Margy Noble caught up with Alex Wilson, bassist of massive Australian post-rock outfit sleepmakeswaves, to chat about their epic ‘traced in constellations’ tour, what their future holds, and bromance.
How was your gig in Wollongong last night? I’m still recovering from seeing you on Sunday at the Corner Hotel.
It was really good – it was sort of quite a cool experience to take a bunch of Americans to Wollongong for the first time. They got to see the beach, and Woolloongong Uni is a beautiful place and Jordan (bassist from The Contortionist) was like ‘Being in Jurassic Park’, with all the palm trees and everything like that – so they had an awesome time. The gig was really good too, we’re playing a nice collection of old and new stuff at the moment and it’s going down pretty well, particularly some of the older songs that we’ve dusted off. People really seem to appreciate that, which is really nice.
Absolutely, it’s a fantastic set that you’ve been touring with. Oh, and I hope you warned all The Contortionist members about drop bears as well.
Oh yeah, totally; everything’s gonna kill you, and you need to carry a jar of Vegemite on hand as drop bear repellent. I mean, we give Americans a really hard time over here in Australia, but I can tell you that The Contortionist are sharp as tacks and probably aren’t liable to fall for any of our good natured joshing.
I guess you can’t play music as technical as they do without being a little bit on the ball.
(Laughs) Definitely, it takes brains to navigate those time signatures.
And that many strings! So this is your first Australian tour with [your new guitarist] Daniel [Oreskovic] – how’s he been going?
Yeah, we got him on board at the end of last year and played a couple of shows with him – a show at Frankie’s Pizza in Sydney and then ‘Party in the Paddock’ down in Tasmania; then we just sort of dropped him in the deep end and took him on this six week US tour. That was a pretty intense thing to do to someone – it’s like, ‘Hi, you’re in this band now, live on a bus with us for six weeks. You don’t really know us, but it’ll probably be good’. It was incredibly good; he’s a total weapon of a guitarist and really nice dude. I think that for anyone coming into our band, it’s always quite an adjustment – we work very hard, there’s a lot of shows and there’s a lot of stuff that we’re doing on the down time. We’ve been doing it for many, many years; we’re used to it, but I think it takes a bit of getting used to as well.
I can imagine – especially when you guys play you come across as a really tight unit.
Yeah, I think we’ve been lucky that that musical chemistry, that personal chemistry, has never ever been a problem for us, no matter who we have in the band. I think we’ve just been very fortunate to have amazing dudes come and go. If there were ever any problems that came up between us it’s just basically to do with who has got enough time to be able to do all the things that we want to do. It’s just a pretty boring, basic thing on that level. (Laughs)
You can really see that musical and on-stage chemistry when you play – it’s palpable.
Well, what can I say – bromance is the greatest kind of romance, pure and unadulterated (Laughs). I mean, it’s a weird thing, that energy on stage. It both comes very naturally to us, but when we realised it was happening and we had this degree of energy, it became something that we purposefully wanted to explore and cultivate. It’s sort of like how a singer might work on their voice, to make it more powerful and resonant, so they can connect with the audience better during the show.
The more we’re able to do things physically, the more we’re able to express the music through the way we move. The more we get out of it and the more we’re communicating, the more we’re connecting with the audience as well. It’s definitely the intent that people pick up on the energy, and it’s always nice to hear that it’s being seen in that way, and not just as a bunch of quietly frustrated dudes wailing like idiots around on stage, you know?
That definitely wouldn’t give the same atmosphere…! Post-Rock is a hard genre to perform live, but you guys really nail it.
There’s been a few inspirations for us along the way… Post-Rock is sort of a blanket term for what we do. We all come from backgrounds of quite heavy or rock music – punk rock, underground Australian stuff, metal, things like that. In those genres, there’s not really any tolerance for putting on a lacklustre live show. My big influences when I was growing up learning to play bass, were At The Drive-In and Alexisonfire, sort of two punk bands/post-hardcore bands with really amazing, energetic performances, and I always wanted to capture that.
We were in the US a few years ago, we saw another instrumental band from Ireland, And So I watch You From Afar, who are pretty amazing. Seeing the way they performed and the energy they brought out, how captivating it was and how it connected us to the music sort of cemented for us that capturing a similar intensity was something that we definitely wanted to do. Here was this band that was doing it, so it’s definitely possible; we gave it a go.
