[CMJ 2011 x Interview] Sleeper Agent
Bowling Green, KY rock band Sleeper Agent have risen quickly over the past year, going from a duo, to a full fledged band, to putting out their debut album in no time at all. From touring alongside Cage The Elephant and Company of Thieves, to recording with producer Jay Joyce, it's clear that the Kentucky group has big aspirations. The band, who just wrapped up their U.S. headling tour, made a stop at this year's CMJ Music Marathon to perform at SKoA's very own CMJ showcase. During the showcase, I had the chance to talk with the band's leading lady Alex Kandel about all things Sleeper Agent. You can read the interview in its entirety after the jump.
As well, Sleeper Agent's debut LP Celebrasions digitally in August and physically last month, so if you haven't picked it up, head over to iTunes and grab a copy.
Some Kind of Awesome: Tony [Smith] and Justin [Wilson] started the band as a duo, and then discovered you, Alex, working as a waitress.
Alex Kandel: Someone somewhere along the line printed it as "waitress," but I was actually working as a barista making espresso drinks and not getting tips. Sometimes we would have open mic nights there and all these people would come and play for the people there, and they would say "Alex, pick up your guitar and go sing some songs." So, I was just doing that kind of stuff, and then we got a song recorded online. So, we played that at the coffee shop I was working at and I played a few songs on my break. Justin came and was very quiet, 'cause Justin takes a while to warm up to, and he just kind of watched. But then, after that, we started working together and writing together.
SKoA: After that, the band started to grow. Tell me about the early days of the band, and how it came to be what it is.
AK: They had a lineup, they had been a band since 2008, and the lineup kind of left them to perform in other bands. You know, for whatever reasons, I think there were some egos involved. But, then Justin and Tony decided to just do their own thing, then they kind of recruited me, and we just started liking what we were writing. We thought we would just kind of experiment, and once that happened we decided we would just record eight songs in Nashville on our own. You know, save up some money and do it. We had a friend who owed us a favour who helped, and so we did that. Our friends came, heard it, were really excited about it, and it fell into the hands of the right people.
SKoA: Your debut LP, Celebrasion, was released digitally in August and physically in September. Describe the recording process. Were there any difficulties? What were the highlights?
AK: The recording process clicked so well, you know, our producer, Jay [Joyce], I consider him a father almost. The way that he works and the way that we play, the way that we sound, and everything was recorded live. You know, you focus on a song a day, and you'll sit there and you'll do fourteen takes of the same song until you find the right one. And, everyone's doing it all together at once live and that's a take, and you'll build your vocals up around that. When we do a track live, I do vocals over, also, so there's always a scratch track and sometimes that come out better. They're often so good that we'll keep them. So, a lot of it is in the pure sense live.
The cool thing is Jay records everything on tape, and for someone to still do that is great, you can hear it on the record. We don't want to try to make our live sounds reflect what the records are reflecting. That's what I love about the band, the whole live experience. The live experience is so dependent on our energy, and sometimes there will be a show that's just the perfect storm, and we'll play at venues where we can see that we've built an audience. Those fans have been so overwhelming, and I can't believe these kids like our music. They think that we tour in a bus, 'cause they have this idea of how big we are. But, it's like, oh no, we're in a tiny van, I'm moving back in with my mom soon (laughs).
SKoA: Speaking of fan reception, how has the reception of the album been? How has critical reception of the album been?
AK: It's almost creeping me out how little bad press we've got, and I'm waiting for it. But, it's been so overwhelmingly positive. And, in terms of the fans, they've been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, too, and any time we can do something for them, we'll do it. You know, if we have any guests passes left over for shows, we'll just give them away.
SKoA: Being at CMJ, what is your overall opinion of it? What are your impressions? And, why did you ultimately decide to perform here?
AK: To be honest, I probably have the smallest view of CMJ. We're on tour right now, and, at the last minute, we were like, "Why aren't we playing CMJ?" I mean, it makes sense, since we're here anyways. Plus, we love New York. But, I honestly have no idea what the CMJ experience is like, although I got to hang out at Nylon Magazine, which was fun (laughs). I can see CMJ being very similar to SXSW in a lot of ways.
SKoA: You're currently touring around the U.S., including two shows alongside Cage The Elephant and Company of Thieves this December. What are your impressions of touring? And what have been your favourite or least favourite moments?
AK: We've been touring pretty much non-stop since February, and I think being back on the road with Cage [The Elephant] is super exciting because they're like our family. It's always so much fun when we're together, and I miss those guys so much. We talked to Brad [Shultz] the other day, and he said, "Everyday when we pull up to an event he asks 'Where they at?'"
In terms of the December shows, it's going to be like a huge reunion. I mean, Genevieve [Schatz] is the nicest person, like so nice that she makes you feel like a bad person, like one of those people. I actually still have stuff that she's given me, like all the make-up I use is stuff she's given me (laughs). She got this box of make-up and told me, "Oh, take what you want." She had to literally force me to take all this free, awesome make-up.
SKoA: The December shows will be taking place in Chicago and Milwaukee, have you performed in either city before?
AK: Yeah, we've played Chicago before we had a label or anything. It was at The Elbow Room, and we've played at The Vic twice with Cage [The Elephant]. We've also played Schubas once, and that was the last time we hit Chicago. I'm so excited to go back, 'cause we've always kind of called it our home away from home, and we all feel so comfortable in Chicago. It's easily one of my favourite cities. My mom always knew I would love Chicago, and she always made a push. She took me to New York for the first time, 'cause she never wanted me to have that small town mentality (laughs). We were from Champion, OH so I called it the "Champion Bubble" that people get trapped in. But, now, my mom misses me because I travel too much (laughs).
SKoA: What have been your highlights, or your favourite moments? Least favourite moments?
AK: You know, there's always ups and downs to every day. My favourite moment today was that I got to go hang out at my favourite magazine of all time, Nylon. I mean, I've loved that magazine forever. But, there's downsides too, like it took forever to find parking, so it varies.
I think the lowest point I've ever hit, though, was spending my 19th birthday on the interstate. It was so awful because our trailer, the bearing on the tire came completely off. The only thing holding it in place was the weight of the trailer, and sparks were flying and we all thought it was going to start a grease fire. So, we called a mechanic—Vinny's Auto near Fosford, Maryland—that place sucks, and they ripped us off for every cent we had. That was the lowest point, but there have been way more high points.