Interviews

Interview: Sleepmakeswaves

Sleepmakeswaves are an instrumental, ‘crescendo-core’ rock band from Australia currently on tour with Sheffield contemporaries 65daysofstatic. Pictured left to right, the four-piece consists of Jonathan Khor (guitar), Tim Adderley (drums), Otto Wicks-Green (guitar) and Alex Wilson (bass). Impact‘s Robert Smith caught up with the band backstage at Rescue Rooms and began by cracking open a welcome bottle of Tuborg.

Guess it would have been Fosters back home?

[Alex] Well, no! (laughs). It’s not been widely available in Australia since I was very young. At least say 20 years. I couldn’t tell you what Fosters tasted like. It’s the Australiana thing. But if it’s a good beer, it’s a good beer.

It’s fairly average.

Well there you go. The beer here took us by surprise because we have these sparkling pale ales; the kind of thing you serve quite cold in a frosted glass. We come here and get the cask ales and once you realise what’s going on they’re really nice. They taste fantastic and suit the vibe really well. The British vibe, which is wintery. It’s a wintery drink. Bit of mulled wine when it gets a bit colder. So, who are you writing for? Local thing?

Impact, the University of Nottingham’s student magazine.

Cool! Is that the one over the road?

No, that’s Nottingham Trent. We’re a couple of miles out of town.

We’ll show those damn Trenters!

[Otto] We’ll show those damn Trenters! (laughs)

Have you been to Nottingham before?

[Alex] No, never been to the UK before.

You’ve got a UK and Europe tour coming up?

[Otto] We’re in it! Breathing the oxygen of the tour. Drinking the beer of the tour. Sitting on the tour couches.

How has it been so far?

[Alex] Great. We’re two shows into the total 37 and so far it’s been really good. We’re just warming up I think.

[Otto] It’s nice to have that many shows ahead of you, you get into a certain state of mind. What’s hard about Australia is we normally play on weekends – Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Just as we’re starting to find it, it’s back to work for the week. This is awesome for us because it means we can get into that mindset and stay there.

In the UK certain bands want to ‘crack America’. In Australia, is there such a thing as wanting to ‘crack Europe’?

[Alex] Yeah totally. I think for a band with our sound Europe is the place. Australia is wonderful, but it’s really small and there’s a ceiling on what you can achieve. America is this promised land but it’s pretty fickle. We’ve been here once before doing a really filthy band tour, sleeping on promoters floors, and we got this vibe of Europe that they have the most serious commitment to the idea of underground music and alternative styles. We see coming here as really building something solid and long-term.

[Otto] It’s always been the game for this band I think. As Alex says, America can be seen as quite fickle, and Australia to some extent. There’s a lot of popular bands that get big very quickly and die off. But with us it’s been a slow burn, which is really satisfying and I feel like were building something similar in Europe. Something like this is the opportunity we wait for. This provides us groundwork for the next one. It’s cool, it feels like we’re definitely working towards something.

[Alex] We’re very lucky particularly with regards to the UK, which back home is seen as a very tough nut to crack. You guys are justifiably very proud of your own musical exports. We have got a really good opportunity coming over with 65 and jumping onto wicked venues like this which we probably wouldn’t be able to do on our own scene.

You’re good friends with 65daysofstatic?

[Otto] We’re becoming, I’d say (laughs). We’re getting there. I don’t want to say “yeah we’re bezzies” and then they go “what the f*ck!”. But we’ve had a few nights out with them now, and we did a tour with them in Australia. We first met them way back in April 2012 at an awesome festival in Belgium called dunk!festival. That night after the show we drank some whiskeys with them and I thought we got on really well. Maybe that contributed to their decision to pick us as support for the Aussie tour and then again jumping on here. I guess they liked us?

Dunk!festival, that’s the post-rock only festival?

Yeah there’s a lot of instrumental rock bands. 65 do their own thing, it’s like post-rock I guess. Instrumental, electronic awesomeness. You’d be hard to find a chorus and a verse at that festival! (laughs).

How would you describe your sound?

[Alex] I suppose instrumental, progressive, dynamic. Crescendo-core. Generally when people will ask me about that, I try and convince them to come to a live show. The sound that we have comes to life so much when it’s supported by the volume, the amps and the PA. We were talking about post-rock earlier. It’s a useful term as far as marketing goes. It gives people a ballpark idea of what you are dealing with. This is a hookless land! No hits shall be found! (laughs).

I think at the same time while we don’t want to get too huffy about being described as post-rock, I suppose we prefer using things that are trying to describe what the music actually does. Like being instrumental or dynamic, heavy or soft, quiet/loud, rather than this term which a lot of people, for better or worse, have a lot of preconceptions about. I suppose we’re always trying to break out of that if we possibly can.

I notice the styling of your name in lower case letters, and the ellipsis on the album title.

That’s post-rock as f*ck!

That’s post-rock as f*ck! (laughs). That was kind of the mistakes of youth right?

How did the band get together? I’ve read MySpace was involved?

[Jonathan] Yeah, so I was on the internet. I had an idea to do a bedroom band that doesn’t really play live. It was just me and another guy, Dom, and we were going to make a bit of electronic music with a bit of guitar and Dom went away, too busy with other stuff.

I had some demos up on MySpace and Alex and some previous members of the band had already began jamming together, and were looking for another guitarist, and they found me lurking in the dark corners of the internet. It was the beginning of something beautiful. I went along to Tom’s bedroom and went “hey, maybe we can do something with this”.

Who are your musical influences?

