When everything locked down in 2020, Josh Breckenridge (who goes by J. Breckenridge), found himself off New York stages and TV film sets and holed up in another trailer setting—an RV parked in the driveway of his parents’ San Diego home.
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For the singer and actor, who works on the long-running Tony-nominated Come From Away on Broadway and starred on CBS series FBI and The Blacklist and the NBC drama Blue Bloods, the pandemic opened another door for Breckenridge, one that led to his debut, Monotony (Red Card Records), out May 28.
Living in the RV, which Breckenridge insists was more like a luxury apartment, allowed him to spend time with family he rarely saw living on the East Coast and under an immovable working schedule, and build a makeshift studio from the ground up.
“The one positive element of this shutdown is that it allowed me the space to perfect these new songs,” says Breckenridge. “This time alone has been an important period of contemplation, and I’ve been at my most emotionally available. It’s been perfect for harnessing the multitude of feelings, the vastly different shades and colors of emotions this original material evokes.”
Always performing through someone else’s lyrics, Breckenridge always had his own stories to tell. Monotony shows the many varied sides of Breckenridge, shape shifting through soul and pop, and bouncing from R & B and some theatrical elements that run throughout the album. “It’s a mix of a lot of different flavors,” says Breckenridge.
Twisting around genres , Breckenridge breaks the Monotony of a year in isolation and years of overflowed thoughts and emotions, from the familial reflections of “Come to Me,” a soulful homage to his California roots, and “Home Is Where the Art Is,” a bittersweet tale of leaving everything behind for your dream—closely mirroring Breckenridge’s own story of moving to New York to pursue theater—and the cost of it all.
Throughout, Monotony moves from its bluesier psych-rock of the title track and a more introspective “Y.O.U.” singing, There’s a saying and I’m praying that you’ll listen well / You can’t love someone before you learn to love yourself / Take it from the single one whose had a ton of fails / Keep your eyes onto the prize that’s you and you’ll prevail, before “Hush” breaks for contemplation. The more uptempo “Not Forgiving You” and “Go” break the heavier tone of “It Could’ve Been Me,” a song drawn from the Black Lives Matter movement and Breckenridge’s own experience being pulled over by cops, and a lovelorn balladry of “6 Minutes,” through some jazzy theatrics of “Child’s Play” and delicately orchestrated close of ‘That’s The Beauty.”
“Everything stemmed from the pandemic,” says Breckenridge of the tracks. “They’re all individual songs, but they either have a connection to this moment in time, like the song ‘Monotony,’ the place that we can go to when we’re in solitary confinement—away from people, the colors and shades of our emotions that we can go through—down to breakup songs, and just me going through every bit of my psyche and emotional states.”
He adds, “I’m grateful for the time, not only to focus on the music fully, but to let myself lie in a vulnerable space that allowed me to emote and get this stuff out of me and onto the page. I hope that there’s a consistent line through my sound… it does evoke a lot of different emotions that I hope people can relate to.”
Produced by James Frazee (Patti Smith, Esperanza Spaulding, Sharon Van Etten), Breckenridge pulled in fellow Come From Away musicians, guitarist Alec Berlin, Keyboardist Chris Ranney, bassist Carl Carter, and drummer Brian Griffin, in addition to Mazz Swift on violin, to round out the sounds of Monotony. “It’s been really cool to make it a family affair and use my own resources,” he says, “and it was a reason to stay in contact with people and work from afar.”
Aside from writing for a boy band in high school, everything gravitated around musical theater once Breckenridge graduated Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. “Once the pandemic hit, Breckenridge found himself out of work and craving a new path—at once point considering pursuing an interior design degree—before be turned back to music, started writing, and had 15 songs.
“There was something that was boiling up inside me, maybe it was a lot of unexpressed shades and colors to my psyche that I needed to get out on paper and get out into the world,” shares Breckenridge. “My friends were always encouraging me to to write, so I just said ‘what the heck. Let me try,’ and the songs just started coming.”
Poetry is how a song begins for Breckenridge, then fleshes out through emotion. “I’ve got great melodies in my head that I’ve recorded on my phone, then worked out later,” he says. “It all revolves around lyrics, melodies, or what kind of situation or emotion the melody itself evokes, and then write a song that fits that void, but it all starts out as poetry.”
Back in New York City for upcoming stage work, readings and other work, Breckenridge is all-consumed by Monotony, and is still writing more.
“I did make a commitment to myself that I wanted to try to not be identified as ‘that theatre guy,’” says Breckenridge. “I have friends and colleagues and people that I admire who are Broadway performers and turn out cover songs of other Broadway tunes or write songs that are very Broadway oriented in nature and style. It’s not that I don’t enjoy that. I love that, but I think there’s another part of me that I want to discover as well.”
He adds, “This moment of contemplation was not only good for the music making but just for my soul, and to suss out where I was… and where I want to be.”