Sitting at a rickety picnic table in a patch of rare Manchester sunshine, The Sleepy Jacksons Drummer Malcolm Clark spoke with me after completing soundcheck at Manchesters Academy.
The bands Manchester date was only the second on the current UK/US tour, promoting the release of new album Personality (One was a Spider, One was a Bird). Its a schedule Clark described as being a collection of small hard yards shows undertaken in order to help their three new band members acclimatise to life on the road as members of the Sleepies.
With yet another extensive line-up change, Frontman Luke Steele along with Malcolm remain as the backbone of the band, but Clark is quick to point out that all rumours about Steele constantly sacking band mates are just media hype.
Theres so much shit in interviews that weve read that say that Luke sacks all his band members. He said to his brother when he was in the band look, you seem like youre not interested anymore. I want to pursue this & take this further & you dont seem to be wanting to do that. Everyone else, its been their call. Luke has never once turned around & said youre sacked.
So after playing with Steele now for five years, I asked Malcolm if the two of them felt like a duo that get other musicians to fill in the gaps for them, or did they see themselves as a band thats not complete yet. The answer was immediate.
A band thats not complete. We just did an in-store tour in Australia & that was just the two of us, just an acoustic thing & that sort of works, but I have heaps better fun with a band. We dont want to keep going through band members; we actually want to have a band. These [new band members] seem pretty cool, but we say that every time I guess. I hope they stick around.
For many musicians, you arent seen as being a legitimate success unless youve also made it overseas & for Australian bands, receiving positive reviews in UK magazines like NME, as The Sleepy Jackson did in 2003 with the release their first Album, means a lot at home. But for all this, one thing I wanted to know was whether these smaller international tours were actually worth all the effort.
With seven UK shows to complete in a week before travelling immediately to New York & LA, the band certainly have a very hectic schedule, but Clark seemed philosophical about it, pointing out that the only way to make it in the industry is to work extremely hard.
Weve had all this Promo & Press around the world & toured & its cost a lot of money so weve been doing it on a tight budget. A lot of people think that weve done a lot & must have heaps of money, but weve really only started making money about a year ago. Before I joined the band I didnt really know how it worked. I used to think if youre signed to a big label they promote the sh*t out of you & you get adverts on the TV & Radio & you must be loaded, but thats not the case.
Were signed to EMI in Australia but its a worldwide deal & Virgin said they would take us on in the UK & Astralwerks have done the same in the US.
Malcolm feels the Sleepies are lucky to play venues like Manchester Academy 3 & get an audience of several hundred every night. They could easily have just been promoted in the UK as an Aussie band & ended up performing in Shepherds Bush to a room full of Expats. As Clark points out, I dont think English people want to go to a gig thats full of Aussies, especially the way we behave over here.
Having come over to the UK to play when its right in the middle of Music Festival Season, I also asked if the band had any interest in playing at one, but Clark feels that with three new members, the Sleepies arent ready for something that big.
Its too risky to go & do a big show. Thats why were doing the Scala show (in London) at the end of this run so we can have some rehearsal. Its got to be right if youre going to do the big Festivals so we thought we should wait just a little bit longer.
We [Luke & Malcolm] always have this thing going on on stage that weve been trying to explain to the new guys because we rehearse for ages, but as soon as we did the first live show, they were like, F*ck! The lead guitarist Lee had seen us play before so he wasnt surprised but the Bass player & Percussionist... Its so different from rehearsal because you cant rehearse some of the stuff that me & Luke do. Its just spontaneous. Hell just go on a tangent & do something & youve got to go with it.
While it may be better for new band members Lee, Dave & Felix to play to smaller crowds until theyre used to the bands more freestyle way of performing, I asked whether these venues made it difficult to reproduce Personalitys huge sweeping orchestral style sound. With a full percussion set up, as well as keyboards and a host of other instruments on stage, does the scale of these venues feel limiting?
Yeah, its been challenging, but I think vocals have been the hardest part. With five of us singing, it [the harmonies] is still hard. Even the Beach Boys when they played live... its hard to nail it unless youre five full on professional singers.
Before Malcolm went back to the dressing room to get something to eat before the show, he had one more thing to add. Lukes in pretty high spirits lately & we havent played for so long so hes really amped that weve started doing some shows. With such a crazy schedule I couldnt help but hope that Malcolm & Lukes approach to this tour will help them in their quest to finally achieve some stability in their line-up.
At the end of the night after having performed in front of the Manchester crowd, an exhausted looking Clark asked me if I thought this latest incarnation of the Sleepies had got away with it. Yeah I replied, Do you? After a pause, Mal looked at me & said with relief You know what, I think we did.