blues Anaheim, so that’s our next big thing. We’re headlining the House of Blues for the first time, which is really exciting for us just because we’ve seen so many other bands there. It’s really going to be a lot of fun. Looking past that, we’re trying to get some things together on the business side. We’re trying to figure out some management, and obviously, a record label would be amazing. We’re also looking to record more in early 2014 because as soon as we record a new EP, we’ll generally write another EP, which is what we did. So we have a lot of new songs that we’re already really anxious to get recorded.
You guys don’t stop! It’s good that you’re young, and you can keep up that kind of pace!
SB: We’re hoping it can continue.
What would be a dream venue for you guys to play?
SB: Easy question. Coachella.
SB: We have a long list of places we’re dying to play. Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Colorado, which is one of the most unbelievable places in the world and even smaller venues like The Observatory just 20 minutes away from where we live. We’ve seen other bands play there and it would be a dream to play there, and everything in between.
Is that Jacob?
JB: It’s Jacob!
OK: Jacob, the interview has been going on for 30 minutes, it’s pretty much over!
JB: I had to do college apps and my dad wouldn’t let me get on the phone until I finished. I’m very sorry.
Hey, that’s okay. That’s a very good reason to be late for an interview.
JB: The one time I had to do this had to be right now. I’m sorry.
No worries! It’s a rite of passage.
JB: To be honest, I’m planning on deferring admission to college next year anyway, so for me, it’s not a fun process because it’s not something that I really want to be doing, but you’ve got to take care of things just in case…
I totally understand.
JB: I’m lucky to have Sam and Olen though, because not everyone is in a band where they can trust the other members, but me, Sam, and Olen are so close. We have been for the past five years, so I know they’ve got me. I hope they didn’t make me look too bad.
Well, that’s definitely important for the success of any band, that you guys can work well together, not just creatively, but also in practical ways.
JB: Well, it’s obvious that we don’t get along, but it’s kind of funny—whenever we get into arguments, I’m always like, “Guys, none of us are going to quit.” None of us are going to quit; no one’s going to kick anyone out. Well, they might kick me out for missing this interview, but we always realize that we’re all working towards the same thing.
OK: We just know we’re all on the same side and we have a mutual goal. At the end of the day, we’re all working together.
Aw, that’s very sweet. You guys could give people couple’s therapy.
JB: Right, I would never divorce Sam or Olen.
Well, I’m glad you were able to jump in for the last little bit, Jacob, and Sam and Olen, it was really nice chatting with you guys. I wish you guys so much luck and you’re obviously very dedicated, so I have no doubt that there are lots of good things coming your way.
OK: Thanks for interviewing us!
JB: Thanks for letting me put in my two cents.
Of course! Have a good night, guys!
All: Good night!
Be sure to check out Breach the Summit on Soundcloud!