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Australian Post-Rock Band Sleepamakeswaves Debut in India

Co-founder Alex Wilson talks about playing in Pune and Bengaluru, enjoying widespread acclaim and acceptance back home

Anurag Tagat Dec 07, 2018

Australian instrumental rock band Sleepmakeswaves. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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No matter how much we might want to escape the stereotype, free-roaming monkeys are often associated with India. Over the phone from Sydney, post-rock band Sleepmakeswaves’ bassist-keyboardist Alex Wilson is talking about unpredictable experiences on tour and recalls what he heard from fellow Australians in prog band Karnivool about their India trip. “I’ve heard from Karnivool that once they had a monkey climb up onto their lighting rig and pour Coke on to one of their amps – I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it’s pretty fantastic,” he says.

We ask if he’s bringing this up because he was bitten by a monkey while sightseeing in Indonesia and Wilson lets out a laugh. Does he have a fear of being around monkeys now? He says, “I guess I’m not an especially fearful person. I was probably ultimately too trusting with the monkey and then it got angry and decided to give me a good bite. I still think they’re really cute and fascinating creatures. I think I just I know a bit better now to keep my distance after eight needles and a rabies vaccination later.”

Funny stories aside, Wilson and Sleepmakeswaves clearly have a lot of excitement in their camp ahead of their India debut at Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Pune on December 7th, followed by a set on December 9th at Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined, Bengaluru. In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Wilson talks about the universal appeal of post-rock, why they can tour with different bands and coming to the country. Excerpts:

You’ve had a few connections to India before, like touring with (prog band) Skyharbor as well as (post-rock band) Aswekeepsearching. How did this India appearance come about?

I think it probably did start with getting to know Skyharbor over a pretty long European tour (2014) and I mean they’re a band that comes from several continents but as you said, a lot of the members do live in India. I want to say that it was really interesting for us as Australians to meet Indian musicians playing rock in real life. I suppose that India is a very up and coming country for rock music, so meeting them made us really excited about what kind of music scene might exist there. I guess then a few years of talking to the people at NH7, trying to figure out what was the best way to make it work.

In the meantime, I’ve been talking to other guys in the music industry, like the guys in Karnivool and [Polish instrumental rock band] Tides From Nebula and just getting feedback from them that it’s a pretty incredible vibe. I think without making too big a point of it, I’m pretty excited. I’m sure it’s going to blow my mind in many ways. I’m looking forward to the culture shock, seeing how different things are in everyday life and also how different things are in terms of the music scene as well.

Sleepmakeswaves has toured with metal bands like Underoath, prog bands like The Contortionist and many more. What has that been like?

I think when we step out of the post-rock scene, is it about a coin flip. It’s a 50 percent chance whether that tour is going to be on where we make a lot of new fans or whether we just cruise through the tour not having a lot of notice taken of us. I think the thing about the post-rock scene – your Tides From Nebula, [Irish instrumental rock band] And So I Watch You From Afar – it’s very tight-knit. There’s an incredible sense of community. Sometimes, when we step off and when we do a tour with a band in a different kind of genre, it’s not always the case that people on that tour really connect with what we do.

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Are the newer territories the ones with more unpredictability or is it still the case with Europe or America where you don’t know how you’re going to be received there when you tour?

I think probably as an Australian being in Europe or America, I suppose the feeling of everyday life is a bit more familiar to us. Going to China, it’s not so much stuff like… for example, in China, the venues are incredibly modern and very well put together and fantastic. The interesting thing on those kind of tours for us is all of the stuff that happens around the show. Like, ‘How do you get from point A to point B?’ or ‘What are you going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner?’ Those are the really interesting aspects that are very different from America and Europe.

As Australian bands, it’s a really important thing for us to discover and build musical connections with the communities that exist in India and China, places like that. We in many ways share so much more geographically and economically with India than we do with many of the countries in Europe. It’s a shame that there hasn’t always been the closest relations between our two countries in terms of the economy or in terms of politics.

I’d like to see what we’re doing and what other Australian musicians traveling to Asia and India doing as building connections, bridges and sharing knowledge and experiences with one another. Without being cheesy, I guess I’m a big believer in that music is one of the ways that we can help ourselves acclimatize to each other as one big Asian-Oceanic community. I would love a future where the Asian and Oceanic music scene is independently strong and big in a way that’s entirely different to Europe or America. Does that make sense?

After topping album charts in Australia and being nominated for awards there, what kind of spotlight does that put on you back home?

I think the way that I look at us is that we’re in a position where we float just under the line of what is cool. We never quite make it into what I call the “indie mainstream” – where you mention bands like Tame Impala. I’m not talking smack about any of those bands, I’m just observing in Australia that are at the very top of the independent pile. We’re certainly not there, we coast underneath.

Our success to me has been able to rise to that level and stay there. Even though it might be nice to get further up that food chain, where we are at the moment we can pretty much do what we like. We’re not as seen as one of the really big names in the industry. We’re really appreciated what we represent and we have a lot of creative freedom to express ourselves, because our fans don’t need us to be following a particular trend or creating some kind of viral content. There’s a lot of freedom in that and that’s fantastic.

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By the end of 2018, India would have hosted post-rock bands like MONO, God Is An Astronaut (GIAA), Alcest and more. What do you think is the global allure of the genre?

I think it’s an amazing community and I’m proud to be part of it. The thing I want to add to that conversation is that I think post-rock is here to stay. I’m a big of fan of the history of music and so I think that it’s important to remember that what we call post-rock today – bands like GIAA and Mono – they have a heritage musically speaking – that stretches back at least to the mid-1980s and maybe further. This style of music that is built around using rock and roll instruments but not in a way of creating a conventional pop song – this has a lot of precedent. I see it as a rich and honorable tradition of rock, this kind of exploration.

I like to think of post-rock not as a niche thing but as a broad sweeping vital undercurrent throughout all of global rock and roll. There’s always been an audience for this kind of music. A lot of that might have to do with the fact that it doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on lyrics. It doesn’t matter what culture you come from or what your thoughts or affiliations are, you get to choose what the music is about. It’s not choosing it for you and I think there’s something awesome about that.

What are your plans outside of the shows while you’re in India?

We’re trying to plan a holiday after we complete the shows and we’re thinking of sticking around if we can for another three days and just relax and go enjoy a beach somewhere or something like that (laughs). More personally speaking, I’m a huge fan of food. Indian food is very common in Australia, we have a big population of people from all over India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh as well. I’ve eaten that food all my life and I’m personally so excited to try some of the real deal stuff. That’s always one of the best parts about traveling for me.

What’s coming up through 2019?

I think we have some material left over from our last record that we’re going to work on and try and get out sometime in the beginning of next year. There’s some touring on the cards, but I think the main thing we want to do is get stuck into writing for our next release, our fourth full-length album. We think our best album’s still ahead of us. There’s an itch to get started on that and see where it ends up.

Sleepmakeswaves perform at Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune on December 7th and at Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined, Bengaluru on December 9th. Event details here.

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