Interview: Sleepmakeswaves – Alex Wilson “There’s also a sense of unease and a weird kind of anxious sorrowfulness in the way that the whole texture of it has been put together.”

We delved deep into a discussion with Alex Wilson from the astounding Australian instrumental post-rock band Sleepmakeswaves, whose new album, ‘It’s Here, But I Have No Names For It,’ is out now.  

We asked if this was a nod to your band’s sound. You’re very eclectic, and musically, there’s a lot going on.

“Yeah, I think, well, speaking personally, I really liked the mysterious quality of it. It’s actually like a lot of the stuff that we named songs after cribbed from somewhere else. So, it’s from a novel by Robert Pearsig called ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. A sacred hippie text from the 70s, I think, and my guitarist Otto came across it, and we used it. I think in the end, we kind of decided that we liked the cool, mysterious, ethereal quality of it. That was worth some people maybe thinking we were just having a laugh about how hard it is to name an album.”

You’ve been around as a band since 2006, the MySpace era. I was talking to Din Of Celestial Birds recently about this, about how good we had it with MySpace as musicians. It was wonderful. Your band sort of came together through the platform? Through an advert?

“It was a really interesting time, wasn’t it? And I think it was an interesting moment because the wheels were falling off the old way of doing things. And so, a lot of interesting energy was coming out on the internet and the big end of town hadn’t really quite figured out how to corral that all into a way that they could organise and, you know, make a bunch of money offers that they do very effectively these days. So, it was a really interesting moment. I think where you know, Napster had failed and everything like that, but that energy of knowing that you could do a lot of cool stuff on the internet, that was there. I think that also coincided with people of our generation figuring out you could have some semblance of a social life on the internet as well, again, we didn’t know how cooked it would get; it got pretty cooked….

But at that point, there was enough of a barrier that you could get on there and find some cool people. That’s exactly how it worked with us. I met a mate at uni, and we decided to make some post-rock, we found another guy on MySpace with some demos, and then my uni mate rang his drummer in, and we jammed once in the drummer’s parents’ garage, and we’re like, oh, this is actually pretty good. All of our bands have kind of ducked up until this point, but like, this just feels effortless and cool, like, great!”

Your album opens with ‘All Hail Skull’. It’s a really high-energy, expansive track to open an album with, and to my ears, I hear early ‘Mer De Noms’ era A Perfect Circle creeping in there on the lead parts. Is that a fair thing?

“Absolutely, yeah. You know, you’re making me very happy. Love that stuff. You know, that was my jam; that was my era. I was a teenager when that came out. I remember going to the CD store to buy ‘Thirteenth Step’ as well after that and sort of getting that home. I mean, I think we’re still really attracted to that era of music, the nineties, the nineties and the early two thousands is a big touchstone for us. I think, even though it’s sort of slightly fossilised, I think we like bringing some of that sensibility, I think to me that music, for my taste, was a nice kind of place of balance where you had a pretty big premium put on being tight and energetic, but it was still with a sort of very organic approach to making records that, you know, I think has fallen by the wayside a little bit. I think that aspect, those kinds of bands you’re talking about, that sort of particular kind of polish… Yeah, we really like that. That’s something we go for a lot.”

It’s also that tumbling quality in the arpeggios and rhythmically, where the music’s kind of undulating. There’s a lot of that in your music. It’s very physical-sounding music, especially on ‘Super Realm Park. ‘ It has this beautiful skittering electronica that comes in, and it brings to mind early 65 Days Of Static. So that’s funny because I found out afterwards that you had collaborated, toured together, and remixed each other.

“Yeah, and that was a really nice experience. I mean, they’re a fantastic band and certainly like a massive, massive influence as well. I remember, I thought I was really clever, right, because I downloaded a copy of Ableton and I was really into, you know, as you pointed out, stuff like A Perfect Circle and other bands around at the time, like at the Drive-In and Glassjaw and a lot of that stuff. And so I was really into rock, but I was also fascinated by all of this electronic music I was getting into at the time. It was, you know, Boards of Canada and all of that stuff. And so, I got Ableton and I started teaching myself how to use it. And I was like, I’m going to combine them with these awesome glitch drums that people are doing, and no one’s done this before. And then I got on to MySpace, and I found like 65 Days Of Static, and I think I heard Hole for the first time off, you know, one of their first releases, and I was like, equal parts, fuck, someone’s beat me to it. But also, at the same time, this is one of the most awesome things I’ve heard. It really scratches the itch. I think one of the things that they pioneered, and I think us and a lot of bands did take from them, was not being afraid to lean into the electronic element in that fusion, and you know, there are moments when it can be really powerful by letting the bands take a back seat and let the electronics do a lot of the work.” 

