Band Booking: Chatting About Books and Tongue-In-Cheek Songwriting with Sleepies

Sleepies is a garage rock band based in Brooklyn, composed of Josh Intrator on bass, Thomas Seely on guitar and lead vocals and drummer Max Tremblay. Their first band practice as Sleepies dates back to November 2007. After a series of other bands and musical experiments, the group coalesced around a few common reference points (“weirdo punk rock” according to Seely). I first saw them at the penultimate gig for the now-closed DIY space Dead Herring in January, where they blasted the room with the aforementioned weirdo punk rock, giving the venue a well-deserved sendoff. Now they’re about to go back in the studio to record the follow-up to their LP Weird Wild World, so I reached out to them to chat about their songs, their reading list, and the true meaning of Borgesian drumming.

What is the band up to these days?

Max: We’re currently gearing up to tour down to South by Southwest for the first time, which should be a fucking blast. We’ve also got a few new songs kicking around, which we plan to record for a short EP in time for summer.

Josh: I can’t wait to record. Being in the studio is definitely my favorite part of playing in a band. We recorded our last album, Weird Wild Word, in January 2012 and aside from the months of practicing, fine tuning and eventually laying down the songs, we then also spent the rest of the year supporting the album and playing shows.  It wasn’t until December that Max realized that we hadn’t written a new song in the entirety of 2012. You can imagine how one might get sick of playing the same songs for so long, so naturally I’m very excited about recording these new ones which also includes a cover. We incorporate covers into our sets here and there and also participate in an annual Halloween cover show at Death By Audio so it should be interesting to see how we can “put our stamp on it” in the studio.

What’s the song “Seriously” about?

Max: Well, I had no part in writing the lyrics, but I’ll happily take a stab at what comes across in the song for me (in as pretentious a manner as I can muster!).  Ultimately, the whole of the lyrics matter less to me than the force with which Thomas delivers that one refrain, “We take this all very seriously.”  That one sentence, for me, is a bit of a double move: on the one hand, it stands up as the sort of indictment of the kind of humorless blowhard one often comes across when the circles one travels in are of the ‘indie’ variety with the kind of simple irony of, for instance, my friend’s band in high school who had a song called “I Wanna Be a Jock”. In other words, you enter into someone else’s perspective to show how dunder-headed it is. On the other hand, I take it to be a more or less straight-forward assertion that, yes, in fact, we take this music shit serious as fuck. That is, we want to be not just okay but good, we want to always push ourselves, write better songs, play better, and progress.

Josh: Thomas is the wordsmith of the bunch so he’ll have to tell you exactly what he was thinking when he wrote it and although Max is pretty spot on about the seriousness with which we do take our music, “Seriously” also serves as a way to remind me that ultimately being in Sleepies is really fun. That song is an awesome mess and I think the way Thomas delivers the vocals perfectly embodies our attitudes about being in a band. Despite the dunderheads Max speaks of and the unpleasant people who do, in fact, take themselves too seriously, it’s possible to put in that kind of effort and dedication without losing sight of what’s so attractive about playing music in the first place.

Thomas: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways “Seriously” is about our band.

What is the band reading these days?

Max: I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment.  For school, I’m reading Plato’s Republic and Rousseau’s On the Social Contract to prep for oral exams (and because those are huge blind spots for me and they’re wicked good), as well as Sorel and Fanon for a paper I’m presenting soon and my dissertation, respectively. On the pleasure tip, I just finished the last book of A Song of Ice and Fire and am dipping my toes into George R. R. Martin’s “Dunk & Egg” novellas as well. I also have it on good authority from a friend that the current run in Batman comics (Night of the Owls) is pretty dope, so I’ll probably be checking that shit out while I wait patiently for The Winds of Winter. I’m also reading a kind of business history of the NFL called America’s Game, which is holding my interest – while I bide my time until the 49ers win another Super Bowl – but is sort of unintentionally hilarious. Sports writing on the whole is kind of a craps shoot (though I recommend Mike Tanier and Gwen Knapp, both of, particularly book-length sports writing, and to watch this author who has clearly never thought about politics try to understand, for instance, sixties counterculture through the lens of the NFL makes me giggle.

