Tidal Waves and Quiet: The Heavy Dynamics of Sleep Lady

Sleep Lady
Sleep Lady Group Shoot at Moonlight Beach 70312 © Michael Klayman..

San Diego band Sleep Lady broadcast gritty symphonies for a world on the edge of the Apocalypse. Their dynamic sounds swell from quiet guitar stums to enveloping distortion washes, creeping like oil rising through the ocean. Their latest album "So Long Lonely Ghost," was co-produced with the help of Aaron Harris, drummer from the now defunct post-metal band Isis, and the new group Palms, with Deftones singer Chino Moreno on vocals.

The cinematic quintet's music provides the soundtrack for Artbound's documentary on Nery Gabriel Lemus and we recently caught up with Sleep Lady guitarist Michael Hayden to explore how the musical environment of San Diego cultivates them and why instrumental can often say more than music with words.

There are so many textures to your music. When you close your eyes and listen to the sounds of it, what do you see?

I think every musician is hoping for that moment when you close your eyes and the music completely absorbs you. It doesn't happen every time and sometimes all I envision is the mechanics of playing the damn song right. When that moment comes though and it feels like the music is playing you I can't really say I "see" anything other than vague ashes of color or sometimes a forgotten memory will surface. That is kind of the power inherent in playing dynamic music, you never really know when it will absorb you and you can't really choose when it does.

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Outside of music, what other creative sources -- like films, books, poems -- that influenced the way that you make music?

I'm a pretty avid reader and literature definitely plays a major role in inspiring the music. I'm inspired by everything from dry as a bone science writing to the campiest sci-fi novel. This last album was inspired by everyone from Carl Sagan to Cormac McCarthy. To me there is a moment in every great book that the words cease to be simply ink on a page and become a sort of music to the reader. Losing an entire day to great book is one of my favorite forms of catharsis.

Films also work this way for me. Any film that is absorbing and emotionally powerful can spark a musical idea. I especially enjoy older science fiction. Shows like "Doctor Who" or "Star Trek" that really instill a sense of discovery and exploration as opposed to simply "kill the monsters" are really important to me. They offer a sort of fantasy hope for the future of the human race that you don't get in most modern sci-fi that tends to be a bit more dystopian.

I also take a lot of inspiration from company. I think some of the most inspiring times can be had when you share a delicious meal with somebody. Conversation and comfort really help bring the music out for me, especially when I'm struggling with writers block or fatigue.

Sleep Lady
Sleep Lady

You're located in the San Diego area. Where do you go in that region to become inspired?

My home, haha. When I'm writing I tend to become a bit of a hermit. I think as a unit we all enjoy being home with a few friends more than going anywhere. I think we directly inspire each other more than any outside influences. On that note though there is something about the scenery in Southern California that I find inspiring. I'm originally from the Chicagoland area along with Kristy (keyboard) and Sarah (bass) so the natural beauty of Southern California is still pretty astounding to me. It never occurred to me when I was growing up surrounded by corn that you could live somewhere with mountains in the background, or within 15 minutes of the ocean. I would say I take a lot of inspiration from the relentlessness of the ocean and the quiet patience of mountains.

The musical tradition of San Diego is incredibly varied from grindcore to borderhopping cumbia. What were some of the local venues that acted as a sort of school for you, and what local bands did you look to for inspiration?

Well, I've only been in San Diego a few years but some of the local music venues are outstanding. I particularly like Casbah, Soda Bar, and the Tin Can Alehouse. All three have great staffs and are incredibly supportive of local music. The Tin Can may be my favorite because it is tiny and always has a local artists work hanging all over the walls. They make a pretty great cheese burger too.

I will say that the music scene here can be challenging as people tend to lose interest pretty quickly. There have been some truly incredible performances by other bands that were unfortunately not well attended. I think this is just a symptom of playing music for music's sake without trying to "make it big" or whatever that means now. It comes and goes though and I've had some of the best times of my life playing in this town and met many musicians who have made my life a little bit better and more interesting.

Sleep Lady
Sleep Lady

Why did you choose to make music that is largely instrumental in nature?

Instrumental music leaves a lot of range for listener and performer interpretation. Rather than write songs about a specific event or feeling we can paint with a broader brush, to use a cliche. This is true for me particularly because I may have a different reaction to our music one night to the next. A song that seems melancholy or sad may turn out to be uplifting and invigorating the next. Some of the most rewarding experiences I've had with this music is when people tell me what they thought about while we were playing. I've heard everything from people writing lyrics to imagining dinosaurs stomping aroung. That is, to me, my favorite moment as a player. To have your music inspire another person is about as good as it gets.

I think if we were to have a full time vocalist we would be easier to pigeon hole and our range could end up being hindered by the abilities of that vocalist. Having people in the band that can sing, and do so when it seems right, is a much better way to stay creatively free than to have a frontman or something ridiculous like that.

What can you say in an instrumental song that you can't convey in a song with lyrics?

It's easier to express a raw feeling with no context instrumentally. It's easier to play the sensation of, say, sadness without a person explaining why they are sad. The same goes for joy or rage or bliss. You can convey them in an almost universal way without having to justify your intent or back it up with what could be inadequate or misinterpreted lyrics.





What art do you think would pair nicely with your music?

Any kind of visual media. We would love to work with more film makers. I personally would really love to collaborate with a graphic novelist someday. I think any kind of visual story has music in it somewhere and I think it would be great to explore that.

Who is an artist in San Diego that you are particularly drawn to?

Ted Washington is a poet/artist that lives in San Diego and he is one of the most genuine, intelligent and honest artists in town. He does everything with intensity and when he's reading poetry he's almost like a force of nature. His physical art is pretty magnificent too.


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