Thursday, December 9, 2010

Disturbing the Sleepers

The following is an article commissioned for a local magazine, but not used due to editorial change. It is published here in its submitted draft form. 

I’m at the cover shoot for this edition of LMG – ten in the morning on a Saturday (what the hell?), and the guys from The Sleepers are faffing about with ropes and lights and what have you. Obviously they’ve been there for hours already, skinny bastards, looking spritely and fafferish, as if they’d just stepped out of a day-spa.

I try to manipulate the manic-looking guitarist Nic Roos into making me tea. Time goes by.  And eventually I notice that the shoot is happening with just four guys in the frame. Odd.

When the band’s management eventually arrives, a question is asked, the penny is dropped, and a whole bunch of internal headscratching begins...


So it is in the summer of 2010, that two important musicians in the Cape Town underground rock scene have left their respective bands, and in so doing have left two very different voids to fill. One of the lads is a drummer – and his story will be told elsewhere. The other is a vocalist – a singer – Syminn Snodgrass, (former) frontman for the Sleepers.

The staff-deficient bands in question are going to have very different anxieties around how to replace their respective members. In the case of the drummer, the bands may be looking for someone who can carry the technical (and physical) load of the music.

But the vocalist is a different kettle of rarefied fish altogether.

To whit – try this pop quiz: What were the names of the singers for INXS, The Cure, The Pixies, and The Spiders from Mars? If you scored four out of four, you’re fairly up to scratch on modern rock trivia. 

Now name the drummers (or bassists) in the classic lineups of INXS, The Cure, The Pixies, and The Spiders from Mars. If you got one, you’re in the equivalent of the rock n’ roll MENSA*. 

And that, with no disrespect to drummers, bassists, keyboardists and guitarists, is the big difference between the muscle and the style; The musicians in the band may be the engine, but the guy (or girl) out front is that little ornament on the hood... the one that shows off your shine to the outside world, and hopefully the thing that turns heads as you cruise down that boulevard of rock n’ roll dreams (Look, just follow me on this, ok?).

Traffic lights

The Sleepers are standing at a traffic light, and they're waiting for something to happen. There is no ornament on the hood anymore. All that remains is the impatient rattle of a monster engine underneath it.

The Sleepers are like a v12 hemi – if you’ve ever seen them perform you’d know what that means. When the pedal hits the floor on this band, it’s the one of the sweetest-sounding roars you’re likely to hear.

It’s just that right now, that engine sounds like it’s slightly mistimed.

“You know, it’s funny,” says Adam Hill (the guitarist who normally stands on the right of the stage). “I’m usually very clear on how to express my feelings on matters. This, though, still feels very fuzzy to me...

“Bands sometimes tend to live life in a bubble. What they hope for in their musical life doesn’t always get reflected in reality. I guess reality hit very hard when Syminn left.”


Fellow musicians know enough to never ask about the reasons and details behind musical divorces. It’s like asking a separating couple what their bedroom life was like. No matter what the answer, it’s an offside question, because, quite frankly, it’s none of your business.

But you can ask what the feeling is once the room is empty.

Adam is appreciative of all that was good: “Obviously, we’ve lost momentum. Just having someone that has a clear idea of the way he works... Sy’s personal and lyrical contribution was a way to diffuse the complexity of what Nicolai and I do as musical input. We’ll definitely miss that.”


Whoever was doing what, it was working. The Sleepers have oh-so-smartly slow-burned their way into a critical space that is hard to doubt. In that respect they’ve chosen their name well, because between you and me, they’ve surpassed many of their more – erm – obvious peers over the time they’ve been together.

They’re one of the most unique-sounding outfits on the scene, and one of the consistently best-performing, but they’re also one of the most overtly nit-picky about getting whatever they do precisely right.

Sleepers shows are increasingly well-attended, and particularly their Hallowe’en events have become a traditional annual highpoint for fans. Yet the band has a very obvious hunger that seems to grow with every new sub-project.


Amid all the goings on in Sleeper-land, there’s a new recording in process, just weeks after their free live EP “Luminaire One” was released to the web. It’s going to be a task to find this work ethic and those creative traits in a new “ornament”.

How would they begin to engage that process? For one, there will be tryouts. The plan, according to the band at the time of writing, is to embark on a period of open auditions over the December/January period.  Syminn will be on hand to honour commitments up to and including Ramfest 2011, at which time the new voice will presumably step in.

Open minds, open roads

 “We don’t necessarily want someone to emulate Syminn,” Says Nicolai (The guitarist on the left side of the stage). “I’d be more interested in someone who brought something of themselves, but was interesting and unique.

“It’s a tough thing to pre-think; do you bring in someone with experience? Or should it be somebody new and fresh? Collectively, I think we have quite an open mind, but hopefully it’ll end up being someone with experience, but who can also learn and adapt quickly.”

So it’s an open road, people. An opportunity is there for someone who fancies himself the shiny hood ornament of a bright red v12 hemispherical combustion low-rider band. 

But whoever takes Syminn’s spot will have to be willing to shine up good. The Sleepers do not do things by half measures, and they don’t seem to have any intention of skipping many more beats on their way down that concourse.

Not when there are heads that still need turning. 

PS: * The singers were Michael Hutchence, Robert Smith, Black Francis/ Frank Black and David Bowie (or Ziggy Stardust, if you will);  the respective drummers were Jon Farriss, Lol Tolhurst / Andy Andersen / Boris Williams, David Lovering and Woody Woodmansey respectively.
Related Posts with Thumbnails