Perfect Sound Forever


Ruptured Psychosis: An Interview with Peter Litwin
By Pete Crigler
(August 2019)

Coffin Break are one of the most overlooked bands of the entire Seattle grunge scene. These guys were more punk-oriented than others of their ilk but that doesn't make them any less important. Through a couple of records on both C/Z and Epitaph, the band made their claim as one of the loudest and poppiest bands of the era. With dual songwriters in bassist/singer Rob Skinner and guitarist/singer Peter Litwin along with drummer Dave Brooks, Coffin Break became one of those Seattle bands that never made it big but definitely made an impression on their fans.

PSF: How did you get started playing music?

PL: My older brother taught me a G chord and I started writing songs right away. I don't know why, but it felt natural. Those first few songs weren't too interesting being that I only knew one chord... what a change when he taught me another.

PSF: Tell me about some of your earlier bands.

PL: I really only had a couple of other bands before Coffin Break. A band called Silent Genocide which played the Gong Show and immediately got gonged. We were playing so loud, we didn't hear it and just kept playing. We played a cool Germs cover and some originals. My 2nd band was called Extreme (not the one who became famous). It was a band I joined after meeting the leader Wally at a party. We also played exactly one show, it was a pretty cool one though- it was opening for 7 Seconds. We actually played a song that I sang that later became a Coffin Break song ("The Chosen").

PSF: When did Coffin Break come together?

PL: 1987.

PSF: What was the initial Seattle scene like at the time and where do you think you guys fit in?

PL: The scene in Seattle was mainly a bar scene as they had this dance hall ordinance thing, there were no all ages shows. So, you either had to play bars or go out of town. We played a few house parties to begin (all of them were shut down by the cops). Our first real show was at Community World Theatre in Tacoma opening for NOFX. Our first Seattle show was booked by Jonathan Poneman at a place he was booking before starting Sub Pop. It was called the Scoundrel's Lair and the shows were on the 2nd floor of a restaurant. I started putting on shows for us and other bands over in Bremerton at Natasha's. Eventually, the ordinance was overturned, and the Seattle scene became pretty awesome with lots of bands playing tons of shows and out supporting each other. Initially, it was a strong tight knit scene with lots of great shows. I remember being one of about 6 people seeing Nirvana play the Vogue.

PSF: How did you develop your sound?

PL: Honestly, we had these bands we wanted to emulate, but ended up just melding all of our influences together.

PSF: What would you say were the differences between your and Rob's songwriting?

PL: I think pretty obviously Rob tends to write more melodic stuff and he is a really good songwriter. Myself, I just wrote a lot of lyrics and would play a few chords or a riff and hoped it sounded okay with the lyrics. I think my writing was probably a bit more haphazard.

PSF: How did you come to sign with C/Z?

PL: That is a good question. Initially, actually Sub Pop was going to put out our first 7 inch, Jonathan was very supportive of us. But I don't think Bruce was that into it, so they backed out. When Daniel House heard they weren't going to do it any longer, he said, "I'll put it out."

PSF: Tell me about the recording of Rupture and Psychosis.

PL: I don't know how much I can remember. We always thought it was best to go on tour and then right after getting back, record while we were our tightest. Both records were recorded in the same year at Reciprocal Recording with Jack Endino. I know that on Psychosis, I was still pretty insecure about people watching me sing and had them turn the lights off in the recording room. I could see them in the control room, but they couldn't see me. During the recording of one of those records, we would record in the day and Nirvana would come in and record at night. I am pretty sure they were recording Bleach. Chad was still drumming at that point.

PSF: What was success like and how did the band react to it?

PL: I am not sure how much we realized we were being successful while we were in the middle of it, but it was pretty cool to be selling more and more records and having more and more people come out to our shows. We constantly toured and it was great to see the shows grow in attendance. One thing I will always fondly remember is doing a sound check at say the OK Hotel, going home for a bit, and then when coming back, seeing a line of kids down the block. That was pretty freaking cool.

PSF: Do you feel the band was left behind in the wake of Nirvana and Pearl Jam?

PL: Not totally, since we didn't totally fit in with the grunge scene entirely, but I think we broke up at a time when the type of music we were doing was really taking off.

PSF: Tell me a bit about Daddy Hate Box.

PL: DHB was just meant as a joke band with good friends, Al Tompkins, Steve Wied (from Tad) and this really cool guitar player Dave Goff. The name was a fun poke at Mother Love Bone. It was a very part time band. I think we were all surprised that anyone wanted to a put a record out for us.

PSF: When did Coffin Break sign with Epitaph and what was that experience like?

PL: I think it was around 1991. Both Fat Mike (NOFX) and Jennifer (L7) had passed along Rupture and Psychosis to the guys at Epitaph and then Jay Bentley and I started chatting on the phone. At the time, I was working for a music production company (Chameleon) and I said to Jay, "Dude, Bad Religion has never played Seattle, why don't you guys come up play a show here, Coffin Break will play too and you can hear us firsthand." We had just finished recording Crawl at that time. During sound check, our sound man, put the new record on the sound system and Brett said, "Who's this?" I told him it was our new record and he said, "Okay, you're signed." I was pretty freaking stoked! I had worshipped BR for years and was pretty amazed to be getting signed to their label. It was an incredibly cool experience and a dream come true.

The actual experience on the label was great. They had money to help us tour and record - things C/Z couldn't really help with. It helped us have the resources and connections to tour Europe a couple of times, not to mention general tour support. The other amazing thing was we got to go out on tour with Bad Religion several times! We got to play huge shows and they totally took care of us on the road. They were great guys to tour with and we had a lot of fun together.

PSF: What was the inspiration behind "For Beth"?

PL: It was a song written by Rob. The song was actually in a way written for Dave Brooks about Dave's girlfriend. They all lived in the same apartment together.

PSF: When did Jeff Lorien join the band?

PL: Lorien joined the band right around the time we signed to Epitaph.

PSF: What ultimately caused the band to split up?

PL: I think tensions caused by being on the road for 6-9 months per year.

PSF: What were you up to after the split?

PL: I started a band called Softy and then eventually went back to school.

PSF: What caused the band to get back together and are there plans for new material?

PL: We got back together to do this 2 day festival of old Seattle bands called Geezerfest (August 2007). Not sure if we will put out new material, but we have written a couple of new songs. We play so infrequently, it has been a couple of years now since we last played.

PSF: What are you currently up to?

PL: I work at an IT company and run ultramarathons. And I got married this past year!

PSF: What do you hope Coffin Break's legacy will be?

PL: I just hope people enjoyed the music and the message.

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