Josh Breckenridge has “No More Pain” tattooed on his right shin. On his left, “No More Loss.” As frontman for With Our Arms to the Sun, an experimental and cinematic act birthed in the Arizona desert, Breckenridge’s music screams these sentiments, within a pantheon of others.
Josh isn’t alone in his journey to create art. Onstage to his left stands Joseph Breckenridge Jr., Josh’s brother and bassist for WOATTS. To the right, guitarist Joseph Leary, who has been Josh’s best friend since the age of 12. For 20 years, the trio has made music together in a myriad of bands, and on this day, they happen to be playing the biggest show of their lives.
It’s Halloween, and with the band’s fresh-faced new drummer John McLucas, With Our Arms to the Sun will perform in front of 22,000 people at the inaugural Monster Mash Festival in Tempe, Ariz., supporting Tool, Primus and Coheed & Cambria. This kind of opportunity would go to some musician’s heads, but With Our Arms to the Sun remain humble and go out of their way to take care of friends and family who turned up to support them.
WOATTS aren’t rock stars, as Josh Breckenridge was quick to profess. This is just one day out of the trenches for an extremely hard working, hard touring group of guys who have been fighting to realize their dreams and support their families. “Us being older guys, we have kids, things like that, so to tour on peanut butter and jelly sandwich money is very hard, but I think the grind of that makes us perform more passionately,” Josh Breckenridge tells us. “Hopefully you’ll feel our energy when we play, we leave it all on the stage — 100 percent from the heart and soul. We view it as art.”
Josh continues, “I have two sons and they are five and three. My oldest is about to turn six. Joe [Breckenridge Jr.] has a daughter and a son, she’s four and his son is a year and a half. Being away from them sucks, but I would rather them grow old and be like, ‘Man, I had a dad that was passionate about his dreams, not a dad that slaved away in a cubicle and hated life.’ Because when we come home from tour, we’re not that dad who worked that s–tty nine-to-five. We’re excited to see them. We want to go to the beach, we want to take them to Disneyland, we want to have fun. We have a different energy when we come home and I think that makes up for the time away. When you’re on tour and with some big national band and they treat you like s–t, make you stand outside in the snow and you’re not allowed to stand inside, any of that, you think about your kids and you’re welling up.”
With Our Arms to the Sun just re-released their latest full-length, A Far Away Wonder, on Fade to Silence Records. The label was recently founded by Paul Bibeau, who signed acts like Dio and Zakk Wylde throughout his career. “When we were on tour with John 5, he [Bibeau] saw us play and he came up and he was just like, ‘Man, you guys are doing something that I’ve never seen and I believe in this and if I had a record label still I’d sign you guys in a heartbeat,’” Josh recalls. “We hear that a lot to the point where we’re old and bitter, but he called us a few months later; ‘I’m starting a new label and I want you to be the flagship band.’ It blows your mind to work that hard and finally get an opportunity and have someone take interest in what you do.”
It seems like all the right people are beginning to believe in With Our Arms to the Sun, as they were also just recruited by Al Jones, manager of Tool and Volto!. He also happens to be the brother of Tool guitarist Adam Jones. “He’s sort of our Mike Ditka,” Josh says proudly. “He’s like our coach and our mentor.”
Various members of Tool have also taken an interest in With Our Arms to the Sun, and it all leads to a major festival performance in their home state. Tool fans can be relentlessly brutal towards opening acts, but With Our Arms to the Sun won them over from the beginning of their set, exploding into the near eight-minute “Tessellation.” As they do in person, With Our Arms to the Sun exude the most incredibly positive energy onstage. Waves of something sonic but intangible washed over the crowd as they stood transfixed by the band’s music. You could witness more heads bobbing, hands clapping and faces smiling up until the culmination of WOATTS’s set, “Great Black Divide” — pro-shot footage of which you can check out below.
“We still make our own merch, we record our own albums, we book our own tours, everything,” Josh explains. “Most musicians say, ‘I want a million bucks and to buy a nice car and s–t.’ Nah man, I want to hang out with my kids more. I want to send my wife on the best vacation ever.” Joe Breckenridge chimes in, “Even if we got to the point where my wife could just hang out at home. She wants to hang at home with the kids.”
Armed with a record label and powerhouse manager’s belief in the rising band, a new album is in the works. “There’s a lot of great ideas,” Josh explains. “There are still some things we need to hash out. It’s sort of like an artist. If you take a canvas and he makes a painting, you put in the rough ideas. Those are all there, even some of the details, but we need to make a pass and detail it out and really dig into it and varnish it. Then we can hang it up and look at it, then take it down and cut it up and start over, maybe. It’s a long process. We’re trying to make concept albums. We’re not trying to make bro rock or three-minute rock songs. [Laughs] It takes more time. You can’t phone it in, you can’t just plug in your guitar and say, ‘Okay, today we’re going write a nine-minute song about consciousness.’ You have to be in that state of mind. Sometimes we’ll spend two weeks in the middle of the desert and we won’t write anything. We’ll just talk.”
“The new stuff is more emotional. The majority of the songs that I composed for this record were written under real extreme conditions; touring with bands where you’re getting paid nothing and eating peanut butter and jelly, being forced to stand outside in the snow and s–t. When you’re in those scenarios, it’s just anger. If I’m writing something and I want someone to feel angry, I don’t want them to have to analyze it. I want them to hear it and to have it well up. We study a lot of spiritual books, philosophical psychology, things like that. It was like, ‘How can I delve into my own psychology? How can I take this instrument and do what I’m doing for my voice? I’ve never seen anyone do that. I figured, why not?”
Joseph Breckenridge adds, “If you think of an orchestra for film scores, they’re telling you what’s going on, but they’re not saying it.”
The very next night after performing for 22,000 people, selling a bunch of merch and signing autographs and taking photos with new fans, With Our Arms for the Sun played for less than 20 at The Grid: Games and Growlers bar in Mesa, but the energy of the gig was exactly the same. These guys care about what they’re doing, and doing it is what matters.
“I don’t give a s–t about money, I just hope we’re making art, man,” Josh says of the band’s future. “I just want to make records that people like. I just want to make good art. It’s hard for me not to well up, I’m a pretty emotional dude. I’m a big baby.”
Take a listen to With Our Arms to the Sun’s A Far Away Wonder album in full above and check out the guys performing “Great Black Divide” live below. Also, head over to the band’s Facebook page and show them some love!
With Our Arms to the Sun, ‘Great Black Divide’ (Live at Monster Mash)