Interview: Japanese Sleepers
l-r: Gemma, Neal, Alex, Andy & Stephen
I’m slurring my words and my friend, Sr Huevo* is even worse. I tell him, “Don’t fucking say a word” during the interview I’m about to do with Nottingham/Sheffield-based band Japanese Sleepers, “Not a word!” Sr Huevo shakes his head like he actually understands what I’m trying to tell him.
“All my lyrics are really sad, I find it hard to write lyrics that are…it sounds really emo doesn’t it!?” Says lead singer Andy whilst discussing his musical style.
Sr Huevo: “You need to cheer up mate”
“It’s cliché but the best artists seem to come out of heartbreak or existential crises. I went through all my songs on iTunes the other day and tried to look for songs that are happy, lyrically positive and it was out of 6,000 songs I could think of maybe like, 14. This is why my lyrics are so sad!” Continues a chuckling Andy.
Sr Huevo: “Was this Spice Girls by any chance?”
Andy: “Yeah the one Spice Girls album that I’ve got!”
In my addled mind, Sr Huevo may as well be Michael Parkinson right now. This is going to be great…
I’m interviewing half the band tonight: lead singer and guitarist Andy, percussionist Gemma and bassist Neal. Alex, who plays synths and vocals and who appears to be the spinal column of the band (to some extent) is driving back to Nottingham absolutely knackered; and Stephen, the enthusiastic cowbell-wielding violin player, is mysteriously AWOL. During the gig Stephen has elicited much debate between me and Sr Huevo mostly due to the fact that he ran off into the crowd and up the stairs at the Bowery brandishing his cowbell like it was a medal of honour (in what Gemma later describes as getting into “The spirit of the cow”).
Sloucher: “We’ve decided that he looks quite like Keanu Reeves with the hair”
Gemma: “…Oh yeah!”
Sr Huevo: “And a bit like Rafa Nadal too”
Andy: “I’ve never thought of Steven as being, I just see Steven as being…”
Sr Huevo: “Has he got a powerful forearm going down over the net??”
Andy: “Don’t put this in the interview!” (All laugh)
When I ask the band to describe their sound, Andy says “Musically I guess we try and mix genres up and we move between genres quite a lot but fundamentally it’s quite poppy deep down. Basically Alex likes indie pop and is quite involved in that down in Nottingham but I am more into electro/indie stuff. I also write pop songs so we kind of try to mix the two worlds together and so it is basically indie pop. But the idea is to do something poppy but a bit more aesthetically interesting using different sounds and ideas. I think sometimes indie pop can be a bit constricted…”
Then, inevitably I bring up the idea of labelling music as ‘twee’: “It’s just pop, it’s just pop music isn’t it? I really like pop, I like good melodies and a good hook and chorus but I don’t like pop in the sense of simplicity and unchallenging melodies….” Says Andy.
“I think if you bring a glockenspiel on stage then people will automatically think you’re twee” interjects Neal. Sr Huevo mutters something about ‘wielding cowbells’ and ‘twee banter’ but it’s mostly indecipherable by this point. “Cowbell’s not that twee!” Neal rightly points out.
Gemma: “What people don’t realise is that Neal’s favourite genre is hip hop and mine is metal”
Neal: “I feel I should tell you that that is a complete and utter lie. You like hip hop (points at Gemma) and I like Jazz! A quarter of me is Jazz and the rest is krunk”
“I’m 5/8ths krunk and 1/8th punk and then a begrudging one is twee” Gemma laughs.
When I ask the band what it’s like to live across two cities the general consensus is that it’s not an easy feat, but Neal makes a good point: “I think it’s difficult for us to keep going but it’s good for gigs and good to get our name across more than one city, because we’ve been in bands before that have been just in one city and it’s hard to get out of that city so it is good in that respect”
I ask the band to compare the music scene in Nottingham and in Sheffield; “Nottingham has lots of scenes really, it’s got quite a big metal scene and quite a big indie pop scene.” Replies Andy, “I know quite a few people in Sheffield who get annoyed at the indie pop scene here. But Sheffield has quite a weird scene, I dunno, the indie scene is kind of quite small”.
“Maybe 2/3 years ago there was a lot going on but in the last year or so it’s really really quiet, especially with venues closing down and stuff” says Neal.
“It was the post-Arctic Monkeys drop off!” Andy says, which makes us all laugh.
Sloucher: “So would you say local bands are better supported in Nottingham?”
Andy: “It’s hard to say, I think to be honest Nottingham probably has a better overall music scene and more interesting venues, there’s a lot going on and a lot of touring bands tend to play in Nottingham rather than Sheffield, which I find very odd given that Nottingham as a city is probably a bit smaller than Sheffield. Sheffield is the biggest point in South Yorkshire, there’s no real reason why people don’t come to Sheffield, there’s just something weird happening…”
Sloucher: So you feel like there’s a void?
Andy: “Yeah I’m not quite sure what it is, it’s really odd…I think it’s Leeds sapping something away from Sheffield! (All laugh). And all the venues shutting down, The Grapes, The Boardwalk…it’s odd”
I ask the band to tell me about their new EP entitled ‘Little Victories’ and distributed via Thee SPC. “Well it was recorded in the ‘summer of love’ 2010” quips Gemma.
Andy: “It was recorded ages ago but it just took a while to get released. We’ve got a whole new EP’s worth of new stuff since then. But yeah it was recorded in one of my housemate’s bedroom; it’s Nick from Screaming Maldini, he’s got a proper studio set up in his room and he produced the whole thing and arranged some bits and he had quite a big input in it…he’s great actually, absolutely fantastic and a brilliant arranger.”
Andy: “He’s great at drawing cartoons, he’s got a very distinctive cartoony style. He does loads of flyers and stuff. The artwork is quite cool as it’s cartoony but unsettling”
Sloucher: “Lastly, what music or new bands can you recommend? Krunk recommendations”
Gemma laughs, “Actually what I’ve been listening to the most recently is The Pogues and ‘The Gift’ by The Velvet Underground because it’s quite fun freaking out friends who have never heard it before. John Cale’s lovely dulcet tones talking about a man being stabbed in the head…I recommend it!”
Andy: “I recommend Screaming Maldini, a local band. Nick is such an incredible composer.”
Gemma: “Gina, the female singer in it, has got an utterly brilliant voice as well”
Andy: “Yeah she really has. Astonishing, one of the best voices I’ve ever heard.”
Neal: “They are the best band and live act in Sheffield at the moment.”
The band also recommend Cats:For:Peru, Love at Death Beach, The Jesus Loves Heroin Band and The Purgatory Players (of whom Neal and Andy are also members).
By the time the interview has come to a close I can safely say that Japanese Sleepers are lovely people who have really made me laugh, and they are clearly aware of themselves musically and mindful of the music scene(s) they are part of. I can also safely say that Sr Huevo is probably not the next Parkinson…but may be the next Oprah…or Jeremy Kyle. One can only hope.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved: ‘Sr Huevo’ is still wanted in connection with unintentional heist of a sock factory in ’96. He may have warm feet, but he’s a morally bankrupt SOB.