INTERVIEW: Five Minutes With … Sleep Party People

Sleep Party People, the musical project of Brian Batz, have recently released their new album Lingering via Joyful Noise Recordings.

Featuring collaborations with The Antlers’ Peter Silberman & Air vocalist Beth Hirsch, the release is their fourth studio album. Described as Batz “shedding his guard to create some of the most personal and accessible material of his career,” the album is shaped by his use of eccentric musical instruments, (including a vintage organ) as well as an appearance of a DIY gospel choir.

We chatted to the multi-instrumentalist about his songwriting and his influences.

Hi there, how are you and what are you up to today?
I’m good, thanks. I’m actually doing some more interviews today and then I’m off to a rehearsal later. We’ve just started playing the new album in the rehearsal room and it’s so much fun and it sounds really good too.

To those not familiar with you, how would you describe your sound?
My sound has developed a bit since I released my first album in 2010. Back then it was a bedroom-project. Very lo-fi and with a lot of focus on manipulated vocal sounds and because I only had a drum machine, piano, one synth and an acoustic guitar, it had a very certain sound. Really dreamy, but not always pleasant dreams though. Always with a nightmare lurking from the shadows. Since then I’ve been trying to take the music to different places and now it’s more organic and band-like. Also because the latest two albums have been recorded in different studios, which gives it a more grand and wide sound. Still with a touch of dream pop and shoegaze though.

What are the 5 albums that have influenced you the most?
Wow. That’s a very difficult question. I’m a nerdy music lover, so I’m into a lot of different music, which is why is hard to only pinpoint 5 albums. Well, let me give it a try. Today’s 5 favorites:
Cocteau Twins – Four Calendar Cafe
Radiohead – Kid A
Aphex Twin – Richard D. James
David Bowie – Scary Monsters
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guébrou – Ethiopiques, vol.21: Emahoy (solo)

Which other artists are you into at the moment and why?
My new favorite album is A Crow Looked At Me by Mount Eerie. Perhaps the most heartbreaking album I’ve ever heard. It’s an album where you have to be in a certain mood when you listen to it. You have to embrace his devastating story about him losing his wife to cancer. But the lyrics are seriously well-written and maybe the most lonesome ones I’ve heard in years.
I’m also very fond of the score for the film Jackie by Mica Levi. The arrangements for the strings are amazing and very inspiring. I’ve always been a huge fan of her work. Such a great talent.

Are there any key pieces of equipment that you are using to define your sound?
On my first two albums I used a chain consisting of a keyboard, kaoss pad and a guitar pedal to create my vocal sound. And that vocal sound actually became the trademark for my sound, but on the third and new album I’ve turned down that effect and focused more on weird guitar and keyboard sounds. While I was working on the new album I bought an old stringer/arp synth called Siel Cruise. I bought it very cheap and ended up using it all almost every song. I’m also a very heavy user of the Eventide DSP4000 and Roland Chorus Echo 501. These machines are all over my recent album.

What would you say some of the challenges artists face today in the music industry?
I think I speak for most artists when I say it’s a difficult thing to keep insisting on making a full-length album these days, because of the industry pushing for more singles and not focusing that much on the creativity and exploration when you as an artist are working on the album. This leaves us in very weird place, because personally I absolutely love to dig in deep and find and explore new ways of writing songs and gathering them in the “perfect” order on the album. You know… to make a whole piece instead of only releasing individual songs. This is too bad, because I think a lot of people are missing out on a great journey when they only focus on the singles and not on the whole album. Also I think there’s a huge problem in how we listen to music today. We honestly don’t give music a change anymore. We expect to get blown away right away when we put on a new album from an artist we love and if we’re not satisfied right away, we don’t give that album another chance or at least I think that a lot people can relate to this. I remember when Radiohead released OK Computer. I was a huge Radiohead fan at that time and still is, but when I first listened to that album I was really disappointed and I could barely understand anything coming out of my speakers. But because we had a different way of listening to music back then, I gave it a change and I honestly think I listened to that album over 20 times before I started to understand it and slowly it grew on me and today it’s one of my all-time favorite albums. This is what I mean. We don’t do that anymore and that’s very unfortunate. I can relate to this problem myself. Being both a vinyl and Spotify listener, I tend to forget to really give an album the listen it deserves. But I’m trying to always remind me of how I used to listen to albums, which is why I buy vinyls, because here you’re forced to listen to the songs from start to end unless you want to get up from the comfortable chair and skip songs manually. Never happens. 🙂

Where do you gather songwriting inspiration?
From all over actually. Everything from everyday life experiences, watching movies, reading books and of course listening to music. Buying new gear is an instant inspiration though. I always buy new stuff for the studio before I start working on a new album. That’s very important to me.

Take us through your songwriting process. Are there any particular steps you take when putting your music together?
I always record small sketches on my phone using the dictaphone. Mostly me playing the piano, guitar or even singing acapella into the mic. After that I take the sketches into my studio and start building layers. I’m always trying to aim for a specific sound right away. I’m not that huge a fan of replacing sounds later on in the process, so I always use a lot of time on making the sounds how I want them to sound before recording them into Pro Tools. In the beginning of the process I always use electronic beats or samples to give it the right feel and later on in the process I’ll replace the beat with real drums or maybe even keep the beats and add the drums in the mix. Before mixing the song I add the final vocal takes and yeah, then I mix it. Usually I don’t use more than 8 hours on a mix, because I try not to keep on changing the mix and adding stuff. Keep it simple. That’s my motto. Or at least I try to keep it as simple as possible.

What’s the best gig you have ever done and why?
I think I’ve played a lot of great and “best” gigs in my career, but playing Clockenflap Festival in Hong Kong was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve played. Right before we got on stage my effects for my vocal stopped working so I had to sing without them and these effects are very important to the sound of Sleep Party People, so I was kind of bummed out, but as soon as we got back on stage I just felt energized and I honestly thought “fuck those effects”, I’m going to blow this place uuuuup. And so we did…haha.. The crowd was huge and the energy between us was outstanding. And I also stagedived for the first time, which was very fun.

And the worst?
Back in 2012 we played at Eurosonic Festival in Netherlands and everything just went totally wrong during the concert. Our monitor sound guy did a horrible job and he didn’t understand any of our requests during the concert, so we basically played a whole concert without hearing each other and I just saw all the important people leaving the show and after 10 minutes the venue got really empty. I was really devastated after the concert, because I knew we just blew our chances in terms of working with some very competent people in the business. And it didn’t stop there. On our 12 hour drive home back to Denmark our car engine broke down and we were left on the German highway for 5 hours in minus degrees before we could get the help we needed. By far the most fucked up gig in my career. Today we laugh at this trip to Eurosonic but I can assure you that we were not happy when we finally came back to Copenhagen. Tired and extremely exhausted.

If you weren’t a musician what would you be?
I’ve thought about that a lot and I honestly don’t have a clue. Don’t know… maybe work as a teacher or a social worker.

If you could perform alongside any other band or artist, living or dead, who would it be?
I would say Scott Walker or Brian Eno. Both two people I deeply admire.

Do you have any particular gigs or festivals that you dream about playing?
I would love to play at Primevera Festival in Barcelona. Great festival in a great city.

Follow Sleep Party People and buy the album here. //