Josh: As a graduate student, I haven’t had time to do much reading for pleasure lately but I did enjoy The Role of Metaphor in Art Therapy by Bruce Moon. Most recently I picked up our dear friend (and former Vol. 1 contributor), Juliet Linderman’s book, Refugee Hotel, and am excited to bring it with me on tour along with David Byrne’s How Music Works and some various articles for school.

Thomas:  I just finished a book called How it Ends: From You to the Universe by an astronomy professor named Chris Impy. The second half has some really wild theories about how the solar system, our galaxy, and eventually the universe will end. Right now I’m starting Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. If it’s as good as Jitterbug Perfume I’ll be psyched.

(To Max) You should check out Michael Oriard. He has written a bunch of books about the social history of football. I think he’s a literature prof so he may be more on top of the politics side of things.

Josh (To Thomas): Can I borrow your David Byrne book when you’re done?

How do you like playing and working out of Brooklyn?

Max: Playing in Brooklyn is only as good as the peer group you build for yourself, and I’m thrilled to say that at the moment we have a nice little cadre of weirdos who make band life worth living: Eula, Heaven’s Gate, Mr. Dream, Shark?, Dead Herring family, Fuzz family, Bad Credit No Credit, and more and more.

Josh: We also love playing out of town, though. Spending too much time in New York sometimes causes me forget that other places exist. It’s so easy to get caught up in the way we live here that it simply becomes routine. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other cities and even *gasp* small towns full of wonderful people and great music. Oakland, CA, Asheville, NC, and Montevallo, AL are just a few that come to mind. It’s necessary to take a breath once in a while. That being said, Brooklyn’s my home and I’m always happy to come back.

Thomas: I love being able  to see other parts of the country. It really makes you appreciate how amazing Brooklyn is when it comes to the music scene. Brooklyn is pretty spoiled in terms of venues, resources and bands. It can be easy to take that for granted.

Are there any literary influences that make it into your songs?

Max: My drumming could be described as primarily Borgesian.

Josh: If Thomas isn’t writing lyrics fast enough, Max and I sometimes bind him to the ground like he’s Gulliver and we’re the Lilliputians.

Thomas: It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times.

Any thoughts on the music industry and its current state of flux?

Max: Very tempted to just post a link to “Fuck Dis Industry” by Waka Flocka Flame as my response, but I actually do have some thoughts on this tip. It’s a terribly confusing time at the level of taste and interest, in that it seems like people of the indie persuasion both tend to like a wider range of more idiosyncratic types or genres of music while only really having space for 1 to 3 bands within that genre. Take Iceage for instance. That’s a really, really interesting punk rock band coming out of the hardcore tradition, and it’s ultimately a victory that, say, Pitchfork (which I take to occupy the same position that college radio did 10-20 years ago) even gives a shit what they do. And yet, they’re presented as kind of an island to themselves (them and Trash Talk I guess), in a way that seems to me almost anti-contextual, as if they precipitated from nothing and had no peers. I’m not saying this is good or bad, positive or negative, it’s simply strange – particularly at a time when the demand for jangly indie-pop bands seems inexhaustible.

Josh: To be totally honest, I have no real idea as to how the music industry works. Being the realists/cynics that we are, we never really expected to make any money off of being in a band (so far we’ve been right about that). I’m not going to say that we operate outside the industry because that’s impossible, but our releases are definitely pretty self serving. It doesn’t make much financial sense to be putting out vinyl but it feels like we’re already working from a loss so why not go for broke and make something we think is special? But again, working within the industry is an inevitability and can be pretty intimidating. Thank goodness we’ve got the good people at God Mode Records to save us from ourselves in that arena. Though I will say that I am pretty thrilled about the overwhelming accessibility of music. Growing up I remember the frustration of only being able to buy so many $7 used CDs on my meager busboy’s salary. I think it’s awesome that you can now hear just about anything you want either for cheap or for free. A lot of people have told us that they listen to us on Spotify and even though we don’t see much money from that, I’d just rather have it that people are listening.

Thomas: I’ll go out on a limb and add that we probably don’t need any more “music discovery” apps. However, if someone can explain to me how Shazam works I’ll be very grateful. That thing is awesome.

Sleepies are currently touring the country and will be back in New York on March 21st, playing Silent Barn with Shellshag and Extra Feeler. Their whole tour can be found here. Their album Weird Wild World is available now from God Mode Records. 

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