MORPHEUS MUSIC INTERVIEW - SLEEPTHIEF

03.11.05

     
 

Q: What’s your musical background – how did you get into establishing a project
like Sleepthief?
 

I am largely a self-taught piano player. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I have always been a music fanatic. Even as a child I would try to play the piano at my grandmother's house. She taught me a few little tunes...but I did not learn to sight-read. I just memorized where my fingers were supposed to go. I began trying to learn piano seriously when I was 19 years old. I also took a theory class in college. But, in truth, I've always been more interested in writing my own music than playing someone else's songs. I am not a superb technical pianist (although I probably could be if I just practiced more--and I can play my own songs quite well). About seven years ago, I purchased a 16 track sequencer/keyboard. I knew at that time that I wanted to start cementing some musical ideas. So, I just started writing songs and various lyrics. About 2 years ago, I approached Israel Curtis, a friend of mine, who had been developing his mixing/engineering skills. Israel is also a very competent musician in his own right. I told him that I had songs that I wanted to translate into more "professional" pieces...that was the start of the project. Initially, I planned on using just one female vocalist. However, I was put in touch with Jody Quine by Russ Elliot of www.musicaldiscoveries.com. I sent her a few tracks and she expressed interest. From there, I had somewhat of a "dream list" of vocalists that I HOPED might be interested. As the songs developed, I was fortunate enough to get to work with almost all of them.

  Q :  I believe that some other artists (like Conjure One and Delerium) tend to
write music pretty much in complete form before involving the vocalists –
do you work in a similar manner?

 

Almost all of the original songs appearing on the album were written by me as instrumentals. "Afterthoughts," "Nightjar," and "Desire of Ages" are exceptions (and of course, the covers of The Chauffeur and The Metro). With "Afterthoughts," I was introduced to Lauren through a mutual friend. She was keen to be involved, and when she sent me the piano and vocals for Afterthoughts, I was so impressed that I asked her to take part. So, that song was written in original form by Lauren--both music and lyrics. Once we got it, Israel and I fleshed out the instrumentation and the various vocal parts. "Nightjar" was written (both music and lyrics) by Caroline Lavelle. Caroline is a lovely person, but she has a difficult time singing other people's songs--even with BT and Vangelis, she was very involved with writing the music and lyrics herself. I have been such a big fan that when she offered to write a track and then hand it over, I was not about to let the opportunity pass. Like with "Afterthoughts," we have taken "Nightjar" and done loads of programming and arranging to flesh out the sound. "Desire of Ages" was a musical piece originally written by Israel Curtis. I liked it so much and it fit the mood of the album so well that we decided to include it. Harland obviously wrote lyrics and melody for it. On some of the tracks (like "Tenuous" and "Just Say It"), I wrote the music, melody and lyrics. On other tracks, the music is sent to the vocalist, and they work out a melody and lyrics. The nice thing is that I have had the chance to speak in depth with each of the vocalists about my "feelings" behind the music. It has been great to collaborate that way. I just did not want to "hand off" songs to singers--I felt it was important to get them on the same page as I was with the overall "vibe." For example, Jody and I spoke at length about the idea behind "Eurydice" and she even researched the myth (Jody is a pro!). With Harland, I spoke with her for an hour about the feeling behind "Desire of Ages." I really try to help the vocalists grasp the concept. But they are all so incredible--I have not been disappointed.

     
             
Q : What sort of selection process did you go through in choosing vocalists?
  There are certainly vocalists that I greatly admire. The funny thing is that all of those appearing on the Sleepthief album are actually amongst my favorites. When I first heard Jody Quine's voice on the Balligomingo album, I was instantly floored. I've been a big fan of Kirsty Hawkshaw's voice since the Opus III days. Same with Kristy Thirsk, Caroline Lavelle, Nicola Hitchcock, Harland and Roberta Carter Harrison and Kyoko Baertsoen of Lunascape. Both Jerri Eckert and Lauren Edman--the two singers who are "new" have phenomenal voices. So...I never dreamed that I would actually get to work with all of them. It was kind of just pure daydream fantasy...and then when it started to happen, I almost could not believe it myself.   Q : Are there any ‘mistakes’ or ‘creative decisions’ made by other artists in the genre that you’d like to avoid?