You’ve more than pulled it off – the whole crowd was captivated. You’ve still got a bit left of this tour as well, Newcastle, Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane – where you’re playing the Triffid, what a great venue.
We checked that place out on the cog tour, which is a really amazing place – I think it’s a great testament to what is possible when a musician designs a venue – both for musicians and for the punters as well. That’ll be really cool, it’ll be a nice place to finish up there. Then just a couple more shows of the cog run in Adelaide and Newcastle.
This is your last tour headlining the Love of Cartography album cycle, which is just such a good album – all your fans are very excited for the next album to be released, that’s next year, hopefully?
Yeah, that’s definitely the plan. When we get off the road we’re done for the rest of the year and were going to hunker down and bang out the remaining material that we need. We’re about halfway through where we want to be. It’s always a really long and drawn out process for us, because the songs are hard to write, they’re long and detailed.
It takes a fair bit of brain and finger power to get through them and then we find that the more that we do this, the more albums we release, the higher our standards for these kinds of things implicitly become. There’s a lot of stuff that ends up getting left on the cutting room floor, because, as the great Lars Ulrich would say, ‘It just sounds stock to my ears’ (Laughs). In that way, we need to burn through a lot of ideas and configurations of ideas before we land on the sweet stuff. We just want to make everyone happy, Margy, that’s the idea – we’ve got to take the time to deliver the goods.
Having said that, album writing – hopefully in the studio before the year is out, hopefully releasing the record next year, and then hitting the road next year, and doing a bunch of cool stuff – which I can’t really talk about at the moment, but seems pretty exciting.
So secretive, exciting stuff on the horizon then?
Yep, that’s it. 2017 should be quite a busy year for us, which we’re all looking forward to.
That’s really fantastic news – fans will be stoked to hear that. So obviously you haven’t been testing out any of the new material on the road before the album release, unfortunately.
No – I think in the end there was so much going on that we decided to stick with cranking out the hits.
You’ve got such a great discography to choose from, and with post-rock songs that are at least seven, eight minutes in length, you’ve got to be judicious.
That’s true. The other thing is, coming back to how ornate and detailed the music is, that kind of ties your hands; sort of like there’s a lot of gap between a half-written sleepmakeswaves song and a fully-written sleepmakeswaves song. We just want to give people the most awesome, immersive experience that we can – so we always think really, really hard when we’re constructing set lists, about how we’re going to pace everything and how we’re gonna make it an experience that is really, really immersive.
That can often be really, really hard to do with the songs that haven’t quite been figured out – we don’t know them, we don’t know how they fit and what they feel like and everything. At some point we’ve got to rip that band aid off, but this time around we just wanted to give people some good, clean fun. (Laughs)
It’s really paid off with a great tour, and your support acts as well are so well chosen to add to the whole atmosphere of the event.
Yeah, I’ve been a huge Tangled Thoughts of Leaving fan for a long time; I think they’re one of the best bands in Australia, in any style, and it’s a pleasure to see them back out on the road, and back out on a tour. The Contortionist, I think, are a really, really great fit for our line-up as well. I think it’s a really nice palate cleanser between two sort of apocalyptic post-rock bands, to have some elegant, beautiful metal with these really nice soulful vocals, I think the three bands are really different.
The way the light and shade works out between the bands, I think is a really nice combination. Just, great people too – I know we’re meant to say that, but it’s actually true. (Laughs) Everyone is having a really, really good time together; that’s what we’re all about, I suppose. A lot of us are lucky enough to work doing music full time, which is cool, but at the same time no one is really in music for the prog-rock dollars.
I think that what we’ve always tried to do is just create an atmosphere where it’s worth it on the personal level and the experience level; it’s just a good time and it’s meaningful. I think with this tour, everyone is on the same page and everyone is feeling the same way; it’s a really nice thing.
You can catch the humble and talented lads of sleepmakeswaves on the last leg of their tour with The Contortionist and Tangled Thoughts of Leaving on:
August 11th | ANU Bar, Canberra
August 12th | Metro Theatre, Sydney
August 13th | The Triffid, Brisbane