You’ve toured with the great and the good of this genre, from Russian Circles to Mono. It’s pretty incredible when you see the list. Are there any bands that really stand out as super inspirational?

“Yeah, look, 65, we’ve talked about them, you know, in answering that question, that would definitely be a band that we were incredibly excited to go on tour with. I think a big one for us in Australia that we have to pay respects to is Karnivool as well. They’re like an institution in this country, and they kind of have this incredibly loyal and dedicated fanbase, and we managed to fit in pretty well on lineups with them. I think we were a good shot to their chaser, if you will, you know, when it comes to opening and then headlining, their fans really reacted positively to us, and we got a lot out of that. And then a sort of more personal one for me that’s probably like less a strict genre thing, but sort of shows how with the style of music we’ve had, it’s not always the most popular or mainstream thing, but you can really get around, so to speak, is that we got to open for Opeth in Sydney. Those guys, again, from that era, are absolutely massive for me. And so, one of my favourite ever memories of playing live is we didn’t really get a chance to chat to the guys. I think they were sort of like, you know, off doing their own thing, which was fair enough. But at one point, I was playing really hard, and I looked over to the side and saw Frederick from the band there just with folded arms, a really staunch look just going.

But I was like, yeah, man, that’s great. I’m gonna bank that one. I’m pretty happy with that, you know, so that was a really, really nice experience. I think, you know, you talk about the scene, and it’s an interesting thing because there are a lot of really great bands that operate within this thing called post-rock, which is incredibly diverse and very hard to pin down. Really hard to a conventional genre that people kind of put in a box and make a quick decision about whether they like it or not. You can kind of be a bit chameleonic and you can slot in on a metal line up here or you can slot in with a sort of more post-punk or art thing over there, you know, and you can, because there’s a lot of diversity in the sound, you can highlight different aspects of yourself. It generally works pretty well. I think, you know, it’s kind of in a live setting a lot of people who go along to just see like a regular band with vocals and songs with choruses. No diss on that stuff. I love that shit. But I think they really appreciate the different energy that a post-rock band can bring along to that stuff.”

Absolutely. It’s a testament to the appeal of this sort of music, which in England seems like an obscure area of music, but then you go somewhere like ArcTanGent, and they sell out that festival; it’s enormous. And as you say, the instrumental bands, it’s almost like you’re taking what Autechre did on synths and then reverse engineering it on traditional instruments, which gives you so much scope. You can convey so much more emotion without words sometimes than with words because you could just take it off into all these different places.

Now, I noticed you’ve been multiple ARIA Award nominees in your country. That’s the Australian version of the Grammys. In Australia, is post-rock more popular? Is it a more significant scene? 

“I don’t know. I think Australia is a unique place in terms of music, and I’ll try to use an analogy that might make sense to your British listeners. So obviously, in Britain, you have the BBC and the related cluster of channels, and there has obviously been a really important way for independent music to find its way to the population. But they’re not the only way, there is a healthy smattering of magazines and sort of, you know, be manageable. You can go and play a bunch of fairly high-population places in a fairly manageable area of land.  So, in Australia, we have a really different situation. We don’t really have a lot of credible magazines. We don’t really have a touring circuit that’s easy to do. We have one, you know, it’s not so important these days, but for a lot of recent history, there’s been one radio station called Triple J that basically kind of has ruled the roost of, you know, in the pre-algorithm era, particularly of what was popular and important in Australia. I think that’s created a bit of an Australian monoculture of music, in a way.

