PHOTO CREDIT: Denis Morton
Sleep Party People
THERE are few artists as compelling and consistent as…
Sleep Party People. Brian Batz is the multi-instrumentalist behind the project and one of the most restlessly inventive musicians working today. I ask about the ‘unusual’ sound behind the single, Fainting Spell, and what we can expect from the new album, Lingering (out 2nd June). Sleep Party People gives me insight into the recording process and how it differs to 2014’s Floating. I get an insight into themes of anxiety and stage fright – a definite Muse for Fainting Spells – and what it was like working with Antlers’ Peter Silberman and Air vocalist Beth Hirsch on the new record – the latter, of which, was a huge coup and unexpected treat.
I quiz Sleep Party People about Copenhagen, the base for Sleep Party People, and what the music scene is like there. Curious to know more about Batz and his live band’s attire – where they adore rabbit masks and have a general woodland vibe going on – and whether that offers protection and some form of comfort. I learn more about the albums that have inspired Sleep Party People’s creator and whether, as Batz performed the parts to Lingering himself, it was easy getting the record down with fewer bodies and outside voices.
Hi, Brian, how are you? How has your week been?
Been really good so far, thanks.
I’m really excited these days because we are slowly approaching the release date of my fourth album, Lingering.
I’m counting the days now….
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
Well, I started working on Sleep Party People back in 2008 because I was tired of working in band constellations and compromising on everything regarding the songwriting. I’ve, since, released three albums (2010, 2012 and 2014) and now I’ll release my fourth album, Lingering, on June 2nd. The genre is hard to describe but it’s a blend of Dreampop, Shoegaze; Slowcore and Noisepop. I guess.
When I play live with my band we all wear homemade bunny masks which, together with the manipulated vocal sound, has become the trademark of Sleep Party People.
Can you reveal the background to the track, Fainting Spell, please?
The whole track basically wrote itself, because of the piano loop, which I recorded while my old upright piano had too many broken strings – a sound which, to me, was inspirational and kick-started the songwriting process of this track. The lyrics are about how I as a child experienced social anxiety and how it felt to be afraid of the unknown.
I clearly remember every time I had to talk in front of the whole class: I nearly fainted and I always forgot the words. My mind and memory always went totally blank. I really hated school. It was really an issue for me. It’s actually funny how you take that part with you into your adult life. I’m still not a fan of speaking in front of too many people.
I believe whilst recording that track, you had a piano ‘mishap’ – broken strings and a high-pitched sound. Was it, in hindsight, quite a good thing you had the chance to ‘experiment’ and get something odd-sounding and beautiful?
Yeah. As I’ve mentioned, it was actually a really good thing the piano had these broken strings. I remember playing on it and instantly felt inspired to make a loop using these untuned notes on the piano.
As I’ve mentioned, it was actually a really good thing the piano had these broken strings. I remember playing on it and instantly felt inspired to make a loop using these untuned notes on the piano.
The notes sounded more like bells than a usual piano – and its eerie tonal-quality gave it a very specific and certain mood – which was very appealing to me.
I love when things like this happen in the studio.
It forces you to think differently because you have to embrace its flaws and broken sound – which is a very different process from writing a song in a more traditional way.
Lingering is out on 2nd June. What are the main themes and objectives of the album? How does it differ from your previous work would you say?
The album was written over a two-year process in the studio, and, in that period of time, I experienced different inspirations and moods – which is why the album has a lot of different themes and sonic explorations. Mainly I wanted to create a really organic and airy album which had a more band-like feel to it and I had that approach throughout the whole process. It was maybe the only dogma rule I had, but as everyone knows, rules are only there to be changed. So, during the making of the album, I went through a lot of searching in terms of how I, sonically, wanted it to feel and sound.
I tried a lot of different things in the studio before I started mixing the songs. On this album, I also spend a lot more time on the lyrics that I’ve ever done before.
For some songs, it took weeks to finish the lyrics, which is very new to me. I’m used to basically write the lyrics while recording the final vocals or right before I’m recording the cue vocal. But, this time, I needed to enter a deeper and more heartfelt lyrical approach. I wanted to push myself further than I usually do.
The album has different themes, but, basically, I wanted to write about who I am and what shaped me to be the person I am today – but also touch lyrical themes such as love and the refugee issue, which we still are experiencing today – and how people react differently to this devastating worldwide problem.
I do know Fainting Spell has that childhood anxiety and sense of stage fright. Was it, then, quite a daunting experience getting into music and being centre-stage? Has music given you that confidence you lacked during childhood?
Funny enough, music has always been my mental helper. Call it my personal psychologist if you will. Since I’ve been thirteen-year- old, I’ve been playing music in front of an audience and I’ve always enjoyed it big time. But, back then, I was never the front guy in the bands I played in. I often ‘only’ played the guitar or drums, so I could kind of hide; which suited me perfectly. But, when I had to perform as the lead singer and main guy in Sleep Party People, I was terrified. My first concert with Sleep Party People was a support gig for The Antlers in Copenhagen and I remember almost puking and shaking before entering the stage to play the songs for the first time.
I’m happy I had the mask on, though, because that gave me some kind of comfort and I could almost enter an actor’s role instead of being myself – which, at that time, made me go through the concert without having a heart attack.
Haha. Today, I’m actually enjoying every second when I’m on stage. I guess I’ve just played so many gigs since that I’ve finally come the conclusion that it’s just a concert and it’s actually just fun to play the music in front of an audience who really adores what I’ve created so far.
You perform the album, Lingering, entirely by yourself. Do you like that sense of control and is easier or harder – to create so consistently – with no outside voices?
Yeah. I’ve performed almost everything myself although I had Anders Bach from Ice Cream Cathedral to play all the drums on the album. Usually, I play the drums myself, but this time, I wanted my pro friend to do it – and I’m really happy he wanted to help out because he really adds that last drive and sound to the album.
