It’s time to wake up and ride the Sleeper Service. Captivating and atmospheric, the young duo have just dropped their debut album You Won’t Believe the View. The seven track project blends folky guitars and harmonies with intricate electronic production, to create a sound as varied as it is contained. We caught up with the boys to talk midnight Maccies runs, making songs from car keys, and why you need a pickaxe and snow boots in today’s music industry.
“One day more than just our friends will hear our music.”
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If you could be one musician for a day, who would you be?
G: “It would have to be Justin Vernon. I’m quite a fanboy, and he just seems like the most down to earth guy, with a crazy amount of connections and collaborations in the business! Could also take some notes on how to think of interesting song titles…”
T: “I’m gonna have to say Mac DeMarco. Is there anything that man can’t do?”
So, what roles do you both take in the band?
G: “It’s hard to say really, I think we both agree that one without the other couldn’t make an album like this. Tom is very much the producer of the band, he’s a wizard in Logic and pulls crazy musical ideas out of thin air. I enjoy the song-writing side a bit more I’d say, and listening to bands like Novo Amor, Big Thief and The National have definitely inspired me to up my game in terms of writing lyrics. When it comes down to it though, our best songs have been created together from scratch, picking up from where the other one left off.”
T: “Greg’s definitely right there! I handle the sound engineering and I feel like I can cook up a decent chord progression, but Greg’s lyricism, melodies and voice really just make our songs into something special, at least in my mind. But Greg’s a bit of a whizz on the computer too, just perhaps in different areas. He often helps me with vocal treatment and we do work together on the lyrical content and melodies of our songs. So I wouldn’t say either of us have particular “roles” in the band. I think we just more play to each other’s strengths.”
Tom, you’ve been in four bands before, how does being in a pair compare?
T: “Like two peas in a pod! It’s definitely been more challenging for sure – having more people in a band means more roles can be delegated on the admin side of things and of course it also means more musical collaboration. But I think Greg and I are handling it well so far – when we enter into the studio to try and make a new song, there’s a mutual, unspoken agreement that our egos will be left outside the door and any criticism we level at each other is solely with the intent of writing the best song possible. There’s no power dynamic between us – we’re best mates outside of the band and I think that helps massively!”
“I was lucky enough to tour the US twice.”
What’s your musical past then, Greg?
G: “Really the first band I was in was Midnight Run, mine and Tom’s first musical venture together. I’ve played instruments and sung from a young age, and was involved with numerous choirs at school, so song-writing felt like a natural progression. I can’t say that our early folk music was the best ever, but it was a steppingstone to what became an incredible friendship and a love of making songs together.
I joined a university a cappella group called Semi-Toned when I arrived at Exeter to study, and spent two years having the best time with a group of really close friends. I was lucky enough to tour the US twice, perform a sell out show at the Edinburgh Fringe and get to compete in a Sky TV show. I’m grateful to have that live performance experience under my belt, and hopefully will be able to apply it in Sleeper Service’s future.”
How does Sleeper Service differ from your previous work together as Midnight Run?
G: “Ha, it’s quite a change from our mournful teenage angst. While we’re both still pretty mellow people and enjoy melancholy music on our own, there’s been a big shift in our song-writing maturity over the last few years. I think this came from a realisation that there are, in fact, things to write about other than trouble in relationships and woeful teen heartbreak.”
T: “I would probably describe Midnight Run as that time in your teens where as a musician, you have that fantasy of becoming wildly famous and you can’t possibly see the obstacles ahead of you. We wrote decent-enough-but-ultimately-basic indie folk ballads that we thought would grow legs of its own and sprint off into the sunset. Sleeper Service I would say represents our growing up. Four years later and the reality of “making it” in the music industry has presented itself to you as the peak of a mountain you’re right at the bottom of. But, as those four years have progressed, we have learnt a tonne. We have more music gear than before, we have stronger business strategies, we have more influences to amalgamate into our own unique sound. We still have such a long way to go, but I feel this time around, at least Sleeper Service is equipped with a decent pickaxe and some proper snow boots to scale the mountain.”
