InterviewsAfternoon Coffee with Erika Laing from Working Breed

Suzanne DeCreeMarch 4, 2019
Me: I’m here with Erika Laing of Working Breed
Erika: Hi!
Me: One of my new favorite bands! YAY!
Erika: Awww!
Me: I have actually gotten to see them a couple of times. I don’t know if Erika’s noticed me lurking in the shadows at the shows.
Erika: This last one I remember seeing you.
Me: Ah, yes this last one! Yes, I was there. Jeremy, your drummer, works on my project, as well, which is how we got the connection.
Erika: He’s awesome
Me: I love Jeremy. Everyone loves Jeremy! The world needs more Jeremys.  We are sitting here at a random coffee shop on Forbes Avenue and getting into it. The last show I saw was the video release party.
Erika: Mmmmm
Me: Loved the video.
Erika: Thank you!
Me: Everyone at work loves the video because it’s been playing on my monitors.
Erika: Oh, see, normally I tell people it’s NSFW but you’re playing it at work so I guess it’s not.
Me: It’s not, but then I’m the crazy metalhead at work and they expect these things from me, so I get away with it.
Erika: All right!
Me: A little about the background because the video was just so well put together and having gone through a video recently myself and having seen what my videographer’s gone through for a much simpler video, I would love to know how you put it together, how you came up with the concept for the video…
Erika: Yeah…
Me: What the ideas were…
Erika: We have a buddy who was in film school and a couple years ago asked us to do a song for his student film that he was doing as his final project. It was about PTSD in Soldiers so we did a single-take, kind of intense, wailing, musical-saw crazy-sounding thing and he used that for his movie. And he just loves the creative process we had with him so much that he wanted to do a music video for us. So I sent him the album that we’d been working on for 3 years and said, “Here are the songs, pick one of these” and he picked Turtle Race, which is funny to us because it’s the polar opposite of most of the feel of our music. It’s very dramatic and brooding and brutal…
Me: It’s still an awesome song!
Erika: Thank you! It is an awesome song!
Me: Coming from the other side of the world, from the metal world, that song is like the perfect crossover.
Erika: Oh my God, Thank you!
Me: That was the perfect crossover for me. I was like
Erika: I know because we dip into that middle section where just I’m screaming “If you love someone you’re fucked”. Man, when we wrote that song I was so almost embarrassed to scream that. I was feeling so vulnerable, like “Oh, no what’s someone going to think of this.” Our drummer at the time encouraged me to do it anyway. And we did. And then people started coming to me and saying “Man, I never heard anyone put it like that. I know what that means. I know what that feels like and I feel that.” And I was like “Wow! OK, something I did is connecting with somebody, which is a really good feeling.
This whole song connected with this friend of ours who started working with me writing the concept for it. He heard in the words and the music the despair and everything that I was feeling at the time that the song is about in my life. He came up with the idea of the multiple Erikas. You see in the video…
Me: I did!
Erika: There’s like a mental Erika who’s trapped in pain in her mind basement. And there’s this intuitive astral version who goes around the world and no one can see her but she is wisdom. They’re all part of me.
Me: Mmm-hmm
Erika: But they kind of communicate with real me and then I go on a rampage.  You know how it goes!
Me: You always have to go on a good rampage.
Erika: You gotta go on a rampage. It’s part of your pain process.
Me: It is!
Erika: So this song is really about pain and how to deal with it. It’s not as much about the people involved in this situation, as it is about how I reacted to it. I go through all these different phases of denial and then Astral Erika comes and it’s like “You can’t deny this anymore!” And then I go on a rampage and find what I find and I’ve made a choice in how to deal with that. Ultimately, I heal and come out of that into a new place that is accepting of it. Not like it’s going away or anything just that this is part of who I am and I bare it all. Literally at the end – to the world.
Me: That was such a cool ending to the video. I loved it! I’m not normally a visual gal, I’m almost entirely audio when it comes to my entertainment, but when I saw that I was like “Yeah, yeah. That was the way to end this video!” That was awesome.
