IN Love: Hot Breakfast!

Hot Breakfast! Photo by Julie Snow

We’ve heard time and time again that love is patient, love is kind, but not too often do we hear that love is side-splittingly funny. Well, it is for Wilmington’s premier acoustic dork rock power duo, Hot Breakfast! (exclamation point included). They let their comical and amusing personalities shine through their music, bringing audiences together for a delightfully entertaining and often wacky night of tunes. A usual show contains comedic songs as well as straight forward music and more often than not audience members hoisting their fists into the air and yelling, “HOT BREAKFAST!” in unison.

Crowned with a crest of spiky blond hair and blessed with powerhouse vocals, Jill Knapp is not easy to ignore, and when she is coupled with award-winning songwriter and guitar player Matt Casarino turning away is the last thing you would want to do. The two share a musical career and love life that many would consider #couplegoals.

This award-winning music combo met in 2002 at auditions for a community theater production of Jesus Christ Superstar, where Jill was cast as Mary Magdalene, and Matt as Annas (one of the priests). They spent the next several months working on their lines and getting to know each other. They played together for the first time in 2003 at the cast party and realized they had a pretty good groove musically. The two went on to work on Matt’s various solo projects and other large-scale productions. They officially joined forces in 2009, focusing exclusively on working as a duo and after years of musical chemistry began a romantic relationship in 2011! The rest is history.

You two took couple tattoos to the next level! Instead of the classic move to have a tattoo of each other’s name, you each have on your arms what appears to be the two of you performing. Whose idea was this?! How do people usually react when they see it?
Matt here!
  The design was just something I came up with when I was signing a birthday card. I’m really a lousy artist, but I thought the doodle just sort of captured something about both of us. Getting them tattooed was just… natural. It’s who we are. But it’s such a simple, primitive little doodle – so much so that I suspect a few people think we tattooed some random 5-year-old’s scribbles.

Jill here!  The moment I saw Matt’s doodle, I knew immediately that I wanted a tattoo of it. We had them done by the fabulous John Howie at Frequency Tattoo in Philadelphia, who has also done the vast majority of our ink.  We get really positive reactions when people see our tattoos, so we decided to turn it into merch! At our gigs we give out free temporary tattoos that look just like ours; this way if anyone else wants to be in our dork rock club for 3 days at a time, they can. 

What do you think the dorkiest thing about each other is?
I write the songs for our band, because Jill absolutely insists she’s unable to write songs… with one exception: The moment she sees a dog, she spontaneously bursts into song and instantly composes these short, completely silly, but super-catchy tunes about dogs. We joke around about how we should record an album of Very Short Dog Songs (meaning the songs are short, not necessarily the dogs), with tracks such as “You’re the Dog,” “There’s a Dog,” “Imma Pet the Derg,” “Ears (I’ve Got Yours),” “Who’s the Good Dog? Woozh Ranna La?” “Popcorn Feet,” and the ever-popular “Sniffy.”  Look for it at the 2021 Grammys.

Jill: Because we spend a lot of time on the road, we can’t have pets of our own. So instead of pets, we have a whole stable of characters that we make with our hands, sort of like naked Muppets. We once entertained ourselves for an entire evening by making a video of hand-birds dancing to a Hanukkah song called “Dreidel Bird.”  (You had to be there. Or…no, come to think of it, you really didn’t have to be there.) Our hand-pets include Carl our pet chicken, Clark our other pet chicken who is totally emo, a snail, a Doug-Cedric the very slow-moving bee, a therapy llama with very limited advice, and too many more to name. Some talk, some don’t, but they’re all very dear to us. And I haven’t even brought up the two cartoon characters with unprintable names (and appearances) who speak in 1920s slang that we created, and, well, the less said about them, the better. 

You’re based out of Wilmington but have had your fair share of big festivals and stages all around like SXSW, Burning Man, and the famous Trocadero. What has been one of the best show memories you two share from your career?
Jill here: 
We’ve been very, very lucky to play lots of great venues all around the country. The big shows on famous stages are unforgettable, but one of our favorite shows was totally non-traditional.

