Breakfast With Girls – A Decade Later

Has an album ever drastically changed the direction of your musical preferences? No, more than that: Breakfast With Girls is responsible for new beginnings – an influential record that changed my perception on everything. Not only that, it opened up new musical avenues to explore; sparked friendships; and is solely responsible for this here very blog. sElf’s intricately layered pop masterpiece is 10 years old today. This is why I still care…

Yes, sElf is just a band. Nothing more. Definitely nothing less. It’s the chain reaction that this Murfreesboro, TN act ignited that make sElf maybe more than a band, to me. If it wasn’t for one-minute detail, I might have never truly discovered sElf’s full potential. Breakfast With Girls altered many facets of the path I chose to follow.  Get comfortable because this is and will probably always be the longest post ever on MiS. Here goes an explanation of BWG’s influence…

Sunday night in the Chicagoland area offered the best one-two punch an up and coming music fan could have asked for: Q101 Local Music Showcase followed up by Modern Rock Live. I became acquainted with sElf on the latter – which was an hour-long program consisting of an interview, recorded songs, and I believe (?) live performances. Thanks to Mahaffey’s fuzzy guitar play mixed with unconventional arrangements, this caught my ear. sElf was the definite anomaly in my ‘95/’96 music collection. At times, it was poppier than what was routinely spun; at other times, the prominent use of the keys didn’t mesh well with some of my harder hitting albums.

At the time, sElf was an act that had one album. The LP received the occasional spin, but they weren’t an act I anxiously awaited more music from. Subliminal Plastic Motives, their ’95 debut, was a sound concocted by the 90s seen through the eyes of a hip-hop and Prince fan – a time when my true musical interests were just blossoming. I didn’t know what I was sitting on. But Borateen bumped enough to return to on occasion. “Help me get Madonna off my bed; she’s just too drunk to sing” off Sophomore Jinx was almost too quirky for me. sElf was in my arsenal of bands to drop that you, nor your friends, were aware of. At 15, this mattered.

Besides the breakout of SPM, sElf wasn’t anything in the mid to late 90s I was passionate about. Case in point: 97’s Half Baked Serenade came and went. sElf released a new record, and I wasn’t even cognizant of it. This would all change soon enough…

Throughout the 90s I religiously collected CMJ magazine – it kept me in tune, provided a sampler disc, reviewed relevant records, and near the back, always had upcoming release dates for new records. Besides the sampler disc, this calendar was why this magazine excited me. I feverishly tore through the ‘vine until the end. Upon scrolling up and down the dates in 1999, I did a double take upon seeing the name Self. This was a surprise to me; I thought Matt Mahaffey and crew were only capable of one album. July was when I’d become reacquainted with the crew who put a pulsating bounce (Borateen) into 90s rock.

Prior to July ’99, my collection of music was one-sided. It didn’t deviate much from fuzzed-out 90s modern rock with a focus on the local Chicago scene – and the occasional big-beat electronic release. I hold no regrets; this era is and will continue to be the best. About six years into truly caring about music – discovering, attending shows, collecting, ETC – I was ready to step to another beat. It’s not that my collection was becoming stale; the opposite was true. 1999 unleashed albums that still today are responsible for lifelong relationships with artists: Muse, being one, of many.  At this time, myself and everyone else with a broadband connection, were being exposed to different genres and unheard of artists thanks to my favorite medium: the Internet. Napster and MP3 file-sharing in general, was born at this time. Word-of-mouth and accessibility made it easier than ever to step into unknown territory with no loss other than time and a small fraction of your hard drive. Sure, the Internet and file-sharing exposed me to new artists and directions; but it was Matt Mahaffey’s eccentric musical behavior on Breakfast With Girls that made my collection truly come alive and become eclectic.

Since Mahaffey’s debut wasn’t adored – but definitely kept my attention – I was way more curious what lurked under Breakfast For Girl’s hood than truly anxious to begin spinning it incessantly. It had been four years since what I thought was their last record. What I discovered though, wasn’t another 90s record; this was pop music seen through the eyes of a meticulous scientist orchestrating layers and layers of homemade beats to create a pop masterpiece – but one you’ve never heard, or liable to be replicated again.