Erika: Me and the director, Eric Lorenz, worked very closely on this project and developing all the concepts for it and he storyboarded everything. We would go back and forth. We had a lot of choices that we argued over many times. He really heard all of my arguments and he let me have a lot of say in it. We really worked on it together and it’s really a product of both of us. I just wanted it to be accurate and fair to everyone that was involved in the situation and still be true to the things that I wanted to say about myself in that situation. Coming out into the world at the end like that was my idea and I really wanted to do that. As soon as I had the feeling about it, I just knew that’s what had to happen. And I never questioned it at all until 2 nights before the video release. And I was up all night thinking “Oh my God! I’m going to be naked and everyone’s going to see. And my boss wants to see the video and I’m going to send it to him and he’s going to see. I had a mini panic for 24 hours but then I had to just trust myself in my creative knowledge that told me that this is important and if someone is going to fire me because I did this it’s OK because I stand behind this creative product. That’s how strongly I feel about the things that come out of me when I create them.
Me: A friend of mine is a photographer. We have had this discussion, and in his words it was handled very tastefully and conceptually fit within very well within the concept of the video as a rebirth, almost.
Erika: Right! Phoenix-like.
Me: Exactly! It fit very well and it was very tastefully done.
Erika: Yeah you only saw the back. It wasn’t that big of a deal.
Me: It wasn’t that big of a deal.
Erika: It wasn’t that big of a deal – although some man at the end of the show came up to me and said, “I loved your video. I’m going to go watch it again alone, if you know what I mean.”
Me: Well…it’s not your fault that he’s creepy, though. Seriously…
Erika: No, there’s going to be creepy people out there.
Me: And sadly, as a musician, you’re going to get a lot of them.
Erika: It’s true. I know. I kind of resent that about being a woman in music. There’s this challenge – it’s not just I want to be really good at my instrument and I want to be taken seriously as a human being with that instrument and I don’t want to have to think about what I’m wearing in a way that’s going to incite something from a person who’s going to want to touch me or feel differently about me.  I thought about wearing a cape after shows so that people feel like they can’t touch me around the waist. Like creepy men, I mean.
Me: Yes!
Erika: Especially as a front person, you’re so engaged with the audience and they get to learn a lot about you, especially since I want to put out the truth of myself. Turtle Race is so real to me. Now all these people know all this stuff about me but I don’t really know any of them. But they feel like they know me and it creates this interesting situation.
Me: It does create sometimes very awkward moments and the problem is that what you’re putting may not be interpreted the same way by everyone.
Erika: This is so true.
Me: You write something like Turtle Race which is very biographical for a very specific period in your life and somebody else listens to that and they’re thinking about something totally different.
Erika: Totally.
Me: In one respect, as a musician, your strength becomes your vulnerability and your vulnerability becomes your strength, so it’s almost like this weird symbiotic thing.
Erika: Yeah. I used to really admire people that could write songs that touch everybody or that seem to be able to write generalized lyrics and for a period of time I thought that’s what I needed to shoot for and I thought I could never be that good so I never even tried.
Me: Right.
Erika: Later when I had a bunch of stuff to say after a few things happened in my life, I just started writing what came out of me and I decided that that’s really what anybody is doing when they’re a powerful songwriter. Not that I’m saying I’m a powerful songwriter.
Me: I would say that! I mean I’ve been to a couple of shows, I’ve heard a lot of stuff, I bought the EP…
Erika: Awww…you’re the best!
Me: I mean I would say that!
Erika: Well thank you! I appreciate that.
Me: I think in the last article I compared you to most of my childhood idols.
Erika: That’s amazing! I appreciate that.
Me: You are very welcome. It’s very well deserved, by the way – I don’t actually say things I don’t mean.
Erika: I so appreciate that. I always think my dad is the best songwriter I ever knew and he had this ability to write songs that really just got straight to you. And really what he was doing was writing what was true for him in the most authentic way. People can hear that when they listen to a song. They can hear that the person really means it and that’s how they get touched. I think that when I write something I’m going to write it personal to me and then anyone who listens to it is going to hear what they want to hear and that’s their engagement process with the music.
Me: It is.
Erika: I think what’s awesome about music is that relationship because when they hear your words they get to create their interpretation of that and you have to leave room for that process. Because that’s what it means to engage with the music. So I’m going to write my truth and you’re going to hear however it is, and I have no control over what you hear, because it’s yours now and I transferred it to you.