[Alex] Look, when we started out we were like all huge fanboys of Mono and Isis and Explosions in the Sky. Now, the bands we get inspired by these days are not ones that make the same kind of music as we do. They’re ones which are the kind of bands we want to be. We get really inspired by the bands we go on tour with. These guys, 65. Things like work ethic and vibe and the way they approach their albums as a whole, what they’re trying to say, rather than specific sounds. We could rattle of a bunch of bands for you, but recently I’ve been inspired most by reading books about Black Flag and Fugazi, which has no bearing at all to us musically, but does in terms of the point we’re at as a band and the questions we’re asking about.

[Otto] How fast can they change over after a set? (laughs). Hit that shit in under five minutes? Damn!

[Alex] I feel that we’ve reached a point where we understand our sound well enough that it’s a natural process of integrating the things that we listen to. And we don’t need to single out any kind of thing.

[Otto] I’ll put a special mention in for Metallica and thrash-metal.

[Alex] I think all the stuff we really love would surprise people. For me, one of my biggest influences would be The Smashing Pumpkins, Faith No More and The Smiths. But none of that comes out in our music particularly. Billy Corgan is my idol; a tall, balding control-freak! (laughs).

Without lyrics, how do you approach the songwriting process? Do you create a story within a song?

[Otto] I think all songs begin with an emotional place, and there’s probably a narrative behind that, in memory and our experiences of trying to convey something emotional. The songs will develop as other members contribute to them, and also because the live shows become more important to us as a band. Part of songwriting at the moment is geared towards that more than ever, with the view that we’re going to be on the road playing these songs a lot. So let’s make it fun.

[Tim] We’re trying to make the track so you don’t know that there’s not vocals there. You’ve got the melody.

[Alex] I think the emotional stuff is really important because we all enjoy weird time signatures and multi-faceted structures, but I know that from the experience of all of us writing together it does actually come from who we are as human beings. The song ‘…and so we destroyed everything’ was written when I was in a really terrible place of hating everything, and whenever I felt like that I would just go and work on that song. And thankfully that’s not the case anymore. That’s been a song that our fanbase has really connected to. I think that we all listen to music with lyrics quite a bit and we all connect with lyrics personally but it’s just not this band’s destiny to write that kind of stuff. The aim is the same as what a load of other bands with vocalists are trying to do, even if the method is not the same.

You talk about touring endlessly. Records must be difficult to shift, so this must be the way you make a living?

[Otto] What living! (laughs). We all work back in Australia. This is something we’re absolutely committed to doing and we want to get to a point where we’re making a living of it. We all absolutely have to go back to the day job when we’re done with this.

How are your employers with that?

[Alex] It’s tough, we’ll see when we get home! (laughs). We just choose to be relentlessly optimistic. In terms of the history of our band, we sort of slogged it out for five or six years with no intention of anything happening whatsoever before things actually did start happening. When stuff got big a couple of members dropped off along the way because they didn’t want to take that plunge. I suppose we feel that there’s nothing to fear in taking a chance.

It’s a bit like being in love, it’s hard to walk away from

So even though we’re not earning a living, and have to go back to day-jobs, when you’re onto something that feels as good as what we have on stage when we play together you don’t want to f*ck with that. It’s a bit like being in love, it’s hard to walk away from. You pull out all of the stops to make it happen, and so far it just keeps giving back.

In terms of the live shows, how important are visuals?

[Otto] We’ve got this far without there being an emphasis on that. We’re paying more and more attention to the live show because we’re seeing it’s more and more important to how people experience us, but thus far we’ve actually been able to make a pretty big impact without that. To be honest, we feel that if we can without it, then we won’t bring it in as an untested, unknown variable until we feel like there’s something really perfect.

[Alex] Every band needs that visual hook live to work, and I suppose what we do is we try and make that the vibe of the four of us playing together. Speaking of influences, one of the bands that changed my life was At The Drive In. Seeing them perform live, just this relentless energy that was completely captivating. It was never intentional that it worked out like this, but we don’t have lights, we don’t have anything really massive, we just have us.

It also partly answers the question about the absence of a vocalist and without that human element how do you give someone that connection? That’s why I say to people “come and see us live” because you’ll get the full human experience of the four of us connecting on something and being able to see it in the flesh. I think we do want to get some visuals but we have very particular ideas, and there are someways in which it’s done in this genre that we’re not totally keen on. If you’re relying on yourselves then you’ve got it all already there, and no-one to blame if it goes wrong. It’s a self-sufficiency thing.

[Jonathan] Talking of At The Drive In, I wouldn’t care what the light show was like. If they had no lights I’d still be blown away just by how they are on stage. That’s inspirational for us.

Looking at a band like Sigur Rós, surely their visuals work?

[Jonathan] Absolutely, very beautiful. I saw Godspeed in Sydney and the stuff they did visually was stunning.

[Alex] I suppose we aren’t interested in writing on the coattails of other bands who have gone on and done that so well and so much better than we already could. So being the crazy, jump around, At The Drive In’s of instrumental rock works for the time being.

[Otto] Our vibe live is influenced more by punk rock and hardcore than this atmospheric, beautiful kind of stuff. I see us more on the same page as At The Drive In, who just leave it all on stage and get it out there. That kind of heavy thing with the big guitars and sweating buckets, rather than beautiful Icelandic scenery.

[Alex] None of us can be as beautiful as Jónsi.

Last question. What are you listening to at the moment?

[Otto] When I’m on tour I like to listen to some Australian music, it makes me nostalgic, for example The Middle East. Someone like Mark Kozelec is such a big influence because he complains a lot about being on the road. Although I love it there are parts of it which can be painful, so listening to someone signing about exactly what you’re doing? I actually get a lot of comfort out of that.

Robert Smith (@robertdgsmith)

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