We opened for The DeadMilkmen at Philly’s premier punk rock boutique, Crash Bang Boom (formerlyZipperhead) to celebrate Crash Bang Boom’s 10th anniversary.  The shop moved all the clothing racks to the sides, and a space that can maybe hold 50 people was packed upwards of 100 sweaty humans that afternoon, with some folks even sitting on each other’s shoulders so they could see from the back. It was a completely unplugged show with no amplification whatsoever, and tickets were impossible to get, so the folks who managed to get in were die-hard Milkmen fans (like us).  Winning over that crowd over a 40-minute set of almost all original songs was a thrill we’ll never forget. We played our souls out… it was 1000 degrees inside and everyone was sweating, dancing, jumping, removing layers of clothing, and best of all, they were totally with us. I had to use every voice-teacher trick I had in my arsenal, making sure that everyone in the back could hear and understand the lyrics while pacing myself through a grueling set list of our most bombastic material. It was one of those magical shows where everything just worked, we played really well, and every joke landed… and to have our musical heroes standing literally 4 feet from us with these huge grins on their faces? Wow.

 The music that you create is fun, eclectic, and hilarious in all the right ways. Do you two goof around at home a lot? How important is humor and fun to you as a couple?
Aw, thank you! That means a lot, really. And yes, we goof around all the time! Humor is super-important to us as we navigate our daily lives in the world, but also as a couple. Even though we’ve been together going on nine years as a couple, we are still always trying to bring our A-game with each other (because let’s face it, when you’re stuck looking like us, you have to rely on humor to flirt!).  We have a blast together—even totally mundane things are fun just because we’re experiencing them together and goofing. Every day is like getting to have a sleepover with your best pal. It’s so dorky to say, but even when we’re in different rooms in the house, we miss each other. We’re pretty gross.

What’s your favorite thing about being in a band with your partner? What’s your least favorite thing?
Matt: The best thing is nothing is more thrilling than getting to perform live with each other. Sometimes one of us will get distracted because we think, “Wow. We’re onstage with the person we’re in love with, performing something we’ve created together. We’re watching our favorite person doing something they love, amazed we get to be along for the ride.”  And just like every band, we’ve had a few moments when we just didn’t feel like gigging– maybe one of us wasn’t feeling well, or we knew we had a lot of other things that need our attention– but once we start playing and the crowd starts reacting, it’s the best day ever.

Jill: The worst part about being in a band together is that our house is full of musical equipment. I can’t think of the last time we used our living room as a living room. It’s permanently set up as rehearsal and recording space. But if that’s the worst thing, we’ll gladly take it! 

You two are both talented multi-instrumentalists and do a lot of work with Shine a Light and The Rock Orchestra as part of larger bands. How do you like working in bigger groups together? I imagine you get in trouble for goofing around together. 
Matt: We love getting to play in other bands! As an acoustic duo, we can still make a pretty big sound, and we love the freedom and portability of playing as a duo. But sometimes you just want to scratch that rock-band itch and be part of a bigger group. We do that separately– Matt sings in the Ramones tribute band 53rd & 3rd, and Jill is often hired to sing and play in bands and also as a studio musician– but it’s wonderful when we’re called in together; and that happens fairly often! We honestly love to be utility players in bands, filling in on guitar, sax, trumpet, percussion, backing vocals, glockenspiel, or whatever else is needed. 

Jill: It’s awesome, although fitting all of those instruments in our Mini Cooper certainly challenges our Tetris skills. And yes – we are constantly in trouble for goofing off. We play with Joe Trainor and his various musical projects quite a bit; he’s one of our dearest friends, but at times he’s wanted to kill us because we could not stop laughing at some inside joke that’s only funny to us. But that’s okay. Learning complicated music is hard and sometimes tense work, and we’re happy to be the comic relief. When Joe rolls his eyes and calls us dorks, we feel like we’ve done our job. 

What can we look forward to from Hot Breakfast!?
The first part of the year we’re primarily focusing on finishing our album. We’ve got several songs already recorded, including a Meat Loafian epic about open-mic nights, plus some darker, more serious tunes. (And maybe a song about dogs? I have a few!)  We’ve also started working on our big Christmas show (yes, we know it’s February, but this one’s gonna take a lot of planning), and we have some gigs in the later spring both locally and on the West Coast we’re really excited about. And of course we’ll be a part of BeatleFest again, which is now in its third year–  where The Rock Orchestra performs every Beatles song ever recorded (all 216 of them), and we play them note-for-note over a series of six consecutive nights, in the order they were released. Towards the end of the week when we’re playing The Beatles’ more experimental songs, it takes almost 50 musicians on stage to bring those songs to life— so we’re really excited to be a part of that wonderfully exhausting marathon week again at the end of July. We’ll also be returning to Burning Man in Nevada this summer to play a bunch of shows at their Center Camp stage. 

Matt: But mostly, we just want to make sure we keep making music together, keep coming up with new songs, keep connecting with our precious audiences, and to keep getting to have those moments onstage that make us so happy to be musicians, to be a couple, and to be alive. We are so lucky to get to do what we do, and to do it together.