They’re in the mood for espresso and cake. The last of the batch. And in the booth where The Sleep waits, it’s all about the ingredients and the vibe.
This is vocalist Laura Smith’s debut band. With straight brown hair and bangs, she wears funky reading glasses. Quietly eating around her icing, she states, “I come from a musical family, and I love to sing. I have a lot of lyrics I’ve been writing over the years, so we just decided to take some of those and put it with the sound.”
In the late ’80s, Laura was hanging out in Clifton and ran into a high school friend. Neil Smith happened to be the friend’s roommate. The two former Goth kids blended together, and they’re now hitched.
With pointed, definite features, Neil’s eyelashes fan his cheeks when he speaks fluidly, crossing and uncrossing his work boots. Neil (keys, synthesizers, electronics) has been self-producing electronic music for years. In college, he recorded originals on 4-track tape recorders.
“There was an underground cassette distribution label called Porkopolis back in the day,” he recalls. “In those days you needed a sound engineer to work with computers … when the software became invisible, that’s when I started to use computers.”
Years ago, Neil met Dave Eberhardt (guitar) through work for Crossroads church, and Dave has produced some of Neil’s solo work. With a Russell Croweish, sensitive expression, Dave’s smile holds a hint of innocence with a softhearted, kid spark. After playing with The Katie Reider Band for 10 years, he’s taking a break from live shows to concentrate on studio work.
Together they formed The Sleep, an alternative, moody, electronic trio. Ambient with an added touch of complex, sincere Jazz guitar, The Sleep clings to a dark, sexy atmosphere with spooky vocals. The Belgian band Hooverphonic’s album, A New Stereophonic Sound Spectacular, comes to mind. In “Inhaler,” a deep voice says it all: “The stereo is full of surprises.”
Neil has released six solo albums, but with The Sleep, his approach changed:
“I used to cram at it a couple of weeks and then I was done,” he says. “That was good when it was garage-like, but I realized that for me to do the record I’ve been wanting to do, I was gonna need guitars. I wanted to challenge the way I did things. This record is something I’ve been carrying around inside me for 20 years.”
Two years ago, Neil let the music pour out from his head to the keys. Sending some tracks to Dave, he also included some Nine Inch Nails and Cocteau Twins for Dave to get the intended feel.
Neil comments, “When I heard the stuff that Dave was recording, I realized that the sound was absolutely perfect, like he went into my brain and picked out what I was saying and put it on guitar.”
Dave responds, “I’m used to playing off of a singer/songwriter — instead of it being a single music bed and a single mood, it was an entire array of moods and experiences. And the big secret is that nobody up until this point has ever heard Laura sing. I’ve worked with a lot of singers. Neil brought in an early track and this voice, this voice started happening and that changed everything.”
Neil says, “The thing with Laura was I knew she could do them and I knew they would sound great, and I also wanted something different for the vocals to capture the style.”
Dave adds, “The sound of Laura’s vocal is this whole other thing than what the lyric is. It’s almost like a brush that’s painting the lyrics.”
Never in a Million Years, an 11-track, self-produced digital album, came out of the oven this January. Friends Tony Miracle (guitar, bass) and Will Crewdson (guitar) contribute as well. Professional, mysterious and powerful, these visual songs create a vast, cinematic feel, including a wicked cover of Depeche Mode’s “Blue Dress.” And Laura’s voice adds a mature, sexy sound. Portishead-style. Both artistically playful and shadowy, it builds with an intense dreaminess. In measures, songs creep.
Neil calls it a “monster of a record,” but he isn’t overly concerned with live feedback: “Everything is manipulated in some way, so for us to do it live, I don’t think that’s in the cards right now. To me, atmosphere was key. If this didn’t have a vibe, a feeling, something you could settle yourself into, we were just wasting our time. It’s one of those records where you can literally put it on over and over again all day long and not get tired of it.”
Indeed. They’re all in the mood, the mood for release. Ready to rise, they have clean plates. As for sweet cake and The Sleep, it’s all in the mix.
Check out THE SLEEP online at www.thesleep.net