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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: Working Breed

Wes Mason Media

The band – formed by Erika June Christina Laing and Mike Dugan almost a decade ago – are back with a brand-new record called "Gaslighter" which finds the group tightening up and leaning into lively pop styles, while remaining dedicated to their introspective style of writing. The song “Deep End” is a plea for unity, compassion, and love.

Laing recently spoke with WYEP’s Joey Spehar about putting aside our differences, keeping the music fun, and putting their brains on an album – quite literally!

Working Breed are:

Erika June Christina Laing: vocals, musical saw, trombone, synth, music box, brain
Mike Dugan: guitar, vocals, brain
Jeremy Papay: drums, percussion, brain
Jake Churton: bass, brain

This conversation may be lightly edited for content, clarity, or length.

What’s your musical history up to this point?

Working Breed has been mingling various minds since its inception in 2014, with Mike Dugan and Erika June Christina Laing remaining steadfast throughout the years. We’ve always been a musically democratic band, so past and current members have all brought their musical perspective to bear on the writing and that has resulted in a variety of musical tones that we find invigorating. The current formation with Jeremy Papay and Jake Churton solidified just after the release of our last album, "Hieroglyphica," in late 2019 and we spent the pandemic coalescing and ultimately writing all new material that reflected the current group’s vibe and the changes we’ve all been through. It’s been a wild ride with a lot of amazing moments!

How do you describe your sound? 

We call it art rock, which is just a way for us to get away with things like utilizing musical saw and trombone, tossing in a good bit of humor, genre bending, time signature play, and bringing glam elements into our live performances. Musically, the current attitude is all about solid riffs, energetic bursts, and emotional directness. Simple synth melodies replaced elaborate key parts, and bass lines have gone from jazz-leaning to lively pop styles. We have fun together as a band while pondering meaning, and it’s that jovial-yet-introspective tone that we hope bleeds through to the listener.

Tell us more about the song “Deep End.” What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?  

“Deep End” is a short and buoyant bop that probably veers the furthest away from our previous style. Our last album had a lot of long songs, one was seven and a half minutes! So when we started writing “Deep End”, there was something so alluring and refreshing about making it super short. It’s not even two minutes, but it has big energy! Lyrically, the focus is on conveying a simple message: let’s care less about our differences, realize we’re all going through this crazy thing called life, and go off the deep end together. You know, really just be together as people and love and enjoy each other. Be compassionate. Be silly. Be authentic and zany. Have fun! It seems especially pertinent these days to continue to emphasize that gender and sexual identity, cultural background, socioeconomic status, or being a minority of any kind are not the traits on which to judge someone. Don’t be a hater; bend your mind towards acceptance and everyone’s life will be better for it.

"Gaslighter" is a very evocative album title. Can you tell us more about how it came to be?

"Gaslighter" is a super high energy and playful album, but at the same time it tackles serious subject matter throughout. There is an overarching theme of transformation, with individual tracks pertaining to moments of confusion and difficulty (“Gaslighter” and “Next Quick Fix”), breaking co-dependent patterns (“Ballerina”), appreciating loss from our highest selves (“WABEOH”), learning how to bravely become ever more ourselves (“Break Free”), and the frenetic sprightly feeling of being in that newly transformed place (“Crow’s Nest”). In fact, for the album art, we hauled out our stage decorations from the last album release, giant 8’x10’ W and B letters, and burned them up in cathartic recognition of how much both we and the world have changed in just four years.

It’s an exciting time but also there’s a lot hanging in the balance. The title track, “Gaslighter”, dives into what it feels like to be deeply manipulated by an individual, corporation, or government, and though personal experiences sparked the direction, it was ultimately the Roe v Wade overturn that brought the lyrics into sharp focus. It reflects outrage but also a concentration on how to embody your strength and make progress in the face of massive setbacks. It attempts to musically demonstrate how to walk through fire and survive and thrive. It seemed fitting to title the album after this track, because in the end, with a concerted desire to embrace change and a willingness to be raw and honest, phoenix-like transformation is possible for everyone.

What was the first album that really changed your life?    

Erika: “OK Computer” by Radiohead or maybe “Debut” by Bjork
Dugan: “Head trip in every key” by Superdrag
Jeremy: “Angel Dust” by Faith No More
Jake: “Follow the Leader” by Korn

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?  

Erika: Ames Harding and the Mirage
Dugan: The Gotobeds
Jeremy: Bad Custer
Jake: Ball of Flame Shoot Fire
(PS – we also collectively recommend The Telephone Line’s recent album, Cisco Kid, and Melt!)

Any other super interesting things we should know about you?

One unique thing we included on the new album is the sound of our brain waves! Erika has a background in neuroscience so we recorded our brain waves and transformed them into the auditory spectrum so they can be heard by the ear. It sounds a bit like rumbling synth-y white noise of various frequencies and is woven into the intro and outro tracks of the album, as well as “Gaslighter” and “Crow’s Nest”. Be sure to check out the whole album when it comes out May 6th and listen for our brains!

Check out previous Pittsburgh Artists of the Week here.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.