Forecastle Festival Feature: Interview with SLEEPER AGENT
Say what you will about Kentucky, but the fact is that it’s got things to be proud of. Or maybe those things have reason to be proud of it. Well, regardless of where the gratitude is directed, one thing is for sure: that state and its dwellers like to have a damn good time. It’s like they feed off of one another.
Take Sleeper Agent, for instance. Visit the garage-pop band’s website, and you’ll see a color blocking, black stenciled photo of them embraced by the squiggly borders of Kentucky. It’s safe to say that they’re proud to come from where they do: Good ol’ Bowling Green, the home of Cage the Elephant, The National Corvette Museum, and a rich history of railroads and namesakes.
Sleeper Agent, a group of five grungy, bearded dudes and one lovely lady, has taken this country by storm seemingly out of nowhere. With the laid back but gutsy force of a thousand garage rockers, Sleeper Agent has earned itself a spot opening up for bands like Manchester Orchestra, Circa Survive and Weezer. And now, after having attended as a festival-goer in years past, the band gets to play at its beloved Forecastle Music Festival this year.
The Blue Indian was able to talk with keyboarded Scott Gardner about the band’s past and future endeavors, what it’s like coming from a place like Bowling Green, and, lo and behold, Forecastle Music Festival.
So just for some introduction and context, tell me the story of your band all the way up to where you are now?
The band started about three years ago, but in a completely different line up. The only two members of that were Tony [Smith] and Justin [Wilson] . Basically, when they lost their rhythm section they went back to the drawing board and had heard about Alex [Kandel], had seen her sing before … they were trying to figure out what they were going to do and they thought why not give her a shot with the band.
Tony contacted Alex and they started writing together and at first he was thinking of having her play bass but her hands were too small and it didn’t work out, and so she secured the front woman position … then they got a chance to work with Jay Joyce, he’s a producer based out of Nashville, and the rest of the band sort of filled out because they needed permanent people in those positions and so Tony was in another band called Downtown Handshake and it sort of blended with what he had going with Sleeper Agent. So the six of us got to go in the studio with Jay and record Celebrasion in a weeks time, and it was pretty hectic and pretty rushed and I think that kinda shows in its energy, that it’s just kind of coming out of us.
But and then we got secured on some awesome, surreal tours since then, just in support of the record, with Cage the Elephant, Manchester Orchestra, Fun., Circa Survive, a lot of fun tours. Weezer–we got to do a couple gigs with them and we’ll get to at the end of the month again and it’s just been surreal, the tour opportunities we’ve gotten.
So how did that line up change affect the style of your songs and the song writing process?
We’re writing as the full band and the full line up so it’s just interesting to see how it sort of affects the song writing process, to be there from the beginning and have everyone involved. I guess initially it was just …we gave the skeleton a body, but this time around we’re getting to have our input from the beginning. Before Alex was ever involved, Justin was singing and it definitely had more of a punk mentality to it, not very melodic. So having Alex involved, somebody that had more control over her voice, added being able to have more melodic songs and more hooks.
Your music is just downright punk-y, garage-y fun. Where does that kind of attitude come from?
I think boredom in Kentucky and I think when you’re a kid starting out and just hoping somebody wants to hear your music, it’s kinda like you resent the audience a little bit and just say “I’m gonna have a lot of fun.” I just think that’s kinda where the “in your face” punk attitude comes from. That’s the best answer I can think of, just trying to get somebody to turn their ears to it.
So you guys seemed to hit it big sort of out of the blue. Did it feel as spontaneous as it seemed?
Definitely not. I think there’s a disconnect between the way it might look on paper or might read and the way it is in actuality. I think that we might feel the disconnect because we don’t want to settle or think that this is all there is, we just want to keep pushing forward. But there’s definitely been so many moments where I have to ask myself “why am I here? Why do I get to do this?” It’s kind of ridiculous and surreal a lot of the times, but we don’t want to get in the mindset of thinking it’s enough.
Tell me about Bowling Green. What’s it like? What’s the music scene like? Honestly, I didn’t even know a Bowling Green existed outside of the one I know here in Ohio.
It’s pretty one of a kind. I don’t know, it’s a very tight knit social group. Everybody knows each other, it’s a college town. I think if you have music as your interest and you sort of live that life style then everybody definitely knows everybody else and they’re just some unique things that happen here. Like, we had this awesome dive bar and on the Fourth of July we pretty much just had an open jam, but everyone was just way too gone for America, but we all got up there and jammed. And it was just one of those moments where, having been to so much of the states, we’ve been to 47 of the 48 continental and just, and it’s just one of those moments where that probably can’t happen very many places besides Bowling Green, Kentucky. And the music scene, I think it’s kind of incestuous because everybody plays with everybody else and everybody is always bouncing ideas around … there can always be music around me. There’s always people that play.
Does coming from a place like Bowling Green influence your music at all?
I know that some of my band mates would say it influences them by being bored and needing to create it and I think it definitely comes out maybe in our stage presence like I was talking about, trying to be in your face, trying to capture your attention. I think in Bowling Green, or just in Kentucky, you always have to make people believe in you and make people believe you’re worth listening to. In terms of the songs, I’m not sure. I think it’s definitely got a Midwest feel in that it’s very straight ahead and it’s rock n roll.
How are you feeling about playing Forecastle?
I’m so excited. Especially it being a Kentucky festival and us being a Kentucky band and just having it be something that I’ve attended before and something that I’ve really enjoyed and now I get to be a guy on stage is just another surreal moment. I’m really excited and the lineup great.
Do you feel like you’re kind of playing in your own back yard? Is the comfort level different from playing other festivals and gigs?
I think will definitely feel a home field advantage but it affects different band members differently. I love it … I get to look out and see a lot of familiar faces, I enjoy that. But for some other bandmates, it sort of makes them more nervous. But I think, at least for me, I’m going to feel like I have a home filed advantage and I’m just going to feel comfortable.
Who else are you looking forward to seeing?
I’m really hoping I get a change to see Atmosphere. I’ve liked them fort a really long time. Beach House would be great. Any chance to see Wilco is awesome. My Morning Jacket is a band that it pains me that I haven’t seen them live yet. I’ve gotten to see so many of my favorite bands live but not them and I finally get to do it this upcoming weekend so I’m really stoked about that.
What’s next for you guys? What are your future plans?
Right now, we have more downtime than we’ve had in the past couple years, so were working on the second record, starting to write that and demo that on our own and then eventually we’ll take it to that producer Jay Joyce and produce it with him. We have a couple of dates with Weezer coming up at the end of the month. The main focus right now is trying to work on the second record and hopefully gathering fans.
For this second record, are you trying to follow in the same footsteps as Celebrasion, and create it within one week, or do you want to take your time with this one?
Yeah, we’re definitely getting to … It’s going to be more thought out but that’s also kind of a double edged sword because we realize that part of Celebrasion’s charm is its spontaneity and its liveness so we don’t want to lose that and over think it but at the same time we do want to be more prepared.