Q&A: SLEEPY KITTY, EVAN SULT AND PAIGE BRUBECK
Written by Megan Stringer
Listening to Sleepy Kitty brings back memories of garage shows from high school summers, but infused with a talent that will make you dance and love and dream.
Sleepy Kitty, a two-piece band based out of Saint Louis, but whom met in Chicago, is a melting of fun, glamorous rock ‘n’ roll with emotional lyrics that are sure to tug at some heart strings. Everything is catchy, colorful, and composed.
The duo has two full length albums, Infinity City and Projection Room. Their newest album, Flux, is set to come out in June of 2016. Recently ending a tour across the Midwest and into Canada, with Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends, singer/guitarist Paige Brubeck and drummer Evan Sult discuss the new album and their Midwestern influences.
Shredded: So you’re on tour with Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends – how is that going? How is the vibe of your shows, how does your style mesh with their style on stage?
PB: I feel like this has been a particularly good vibe match. The saxophone player in The Boyfriends recorded some of Sleepy Kitty’s very first productions. I feel like the crowd tends to be a crowd that likes to dance to rock ‘n’ roll music, and we really like that a lot. A red lipstick-loving crowd, a rock ‘n’ roll dancing, styling, crowd.
ES: We like to play with gender some, and so does Ezra and his crowd. Just on that level alone, it feels like a really good match. And I like that there’s gender play going in a variety of directions with our two bands. So that part’s been really cool. We really like all the people in the band, so that part is a good match. We’ve already had some band switches and stuff like that. We’re just getting started on the tour, but so far, so great.
Shredded: How do you feel about this tour compared to other tours you’ve done and other shows you’ve played?
ES: We love touring with another band. Being a two-piece is very efficient, but it doesn’t have some of the satisfaction of being in a gang. So kind of ganging up with other people - in a positive way - is so great. We’re already having conversations about like, gear, but also about books and stuff like that. Paige and I are kind of a closed-circuit, we’re around each other all the time, and we’re seeing a lot of the same things and talking about a lot of the same things. Which we enjoy, but having some new circuits is fun.
Shredded: You guys have a new album coming out this summer, called Flux. How’s that going, can you share a little bit about how the making of this album is going?
PB: Actually a lot of this album is music that we’ve been working on post Projection Room. It’s kind of similar in a lot of ways that Projection Room came about, where one song was written and another song written and then another song - and then when you look at them all, you’re like, this feels related, like a body of work. I think that we realized it was time to stop just recording one song and start putting them all together in a bigger cohesive idea. So Flux is going to have a few brand new songs that we’ve hardly played out loud before, and we’re just starting to play live. It also has a song that we’ve already released on vinyl and did a video for, called “Mockingbird”, but it’ll be the first time that’s on CD. Plus there will be a lot of instrumental, more collage-y, practice-based stuff that was more like the very beginning of Sleepy Kitty.
ES: The album also focuses a little on being designed for a two-piece stage show. With Projection Room and Infinity City, we kind of let ourselves roam out and do stuff that’s way more than we can do with two people, and I think with Flux we’re reveling in our two-piece band. It’s like the satisfactions are immediate.
PB: I would also add that the title kind of feels like catching our band in mid-change, which feels like some of the songs. Every birthday, when another year goes by, you can reflect and start thinking about things. I feel like we have a lot of those kind of songs on Flux, self-change songs, and also band-changing songs.
Shredded: How does the sound differ from Projection Room or Infinity City? Do you see yourselves changing as musicians?
PB: I feel like this album, a kind of mini-album as it is, is more rock ‘n’ roll. It’s shorter, it’s eight tracks, about 15 minutes, but it feels more rock ‘n’ roll. It leans heavier on the guitar.
ES: I think that comes out of touring a lot. For some of the songs on Projection Room or Infinity City we have to do a lot of adapting and boiling down - which is cool, I don’t have any problem having a different version live than recorded - but I think the songs on Flux are more directly related to our stage experience. They come from our stage experience and what we most want to do when we’re on stage. You know the adrenaline is saying, this is what it feels like.