We love music; we consume a lot of it, but we’re not a stylistically diverse country traditionally. And that’s, I sound like I’m complaining, but that’s actually almost a cool thing because one of the great things it does with bands like us or even Carnival that came out of the Perth scene, which is like it’s this whole thing, is that because there’s nothing to fight over, there’s no success to chase, people really just focus on doing it for the love of making the music. There’s no indie scene bag of money with a dollar sign on it to fight over, really, you know?  So, it creates, I think, a fairly healthy attitude to making the music and I think a scene that is quite overall really supportive. We tend to just be really happy when someone does well, you know? It’s a good thing. But I don’t think Australia is especially focused on post-rock, and I often think we were just pretty lucky in a lot of ways to be able to create a name for ourselves in Australia being that band because it’s not like a common or hallowed.”

You are primarily an instrumental band, we say largely because on ‘Terror Future’, There’s a fleeting vocal, isn’t there? Is that by you guys or was it a guest?

“No, our guitarist, Otto, occasionally grabs the mic and does a bit of vocals. We’ve kind of been folding it more and more over the past few records.”

Because you’re primarily instrumental, you are expansive but lean at the same time; many of your tracks stay under five minutes. In this style of music, it’s quite an anomaly because you hear a lot of 10, 12, and 15-minute songs. You do so much in a five-minute song duration. Because it’s instrumental, that helps, doesn’t it? Is that right? You have to make those dynamic waves differently than with a vocal.

“Absolutely. So we made a really conscious decision probably about the time our current lineup sort of settled into place with myself and Tim and Otto and then our erstwhile guitarist Jonathan about that time we were sort of thinking what we wanted to do with post-rock and we looked at these really classic bands like great bands like your Monos and your Godspeeds and Explosions In The Sky, and we were like we’re never gonna be as good as them Doing that kind of thing like it’s awesome. You know that kind of majestic sweeping sound is amazing. But we were a bunch of young guys at the time. We just wanted to drink beer and try to be At The Drive-in, but like a post-rock band at the same time. And so, we kind of ran with that. And I think that’s partly where a lot of the leanness comes from is writing music for a period of time where it was a lot about the performance, it was a lot about economy, it was a lot about being a muscular type band.

Then on this particular record, recently we actually made a really conscious decision where over the pandemic, we’re in a fortunate position where we kind of all got furloughed from work but weren’t particularly like broke and we were just able to sit in our little home studio nooks and just write and write and write. We wrote over two hours of material then we kind of looked at all that, and we thought, what do we want to do with it? We decided, let’s do a 40-minute album. Let’s try our hardest to make it all filler. Sorry, it’s all killer and no filler. That’s the ultimate Freudian slip there. But, you know, just like try to basically, in this era of music, when there’s so much stuff that is getting released constantly, try to make it as worthwhile as we can at this point, and really focus on a record that when it’s over is satisfying, that hasn’t burnt you out and particularly with this kind of music that I think is as you say, it’s very emotional. You know, it’s got a lot of emotional heft to it, but it’s also really loud and relentless with riffs like all through this album.” 

Bands like yourselves, and The Ocean and Pijn have this in common. There are many ways to be heavy, and there’s an entire book on this (Electric Wizards: A Tapestry Of Heavy Music by JR Moore). You guys are hefty, and not the fact you’ve got the most fuzzed-out guitars or anything, but dynamically, you see, it feels sometimes like you’re being hit from all directions. It’s that kind of physicality that we were referring to. The overall gist of your music is that it goes beyond genres. It’s emotive music with a definite physicality. It’s almost like being in a fight at times.

“Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, you know one thing that really helps to be heavy is to have a really good drummer, and we’ve got one of those like Tim knows how to hit those boom booms, and you know, certainly for me, you know, that really gives you that drive and propulsion, that spine for the beast, if you will, to sort of make it happen. You’re right about that. I think the definition of heavy has changed a lot. And you mentioned A Perfect Circle, I mentioned Opeth, another band that was big for me was The Smashing Pumpkins. The thing about all these bands is that they were heavy, but a lot of the stuff that also made them heavy was because there was contrast there in the music.

