“The Mess We’ve Made,” a debut album by The Breaker Boys was released on Sept. 9.
The band is composed of three University of Dallas undergraduates, sophomores Caleb Skinner, Joe Bartke and Charlie Spurgin, and 2020 alumnus William Morris, all of whom grew up in the same homeschool community.
The band was formed when Bartke, Skinner and Spurgin were freshmen in high school to play at Irving’s Got Talent, which they won that year.
The Irish and Americana folk-style album features 11 songs, three of which are covers and the rest are original songs.
Bartke is the lead singer and songwriter of the band, he also plays the banjo and bass.
Bartke wrote six of the songs, including the album’s title track, which Bartke notes “was written in Madonna [Hall].”
The band performed at Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Dallas right before the COVID-19 quarantine began in March.
“We were performing at Trinity Hall the night I realized we had to make an album because of the number of the fans that were there that night,” Bartke said. “And I realized that it was our duty as musicians in the community to produce an album to give to our fans.”
The coronavirus was a particular struggle for the recording of the album. Skinner, who plays the harmonica and Irish whistle, and Spurgin, who plays the ukulele and fiddle, both came down with the virus three weeks before they were set to record.
The band only had four days to practice together before they recorded the album.
However, Bartke said that the additional challenge “made us be more deliberate with our practice time.”
“There was this crisis moment where we were like, ‘Are we even going to be able to get this album ready in time? Are we going to have a finished product that we are happy with?’ So that was a little scary,” Skinner said.
Once Skinner and Spurgin recovered, the band “had to go tooth and nail to get ourselves ready for it,” Skinner said.
Spurgin could not be reached for comment, as he is traveling to the Due Santi Campus for his Rome semester.
The album was produced at the Ft. Worth Sound recording studio with Bart Rose, record producer and audio engineer. The band raised $4,000 in order to record it. All contributions came from family and friends.
“Working with the Breaker Boys was a pleasure.They were all talented musicians with great attitudes and I would do it again in a heartbeat.Such fun music!” Rose wrote in an email.
Skinner felt that this album solidifies the identity of the band.
“It’s very special because it is a culmination of the last four years of us playing music together, and we finally put it all together. It’s really special because it’s mostly originals. The covers we do are great and I love them, but the fact that there’s eight originals really defined the sound of our band on this album–this is who the Breaker Boys are,” Skinner said. “As we go forward, we have our identity.””
Morris, who plays guitar, banjo and percussion, and who is a lead vocal on many tracks, described this album as a shift away from Irish folk towards a more Americana sound. Morris wrote the song “Canyon Echoes.”
Morris described the album as “a combination of Irish and American folk, but it leans towards the more American side. A lot of the songs that Joe has written [draw] inspiration from Americana. ‘The Mess We’ve Made’ is a song about bank robbers in the west in the 20s.”
“We wanted to carve our own niche to say, ‘This is the kind of music we enjoy and enjoy making.’”
This connection in their Irving heritage, similar educational backgrounds and, of course, their love of the UD community seems to unite their sound.
The point of the album, Morris said, is “playing music for a group of people that we know will enjoy it.”
“As a band, we derive so much inspiration from growing up in Irving and also going to UD. It’s important to note that this album was born out of the wonderful community that we have here at UD,” Bartke said. “I am continually impressed by how well we have been received by the UD community.”
“It was not written with any intent to teach virtue, but rather to foster the community’s appreciation for merriment and mirth. To give our audience something to listen to, because they deserve it and they already love these songs so much and it’s a darn shame to deprive them of a recording of them,” Bartke said.
“The Mess We’ve Made” can be streamed on Spotify and Bandcamp.