These Are the Breaks

Checking in with Austin's new R&B boys and girls.

A few weeks ago at Momo’s, Tim Crane stepped on stage wearing a vintage green suit and white alligator skin shoes. It’s the kind of getup that would make most people look goofier than Jeff Daniels in Dumb & Dumber. But the look suited the 25-year-old vocalist and frontman of local nine-piece T-Bird & the Breaks just fine. His slick threads matched the band’s vintage R&B sounds and the shoes flashed as Crane's leg kicks punctuated the band’s horns. Bump & Hustle caught up with the gravel-voiced singer to talk about the band’s music and the albums that helped shape its sound. T-Bird & the Breaks play Friday at Momo’s and Monday evenings through March at Antone’s for happy hour.

Bump & Hustle: You’re a relative newcomer on the Austin scene. What’s your musical background?
Tim Crane: I was in a blues rock band up in Massachusetts for a couple years. We would play in New York and Boston. It was me and Sammy [Patlove], who plays rhythm guitar in the Breaks. We wanted to go in more of a soul and R&B direction but my buddies in the band were more into Aerosmith. I made beats on my computer for a while but my background is more music appreciation. I’d skip high school back in the day to put fliers from the record stores under people’s windshield wipers in exchange for free records.

B&H: Do you think you and the Breaks are bringing something that’s missing to the Austin music scene?
TC: There are a lot of really great funk bands and there are a lot of great keyboard players fronting bands. But in terms of soul music – which is part funk, part blues, part rhythm and blues – having songs with a vocalist and a rhythm section behind it is really powerful. And I think we bring a pretty entertaining show. We’ve got a lot of people on stage all decked out to the nines, looking good, shaking it a little bit and having a good time.

B&H: I was surprised to learn some of your original songs weren’t obscure R&B covers from the late 1960s. What goes into your songwriting?
TC: I’m a student of music – a musicologist. Some people sit in front of the TV, I sit in front of the record player. I've got my record player on one side of the room and my piano on the other so a lot of times I’ll just jam out on the piano to some records. I’d like to get to the point where I could just sit down at the piano or with the guitar and write a song but it doesn’t happen like that for me. I usually write songs in my head while I’m mowing the lawn or stacking lumber or whatever. After that, I figure it out on paper or just talk it out with the band.

B&H: The Breaks seem to have had a rotating cast of horn players. Is the lineup finally settled now?
TC: That’s still going on. A couple of our horn players are from UT and a couple are from another band that plays at Momo’s called Much Love. We had a couple guys from Memphis that played horns with us for a while. We’re still ironing that out a little bit but our rhythm section is set and we’ve got a really tight core right now.

B&H: I know you’re a fan of Stax records and 1960s R&B, but what current artists are you feeling?
TC: Of course I’m digging on Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. I went to see them at Antone’s. It’s kind of like a throwback thing, which is kind of what we’re doing, but we’re trying to keep it contemporary at the same time. Their show and their musicianship and their songs are super badass. I listen to Ghostface but a lot of the other rappers I used to like fell off. I dig the Black Keys and there are a lot of older artists like Bettye LaVette and Solomon Burke who are still putting out great albums.

B&H: What do you make of the recent surge in popularity of old-school R&B?
TC: I think it’s great. A lot of it is coming from hip-hop. You have younger people who have been listening to hip-hop and they recognize a horn line from a Biggie or Wu-Tang song. What I’ve always liked about hip-hop is the old soul sounds. I think a lot of it is due to hip-hop, and bigger names like Amy Winehouse put more of a contemporary sound into it. The Dap-Kings played on that album [Back to Black] but Mark Ronson puts a fat bass EQ on it like hip-hop, so for the kiddies out there it’s real pleasing to the ear.

B&H: What are five albums that have influenced your sound?
TC: Otis Redding, The Dock of the Bay: It’s so solid and you’ve got great songs on there like “I Love You More Than Words Can Say” and “Let Me Come On Home.” It’s the album he was working on when he died so it was put out posthumously; James Brown, The Payback: It’s hard picking out albums from old soul and R&B artists because there are so few of them that are hardcore back to back without any filler, but this is one of them. It’s got “Stone to the Bone,” “Mind Power,” and the slow ones like “Forever Suffering”; Eric Burdon & War, Eric Burdon Declares War: Eric Burdon of the Animals gets together with War and it’s a badass album. It’s got “Spill the Wine” and “Tobacco Road,” which is a song we do that really moves. You’ve got Burdon with an all-black funk band – it’s a pretty heavy album; Sly & the Family Stone, There’s a Riot Going On and Fresh: There are some out there chord changes on these. Also, I want to do more tossing verses back and forth with the girls [backup singers Stephanie Hunt and Sasha Ortiz] like Sly does with Rose; Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): I like the rawness of 36 Chambers. You can hear the tape machine starting up from time to time. In our music I like to drop the beat or horns in and out at a certain time, but it’s not a bridge or a big chorus, just for a couple of bars. The stuff like that, which hip-hop focuses on, makes the song more dynamic.

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