Britpop legends Sleeper recently released their first new studio album in over 20 years in the shape of The Modern Age
On the strength of the band’s new record, it’s fair to say that it may have taken over 20 years for a new Sleeper album but it was certainly worth the wait. With Sleeper’s latest offering they have truly proven that they are so much more than just a Britpop outfit, they have most definitely got something to offer in The Modern Age.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Sleeper guitarist Jon Stewart on the release day of the record to talk about their new album, the band’s reunion, the challenges they faced with their Pledge music campaign and their plans for the rest of 2019.
So today is a great day to catch up with you, with the release of your new album.
Yes, our first album in over 20 years.
And so obviously, you kicked off the UK tour last night in Glasgow and tonight you’re in Newcastle, so you’ve got two shows under your belt as part of probably one of the most extensive runs in a long while. How have the shows been going for you guys so far?
Really great. We did an in-store show in London, that turned into a gig in a club, which was fantastic as a bit of a warm-up. And we were supposed to do the Glasgow one at the O2 – the one with the big mirror ball that burnt down sadly (the ABC). And what was weird about that was, I was outside it the day beforehand with my partner Mari and we were taking selfies outside of it, because the day before the fire I was up there for work, and we were taking selfies at the band list outside with Sleeper on it. And then we got home and that night it burnt down – it’s really sad. And they weren’t really reporting in the news in England – they were reporting it in Scotland and I was like, fuck me that’s right behind that place again. I could see it going.
It was so sad because some of our best pictures from the very first tour were in that hall, and I don’t think they’ll rebuild it. But we did The Garage, which was amazing. And then tonight felt pretty good. My thing is, did it sound alright and did I play alright, and it felt all right. We’ve done three or four tours now, so it’s starting to get to that point where you can just do it. First of all, it was terrifying.
It’s like riding a bike though, isn’t it?
No, it’s not (laughing). It’s nothing like riding a bike. I did a PhD and got a university job, so that took about six years of really intense work. It’s going to be a book – it’s going to be like a Cambridge University Press book, so it’s like a proper fuck off thing. And I just had to concentrate on that for about six years and I just didn’t really play very much. So the reunion came totally out of the blue, as Louise has been saying. And I could say that playing the guitar is not like riding a bike, but it’s starting to feel like that now
And so like we just mentioned today marks the release of your first new studio in over 20 years in terms of “The Modern Age”. How does it feel to be releasing new music after all this time?
Yeah, so it’s great. You’re liberated from the record companies from the olden days. We were on an Indie that was also part of a major – like all the Britpop bands were. And you were kind of dependent on them to do their job, so now it’s just us. And Louise and Andy do most of it, and it’s great because we’re free of that, we get to make our own decisions.
And we’ve got caught up in the Pledge campaign nonsense, which has been really disappointing for the fans and also personally because we raised a lot of money on Pledge and they haven’t paid us hardly any of it – only a small percentage of it. So, that has been a bit of a grind. But what you don’t see on the stage is like what’s gone into it, which is Lou and Andy, in particular – particularly Louise did an amazing Pledge campaign. And it outperformed everything we thought it would do, which was awesome. So it’s kind of sad that the fans got let down by Pledge in that way. So it shows that nothing really changes – 25 years later, and I’m still getting ripped off by the music business.
So like we mentioned, you guys got back together in 2017 after a long break. I just wondered, what was the chain of events that resulted in the band reuniting?
Well, we’d been friends for a long time. Andy and I worked together at a music college connected with Sussex University, and we always said we’d never do it. And then Louise has mentioned in interviews, but her sister got sick and I think she said, I’ll only ever do it when the kids are old enough to realize what’s going on. So they were that age and I’ve got a niece and nephew who are also old enough to come backstage – they’re like 12 now, so they’re kind of enjoying it.
So then we got this offer from Star Shaped and Louise I think just had a change of heart. And I didn’t really intend to do it because I’ve done my book and my PhD and stuff. And I thought, well, Andy had said he didn’t want to do it if I didn’t do it. And I thought I should do it as well because I didn’t want them to do it, and me not do it.
As Louise has been saying in the press, it was totally out of the blue and it literally was. We had a meeting in February that year, and the first gigs were in like May and we were like, fine, let’s do it. So yeah, we just bought a load of new gear and did it because all of the gear has been in storage for 20 years and a lot of is quite old and you don’t want to fall off stage with a Gibson that is now like an antique. So I got some new guitars, which is nice.
Have you been overwhelmed by the response to the band since you returned?
It’s been fantastic. And what has been the most amazing thing is as you saw just having played, it was just people coming up and saying, your music’s made a difference to my life – which has been incredible. I haven’t ever experienced anything like that. I have been lecturing at quite a big college for 10 to 15 years now. And I get students who write to me occasionally and say what I did was a big influence on them – so that’s really nice.
But also, I’ve experienced it in like the recovery world through 12 step programs and stuff. How you can have an emotional effect on people through helping them through things, but through your music is slightly different because that’s just something we did, you know, 30 years ago when we were unemployed. Me and Lou and Andy trying to get a record deal.