“Every song in the album has challenged us.”
What does You Won’t Believe the View mean to you?
G: “Like Tom has been talking about, it’s the culmination of the last few years of experience brought together, and something that to me represents a musical maturity that is hopefully still growing. Every song in the album has challenged us in a particular way, and I hope that we can keep writing music that helps us grow with it.”
T: “Probably I would refer back to the mountain analogy. It’s a long, hard grind if you want to be successful in this industry. But we still have that youthful glimmer of hope that one day more than just our friends will hear our music. It’s probably quite a nice view at the summit, we suspect!”
What was your thinking behind the album’s interlude?
G: “When we were writing ‘Ixora’, the idea was to make a sort of minimalist lo-fi sounding track, and I think we took some notes from the ever-giving Lo-Fi Beats Spotify playlist. We sort of got to the end of the song and realised we hadn’t sung anything and thought: “Cool, well that’s that then”. Also, I think it breaks up the fast moving flow of the album nicely, and gives a second to breathe before heading into ‘Daze’.”
T: “As we don’t have a drum kit at home (or a multitude of mics for that matter!) all the drums on the album are MIDI. ‘Ixora’ was the last song we wrote and I think we were just so sick of doing the same thing we wanted to try something new. So we took some inspo from Lo-Fi and decided that any percussion on the song would be entirely from sounds we could create in the room. So there’s clapping, the sound of my electric piano keys being hit with the sound turned off – I actually can’t get into my car anymore without hearing ‘Ixora’ in my head, because we used the jangling of my car keys as a sound! We worked on the song all the time thinking “OK, we’ll think of some vocals to round the whole thing off.” But when we finished the instrumental and played it through, it just sounded so complete already. So we just left it how it was and concluded it would be a nice interlude to break up the album a bit.”
As the album was recorded, mixed and produced, quite literally ‘in-house’, where have you felt like you’ve had to learn the most?
G: “I’ve learned so much from simply watching Tom do his thing while producing. I never understood why he would take hours obsessing over drum treatment, but ‘Signs’ is a sure-fire indicator that it’s all worth it, and his patience through the process was inspiring. Writing this album was a lot of work in a very short space of time, which made it necessary for us to take forced breaks from it. Learning that, sometimes, you just have to walk away and come back with a fresh pair of ears, is something we now value – this occurred regularly in the form of 2 AM Maccies runs.”
T: “Greg is so right! I definitely learned that creative fatigue is a real thing and Greg often forced me to take breaks. I can often get far too absorbed in the studio and forget that everybody else is enjoying the sun outside. Greg is a really balanced bloke who has hobbies outside of music making, which is a quality I really admire about him and it’s something I’m trying to do more of myself. Greg actually took me climbing while we wrote the album and now I’m hooked! And the 2 AM Maccies runs definitely meant a few real runs were needed once we finished up…!”
The project has a varied sound. What ideas do you have for playing the tracks live?
G: “It’ll be an interesting challenge I reckon: there are a lot of synth and electronic components to the records on the album, so figuring that out will be fun. Obviously there are a whole bunch more instruments in there than the two of us could possibly play live, which leaves doors open for live collaborative projects too!”
T: “That’s the next phase of this project! We’re itching to play live but we need to figure out how. The basis we’re going off is that our live set has to bring something more; we don’t want it to just be a live performance of what’s on the album. That’s all I’ll say for now!”
What’s next for Sleeper Service?
G: “Very soon we’ll both start up our final years of university, (in Exeter and London), but the plan is to keep writing and sending each other musical ideas. At the same time, we’ll be rehearsing our current songs and figuring out how to make a good show, so that when we come together for a live performance it’s the best it can be.”
T: “We’ve both still got one more year of uni left, but rather than letting Sleeper Service fall by the wayside, we’re definitely using this time to think about how we’re going to hit the ground running once we graduate. A whole year of prep should hopefully mean big things for the band come 2020, and it always seems to come around faster than you think…”
Soundcloud: /sleeperserviceuk Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviewed by: James Wijesinghe