Me: And then it becomes my truth.
Erika: And it becomes your truth and you have your own relationship with that and now it’s your song, too. I just think that’s such a cool way to transfer information between brains. Because we are all our own minds walking around and we don’t really know what anyone else is thinking or what has transpired in their life that makes them who they are. All we can do to communicate between each other is words which is painfully under-representing. They’re too specific they don’t cover everything that we feel. There’s a lot of rules so it doesn’t leave a lot of room for a lot of conflicting feelings to exist at the same and then we have music which does allow for all of that. I think that’s great and I love being able to contrast feelings in the music and having words that maybe even contrast with the song that’s going on with it or to just the song that’s going along with it to make another point about the meaning of the song.
Me: I’ve always been a big Mozart fan and everything Mozart is contrast.
Erika: Yeah.
Me: Whether it’s the high against the low or the staccato against the legato, whatever it is, there is always a contrast going on and I think that was one of my earliest undocumented influences. You know, you listen to it all the time and then you start doing it.
Erika: Yeah…fun fact – my first CD was a young piano savant boy playing piano sonatas by Mozart.
Me: That is so cool! My dad was always a classical music buff so I grew up listening to it – still love it.
Erika: I had a thing for classical growing up. I was a real stickler; I just wanted to listen to nothing but classical for some reason. I thought not that I was too cool for pop but that it was too cool for me.
Me: Right!
Erika: You know? I was picked on a lot when I was a kid. I only had one friend at a time all the way until high school. I got dumped a lot. So I think I just felt that all that stuff was just too cool for me, I shouldn’t like it. It took me a long time to come around to popular music and radio music. Even though my dad was an excellent musician and he was always songwriting in the house. He always was playing the best Beatles and all the British Invasion stuff – all the stuff from his era. My parents were both hippies going around the world doing hippie things. My mom lived on a broken boat in the river Thames for a long time.
Me: That is an awesome story.
Erika: He traveled in India, she moved to Morocco. They did all that stuff, so much adventurousness in their lives. I went to college in Pittsburgh and stayed here. But I am actually a very adventurous person; I just always have a job at the same time which sounds pretty boring. I feel like I have a pretty vivacious lifestyle.
Me: You can live a vivacious lifestyle without necessarily traveling the world, though.
Erika: Yeah! And travel when you can. I think there is so much benefit to understanding another person’s perspective, which is another reason I love music, too, because you hear someone else’s perspective, you see someone else’s perspective and you grow from that.
Me: Right. There are a couple of things you hit on really early on that I wanted to get back to.
Erika: Yeah.
Me: And the first one fascinates me, so fascinates me, especially as a guitarist – is the saw.
Erika: Yeah! (laughing)
Me: I look at the saw and the first thing I thought when first I saw you play the saw is that she’s got to create the scale length of the instrument, right?
Erika: Yeah
Me: And then you have to be able to bend it so it makes the right note and doesn’t sound awful.
Erika: Yeah.
Me: I was fascinated. I was absolutely fascinated when I saw you break out the saw.
Erika: That was awesome!
Me: That was just my little…I guess…fangirling.
Erika: Thank you!  A lot of people haven’t seen anyone play the saw before so it’s a really fun part of the show because people are really engaged to see what is that she’s doing? How is that possible? You can see people thinking, “How does that work?” I think that’s so cool to give someone the experience of  “How does that work?” And a moment to study it and watch it and see and try to figure it out. It’s cool.
Me: It is! It really is. The second thing you touched on really, really early on is creative process. If there is one thing I love talking to other musicians about, it’s their creative process. Whether you do lyrics first, whether the music comes first, whether they both get done separately and somehow mashed together? Where do you draw your inspiration from? What is the process?
Erika: That’s a lot of questions!
Me: I know, right? That’s LOTS of questions!
Erika: Oh, man, well I think the first thing is that I have the drive to do it. And so I’m trying. When I have ideas to express, expression is important to me, so I try to put them out in whatever way that I can. Sometimes the medium an essay, like a creative non-fiction essay, sometimes the medium is talking to somebody, sometimes the medium is storytelling and sometimes the medium is a song. I really crave the songwriting process and I want to get better at it. I don’t know why I want to do that – it’s probably a connection to my dad. I just really want to touch people that way, I feel like people really connect. They cross boundaries that they wouldn’t otherwise. Nobody asks, “Is that musician a liberal or a conservative?”