Normally, I want to do everything myself because I feel I’m capable of creating what I hear inside my head if I’m alone.
If I were to explain it to someone else I think the outcome would’ve become somewhat different and that’s not what I’m aiming for. I actually enjoy working alone instead of working together with someone else – especially when it’s my own project; although I’m aware of the danger by doing so because you, sometimes, hit the wall and come to a dead-end. This happened during the making of Lingering several times, but I guess that’s just the part of being creative.
Sometimes you have good and bad days and you just have to embrace that part. I was lucky to have Anders Bach (Ice Cream Cathedral) and Jacob Haubjerg (Luster) as co-producers on this album and they really helped me throughout the whole process – and so did my manager Christian Taagehöj. Every day I emailed them the stuff I was working on in the studio and then they commented and kept me going and inspired. They were basically the wind under my wings. So to speak.
Saying that, you collaborated with The Antlers’ Peter Siberman and Air vocalist, Beth Hirsch. What was it like working with them and what do they bring to the album?
Peter helped me create a very nice choir part for the song, Dissensions (feat. Luster). When I wrote the sketch for this song, I could hear his vocal in there somewhere; so I wrote him an email to ask if he wanted to record some vocals for the track. He said yes and, later, he mailed the tracks to me and I was mentally blown away by his choir arrangement. I’ve always been a fan of his work so it’s a great honour to have him featured on the album.
Beth actually wrote me an email after hearing my third album, Floating. She asked me if I wanted to collaborate and to be completely honest, I was so star-struck when I received her email. I’ve been a huge fan of hers and especially her vocal performances on Moon Safari (by Air). So, this was a dream-come-true and the timing was perfect because I was actually working on Lingering when she wrote to me. The process went extremely smooth. She recorded a sketch on her Dictaphone and then I worked alone on that idea for a while – where I interpreted her sketch a bit and recorded everything until I was ready to send the song to her.
I got her approval and she really liked how it turned out. Thank God!
Then, we started modifying the arrangements and then she recorded the vocals in Porto, Lisbon – and later on, I mixed the song. We’re both very excited about how our collaboration went.
Floating is your 2014 album. What have been the main changes and developments in your music in the past three years?
Floating was a concept album; an album I wanted to write, record and produce during my one-month stay in San Francisco – and, afterwards, I used a small amount of time overdubbing parts in Copenhagen (and then mixed it). So, that album took me maybe two months to make and that was a fun and very intuitive process. So, when I had to make Lingering, I wanted to do the opposite. I wanted to really dive in the process and use a lot of time to write, record; produce and mix the album.
I’ve, basically, spent more than two years writing the songs and lyrics on this album – which, to me, means it’s a more delicate and thoughtful album than Floating. Not that it’s better because of that. It’s just different because of the different working process.
Copenhagen is your base. What is the music scene like there and is it as active as, say, London?
The music scene in Copenhagen is better than ever before.
We have so many great artists right now and more Danish acts are being signed to great labels around the world. So, it seems as if the eyes are on Denmark right now. Or at least I feel so.
On the road, you have your five-piece band and wear rabbit masks on stage – almost a Wind in the Willows version of Slipknot. What is it like performing with the guys and why are masks worn on stage?
Haha. Yeah. I hear that Slipknot reference a lot. I’m honestly really happy and I feel privileged to have my best friends with me on tour. They help me to deliver a great performance which sounds even more dynamic and explosive than the albums – and that’s something I appreciate very much. To me, it’s important to have people you like around you when you tour a lot – otherwise, I would go insane and become a sad bunny.
Speaking of a bunny, we wear the masks because when I started the Sleep Party People project I wanted to hide behind a mask when I played live – and on the first album cover there’s a boy standing in a hallway wearing a bunny mask. Back then, I thought it could be a strong trademark for the project to wear that mask on stage. We still wear the masks on stage although the sound has developed quite a bit. It’s the Sleep Party People trademark.
Anxiety and dealing with stress are themes on your latest album. Do you hope your music will help those facing anxiety? How instrumental has music been when it comes to tackling your own psychological constraints?
If I can help anyone dealing with anxiety or stress, that would be absolutely beautiful. But it’s not my goal at all. I write about these themes because it helps me to get them out of my own system.
I guess it’s just like writing a very personal diary. But, if someone out there can relate to my lyrics and find comfort in them that’s (just) even better.
Are there any tour dates approaching? Can we see you in the U.K. soon?
We’re currently planning a tour in Europe and U.K. is a part of that tour. Looking (very much) forward to be back on tour.
If you each had to select the three albums that have meant most to you; which would they be and why?
My Bloody Valentine by My Bloody Valentine
Because of its woozy and different-produced sound. That album really formed me as a guitarist and taught me that there are no rules whatsoever; in terms of how a guitar should sound or how clear your vocal and lyrics should be.
Scott 3 by Scott Walker
An album which instantly touched me.
All the lyrics and production are just flawless. He’s, in my opinion, one of the greatest singers of all time.
Third by Portishead
This is my favourite album of theirs. I love the obvious Silver Apples influences – which they modify and make into their own sound. It’s all just so analog and rich-sounding.
Are there any new/upcoming artists you advise we keep an eye out for this year at all?
I have to mention Luster, which is a new Danish act, but also one of my new favourite bands. We actually did a collaboration together on my new album which I’m really proud of.
Jacob Haubjerg, A.K.A. Luster, is one of my very dear friends and I really hope someone out there will open their eyes and sign this talented friend of mine.
Check him out, yo!
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Follow your own intuition and forget about what other people think about your music.
The most important thing is that you love your own stuff. Period!
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Play Good Dreamer by Luster.
Follow Sleep Party People