Matt has always been one to prominently wear his influences on his sleeve. The TN beat maker is paying his respects on record – paying homage to his favorite hip-hop acts, adoration for the once promiscuous funkster Prince, and the hip-hop happy sample culture. Taking these obvious interests, Matt tinkers and blends endless ideas into songs digestible for the masses. But it was the nonconventional production method; the infinite amount of ideas bubbling around in each number; the carefree and bright melodies used throughout; and overall, Matt’s b-boy meets quirky pop attitude with heavy leaning on the keys that vortexed me in.

This record should have been unique to anyone. But for me, who leaned heavy on guitars, bass, drums, and angst-ridden lyrics prior to ’99, BWG was a welcome addition.  An amalgamation of numerous different genres: jazz, a slight blues vibe, hip-hop, incorporation of strings, and what ties it all together – a pop mindset. This experimental project didn’t hit immediately. After repeated listens to this diverse work, it all sunk in. This over the top production and sonic explosion on song after song worked. This exposure to so many ideas by using different genres caused me to branch out. I wanted, after beginning to understand BWG, to expand my collection, not necessarily in the quantitative sense, but stretching beyond 90s rock.

After discovering Mahaffey’s genius, my interest was piqued; I began scouring for everything sElf related. Fortunately, and this comes as no surprise today, sElf had a small, yet intense following. SPM was returned to with a whole new respect for the album and what it strived for in the mid-90s. Even though Mahaffey’s project wasn’t even five years old, the amount of music I didn’t even know existed was immense: HBS, FLBS, amongst various bootlegs. I was now swimming in the pop mind of Matt Mahaffey.

For a band unknown to most, Self had a small cult following. A fervent fanbase existed on Matt’s co-owned label, Spongebath Records, and then when the label went defunct, another meeting locale was created. Being the passionate and ever curious fan, I religiously followed these threads on our pop mastermind. It was here, that I met another sElf fan, whose passion for the man we both adored –I said it – was on par with mine; or was it stronger? Regardless, this then fan became a friend. A good friend – someone who shared an equal passion for music; able to joke and have a good time; and created endless classic social outings and pairings. Meeting a dude, from an Internet message board, can be a tad awkward, maybe even nerve-racking, but this sElfie knows nothing can step to my edginess around the man himself, Matt Mahaffey.

Even into 2003, shortly after I rendezvoused with this fellow sElfie, I was yet to witness Mahaffey and crew live. It became my mission to experience the mad-pop scientist in a club. Since MM transplanted to Lost Angeles for career purposes, so naturally, a show was liable to take place out west. The board was throwing rumors around sElf was about to jump back on stage soon. This hearsay made me decide that if it becomes a reality, we’re hopping on a plane and heading out to behold Mahaffey up close and personal. The Echo was where Breakfast With Girls, amongst other pop oddities would be performed. Within a short period of stepping into the club, somehow the word circulated that two fanatics skipped town from Chicago to solely hit a show – but a show by a band who’d hadn’t played live in years.

While anxiously waiting, in a dark and secluded booth in the corner of the venue, out of nowhere comes half of the band. And they plopped down in our booth, next to me. Within 30 seconds later, Matt sits down across from me. Within less than a second, I didn’t know what to do, and instead of greeting him, I knocked my Bud Light all over the table. Besides my inability to remain calm, the night exceeded expectations. We were greeted to what was then the forthcoming Ornament & Crime, SPM and HBS goodness; and finally, I was able to witness BWG tracks after spinning them on disc for nearly four years without any live contact. Being in the Chicagoland area and sElf/Mahaffey being out west, anytime they played and I wanted in, a trip was inevitable. Our crew tripped it out to Nashville, shortly after Mike Mahaffey’s passing and then jetted back to Lost for Matt’s industrial meets sElf project, Wired All Wrong.

I do credit this album with causing me to branch out. Maybe not to others, but since ’99, I’d like to think my musical pursuits, including my collection, has become extremely diverse. Is diverse the right word? How about all over the map? While sometimes, on this blog, I get into phases of a particular sound, overall, I, just like Matt did, strive for eccentric music. Without this album, who knows what would be on my playlist?

