The Sleepy Jackson

Manchester Academy 3 on Thursday 13 July 2006

photos of this show
Sitting at a rickety picnic table in a patch of rare Manchester sunshine, The Sleepy Jackson’s Drummer Malcolm Clark spoke with me after completing soundcheck at Manchester’s Academy.

The band’s 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). It’s 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.

‘There’s so much shit in interviews that we’ve 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 you’re not interested anymore. I want to pursue this & take this further & you don’t seem to be wanting to do that.’ Everyone else, its been their call. Luke has never once turned around & said ‘you’re 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 that’s not complete yet. The answer was immediate.

‘A band that’s 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 don’t 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 aren’t seen as being a legitimate success unless you’ve 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.

‘We’ve had all this Promo & Press around the world & toured & it’s cost a lot of money so we’ve been doing it on a tight budget. A lot of people think that we’ve done a lot & must have heaps of money, but we’ve really only started making money about a year ago. Before I joined the band I didn’t really know how it worked. I used to think if you’re 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 that’s not the case.’

‘We’re signed to EMI in Australia but it’s 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 don’t think English people want to go to a gig that’s full of Aussies, especially the way we behave over here.’

Having come over to the UK to play when it’s 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 aren’t ready for something that big.

‘It’s too risky to go & do a big show. That’s why we’re doing the Scala show (in London) at the end of this run so we can have some rehearsal. It’s got to be right if you’re 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 we’ve 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 wasn’t surprised but the Bass player & Percussionist... It’s so different from rehearsal because you can’t rehearse some of the stuff that me & Luke do. It’s just spontaneous. He’ll just go on a tangent & do something & you’ve got to go with it.’

While it may be better for new band members Lee, Dave & Felix to play to smaller crowds until they’re used to the band’s more freestyle way of performing, I asked whether these venues made it difficult to reproduce Personality’s 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, it’s 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... it’s hard to nail it unless you’re 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. ‘Luke’s in pretty high spirits lately & we haven’t played for so long so he’s really amped that we’ve started doing some shows.’ With such a crazy schedule I couldn’t help but hope that Malcolm & Luke’s 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’.

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article by: Kirsty Umback

published: 18/07/2006 09:17