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By: Gilbert Potts
When I speak with Alex Wilson of Sydney’s sleepmakeswaves he’s completely exhausted, or to use the Australian word – rooted. Having played 40 sets in 45 days grouped into three separate tours there’s one week and four shows to go before seeing home soil and sliding into another 13 gigs, which will take the band well over their total performances in 2014. It was a year they had rounded out well with their two biggest headlines to date, in Melbourne and Sydney hot on the heels of their second album, Love of Cartography.
When you think about it, the idea of touring through 20 countries in a van dragging stacks of equipment with you, seeing the same three faces day after day as you travel, perform and unwind fifty-odd times only to hopefully break even at the end – well it doesn’t seem like a well thought-out plan. You know it won’t be a silky smooth ride, but the chances of at least something, if not all of it, going wrong are pretty high. Luckily for us punters, bands continue to be ready to throw themselves off the cliff with not much more than enthusiasm, the ability to play a tune people love, and the cheering of onlookers tied around their ankles on one end, and onto a peg in a rock on the other.
Like me, you’re no doubt thinking, “yeah sure, but first things first, where is the cheapest beer in the world?” Despite Alex feeling rooted he methodically points out in his Jamie Hyneman way, that this question is insufficiently developed because you have to factor in things like alcohol content, size of container, environment, etc. and I’m thinking that had I given him advanced notice he would have come up with a scientific formula (he’s certainly done the research). Chinese beer is cheap, but low on alcohol content. In Belgium and Holland, on the other hand, it costs more but it’s like rocket fuel:
“I’d say if you want to strike a really good balance between maybe percentage and price, I think head to Eastern Europe. Places like the Czech Republic or Poland are pretty good contenders. Polish beer especially – it comes in half litre cans and drinks like a session beer but is ludicrously strong and you get mashed on that pretty quick. And this Danish beer “Faxe” – it’s 10% and it’s really dangerous stuff. When it’s time to face the Faxe, you can get some truth in your life”.
We agree that beer containing tequila is an abomination; “That’s not something sleepmakeswaves approves of”, and with that important question out the way we move on to the ups and downs of touring.
Alex is immediately keen to heap praise on China as a place for bands to tour; “It’s surprising how gratifying it is. Everything from the culture, to the reaction and passion of the fans, to the quality of the venues and the ease of the logistics and getting around, it’s a really amazing place for the band to be.”
He also talks about how their relationship with Europe and European fans had changed from last time they were there, saying that they felt more connected to the fans this time.
But the intense run of dates also amplifies the things that conspire against you. Such as the three vans they broke; the first belonging to their much loved Polish driver; the second having its suspension break after about 50 metres; and the third coming to grief in a collision with a car that turned in front of them. And I say “conspire against you” despite the fact that when Alex talks about sleepmakeswaves being “a destroyer of transportation”, I detect a clear sense of achievement.
More significant though is the personal toll of touring, which he describes as challenging emotionally, and both relationships and jobs were lost just prior to, and as a consequence of, committing to this tour. Alex points out that some bands don’t survive tours. It’s one thing to spend some time in a rehearsal room and play some shows here and there, but rooming with the same people and being in each other’s pockets all day and night and, as he says, smelling each other’s farts, can be tough. You learn things about each other that you don’t always know how to deal with and when you’re exhausted little things can blow up. It’s how you come out of all that which is important:
“The really good thing about this tour was that we learnt the connection between the four of us is something we were able to rely on to get us through what is the hardest thing we’ve done, and that’s a really good feeling. We’re really lucky that the four of us have a dynamic that is able to resolve the issues if they come up, whether they are big or small, without having them spin out and destroy something that is otherwise a really good musical relationship.”
It seems to me as someone looking in that fans expect a lot of the bands they like and sometimes forget they are human with all the same issues we all face, but Alex doesn’t see it like that and says the positive energy from fans is invaluable, and a great crowd on a hard tour is “a lifesaver.”
“You can slog through a really hard day and it’s that one hour with the audience that things are really special and it’s totally going off that gets you through. We always try to let the audience know that the passion they give us and that we feel with them is something we’re really grateful for, and the really excellent nights for us are always a two way street.”
All this experience and constant playing leaves the band in a good position for the upcoming Australian tour. Apart from the local support they had on the release of the new album last year and the familiar crowds, there were newer faces not only off the back of tours with bands like Karnivool, but national broadcaster JJJ has played a couple of tracks often enough to make a difference. Alex is looking forward to a couple of bigger shows, such as The Metro in home town Sydney, but also keen to seek some comfort playing smaller gigs at places like the familiar and welcoming Port Macquarie.
As we finished off we talked about the upcoming dunk! festival appearances and joint tour of Europe by the band’s friends Tangled Thoughts of Leaving and Solkyri, Alex sounding like an older brother seeing his siblings head off on their own next stage of growth and discovery. He predicts shenanigans and tells me to book an interview with them on their return. Australia’s a long way from the rest of the world and it’s great to see bands that are playing niche rock finding support from each other and celebrating each other’s success.
Oh, and just for the record, forget the science, the cheapest beer in the world is the one someone else buys for you. I’ll have a pint thanks.
You can find the sleepmakeswaves tour dates here.