Some would say releasing an album called “BRKN LOVE” on Valentines day is a bit on the nose, but for Canadian singer and guitarist Justin Benlolo, it was fate. Originally due for release late in 2019, a delay in pressing pushed the record back to February, and Justin decided to roll with the punches.
The album itself was created before Justin even had a band. After years of obsessing over Soundgarden and Led Zeppelin, Justin pulled together the 13 songs that comprise his debut album and flew to Brooklyn to record at Studio G with Joel Hamilton.
The resulting album was on a fast track for success until a global pandemic stepped in and laid his now filled out band’s plans to waste. Lucky for BRKN LOVE (rounded out by guitarist Kyle Duke, bassist Nick Katz and drummer Russell Holzman) the album started to get picked up by every respected playlist in the streaming music world in late October, leading to the forthcoming special edition release on November 19th.
We caught up with Justin to talk about a year of mixed fortunes and the wide range of killer gear used for their record.
Your debut album came out in February but it seems to be getting a second lease on life recently with songs being added to some major spotify playlists ahead of a special edition release next week. Tell me about the special edition? How does it feel seeing the album “coming back to life” as it were?
It’s honestly incredible. I was extremely worried that this release would be drowned out by the weight of 2020 and all the BS that’s come with it. When we had released the album initially, we obviously had no clue that the world was going to fall apart, so I’m very excited to see that our team has given us this amazing opportunity to breath a new life into this record.
In a way, pushing the record at this point in our career actually seems to make more sense than it did before. Considering we had zero following and little to no presence online previously, the push we are getting is amounting to a lot more immediate success, for which we are grateful.
It made sense to add new songs to the bunch as to not treat this as a mere re-release. We are essentially treating this new group of songs like a brand new EP.
Tell me about the recording of the record, I understand it was live to tape?
Mostly* live to tape. The record was recorded live for sure, but only the bass and drums and a little bit of the guitars were done to tape. The vocals are all tracked as you normally would these days, pro tools and all. The vocals have to be nitpicked a lot more and recording it to tape would’ve been very limiting for the type of vocal production that modern music requires.
It was a very cool experience though, considering for most of everything else we had one take to nail the performance, it brought the best out of us as musicians, as well as eliminating any sort of noodley, over-the top playing because we had to be extremely decisive and precise with what we wanted to lay down.
What kind of gear did you use on the record? Do you use similar gear when you play the songs live?
It’s mostly different live. We used a lot of our producers gear in the studio, which is mostly vintage and/or expensive as hell! The guitars and pedals are generally the same live though.
As far as amps go, even though we don’t any of the same amps live, the characteristics are still the same. We love low-wattage, generally one channel, combo amps to get that real power amp distortion you couldn’t get with anything with too much headroom (without bursting your ear drums).
In the studio, as far as amps go, we used a Fender Princeton, some really tiny Vox amps, a few 5watt Ampegs, and some old cheap Peavey amps. Nothing we use in the studio is anything boutique or fancy, just classic reliable stuff.
All the bass was recorded through an Ampeg B15 on a Fender P Bass, which is pretty standard for rock stuff.
Pedal wise we used a lot of Earth Quaker Devices stuff for fuzz and overdrives, as well as some great gear from Hudson Electronics in the UK for more fuzzy stuff. All the delays you hear from the guitar are an old bison echorec, an old echoplex, or a a vintage Ibanez analog delay pedal.
I used my Gibson 339 for essentially all the guitars, mixed with an old Tele for double tracks, an old LP Custom and some Jerry Jone’s guitars for the baritone stuff.
Live, Kyle and I both use Vox AC15’s, our trusty Gibson’s, me with my 339 or LP standard with P90s, and him usually with his vintage SG. I use a few of the same pedals live, a bunch of EQD Fuzzes and Overdrives we used on the record.
My favourite pedal is this limited fuzz they did a year or so ago called the Black Ash, which is sort of a tone-bender type of thing. Kyle and our bassist Nick, who has an SVT head he runs live, both use vintage Russian Muffs live for most of the distortion.
We employ a lot of different tones live, we all have medium drive pedals, which are usually boss pedals, and then our heavier fuzz stuff which we went through earlier. I use a catalinbread Naga Viper treble booster for my solo’s live, Kyle uses an MXR Eq pedal.
I understand that the record was completed some time even before it came out – how have the songs and the band’s sound evolved since then?
It was a process of trial and error, of course. I had all of these songs and nothing to do with them so I decided to record them with a few friends of mine, as I had not met my band yet.
It took a while to find a proper home for the record, as I wanted to make sure it was handled properly. I had found my band through the NYC music scene, and it was generally a pretty easy process. When Nick, Kyle and Russell auditioned, it was like “Oh shit” and we knew right then and there that it was going to work.
The showcasing process took a while but once our family at Spinefarm showed up and told us what they wanted to do for us, it was a no-brainer.
Having toured for about a year after that had really shaped up our signature sound because it was really just me before. The new songs we released sound exactly the same as we do live, it has a defining characteristic of each member, and I love that their unique styles really come across this time around.
You’ve released a handful of new songs this year – tell me about the recording of those? Any interesting gear in the mix?
The recording was a little stressful, considering we are in the middle of a pandemic and I had to travel to the USA to record these songs in NYC. We honestly did it all in about 4 days, which is pretty typical for us.
This time around we didn’t do it to tape, but it was still tracked live. We breezed through it like I knew we would as the songs had been demoed out remotely before we showed up to record.
It was a little interesting because we hadn’t played together for several months due to the lockdown, but we immediately clicked and found our groove very fast.
Gear wise, it was mostly the same as the first record, a few small Vox’s and Fender amps, Ampeg B15 for the bass, Ludwig and Slingerland drums, Neumann U87 for vocals, SM7 for cab micing and our EQD and Boss pedals. One thing that was actually really cool with this pedal called the Bit Commander that EQD makes, it’s like a Fuzz-Synth pedal and I used that for all of the spots we would usually use an old Moog synth for. We did use an old Linndrum for the snare sampling at times.
BRKN Love’s self titled debut album is available now anywhere you consume music.