  Hmmm...well, I have always been a bit nonplussed by the fact that many electronic outfits and/or DJs want to be at the forefront of the fame game and fail to acknowledge the voices that make their music what it is. I've spoken with several of the vocalists about this. It seems hugely unfair and disrespectful to utilize a talented singer (who may have also been part of the songwriting process) and not to give credit where it is due. Also, any group or artist that refuses to share proceeds from album sales with a collaborator who actually co-writes part of the lyrics, melody, or whatever is being dishonest. I wanted all of the singers involved to know that I deeply value their involvement. If a vocalist co-writes a track, she is entitled to compensation from sales of the album or other publishing deals. I have actually become good friends with many of the singers and I would never want them to feel unappreciated. Money is NOT everything and when people are willing to destroy relationships over it, I think a serious "head check" is in order.

I think another thing that I would like to avoid is feeling that if the album becomes successful, I will need to produce a formulaic follow-up...I want each track to be fresh an inspired and not feel bound by expectations or otherwise. I think that many artists get stuck in a "what will appeal to everyone" mentality. I just cannot work like that.


             
Q : How has the internet (the Sleepthief forum perhaps) helped shape the
project?

  The internet has been (obviously) very helpful. Having the site up has allowed fans a place to meet and spread the word to every corner of the globe. I love interacting with the people who are interested in Sleepthief's music--they are a great group. Furthermore, promoting one's music is much easier with the internet. Of course, the internet facilitates the exchange of files between me and Israel and the singers.


  Q : Sleepthief fits nicely into a steadily expanding genre of beautiful
electronic music with (mainly) female vocals – what do you consider to be
different about or unique to Sleepthief?

  I've mentioned this before, but because Delerium somewhat pioneered the whole "ethereal guest vocalist with lush electronica" sound and because Balligomingo did something similar, people instantly assume that Sleepthief is just another project in the same genre. While I do enjoy both of the aforementioned groups, I think that people are going to be a bit surprised when they hear some of the other tracks on the album. While I have written some expansive and exotic numbers, some of the tracks are more Celtic flavored. I have a serious jazz/trip-hop track (Fire from Heaven with Roberta on vocals) and a bit of drum & bass. Caroline's track is also fairly unique. I don't mind the comparisons to Delerium or Conjure One or Balligomingo. To be fair, several of the vocalists who have appeared on those projects are also appearing on mine. But, I seriously think that discriminating fans will find Sleepthief's music is different (sometimes radically so) than those acts. Honestly, when I write a track I do not think of any particular song or artist...it is just a melody that flows. At the end of the day, though, people will like the music or not on its merits. If fans of Delerium and Balligomingo like Sleepthief's stuff, how can I be offended?
             
 
     
Q :  Are there any things about Dawnseeker that you really didn’t intend when
you began the project?
 

Definitely. As Israel and I began exploring in the studio with different sounds and grooves, certain songs took unexpected directions. For example, "Tenuous" was much more beat heavy when we first started. We were several days into it, and I decided to scrap most of it because the song just wasn't sounding the way it should. We stripped out a lot of the percussion and made it more of an ambient piece. Something similar happened with "Afterthoughts." It started as a very cinematic/classical piece. But then we got to the point where it just wasn't meshing quite right. We mixed some things up, giving it a bit more of a whimsical touch. These sorts of shifts probably happened with many of the tracks--it is sometimes hard to know where a song will end up when you first start. But as you progress, you began to intuitively feel whether a song is working or not. That is part of the thrill of creating the music. For "Chauffeur," we threw down some drum-n-bass rhythms and they ended up working quite well. It is funny because sometimes things you think will not work at all end up really enhancing the overall quality of the song.

I did not intend it to take 2 years to complete (haha). Also, I thought the album would be a bit shorter. It has taken longer because there are 2 more tracks than originally planned.

  Q : You're obviously quite involved with the artwork for Sleepthief -
what's your idea of great CD packaging?
 

I feel very strongly that the CD packaging should be as evocative as the music itself--the packaging is like a visual extension of the music. I wanted the imagery for the album and the website to reflect a slightly surrealistic, dream-like quality. In my opinion, the related artwork should really enhance the overall "vibe" of the music. So many CD covers and booklets are very poor in quality. I wanted the Sleepthief album cover to immediately grab people's attention...because there are many people who will listen to or purchase a CD because of the cover art. Brian Son is utilizing various images that I have photographed and incorporating them with his own artistic design ideas. He has truly stunned me with his creativity and vision.

             
Q :  How do you find looking at your album as completed entity now? Do you have a feeling of satisfaction? Are you a perfectionist that picks up everything that you feel you could improve upon?  