Me: Oh, thank goodness!
Erika: I know! Thank goodness – I don’t even know the political affiliations of my musician friends. Though I have a guess about them because they’re musicians.
Erika: But I don’t know and people can play together there, they listen to each other there in a way that they can forgive each other and just concentrate on the humanity.
Me: It’s almost like Jungian, in a way, where you have this big, collective consciousness where everybody’s just kind of tapping into it.
Erika: Ahhh – that’s interesting.
Me: It reminds me of a Jungian concept where we’re all kind of pulling a piece of this and we’re all kind of putting our own spin on it.
Erika: Yeah and we’re like attaching it to the great cloud that is humanity through music. So I have the drive to contribute to that. That’s my number one thing that is part of the creative process. I don’t know where it comes from – you know creativity is like this for many people, they report it like this: things come to you and you catch them out of the air and put them down on the paper. For me that’s usually words and a leisurely phrase and then I will think of how that metaphor – I love metaphors and I love language – and I build this thing that makes sense to me.
Me: And you’re hoping it makes sense to others…
Erika: I hope it does but I just don’t know if it will.  And usually they’re more complicated then they ought to be, but I just run with it because I feel it’s so beautiful.  I feel it so beautifully captures what is so idiosyncratic to me. Usually it’s a melody already. I like forms. I used to do a lot of poetry in college. That sounds so hokey because everyone did poetry back in the day, right?
Me: Right!
Erika: What I liked in poetry was not free-form poetry but real form-oriented poetry that has like fitting things in, so it’s kind of a puzzle. You fit your words in and your concepts in however it fits into the form. What I love about music is I make the form. It’s not a sonnet or whatever, it’s not like some old stodgy guy made this form up. It’s a form I make with the song structure. So I have the whole song structure, I’ll usually have the verses, the choruses and the bridge and everything all mapped out and how it unfolds and how many times things repeat.  Usually there’s not a lot of repetition in my songs, though. It’s really rare for me to have a chorus that goes multiple times. I’m working on that though, there are more of those now. I’ll always have melodies associated with it, I’ll usually have the harmonies all plotted out and where they go and what’s going on with those. Because I don’t play guitar or bass or drums or keys, I usually leave those elements up to the band members because I feel they’re going to know how best to use their instrument for the effect. I usually have a feeling or an effect that I want and I’ll often write with a guitar or a piano so there are some chord suggestions for the movement, but I’m not writing Jonah’s awesome bass lines. He comes up with those because he’s a motherfucker on the bass. (laughing) I could never imagine the things he comes up with. I find that, for me, an important part of the Working Breed process. If I bring a song to Working Breed, I want everyone to be contributing to that and involved with that. I just want to say that I wouldn’t be anybody that anyone wanted to talk to if I didn’t have my mom, my dad and every single person I ever played music with in my life. You can’t get anywhere without people who inspire you and practice with you.  These particular people in Working Breed, I think are just amazing musicians. They’re all far better at what they do than I am with anything and I’m so honored to play with them.
Me: That’s always a nice place to be, though.
Erika: You have to keep working…
Me: You have to keep working and you have to get better and at some point it almost becomes a race against yourself. It’s like “I gotta keep up! I gotta figure out this thing because I’ve got to keep up.”
Erika: Yeah
Me: It can be frustrating when you walk into a studio and you’re like “I got this! Oh…no I don’t…” (laughing) But at the same time the next time you walk into the studio you do have it.
Erika: Yeah…We are just finishing up a few new songs right now.
Me: Yes!
Erika: We have 3 songs we’re working on right now. One of them is written by Jonah, the bassist, and he brings in…everything is more complete. There’s more knowledge about what everyone’s role is in the song. There’s that song. And there are 2 songs that I just brought in. One is a guitar song. I’ve kind of been trying to work on learning to play guitar and play solo singer/songwriter, not singer/songwriter, but just going to an open mic and play a song. I just, as of last summer, became a person who could do that. I have 3 whole songs that I can do that with.
Me: YES!
