SLEEPIES are a Brooklyn nice-kid-freak-punk three-piece composed of: “Josh (bum/bum/bum/croon), Max (bang/boom/bat/bat/yell), and Thomas (plunk/jangle/jangle/bark).” They semi-recently put out a self-titled full length LP (available here) and have been thrashing it up all over town. On top of that, they are three nice guys, cool cats, and interesting fellows.
Interview by Brandon Johnson
So, I know all three of you, Thomas and Max through separate sources, and Josh through the two of you, but tell me how you met, and how did SLEEPIES form?
Max: Thomas was one of the first people I met at NYU; he was my neighbor, and I believe we started talking because he was wearing a Blood Brothers t-shirt and it turned out we were both from the Bay Area. I met Josh through a friend from class, Rachel Coleman, who now books shows under the name Pop Jew and won a reality TV competition in her spare time – she’s really quite something!
Anyway, the three of us tried to do two bands before Sleepies, one of which was a dance band – it was 2003, everyone was doing it! – and the other was more lo-fi indie stuff. As they say: the third time’s the charm.
Who are your biggest influences musically and non-musically?
Max: Even musicians tend to influence me in both musical and non-musical ways, so I’ll go with the old reliables, in the order in which they became significant to me: Green Day, Nirvana, Bikini Kill, Billy Bragg, Hickey.
Outside of music, I reserve most of my admiration for Donna Haraway and Valerie Solanas.
Josh: I’ll follow Max’s lead and also list them chronologically: Nirvana ,Weezer, Pixies, Fugazi, Sleater-Kinney, Wipers. In general, I’m drawn to simplicity. A perfectly executed pop song is surprisingly difficult to put together and I value that a great deal but it’s also nice to be weirded out once and a while.
I don’t know really know about non musical influences other than my friends. I learn way more from them than I do from anybody famous.
Thomas: Josh and Max pretty much covered all the really crucial stuff, but I'll add The Urinals, The Feelies and Young Marble Giants. Recently I've been all about Beck's album One Foot in the Grave and The Gun Club's Fire of Love. One thing that I love about our band is that we all grew up on the same foundation of bands (Green Day, Nirvana, Weezer, etc...), but our tastes diverge in a lot of idiosyncratic ways that I think really help our songwriting.
Your new self titled LP, SLEEPIES, is available in both a 200 copy, hand-screened version and as a digital download. Who made the art for the album?
Max: The art was pilfered from the plaque designed by Carl and Linda Salzman Sagan to accompany the Pioneer space shuttle and indicate to any alien life what we were about as a species. I first saw it last spring in a course reader for a class I was teaching, where queer theorist Michael Warner presented it as an example of American society’s pervasive heteronormativity – and it is, all respect to Carl Sagan, unfortunate that the picture he wanted to paint of human life on Earth was heterosexual, white, able-bodied and hairless. In a bit of serendipity, we played a show at Brooklyn house-show venue Dead Herring a few weeks later only to find the same image pasted to their bathroom door.
Josh: I’ve always found it particularly appropriate considering we feel like aliens most of the time.
With digitalilty entering the field of book and magazine publishing, things are getting more polarized – on one end the limited edition, object-oriented collectibles and on the other de-materialized forms purely for readership. But I guess this has been going on in the recording industry for a while. Care to comment on how the new LP fits into this scenario? Will someone be filthy rich down the line if they buy one of the 200 print records now and sell it on Ebay in 20 years?
Max: I certainly hope not! I was always made uneasy by vinyl fetishists. To be straightforward, the LP/digital download scenario was merely a way to split the difference between what we all grew up with (i.e. buying physical LPs and CDs) and the reality of how people primarily find out about bands these days (via 1s and 0s, in the ether-cloud). Given my nonchalance here, it may seem somewhat hypocritical that the LPs are individually numbered. That to me, though, has more to do with preserving something amateurish about the whole operation – that we did this ourselves, in the most expedient way possible! That said, if anyone wants to re-release it as 2 one-sided 180 gram LPs in a gatefold sleeve, call us.
Josh: While I’m still totally thrilled that anybody would listen to our music in any format, I also wanted to give people a reason to buy the physical copy. It was really important to us to make something that we felt was special so we spent a month in my living room screen printing the jackets, designing the insert, stamping the LPs, etc while watching the entirety of our modest DVD collection Hand numbering the records was a small badge of accomplishment for doing it completely on our own and I think it’s really cool that we get to share that with anybody who buys the record. It doesn’t really matter to me how much money it ever makes (but that also doesn’t mean I’d be apposed to 2 one-sided 180 gram LPs, either).