You know music’s very different from regular life because there are no guarantees anything is going to happen. So for all of your dreams to come true like that and then 30 years later people to still be saying that they made a big difference what you did – that’s fantastic. Yeah, because it’s a song, it’s a song you wrote, so it’s very different to anything else really – it’s really nice.
Obviously, with this new album, a lot of time has passed, and trends in music have changed over the last 20 years. When you went into the studio, did you have the intention to kind of pick up from where you left off or was there an appetite to sort of explore new territory?
It’s a bit of both really. Louise had written a lot. I’d written some stuff with Kieron – the bass player who was in the Prodigy for 10 years. So it was really nice to work with him. But it was very much Lou’s project because it was kind of her desire to make it happen. She’s obviously fronting it and so we went with her songs and they were a bit of new, like “Sun Also Rises” and then some old school, you know, it’s like, it sounds like it could be on Smart. So it was a really nice mixture like that.
And Lou and Andy did a lot of demoing in their attic. And I live near them, so I’d go around, so does Kieron. And so we just kind of got together when we could – when they could get a babysitter. And that was it.
So I was just wondering, in terms of those new songs and everything. I mean how long have those songs been around – are some of them dated back to the old days of the band?
Only one. Yeah, well we recorded a full album which never came out in 2000 and we had a lot of debate about which one of those to put on – if any. And Louise didn’t want to put any of them out. Well, I think there’s some great stuff on there so that might be, you know, a rarities release next year or something – if Lou wants to do it. But she’d written a whole new suite of songs and she had a lot to say about what’s happening at the moment, so we did those. One of them is one of the old ones – that’s it.
In terms of the new album, I just wondered, do you have a favourite track on the record and if so, which song and why?
I like the “Sun Also Rises” for the guitar melody, which is a melody that Andy came up with. And then Lou and I shaped it into a guitar part and the strings are D tuned so it’s played in two strings in unison, so it’s slightly chorusy. So that’s my favourite one to play.
My favourite song is the first single, which is a really great lyrically – “Look At You Now” because it’s kind of about getting the band back together. It’s a brilliant lyric for that, but it’s also about the current sort of state of affairs. And we cut a really cool video that sort of explains that.
I know you briefly mentioned there about the Pledge campaign and I know that you guys have had a really hard time with that. I just wondered have the fans been understanding and supportive about this?
Yeah, they’ve been amazing. Louise had to do about a thousand emails – I think 1,200 emails she’s done. And it’s all people writing with support. Literally, one or two people kind of going, what’s going on? Because you know, they think you’ve got the money, which we never saw it. So, or you know, 95% of it we never saw – 90% of it. And we paid our own money to make the record assuming we would get the Pledge stuff. Now we won’t get the money back to make it. So we were out on making the record and we’ve got to pay for the records to be made to be sent to people. So we haven’t just lost the Pledge money, which is tens of thousands of pounds, we also lost tens of thousands fulfilling what we can on it.
Obviously, with a new album, it must be quite difficult picking a set list for a show now. I mean, how do you go about addressing the difficult balance of introducing new songs in the set in the light of dropping some of the old favourites?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. Basically, Lou picks it mostly. You know she’s got to feel comfortable singing it. I think we did more new ones tonight, then we’ve done for a while. Four is about as many as you want to do and then just like sort of hit single – new song – hit single – new song. But what’s been great is they go down really well, because they are good tunes.
In terms of the old stuff, I mean do you have a favourite classic in the set list?
The one that seems to be the natural end is the last encore song – “Sale of the Century”. That seems to be your natural ending, which is great fun to play because it’s the end of the set. And if we got to the end, we’ve done alright. So yeah, that is my favourite. That is the moment when I’m genuinely happy, because I’m relaxing.
In terms of your musical tastes, I just wondered, what do you listen to when you are kicking back at home?
So there’s a couple of bands I really, really, really like. I’ve got a couple of all-time favourite albums. The first Devo album. ‘Are We Not Men? We are Devo’ – I think is the greatest record ever made. It was like a scratchy punk band from Ohio and Brian Eno in Kraftwerk’s studio in Germany. And then there’s sort of a lost 80s/90s album ‘The Screaming Blue Messiahs – Bikini Red’. They’re my two favourite records of all time. I quite like the Wedding Present as well.
And Louise is quite into a lot of contemporary stuff. Quite a lot of cool new bands she likes. All kinds of stuff really. I liked Tinariwen, which is like an African blues band – I’ve seen them live, they’re amazing.
I just wondered have you got 2019 mapped out. What’s on the cards for the band?
Yeah, we’re going to do some festivals and we’ve just announced a show with Garbage in London in the summer, which is exciting, or it’s like exciting/terrifying. Yeah, we’ll be doing some more festivals and then maybe some more shows at the end of the year and see where we are at that point. Yeah, we’ve got sort of it all lined up. All the dates we’ve got, I’ve got about half a dozen festivals appearances over the summer – which is great.
The Modern Age by Sleeper is out now. For details of the band’s forthcoming touring schedule please visit the social links below.