It is very exciting and still a bit unreal to me. Obviously, it turned out to be something far beyond what I had originally anticipated and having the singers involved that eventually came on seems like a dream still. I am very satisfied. I am (unfortunately) a bit obssessive about detail, so of course, I hear small things that I would maybe do slightly differently, or adjust. But on the whole, I am overwhelmingly pleased.

   Q :  What’s been the most gratifying result so far from releasing Dawnseeker?  

 

It has been very affecting to hear the feedback from listeners and to know that they are moved by the music. As cliche as that sounds, it is almost like discovering a bunch of new friends that "get" what you are about. Being able to positively stir others' emotions through one's art is incredibly rewarding. I would also have to say that my new relationships with my label, and the singers and artists that were involved with the project has been a great blessing as well.

 

           
         
 Q :  Now that it’s finished – what part of the CD best captures the initial goal you had for Dawnseeker?   Wow...that is a tough one. I don't think there is any particular aspect that stands out because every song feels like it has a place. I am just pleased that there is a nice diversity of sound, but that there is a connectivity between all of the tracks. People have really noted the variety of the songs while appreciating the unity of the entire album.    Q :  Obviously the singers you’ve worked with are all quality artists – but did anyone especially outdo your expectations?   I am not dodging here...I think all of the singers exceeded my original expectations. In some way or another. For example, Jody's vocal line for Eurydice was far better than anything I had imagined. Harland's harmonies and all of the vocal tracking she did was epic. Kirsty's unique take on The Chauffeur was beyond what I had hoped. I could go on and on about each of the tracks.

 

 

           

Q : Can you tell us a bit more about Israel’s involvement with the project?

  Israel has been a good friend of mine for a few years. We were introduced by some other friends who are musicians. I knew he liked electronic music, and I had turned him on to artists like Caroline Lavelle. He actually turned me on to Balligomingo! Israel is one of the most tech-intuitive people I know. He can learn complicated programs in his sleep. So, he had the studio and equipment necessary to really flesh out the original songs I wrote. He is also a very good musician and a writer himself, so it was a double bonus. We would dump one of my songs into Logic, and then we would proceed with selecting sounds. Some of my songs were layered with numerous instruments already, and others were more sparse...so Israel worked as an engineer and programmer in the studio. He also wrote the central music for Desire of Ages. At this point, I am in the process of expanding my own studio so I can really become more adept at the programming side. Israel is light years ahead of me. On the next album, I will definitely work with Is again, but I want to do alot more of the technical programming myself. I am a songwriter and lyricist, but you can be limited if you don't understand the engineering side of things. I have learned alot and will apply that when I do the next album.   Q :Not all of your listeners will be aware of the reason for Jody Quine being featured on three tracks – how did this come about?  


Jody was the first singer to really become involved. I sent her the music for TENUOUS and KISS TO SAVOR. When she came down to record, we hit it off very well both musically and personally. We had so much fun in the studio. When she came back a few months later to shoot the video for TENUOUS, we discussed the fact that I had new music for a song called EURYDICE. Again, at this point, I was just beginning discussions with Harland and Kirsty Hawkshaw and Caroline Lavelle. Jody liked the music and so I figured that we could do another great track while she was in town. She researched the myth for EURYDICE and came up with words and melody in about 5 days!! It was crazy. So...Jody got in early and she is a real talent. She will definitely be appearing on SLEEPTHIEF's next album. In fact, I already have the song written that I would like her to sing.

         
Q :What do you see ahead for Sleepthef now? What are your plans and what are your dreams? I have the highest hopes for the project. I will always write music and I will always strive to become better at my craft. As I mentioned, one of my goals for the next album is to really discipline myself to write more structured songs. So far, I have written six new songs for the next album--and I am highly pleased with how that is going. Also, Israel and I will be involved with Caroline Lavelle's next solo album. This is a huge honor and we are in the studio currently on that project. Sleepthief 2 (I wish I could tell you the title of the next album...it already has one!) should be out in about two years. Also, I have been asked to co-write music with several singers. I am excited about this as well.

      I am hoping to sign some new acts to my label (Echotone Records) and get that rolling. Finally, I am working to get a film produced. We should be shooting within a year. And I am looking at doing some management and legal representation for some artists...just alot of things on the table, but all good!!

Oh, and we will be shooting a video for the second single in the next few months.

Thanks to Justin Elswick for allowing us that interview.