Interview: Brooklyn’s The Big Sleep


The Big Sleep Wake Up

By Michael D. Ayers

There’s no shortage of love for The Big Sleep around these parts; so when their second full length arrived in ye ol’ postbox, I jumped on the opportunity to get some more information on the surreptitiously titled Sleep Forever, due February 19, 2008 on Frenchkiss.

Oh, you don’t know much about them? They’re a three piece consisting of husband/wife team Danny Barria on guitar / vocals and Sonya Balchandani on bass / vocals, and new father, longtime Redskins fan Gabe Rhodes on drums. They’ve garnered a favorable following over the last few years, mainly due to a blistering, ear-splitting live show that teeter-totters between fast, hard-hitting guitar heavy instrumentals and swirling psychedelic-post rock. Post-post rock, if there is such a thing.

Sleep Forever, while still delivering more of the swirling, sprawling psychedelic goodness from before, shows a bit of their softer-side. Tender, and at times delicate. But they haven’t gone all James Bluntified; there’s still enough hard-hitting jams to blow your socks off.

Full e-mail transcript below. . .

First, lets get down to the nitty-gritty: where was Sleep Forever recorded?

Danny: We recorded the basic tracks at this amazing studio called Shorefire in Long Branch, New Jersey. It has this great live room and the amps of my dreams all in one spot. It’s not that far away, but it was just the right amount of distance from the city. It let us focus on getting things done, and this record is about nothing but taking care of business. Then we came back to Brooklyn and recorded all the overdubs and mixed at Stay Gold. The whole recording process took about a month and a half, which was lightning fast compared to Son of the Tiger.

Did you work with anyone?

Danny: We co-produced the record with Chris Coady, who’s worked with TV on the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Blonde Redhead, Celebration, etc. He was the voice of reason and experience to all our amateur hour ideas, and he provided a lot of ideas of his own whenever we were trying to get somewhere and weren’t quite sure how to get there.

Was there anything that the group wanted to do differently (in terms of recording) than what was done with Son of the Tiger?

Danny: We definitely wanted to do things quickly this time, to capture a sense of urgency and intensity, but not in quite the same “reckless abandon” way as the first record.

We did a lot of preparation for this record so we could make the most of our time in the studio, and knew going in that it was going to be a tighter, more focused affair.

Sonya: We wanted to capture some sense of the live sound, and to be a little less precious about things – to try to keep in mind the point of each song and focus on that coming across.

Gabe: Also, there’s a depth of emotion in this album that was missing from the first one, so I’m glad that we found it and were able to capture it in the studio.

There seems to be some slower tunes this time around – near ballads that I don’t recall existing on Tiger. Did you guys want to slow things down a bit. . . or at least dabble in more quiet arrangements? Slow might be a bad word choice.

Danny: Personally, I want every record to feel like we’ve grown or developed in some way, but it’s not really a conscious choice to have quieter songs.

Sonya: There were a couple of slower/mellower ones on Son of the Tiger, and that is definitely a side of us that’s there. It often doesn’t come across live, mainly because of the songs we choose to play. We weren’t trying to slow things down or soften things – it’s more that’s a part of what we do as much as anything else. We can be tender. In terms of the feelings those songs evoke, they are consistent with the rest of the material to me, just maybe executed differently.

Gabe: I don’t think we have an agenda to slow things down; it’s just where the mood of the band took us, I guess.

Sonya, your vocals seem to have a much more immediate presence, than the last one- maybe just because we hear you first. Was there a decision to get your voice into the record earlier this time?

Sonya: Not really. Danny and I each did a few sequences, and we ended up with similar ideas for it. So the order just felt right. We didn’t really think about it in terms of vocals/no vocals, or Sonya singing/Danny singing. It was more about the feelings of the songs going into each other. But since I sing first, I guess I win.

Yes, you do win. And is that a drum machine I hear on “Chorus of Guitars?”

Danny: When Sonya and I first started playing music together, it was mainly a guitar and keyboard affair, and we went out and got the most basic, K-Mart style Yamaha keyboard. “Chorus of Guitars” was supposed to be me on piano, everyone else we could get on guitars, and I wanted a drum machine that sounded like a heartbeat. It ended up only having two guitars on it, but the title stayed. Anyway, I borrowed a few drum machines and tried a bunch of different things out, but it turned out that the drum sounds on this Yamaha just fit perfectly.

That said, how are Big Sleep songs constructed these days?

Sonya: Most songs started with Danny bringing in an idea, and then all of us building on those, arranging things together.

Danny: It gets put to the Sonya and Gabe test. We can usually tell right away if it’s something we want to turn into a song, and I do a lot of self-editing, so I don’t really come in with anything that is too outrageous for us. Then we go through a few different arrangements. While we’re doing that, we also hammer out parts to add on top of that main basic idea. We demoed all the songs on the record before we actually went into the studio, which was really valuable in helping us figure out what worked.

And lastly, to get a bit sentimental on you: what are you all most proud of with Sleep Forever?

Danny: I’m really proud of the fact that we went in with pretty clear ideas for what we wanted, but were still open to spontaneity and input from our producer. It was a different experience for us because we did everything so quickly, so there wasn’t a lot of time to deliberate, and it felt good to just pick an idea and know you were committing to it. I also cut out a lot of feedback guitars, which was my usual way of filling in the spaces. It was something new and good to let the spaces stay. The whole record just generally feels more adventurous and like it strayed from our “safety” areas.

Sonya: This record takes some listens to get, but I love these songs. I think there’s a consistency to it, and a depth that I’m pretty proud of.

The Big Sleep play the Knitting Factory on December 3; admission is free. They’ll also ring in the New Year at The Mercury Lounge with Earl Greyhound.