Shredded: So you guys are based out of Saint Louis, and you met in Chicago. How do you think the Midwest influences your style, if it does? You’ve been making music and art here for some time.
PB: As you can guess from the title Infinity City, cities influence us. We sing a lot about cities. One of the songs on Flux is about touring, and thinking about getting out to other cities. On Projection Room there’s “Hold Yr Ground”, which is about our neighborhood and our street [in Saint Louis]. I feel like surroundings are really influential to me, and to us. I don’t know if I would say it’s specifically Midwest, but it must be because that’s where we’re based. I’ve only lived in the Midwest so far, so I feel like it must be part of who I am. When I think about the new songs on Flux and my new lyrics, I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that refers to specific cities. I know I’ve referenced Lake Michigan.
Shredded: I know you guys have a lyric about Wicker Park in the song “NYC Really Has it All”, off Infinity City.
PB: Yeah! And that’s kind of writing to a friend who moved away from Wicker Park.
ES: We get city yearnings, and we develop crushes on cities. Go to New Orleans, try not to develop a crush. Unless you’re caught in a storm. We have a love affair with Chicago. We’re in Saint Louis because we moved into a big old abandoned brewery building, which I feel like is a particularly Midwestern environment. I feel like Saint Louis is a really really great example of something that the Midwest has that I don’t think you see as much on the East Coast, and I know you don’t see as much on the West Coast. So in that sense, there’s a Midwestern feel to our process and to our environment. And I think we find a lot of value in the middle of the country’s potential and capacities that I don’t think people on the coast realize. I came from the West Coast, and I’ll say, I don’t think people there think about the Midwest hardly at all. And if they do, I don’t think they have hardly any understanding of it. Living here, we do. There’s just so many things that you can do in the Midwest that you can’t do on a coast, financially. We did a laser concert at the planetarium in Saint Louis that we could not have done at the planetarium in New York, or in Seattle. But we could because it was more available here. You have more direct access to your resources. And Chicago’s a real beast, there’s a real relevance to calling it a third coast, but in a broader sense, what the Midwest has is access to resources that is harder on the coast.
Shredded: You have a lyric on “Hold Yr Ground” where you’re talking about Saint Louis, and people are asking you if you like it or not. You sing about not having an answer, but do you think you have an answer now?
PB: Oh yes! What is the lyric…it’s “What do you say when they ask you if you’re gonna stay, this isn’t the answer.” People have stopped asking it all the time, but for a while people kept asking all the time if we were going stay in Saint Louis. I think there’s a protectiveness. You look at a city like Saint Louis and you see these beautiful buildings that are empty. Saint Louis is a city where you have to put up with some stuff to live there. We just had a man from Chicago stay with us on Cherokee Street, so I was explaining to him, I said “When you get to our place we’re gonna load out your stuff so it doesn’t get stolen,” and by the time they went out to their cars from the venue they were at, one of their windows had been broken into and we’re like, ugh Saint Louis! C’mon! But then again I feel the responsibility to show them a really good time in Saint Louis, like we’re gonna make up for this. There’s the bad but there’s the good too. A lot of people that choose to live in the city are very protective. People want to invite people to help fill-in and keep it alive in a lot of ways. It’s interesting because I grew up in the area and we’d go to Saint Louis (it was the nearest biggest city), so I’d go for record stores and to see movies at The Tivoli, and go to shows and stuff. So I felt like I was from Saint Louis before I lived in Saint Louis, and now that we live in Saint Louis I realize living in Saint Louis is its own whole other level. I understand that protectiveness and wanting to retain people because I think what happens, with the colleges, is that people come in for four years and they leave. And people who grew up in the city think that as soon as they can get out, the better. I think when Sleepy Kitty first moved to town we surprised a lot of people by moving and staying, and choosing to be in Saint Louis when we’re from Chicago.
ES: For three years, at least once a week, I would answer the question “Wait, you moved here from Chicago? Why?”