Thomas: Hand made objects are so rare in our lives these days, so I think it's really meaningful when people take the time to make something themselves. I think anyone who buys records --- especially people who buy albums from small local bands that will never become collectors items --- appreciate having something handmade, and really value having a relationship to the music they own that goes beyond a 99 cent download or 2 gigs of records they found on Captain Crawl. It's great that we have our music available online, but it's also kinda cool that acquiring a physical copy requires some sort of interaction with us: you're either coming up to talk after a show, or emailing us personally about getting a copy. One amazing thing about a small-ish music scene is that it creates these mini economies that work on a very human, person to person scale. Just like in the olden times!!
What do you like about New York, music scene and otherwise, and what do you hate about it?
Max: I like that every touring band comes through here, and I like that there’s a shit-ton of DIY, all-ages spaces. I could do without the city’s overarching aesthetic sensibility. It always seemed to me to be an a priori truth that the best music comes – unless you’re Bruce Springsteen or the Birthday Party – from the tension between anthemic, fist-pumping shit and weirdo experimentation (see: Hickey, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, The Raincoats, et. al.). New York, for all its hundreds of thousands of earnest and well-intentioned band-things, almost exclusively deals in one or the other side of that equation: you either get retread indie-pop/rock gestures, or insufferable yelping with occasional electronic farts. Only a few bands/artists seem interested in aiming for that sweet spot.
Josh: The signal to noise ratio here is pretty bad. There are a million bands, a million places to see live music, and a whole slue of bullshit hierarchies which make it really difficult to get anyone to listen to you. However, despite the countless awful shows we’ve played to empty rooms in some of the lamest bars in New York, we’ve also met some amazingly wonderful people and played the sorts of shows that I dreamed about playing when I first got into punk rock. With all the nonsense that we have to endure being in bands in New York, the weirdos all seem to find each other and the result is really fun. It’s nice to fall in love with bands not because we “fit together” but because we are genuinely excited about what they are doing. I’d always prefer to see a show with bands that share the same enthusiasm rather than simply sharing the same reverb pedal.
Thomas: I'm always really inspired by all the people who are doing DIY projects to help create a welcoming music/art community in Brooklyn. In a city with so much red tape and so much indifference, it's cool so many people are dedicated to do things on their own terms. DBA, Showpaper, Dead Herring, Market Hotel, Famous Accountants Gallery in Bushwick and Newtown Radio are just a few examples.
What do I hate? I hate that the Charleston no longer serves free pizza, and that the $1.25 place on the corner of North 7th and Bedford charges $2.00 for their slices after 8pm Fri-Sun. For the record: that pizza is balls and barely worth the $1.25 to begin with.
In general, Brooklyn is pretty great. Most of my gripes have to do with pizza.
I happen to know a couple of you have other things happening on the side. Care to speak about art, philosophy, etc. and how that fits in with your music?
Max: You have outed me as a philosophy PhD student, which I understand is truly one of the most despicable things a person can be. But let me try to persuade you! I became interested in philosophy, I think, because I was so in love with and fascinated by punk rock that I wanted to understand it, that I felt like I needed to read about questions of collectivity and oppositional subculture. While my interests now trend towards the more arid – what, no one wants to talk about the transcendental unity of apperception? – I try to keep all of this in mind. Hell, Bikini Kill is a huge reason I ended up pursuing feminist philosophy as my primary field of study!
I tend not to overthink the influence of my academic work on punk or music in general, because that generally only leads to blowhards making grandiose proclamations about how their atonal improvised noise band is a perfect example of Deleuzian deterritorialization. These people are, I think self-evidently, clowns and charlatans, and are not to be trusted. I will say that my continued involvement in punk has kept alive an appreciation for its utter ridiculousness – which people forget at the risk of succumbing to a fate worse than crust bands. I see a lot of that same ridiculousness in the academic study of philosophy – seriously, we’re getting professional training to teach people about this nonsense? – and it helps me not take myself, I think, too seriously.
Josh: I used to do a lot of drawing but became disenchanted with it after studying animation in college (you think you like drawing until you draw 1000 nearly identical pictures for 2 minutes of footage that still looks like shit). Helping make our LPs, shirts, flyers, etc. has let me continue to make art in a way in which I can really enjoy it again as well as try out new techniques. If not for our first run of t-shirts, I wouldn’t know how to screen print. Next I’m going to think of a band related reason to learn voodoo.
Thomas: I also have a bit of a background in visual art, so things like album covers and t-shirts are always things we think a lot about. I think because of our backgrounds and other interests we're a very self aware band. Not like we're self-conscious or are trying to please a particular group, but in the sense that we always spend a lot of time thinking about how things will come across and how they will be read. Ultimately, we're a punk band, so the most important thing for us is playing music that is fun to play and not taking anything too seriously. But, there is definitely a very analytic side to our writing process that is probably a product of sitting through too many critiques and lectures about "isms."
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Rex Ryan, Sleepies Head Coach: