Sleepmakeswaves are a passionate and ever changing instrumental storm. The post-rock band move from dark Sigur Ros-like crescendos to spacious electronic soundscapes and then to clean melodic riffage all in a single song. It really is something to experience. At one point the monstrous clatter of metal-on-metal instrumentation will have you broken, and then at another, you will be mended by the nursing-notes of some carefully fashioned prog rock lullaby.
The boys are touring monsters, having just come off a massive 55-date tour across the world. But, the constant touring and consistent record releases have not been for nothing. Sleepmakeswaves received a slew of nominations, for their most beautiful release to date, Love of Cartography. The album represents a sonic shift in a band that has always been dynamic and chameleonic.
With the addition of electronic music, they have added greater texture and width to their sound-spectrum. Evidently, their experimentation with the normative instrumental rock framework has resulted in greater musical intricacy and subtlety, and given the band an almost uncategorisable individuality.
We talk to guitarist Otto Wicks-Green about the band’s hectic touring schedule, the sacrifices art demands, and their new outlook on music and writing.
Watch: Sleepmakeswaves – Great Northern
Music Feeds: Hey man. How you going?
Otto Wicks-Green: Not too bad. I caught myself some kind of man flu. So I have been a bit under the weather the past few days. I got myself some codral original formula and things are looking up.
MF: That is excellent. The man flu is a very fatal disease. So you guys have just come off a massive 55 show international tour in support of Love of Cartography. What was it like – the continuous and consistent self-torture?
OW: Haha. It was the most intense thing I think I have ever done in my life. When I look at this year, I see that it is broken up into two halves like two sides of a coin. At the start of this year, we started rehearsals for the tour in February and essentially kept playing until mid-June at the final Metro show.
It spanned continents, emotional and mental states, and various physical obstacles. What was it like? It was amazing. It was brilliant. Things age so well. It’s like wine, you know, it feels better and better the more you look back on it. At this point, with only a gap of a few months, I look back on it and I just remember all the good times – touring with these rad bands in Europe and this surreal experience in china.
MF: What was so surreal about your experience in China?
O: It was unbelievable that we could play there. We got to play to 600 people in Shanghai. We didn’t think that anyone had heard of us. It is a developing live music scene there, and you can tell that it is just going to get bigger and bigger. We really felt like we were on the cusp of something there. It is going to be somewhere that we can go back again and again and do better and better. It was so exciting.
That section of the tour came at the end of the international part, and it was this really energising and optimistic way to finish what was a pretty arduous bunch of shows. So it was a really nice note to finish on, that left a really good taste in our mouths. We also got taken really good care of. It is such an exotic place to go, in the sense that it is so different to what we are used to here. The live music scene is really in its infancy, especially for international bands. So it was both challenging and exhilarating.
MF: It’s funny that you used the word ‘infancy’, because you guys are moving into your musical ‘adulthood’. It has been really interesting to see the development of your sound. It has been interesting to see the development of your live performance. But just specifically, in reference to the live tour, how did it affect the band artistically and collaboratively?
OW: Being in that close proximity with the same bunch of people is always going to be challenging. We are lucky that we have been together for a while, we know what makes each other tick, we know when to give each other space and we know when to ask ‘what’s up’. But, It was really tough.
Alex and I went through these really painful relationship breakups over the tour. News of that kind of trickled through while we were away. At its worst, you feel kind of detached from life and reality, and you just want to get home. So you go through that; it is part of the process I think.
But what we realised at the end of it, coming out of it, was that this musical journey we have taken, was the one really stable thing in our lives that we can go back to and feel fulfilled in.
It’s funny because at the end of that whole bunch of shows, I was so looking forward to having a break and just soaking up normal life again and basking in that. But, In about two weeks, I was like, ‘man, I am so bored’.
So Alex and I have spent a lot of time writing over the last couple of months. We are full of this new outlook on the band. It’s hard to describe. I guess we both had a rough start to the year, and we are focusing and channelling that feeling.
That feeling is getting into the songwriting now. The tour was part of that too. It was intimately part of the trajectory of our lives at the start of this year. So in that way it obliquely affected our art, but not in any literal way.
We have always loved playing live. I guess, Love of Cartography was in many ways inspired by the live stuff. We wanted to play an uplifting, energetic bunch of songs. But, I think this next record is going to be a lot darker and introspective. We are just exploring different tunings and different sounds. We are both really energised and excited about this.
Listen: Sleepmakeswaves – Something Like Avalanches
MF: We will get to talking about this new outlook and perspective. As a small genre prog, post-rock band you have managed to do some pretty massive things. You raised over thirty grand through crowd-funding for love of cartography. You were nominated for an Aria. But, you have just talked about the losses and sacrifices you had to make to maintain this life as a ‘suffering’ artist. Has it been worth it?
OW: Absolutely. Throughout all of this, every difficult moment is met with an equal and opposite wonderful, rewarding moment. This has happened time and time again during the tour, and over the course of our Sleepmakeswaves journey. We were all in bands before this band, we had all done a bunch of stuff and had always focused ourselves on music.
But in a way this was the band that slowly picked up enough steam so that we could achieve a lot of what we never thought we could do. We played at the metro. We played in China. We toured Europe. It was just bucket list stuff for us. It was almost like, ‘Where do we go now?’ This was all we ever hoped for.
What it has given us is that we met such inspiring people, you know, the bands that we toured with, especially the ones that have gone even further than us in their musical journey. Their hunger for music has made me hungrier. I really want to push our current projects and other projects as far as they can go.
MF: I found this tweet. Hearing the way that you speak, I suspect that it was written by you. It reads, ‘Writing begins slowly, but heavy and pretty, like an instrumental glacier’.
OW: Haha. Yeah, that’s me.
MF: I can hear your verbosity. I mean eloquence. Anyway, so you are working, writing and fashioning this new outlook. What is happening right now? What are you seeing that is new? What of ‘the old’ is now gone?
OW: What I am seeing is a few things. I see the influences from what we are listening to and what we are digging. For me, It’s listening to our friends Skyharbor, who have dropped this rad new single, and the whole world of that sort of technical and rhythmic music.
We toured with Karnivool and Tesseract, and bands like that. So I have been listening to more technical, prog rock stuff. Its called ‘djent’ in the industry. I guess I am just addicted to these wanky genre names.
Another thing I am seeing is landscapes, and their relationship to what it means to be sleepmakeswaves. I think that we are tied to landscapes, at least conceptually. Especially the first long-playing record we released called …And So We Destroyed Everything.
I feel so much younger when I talk about it. I was 21 when we got that out. It was a long time ago, and there was an Australian landscape on the front cover that we wanted to celebrate. I also feel like Love Of Cartography had this international vibe; there was this sense of maps, covering ground and journey.
In this new bunch of writing, I am seeing a much more austere landscape. I am seeing the antarctic, the polar regions, ice….
MF: You’re getting all Nordic.
OW: Yeah. I am getting all Nordic on this. You know, that terrible beauty, that inhospitableness, which is beautiful from a distance. I think that in our own ways, we kind of had to traverse that to get to where we are this year. It is a reflection on the hardship, a looking back on everything and finding beauty in all the heaviness.
Listen: Sleepmakeswaves – The Obstacle Is The Path
MF: Yeah. Your sound has gone through different permutations. In its earlier forms it was wry, tawny and almost ugly. Don’t get me wrong, It still had the softness and beauty that a lot of post-rock has. And then you guys added the subtle electronic underlay which made it lighter and more colourful.
I think that it created a greater sense of emotional gradation. So sonically, right now, what are you sounding like? Are you returning to that gloomy, melancholic sound? Or are you doing something different again?
OW: Yeah. We are always taking it to some next level. We get bored with the older things that we have done. We are always, always, always moving onto something else. I mean, it is really early days. We have just been compiling moments and bits of pieces that we think have legs. There is a lot further to go. But, it is the energy of Love of Cartography mixing with that kind of intensity of the records that were before it.
It is some combination of those elements. We want to get across some heaviness within the framework of our technical musicality, you know, our progressive rock sound. I am not sure that I am doing a good job of describing it. I don’t think I have it straight in my head yet. It’s just kind of a feeling.
I am trying to compile these influences and slam that into how we have been feeling emotionally, just to see what comes out of it. There is of course the growing electronic influence of Alex, our electronics guy, who has grown in his ability. It has become a real differentiator for us. It will certainly continue to be.
MF: It’s interesting to see your growing relationship with electronic music. It is really an excellent additive. Specifically, how did it start and what is it becoming as a fundamental element in your musical ensemble?
OW: I wasn’t in the band from the very beginning. I joined about 5 and a half years ago in 2010. The band had released a couple of EPs before I jumped in. But, it always started as an ornamentation. The songs would be written and then the electronics would sit on top of it as a sort of final layer.
The idea was that the songs would stand up in and of themselves even if the electronics weren’t there. So in the beginning electronic parts just brought out or accentuated some textural element in the song. But, I think that electronic music has shifted and pivoted into being a driving force and an emotional focal point in our songs. This is especially the case with where we are going now. We are creating some hectic, sinister atmospheres by exploring electronic textures. We let that lead the way for the guitar parts, and the general vibe of the song.
So definitely for me, I have felt a pivot. It is exciting to push that part of the song because it pushes us musically. You know, I should learn how to play a keyboard for this next album so that I can incorporate it. It helps us make this next record reach a higher level in terms of songwriting and performance, which is where we are always pushing ourselves to be.
Listen: Sleepmakeswaves – one day you will teach me to let go of my fears
MF: In terms of this new record, do you have any new collaborations happening at the moment?
OW: No. It has just been Alex, I and the other guys. It is still in early days. I am not going to discount the potential of collaboration down the line. We just feel so energised by this album and its potential that we haven’t really thought about collabs at this point.
There are a few people that I have talked to from our touring history who might be interested in collaborating with us in the future on some live stuff. But for now, it’s just us. But we worked with other people on the previous album and it was great. So it is definitely something we will explore.
MF: Awesome. So we are getting closer and closer to the Festival of the Sun. You guys must be pretty excited about that. How long has it been since you last played?
OW: It was mid-June. So it has kind of been 2 and a half months now. It is the longest break we had in about three or four years. We definitely needed a break. If I had a show a few weeks ago in like mid-august or something, I think I would be in a very different mindset. I would be like, ‘Aww man, I need a break from touring’. But, the time of really helps and makes you realise what is personally important. You know, you see your identity and your purpose. So we are really excited.
MF: Do you reckon that your small hiatus will make your live performance a little bit different?
OW: Man, I hope that it is not going to be rustier. I just hope that we can get back into the rehearsal studio and just fire back on all cylinders. God knows what kind of state we are going to be in when we hit again in a couple of months.
Hopefully the muscle memory will be there when we try to get the ball rolling again. All I know is that by the end of the last round of shows, we were so tired and just all on the same wavelength. So hopefully we haven’t lost that, you know, that one wavelength.
Sleepmakeswaves will be playing at Festival Of The Sun next month, get deets and tickets here.