Erika: That’s amazing, I know. But that’s my progress. So one of these songs I played for Jonah and he said “Let’s play it with the band.” It’s just like a straight rocker. I’m always trying to make things a little bit different to catch your attention. I’ve had various people in my life say, “You don’t have to play the saw. It’s cool you play the saw, but you don’t have to play the saw. You can just be yourself.” Oh my God – what? Who wants to listen to me if I don’t have a saw? I know they’re right, but I still sometimes hesitate to do that. So I brought this new song along and we’re playing it and I was like “Let’s do it like this, let’s do it like that and let’s make it funky like this…” But they all liked it just the way it was and they said “No, it’s a straight rocker. We’re doing it – it’s 3-1/2 minutes. No variations. We’re just playing it and it’s awesome. Let go of the notion that it has to be different somehow. It’s awesome just the way it is.”  I was like, “Cool!” On the opposite end, the other song I brought is something I wrote on the piano and it goes through lots of different changes. But each of the changes really means something to the feel of the song. This song is a song about the secrets that we leave alone because they’re really painful and we don’t want to talk about them out loud. They feel embarrassing and painful. So we try to express ourselves and live a life without talking about that thing. But I want to be a whole person and not a broken person, but that thing broke me. But I want to be whole but if I don’t acknowledge it or accept it or put it out there then I can’t be. And it’s like the terrible intersection of that situation where you’re just kind of trapped if you don’t put it out. The song is about that and I put something out there and it’s very traumatic. There are time signature changes and there’s a section where we go into this whole-tone scale crazy thing that’s going on…
Me: Nice!
Erika: I’m making them say “Faker! Liar! Faker! Liar!” And I’m saying it, too. It’s like the world and my own thoughts telling me this about my truth. In this part of the song, we bust out of it. It’s this mesmerizing, undulating “Faker! Liar!” With the whole tone scale and it’s meant to evoke the cycles we get into and the ways we hear other people and the ways it becomes what we tell ourselves and then the anger it takes to get out of that and to break free of that to get back to just the basics of who you are. And that’s how that song goes. You haven’t heard it.
Me: I haven’t heard it yet – Darn it!
Erika: So it might not mean anything to you. We’re still working on it but it’s a cool process to work on that song because it is really different and it has a lot of meaning. And it’s really fun for the band, too, because I bring I this weird thing and I’m like “This parts going to be like this and you’re going to get to call me a faker and a liar.” And they’re like “OK.” (laughing) And I’m like, “thank you for being OK with that because a lot of people would say, ‘That’s weird, we’re not doing that, we’re not even going to try.’” Instead they’re figuring out cool, crazy things to play in that weird section where we can get real David Lynchian and just enhance the creep more and more and more. I’m just so lucky to play with people who are willing to go to weird places with me but also willing to say “You don’t have to be weird, this is perfect the way it is.” I just am so in love with everybody in my band. (laughing) They’re so excellent and I’m just so lucky.
Me: That is one really tight group. I’ve been obviously doing this for a while, I’ve been playing since I was 6, so I’m a lifelong musician.
 Erika: Ahhhhh – Amazing.
Me: So I kind of like to believe I know what I’m talking about. Kind of. And I just love going to the Working Breed shows because they’re just so tight. I know all the bands that play in the city are professional band because you are making money at it, or attempting to…
Erika: Yes (laughing)
Me: I don’t know that any bands actually make money in Pittsburgh but we’re working on that. But it’s just a level of tight when I go see somebody who’s touring the world, someone who does this 280 out of 365 days of the year.
Erika: We would love to be those people
Me: Right?
Erika: We opened for Jefferson Starship this summer and it was like over 6,000 in the crowd they said. And we walked on the stage and we killed it. It’s like we were all just automatically on. I don’t think there were that many nerves or anything. We just were like “this is so awesome” and we were so engaged and everyone else was, too. We just had straight fun for 30 minutes and it was just so amazing. I think we all just want to do that again and as many times as we can. (laughing) Like how cool would that be. I don’t know how we’re going to get there but we want to get there, we all have the drive and the capacity to do that. Finishing this album is going to be really important for that because right now we just have the two songs and that’s all you can find out about us.  We need more things that people can send to each other and listen to and put on playlists and stuff like that. And hopefully people are excited about the recordings that we’re making.