PB: We’d tell people, well, actually there’s a lot of cool things about Saint Louis. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one place in all of my adult life, and we keep choosing to be there. I haven’t said I would live in Saint Louis my whole life, but it keeps being the right answer, to be in Saint Louis. And we keep choosing to be there. Which is kind of funny. I think there’s something important about choosing to be in a place. We’ve renewed our lease even though our city and our street are changing rapidly.
ES: Cherokee Street is one of the most exciting places in the country. Per head, there’s so many people living out their dreams, making their businesses a reality, making their art dreams a reality. It’s so affordable that bartenders can then turn around and buy a place to start making a bar. Artists can open up a gallery. I just met another gallery guy. And certainly every month there’s a new business on Cherokee Street, and I don’t feel like you can say that about hardly anywhere else in the country. Obviously places like Brooklyn are constantly churning, but Cherokee is a really really dynamic area and we feel lucky and fortunate to be a part of it. We were there right when it was still a very wild place to move into, and now it’s grown up around us, and we’ve grown up around it, and we’ve all kind of wound into each other. It’s a cool thing to carry with us out into the rest of the world.
Shredded: So you two work on Eleven Magazine as well, a local music mag in Saint Louis. How do you feel like the local music scene in Saint Louis compares to one like Chicago, where there’s a lot of DIY spaces everywhere?
PB: I feel like Saint Louis’s music scene is really exciting, and an interesting place to be. It’s unlike any other scene I’ve ever seen, because a lot of musicians have grown up there and they’re watching each other’s projects for 15 years. People know each other from high school and their first bands, and are still playing in bands and still watching each other’s bands. Whereas, in a city like Chicago, there’s a lot of people coming in and out all the time. You never assume someone’s from Chicago, you ask where they’re from. The question in Saint Louis is, “Where did you go to high school? When did you move back?” In that way you have more generations of people knowing each other’s work.
ES: Or there are people who’ve known musicians work for 25 years, and they’re still making work, which is remarkable. People are familiar with it and can trace it back to all their past bands. It’s pretty interesting to see, because I grew up in the North West and had my formative years in Seattle and even there, which felt kind of backwater at the time, there was a lot of churn. Most people in Saint Louis are from Saint Louis, and that just isn’t the case with other cities. I’ve definitely learned to respect what that means about the genealogy of a scene.
Shredded: You guys do screen-printing, album artwork, and posters, as well as music. What do you think is next? You’ve got this new album coming out, do you want to focus more on music? Or do you wanna do more print arts, fine arts?
PB: I know the answer, the truthful thing that popped into my head first – but what were you gonna say, Evan?
ES: I know Paige is really excited about videos.
PB: Oh, videos too, yeah! I was gonna say politics!
ES: We’ve gone pretty far down the Bernie-hole.
PB: Videos are a huge thing though, as is doing more stuff with our live set. I will also say, to my first answer of politics, that we did do a fundraiser for Obama in 2012 and it was very DIY and grassroots. We also did a fundraiser for Bernie [Sanders] in January. I do like it when what we’re doing musically and artistically can overlap with activism and causes that we’re excited about. But creatively I think getting more video projects in the work is also exciting. And this year we did the music for a play, for a theatrical production, and that was really exciting too. Getting to write for other voices, I’d like to do more of that.
Shredded: So your screen-printing and your other art, how do you feel like that influences your music, or vice-versa? Do you feel they influence each other?
PB: I feel like they both kind of influence each other. It’s funny, with the screen-printing we use a lot of layers and look through old magazines and find some vintage image that we just use one section of – but I think we do that a lot musically too. I bounce between visual media and musical media when I’m really inspired. If I don’t have anything to write musically, I might retreat into my sketchbook and end up finding something there. I feel like I know the song that will go with this imagery, and it’s kind of cyclical that way.
You can find Sleepy Kitty’s music on Spotify, or at the Bandpage and Bandcamp links below.
Contact Megan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos courtesy of Megan Stringer