You know, like, the Pumpkins could do a song like ‘Fuck You An Ode To No One’, which sounded incredibly savage because it’s coming on the same record that has 1979 or, Swedish death metal riffs from Opeth, but they’re sort of offset with this really pastoral stuff. So that when you have an atmosphere that’s slashed through by another one, it’s sort of the larger context that makes a moment sound big. We were lucky enough to work with a really good producer and engineer for a couple of our records called Nick D’Addaio, who’s worked with Bruce Springsteen and had an amazing career in the States before coming to Australia. He said something to me once, which is, if everything is big, then nothing sounds big. And he was talking about it in terms of a mix, but I think it’s totally true in terms of songwriting as well that like it is very rare a band that can sound relentlessly heavy and savage for like 40 minutes without you just kind of getting burnt out on it. Some bands can do it the absolute greats, but I think you know for us it’s really worked to have that contrast. It’s really fun to explore those different emotions and sort of, you know, come out of nowhere with the sort of big moment that’s like, you know.”

Absolutely. That brings us neatly to some of the tracks on the album, which have a lot more restraint and are delicate and intricate. Juxtaposition in art is so important to make a point. And there’s one track on here, ‘ Verdigris’, if we’re pronouncing that right?

“Bang on.” 

It seems very timely because we’ve just had the release of Dune 2. And it reminds us so much of Hans Zimmer. Those almost brutalist keyboards, where that tone is kind of harsh but also mellow at the same time. I just thought it was really intentionally or unintentionally bang on the money topic at the moment.  

“Yeah, I really like Verdigris. You know, our drummer wrote that entirely by himself, and I just kind of presented it, and I remember hearing that and being like, it’s perfect. Don’t change a single thing. It’s so wonderful. I think it is really a great thing about doing quote-unquote post-rock that you can create an experience for people that is built up of both kind of like savage head-thumping riffing, but then you can at the same time put something that, as you say, is a really interesting piece of music that is very delicate, but I think brutalist is a great word for it. There’s also a sense of unease and a weird kind of anxious sorrowfulness in the way that the whole texture of it has been put together. Definitely in pacing the album, we sort of realised that we come out of the gate, you know, with this sort of Side A that’s pretty intense. And then there’s this sort of switch moment happening on the back of Side A and the beginnings of Side B where we sort of open up into these more, you know, curious vistas.

And the album we did before this one that came out of the pandemic called ‘These Are Not Your Dreams’. We sort of self-produced that. That was a very wild and wooly time in the band where we released these three EPs that ended up getting compiled together as an album. And that was a big era of experimentation. What can we do with this sound built out of delay pedals, tremolo chords, and sort of build-ups? What can we do with that that is a bit different? That ended up with a record that was very sprawling and sort of borderline incoherent at times.  On the back end of this one, I feel we kind of tried to take some of that real exploration but focus it down into a period of time that works more holistically in the context of a record.”

As you close on ‘This Close Forever’, it feels like the climactic end of the album. This is the beauty of it. We’ve listened to the whole album a few times, and you feel like you’ve just watched a movie. You know that kind of lethargy you get when you leave a movie theatre? When you’ve just experienced something epic, you get that with this record. A good way for us to sign off here is to say how you signed off so perfectly there. 

And so, look into the future. Is there much touring coming up in your life? Is that coming up soon?

“Yeah, we’re going to do a bit this year. We’re heading out in April, shortly after the record is released, to do some shows in Australia. Still, then most significantly, in May, we’re going to be heading over to do Dunk Festival on the European mainland and then coming over to do a club show in London, so the dates for all that stuff are online, so if you’re keen to come and check it out. Like, you know, London is an amazing place to play music. So, we’re very happy to go there. Looking forward to doing more touring in the future, but I recently had a kid with my wife. So, I’m just kind of dipping my toes back into that while balancing all of that. Then later, we’ll head out and do a sort of similar thing in the States. We’ll be playing a post fest in Indiana and a couple of club shows on the East Coast. So, kind of cranking the machine back to life.”

Thank you very much for being with us, Alex. It’s been absolutely fascinating talking to you. Now everyone go and check out the album. ‘It’s Here, But I Have No Names For It’ out now!

The band play their only UK date: Sunday 12 May – The Garage, London UK

Interview By George Miller –

Photos By Declan Blackall