Me: Well I am. What can I say? (laughing) The last thing I wanted to touch on is that you actually do a Podcast, correct?
Erika: I do, yes I do! I have this podcast that’s called Petticoat Rule ( that is about creativity and it’s told through the storytelling of women in the music industry, so they don’t have to be musicians, they could be music journalists such as yourself! Although you’re both journalist and musician.
Me: I am! I’m schizophrenic – I can’t make make up my mind!
Erika: Me, too! I do a little of everything. It could be that or like radio personalities, or Cindy House who is just now moving to Boston but she’s been so critical in the local music scene bringing local musicians to the radio more than many cities. But also musicians who are obviously contributing through being the content. And so there’s so many interesting different women doing music here and I wanted to learn about everybody. I wanted to learn classical people and I wanted to learn about rock people and I wanted to learn about synthesizer people.  There was a woman who started with dance and she incorporated music so she could have her own music to dance to. That’s the Slow Danger group with Anna Thompson. There are just all these different kinds of ways to connect to music and I really believe that everyone has a way to be creative. I even think everyone has a way to be musical but they just haven’t found that thing that brings them there yet. Geez! I play a saw. Just pick things and start doing things with them and maybe one of them will speak to you. So I just wanted to represent people’s stories, like how do they get to be where they are? They didn’t start being maestros, nobody starts that way. You start however you start and you have a drive or an interest and you follow it up and you practice.
Me: And you just keep doing the thing.
Erika: You just keep doing the thing. I’m also a neuroscientist for my job so a lot of what I think about practice and how you can change your life and how you can make it more what you want has to do with what I’ve learned from neuroscience. And one of main things I’ve learned is that consistency makes neural changes. So everything you do every second of the day is practice in whatever that is. If you practice goofing around all day every single day, you’re making it more likely that’s going to be your life for the rest of time. And if what you practice every day is the bass, then you’re going to get better at it. And if you practice waking up in the morning, then you’re going to do that more often. And all these things are just ways to think about if you want a certain future, you have to start doing it. You have to start doing it and you’re going to suck at it for a very long time. And then someday…
Me: You’re going to get good.
Erika: You’re going to be good. When I started playing the saw I couldn’t even hold my right hand. It has to be in an S shape and it has a really crippled looking feel to it and it uses these muscles that I don’t even what you would otherwise use them for. And I couldn’t even hold the position for more than 2 minutes. And now I can play forever and I can do all these things with it. Because I just kept doing it. I don’t know why I kept doing it, I just kept doing it. Anything you want to do you just have to keep doing.
Me: The saw still fascinates me!
Erika: It’s all just an ear thing.  You just have to be able to self tune.
Me: Last thoughts, last words: Where can we find you, where can we buy your stuff.
Erika: You can find us at, and also on Facebook and all that jazz, Instagram and WorkingBreed is the handle. From our website you can go and see where our music is located. Our two new songs now on Spotify.
Me: YES! Go look for them – go look for them!
Erika: Yes! Go look for them. They are also already available on and also the video is on YouTube so if you type in Working Breed Turtle Race you’ll find that there. What was the other half of the question?
Me: Any last thoughts?
Erika: I just really want to emphasize the importance of my bandmates. (laughing)
Me: Great band. I don’t know how you got connected with all of them. I don’t know where you found them but it is a great band.
Erika: Yeah it’s just so magical to have encountered them in my life and nothing would exist without them, even though I am the front person and I write many of the lyrics and I have a lot of the weird ideas, without them it wouldn’t as interesting. I only know the beginnings of my ideas and with them they become this creation. I just gotta give it up for Mike Dugan, Jonah Petrelli, Chloe Wiecz, and Jeremy Papay. I just think they’re the best! I’m very lucky.
Me: It’s been very nice talking to you.
Erika: Very nice to talk to you!
Me: Very nice meeting you after seeing from afar and emailing quite a bit. Hopefully we can do this again sometime because this was fun.
Erika: Yes! This was very fun – Let’s do coffee all the time.
Me: Let’s do that!
Don’t miss Working Breed’s next gig is this Friday, March 8th, 2019 at Howler’s. Doors open at 8pm, music starts at 9pm.  $5 cover charge, 21+.