Today we are checking IN with the acoustic dork rock power duo, Matt Casarino & Jill Knapp from Hot Breakfast! We sat down for a virtual interview and talked about life, love, and making music before, during, and after a pandemic!
IN Wilmington: So tell me about Hot Breakfast! How did the name come to be?
Jill Knapp: For years a friend in Austin, Texas would mail us random stuff he would find at garage sales (with no context and just for fun!). One day we received a green T-shirt that had this Rasta guy on it with his fist up and the words Hot Breakfast written on it. As a joke we said that’s what we should call ourselves. We already have merch!
So we went with it and there started to be this thing that when we said the name of our band, people started responding by shouting the name back with fists in the air. So that’s how Hot Breakfast! came to be; inspired by a random T-shirt from a garage sale.
IN: Jill, in listening to you I hear the joy that you have for not just Hot Breakfast! but also for ‘life’! Would you agree?
Jill: Absolutely! I think my default setting for ‘life’ is pretty chipper. I’m a fairly optimistic person. I get to make music that I love, with my BEST friend and the love of my life! As schmoopy as that sounds, everyday is like a party! How could you not be joyful?!
IN: That’s beautiful! How long have you two been together?
Matt Casarino: We became friends in 2002 and didn’t start dating until 2011.
Jill: So the band came together first and dating came after.
IN: How has your work been impacted by the Coronavirus lockdown?
Matt: We had a number of gigs lined up for May, June, and July – both our own and collaborations. It is jarring to see it all come to a halt with the lockdown. As things begin to open up we have been hired for a soft opening with a summer concert for the town of Whitehall (Middletown, DE).
Jill: The ability to book bands that can take the soft opening gigs is limited right now because it is hard to get band members that live together. We share germs so we are good!
IN: You have been finding fun ways to continue to make and share music during the Coronavirus lockdown. How do you keep the creativity flowing?
Matt: In terms of creativity, both for writing music and plays (I also write plays), I’ve really struggled during the Pandemic. I have wondered if it is just the usual creative peaks and valleys but even in talking to friends a lot of us seem to be in a holding pattern in terms of ‘creating’. I wonder if maybe it is because the world seems to have come to a grinding halt and there is a lack of stimulation and lack of creative inspiration.
IN: Do you think it is also due to the lack of deadlines and performing goals you might have under normal circumstances?
Matt: That’s a great point! My best work is done under a deadline or when I really should be doing something else and an idea takes a hold of me!
Jill: We are a duo but we also work with other bands. So we have been doing quarantine collaborations with other groups and those have helped in keeping the creativity alive and the fire going. I’m so grateful for technology! Can you imagine this (social distancing and lockdown) happening 20 years ago?!
IN: With in-person venues closed during the lockdown, do you find that organizations are able to provide enough paid opportunities with online/virtual venues?
Jill: There are a few but we made a mindful choice not to charge for our musical services right now. This was the rainy day that we had saved for. We thought there were other organizations and bands who might need the money more than we do. If someone Venmo’s us stuff we try to pay it forward to other organizations. Depending on how long this lockdown lasts, we might accept donations later; but we’ll keep donating to arts organizations for these first couple of months.
IN: What is your take on the in-person vs. online experience as an audience member?
Matt: I think we are starved for live interaction and entertainment. I hope that when we can do the live, in-person venues again people can really see that there is no substitute for that experience.
Jill: Once the world re-opens, whenever that is, I hope people realize that the arts are not ‘optional’ but are now ‘vital’ to feed the soul!
Matt: At the end of each in-person show Jill always thanks the audience for taking the time to leave their homes and come see us perform.
Jill: I always say ‘Thank you’ to the audience because they succeeded in leaving the house, dealing with parking, just to get there (the venue)… and for creating that moment in time, for being there, for experiencing togetherness! This is how you build community with the arts!
IN: Well said! Yes, I look forward to seeing you perform live, IN-person! So tell me about the album you had planned to release this year?
Matt: It’s not finished. Last year we had to put the album on hold because we were taking care of our family and just as our schedules cleared up we found ourselves in a Pandemic. But we are not complaining. We might release a few songs soon, even if not the complete album we had initially planned.
IN: And what about your 2020 Christmas show? I hear that’s a project very close to your hearts?
Matt: I’m a big holiday music nerd! We started gathering our musician friends to put on a show with a narrative (like the Christmas specials you might see on TV) every other year. This would be our 3rd show this year and we will start planning that soon!
Jill: That reminded me, one unexpected side effect of the lockdown is that it has allowed us to experience more art than we were able to do before! All our artist friends in the music and theater world typically work at the same time i.e. Fri, Sat nights, so we used to miss out on attending each other’s events! But now that more of us aren’t working as often, we’re able to catch each other’s online shows. It’s been really refreshing being in an audience again, even if it’s only been online.
IN: Clearly, you both seem to enjoy each other’s company SO much! How has it been quarantining together and how do you nurture your relationship?
Jill: First of all, I view our quarantine situation through the lens of gratitude. We make a living doing what we love and there is no negative pressure of any kind.
As for ‘us’ – we just try to be good to each other! Every morning I am greeted with a cup of coffee in bed. It is something simple and yet I feel SO loved in the moment! And I’m on Tea duty at night. My advice? Just try to stay kind. Check in with each other.
Matt: Having these concerts three times a week gives us a work mode and a separate couple mode. It makes each better and each sweeter. And also if we need to do our own thing, that’s ok. Like Jill said, it is about listening to each other and not making demands of each other. It sounds very simple and it’s not.
IN: It sounds like you are very intentional about communication?
Jill: We are wired pretty similar. I don’t feel like as a partner I have to ask for very much. I just sat in the backyard (on the porch swing) with headphones on for 3 hrs one day, and I know Matt was inside making chicken and he was ok. We always trust that whatever the other is doing comes from a place of kindness.
Matt: As a person I wasn’t all that good at communication until we got together. <They look at each other and smile.>
IN: OK, if this is schmoopy, I’m all for it. You two are #CoupleGoals! So tell us about your 15 Minute Coffee Break Concerts?!
Jill: We just wrapped up 11 weeks of concerts: 15 mins each, 3 times a week! Starting June 15th, which is the next phase of Delaware’s reopening, we are changing our Coffee Break Concert schedule to only twice per week – Wednesdays and Fridays from 3pm-3:15pm. This gives us a longer weekend so we can give my parents a hand.
When we first started, we made it a goofy challenge that we would never repeat a song. A few days ago we ran out of original songs! So now we are learning new songs!
It has been amazing to see how people have connected with our music and how a community has popped up among the coffee break concert viewers.
One guy who lives by himself mentioned a movie he watched (in the FB livestream comments). Someone else said, “Oh I saw that!” And now they are watching movies together!
Another person who is quarantining alone told us that she feels she has a place to check-in, and she knows that her absence will be noticed; it helps her feel safe.
A family told us their kids watch our concerts for their music homework! We are somebody’s homework!
Knowing that we are providing this kind of value… it blows my mind!
Spend any bit of time with Jill and Matt and you will notice that they exude warmth and joy! We had so much fun chatting and the conversation flowed to how much we are living online now and the need to unplug often! Somehow we meandered into talking about Bollywood movies (I grew up watching them!). It turns out that Matt and Jill’s first Bollywood movie experience is also their favorite movie: Veer Zaara – a story about timeless love.