Bristol band Sleeptalking have earned a reputation largely for their incredible live performances and legitimately thrilling stage theatrics, although their recently released EP Oh, Isn’t it Strange? stands up entirely on its own as a brilliant modern grunge record with powerful raw instrumentation and permeating vocals from lead singer Tom Nosek.
a brilliant modern grunge record with powerful raw instrumentation and permeating vocals from lead singer Tom Nosek
Back up vocals and drums are provided by the multi-talented Jack Hamilton, who is also a classically trained opera singer, while Freddie Strange and Dan O’Connell are on guitar and bass guitar, and most recent member of the group Rhys Friery looks after keys – though he can also be seen wielding various ‘rogue percussion’ including a shaky banana, a vibraslap and ‘some shitty symbols’.
While Sleeptalking is a relatively new project, the group has been on the scene for years in various incarnations, including what they describe as ‘the most depressing band in the South West’, Hanging Tree.
‘We used to play music that was 60bpm, entirely in a minor key and just very sad, very sad,’ says Freddie. ‘Each song was about 15 minutes long – it was terrible. Afterwards we were doing something else and a couple of guys we knew got us in front of Funnel Music… and Reece.’
We used to play music that was 60bpm, entirely in a minor key and just very sad, very sad
‘Reece worked A&R for the label we’re currently on. He got us on the label and simultaneously joined the band,’ says Dan.
‘Me and Rhys go way back,’ says Freddie, ’it’s not like he just jumped in…’
‘Rhys saw an opportunity and he went for it hard,’ Dan laughs.
Facepaint, costumes and an overall sentiment of glam rock is very much a part of their act, although act may be the wrong word for it, as it comes naturally to the group – and specifically Tom, whose favourite outfit on their last tour was a silver chrome dress.
‘I think it’s just natural to our personalities,’ Tom explains. ‘But at the same time, it’s quite boring when you go to a show and there’s just people with good songs. To me, I find that really uninteresting, I’d rather go and listen to it on vinyl. If I go to a show, I want to see a performance. I want to see something happen. That’s why you watch someone on a raised stage, I think.’
If I go to a show, I want to see a performance. I want to see something happen. That’s why you watch someone on a raised stage
‘It works as a good disguise for a general lack of musical talent as well!’ says Freddie.
‘We like to put on a show, because that’s what people are paying to see,’ says Dan.
If there’s a way to evidence the impact of their live show without seeing it for yourself, it must be the way that they found a fan in Michael Eavis, who after seeing them live once invited them to perform at this year’s Glastonbury.
they found a fan in Michael Eavis, who after seeing them live once invited them to perform at this year’s Glastonbury
Jack explains how it came about: ‘I work in a Pizza Express and he came in, so I thought, “Fuck it, I’m going to invite him to a gig’. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and he actually came along. He called our manager the next day – it was pretty exciting.’
‘He showed up at Glastonbury as well! He came to our set,’ says Rhys.
Although Sleeptalking consider themselves very much a live band, they manage to convey a lot of that energy through their recordings, with a raw live sound coming through that almost makes you feel as though they’re a few meters in front of you.
‘We like to put across what we are live in our recordings,’ says Dan. ‘It’s honest. There’s no point covering it up with other stuff if that’s not what you’re going to hear live, so I think we’ve always tried to keep quite a raw tone.’
We like to put across what we are live in our recordings
‘I think we’re going more in that direction as well,’ says Tom. ‘Sometimes we lose that in our recordings and it doesn’t quite have the same edge as it has live – and that needs to come across because that’s what makes our sound so individual.’
‘We are a live band,’ says Jack. ‘We really, really enjoy playing live and look forward to touring. Obviously we like recording as well, but I think that’s always been our focus.’
Sleeptalking are part of a growing band scene in Bristol. While it’s always been there, previously the larger stages were dominated by electronic acts.
‘I think the Bristol scene has just got really good,’ says Freddie. ‘We moved here about three years ago and it was really diverse and everything, but it felt like there were no discernable scenes knocking around.
I think the Bristol scene has just got really good
‘Maybe we just weren’t a part of it, but it felt like there was nothing solid. And I guess since Idles have jumped up a notch, that’s dragged a certain few bands up, and the venues are putting more faith in local bands and this sort of music.
‘Maybe that’s a change in general taste, but it seems like the bands have forced it through by being quite good.’
Despite only heading out on tour with their Oh, Isn’t it Strange? EP this winter, they already have some new music in the works and are heading into the studio this month with producer Stew Jackson, who worked with Massive Attack on their recent track The Spoils. This means that they’ll have some new music in tow when they close their UK tour at Crofters Rights this December.
‘We’ve changed a bit since putting that EP out,’ says Freddie. ‘I think it was from seeing a few bands at Glastonbury and taking a bit of influence from them. We saw King Gizzard at The Crow’s Nest and that was just insane. Tom saw Flaming Lips and I think there’s a bit of that in there now.’
We are quite powerful as a live act, we play quite hard and it’s quite difficult to put across that power without sounding a bit rock
‘I think the Oh, Isn’t it Strange? EP comes across as a little bit rock,’ says Jack. ‘But I don’t think any of us are massively into rock-rock-rock stuff. We are quite powerful as a live act, we play quite hard and it’s quite difficult to put across that power without sounding a bit rock, but I think we’ve kind of got the hang of that now.’
‘Tom’s vocal is more Mother Love Bone or Pearl Jam than Nirvana,’ says Dan. ‘But they were grunge bands that sounded like classic rock bands. If the term grunge had been coined earlier, they would have been known as grunge bands.’
The part of grunge that resonates with us all is that it feels very visceral
‘The part of grunge that resonates with us all is that it feels very visceral,’ says Jack. ‘I wasn’t around to see Nirvana, but watching their videos it feels fucking real, the energy. So I think that will always stay with us in some ways.’
With any band, the vocals are inevitably one of the most distinguishing factors and Tom has a voice that’s both impossible to ignore or forget. Having sung in bands since the age of 15, he’s had time to develop a very unique sound and mightily impressive pitch.
‘My voice has developed from playing in really, really loud bands, so having to sing at 100 percent all the time. And then you slowly develop a higher tone so you can sing above everything else.
I’ve always liked heavier rock with good melodic vocals – I love Chris Cornell
‘I’ve also been inspired by classic rock, which I used to listen to a lot when I was young because of my dad. I’ve always liked heavier rock with good melodic vocals – I love Chris Cornell. And that helps, because it’s always in the back of your mind – the way that they sit above everything and don’t necessarily fall into line.
‘I don’t like it when I struggle to hear a vocalist live, or if they have the same tone as their guitar – especially if you’re a lyric driven band and we do pride ourselves on our lyrics. I want to perform them and I want people to hear them live.’
we do pride ourselves on our lyrics. I want to perform them and I want people to hear them live
‘The thing about Tom is that he does actually push himself quite hard,’ says Jack. ‘Often Fred will come in with a song that’s probably way too high for him, but he will try it and will constantly push it.’
‘There definitely is quite a self-competition element to it. I’ve was raised in quite a sporty family,’ says Tom.
‘There was about three months where I was just fucking with you,’ Freddie tells him. ‘Every song we did, it was like, “Right, this one is going to have a higher note in the chorus”. It was supposed to be a joke, but he just kept singing it.’
With new music hopefully arriving by next spring, they’re already looking beyond that and towards a full album. To nods of agreement, Freddie tells us: ‘Once we’ve released an EP that we really, really like and we’re really, really happy with and that we feel represents us, then moving on to the album will be quite quick.’
Photos: Ania Shrimpton
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