Not possible to prove, but if not discovering sElf’s name in the upcoming releases section of CMJ, I would have never discovered, to me, this timeless act. Without investigating this act, I would have never befriended a fellow sElf enthusiast, who contributed to classic travelling episodes and mindless debauchery. Without sElf, would have I ever bothered trying to learn the piano? Without all this, I wouldn’t be chalking up my 437th post on Moving in Stereo. The list goes on; sElf has created – and I’m confident still will continue to generate –endless memories. See what a few numbers off Breakfast With Girls can do for you….

sElf :: Breakfast With Girls

sElf :: Callgirls

sElf :: Placing the Blame

Get your pre-Breakfast on, with Brunch…

sElf :: Crashing Parties

sElf :: Flip-top Box

sElf :: Happy Accidents

Matt’s toy masterpiece, Gizmodgery, almost created its own story. But let’s hope Mahaffey starts burning in the lab, and I’m reviewing/toting a new sElf album; not giving you more words than you care for on Giz’s 10th birthday.


4 Responses to “Breakfast With Girls – A Decade Later”

  1. July 14, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Wow, I feel like I just read a book on sELF!! Better yet, an autobiography on Dave Brigman! That was the longest post you have written, at least that I have read, and it was great~! It’s cool to read that CMJ stuff, because that is exactly what I did for years! I actually had a subscription to CMJ up until 2 years ago, when the mag became paper thin and basically started going bi-monthly or skipping months altogether. Your feelings for sELF, are close to what I have felt for the Smiths and Morrissey, for years. But he/they just introduced to more bands that sounded the same, it actaully took hip hop to help me expand my horizons. I did get a sELF’s “SPM” LP for a buck last month, and it’s, honestly, just ok so far to me. But I really need to revisit “Breakfast With Girls,” as I really can’t even say what that sounds like. Your passion for that record makes me want to throw it on LOUD! I will really need to spin Matt’s stuff more to find that genius you so passionately write about. Great job on this post man, it just shows your love for music in general, and that’s truly what I appreciate! After all, you guys inspired me to start a blog…

  2. July 14, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Thanks for reading, Franklin. I appreciate it.

    Yea, it was a sad day when CMJ went bi-monthly and then skipped months altogether. I remember it like yesterday because at one point, CMJ was my resource for new music.

  3. July 14, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Dang. Where to begin? This post certainly inspires me to write a similar tribute to such a fine album, though you know where I stand on topics already covered on this site. You mentioned this took you months to capture and I don’t doubt it for a second. Your tribute is extensively laid out and emotes the kind of feeling that takes a while to describe.

    There’s no denying Self’s influence over me and/or this blog. Mahaffey is the thread that holds this all together, no matter how silly it sounds to the casual passer-by.

    Nice shout, as always. Props for laying it out there. These thoughts simply bounce around in my head on a daily basis without ever making it online.

  4. 4 xn
    October 10, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I have a lot of fond memories tied in with Breakfast as well. I purchased it about mid-October 1999, while living in Murfreesboro, living on campus at MTSU. I had NO idea when I first arrived on campus that Self was even from the United States, let alone the city I was living in at the time.

    In 1995, the video for “So Low” showed up on a pay to watch video channel called The Box, and I dug it. Couldn’t find the cd anywhere in my tiny little town in Alabama, so in the pre-internet days, if my friends weren’t listening to it and MTV wasn’t playing it, there’s a good chance I didn’t know it existed. Something about the music I heard stayed with me all the same.

    So, cut to four years later, I see promotional items for Breakfast With Girls EVERYWHERE on campus and at the great local record stores in Murfreesboro, so I pick them up and realise it’s the same band from 95. Picked up the cd at Hastings (who was blasting it daily!) and fell in instant love with every song. Production was great too (Ken Andrews presence couldn’t have hurt that). Frantic and catchy, first track to last.

    Then I come to find out Matt’s a hometown hero and that the band is playing at Main Street on Halloween, so my roommate and I went to the show and had a BLAST! A five-piece lineup carried the songs as well as could be expected, with Matt changing up instruments as often as Prince did in his prime at one of his live shows. A nice trick for the audience’s benefit was scantily-clad girls coming on stage between every song, holding up signs indicating that the next song was about to start, by calling them ’rounds’. Also, a bell went off with each song, as if it were a boxing match. By my count, they made it to 30 before calling it a night.

    Back to Prince, they performed “The Beautiful Ones” and sold it harder than The Revolution ever thought to!

    Fine memories indeed.

    Ten years later, I have to say this band impacted my life in an undeniably positive way.

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