Sleeper – Interview 2017

Back in the mid-90s, Britpop was all the rage. Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Elastica et al. Fighting it out for airtime, media coverage and gossip columns. It was a BIG thing, perhaps the last major hurrah in the world of guitar-driven pop music, when the singles charts really mattered and TOTP was still on the air. Sleeper have been largely forgotten about, but for a while they too were a major player, with three consecutive top ten albums, and eight top forty hits to their name, all between 1995-1997. And in Louise Wener they had a guitar-toting sex symbol, a woman who adorned front covers and for a while was a mini-celebrity who appeared regularly on Chris Evan’s TFI Friday. She was known as ‘Just another woman fronting a guitar band’, while her male bandmates were collectively known as ‘Sleeperblokes’. When they split up in ’97, Wener embarked on a successful literary career, and has so far produced four novels, as well as an autobiography My Life As A Pop Star. But, Sleeper have decided to reform, and dip their toes back into the world of live music. Brightonsfinest to spoke to Lousie ahead of their first gig in 20 years at The Haunt, in Brighton.

You decided to get the band back together again…
Have I? Oh God!

You didn’t decide that then?
No, I did decide that! It was a spur of the moment thing. It just hit me, a chance to do some gigs this summer. I had a bit of a ‘why not’ moment, and everyone was up for it, surprisingly. I’m really looking forward to it, actually.

It’s been 20 years!
I am nervous a bit, but also excited. I always liked performing live. I didn’t get hugely nervous before a gig. I’m hoping that is going to stay. It feels more like a great chance to re-live those moments.

How do you view that Britpop period now?
I view it as happy, joyful nostalgia. I’m far enough away from it to see all this loveliness about it. In the way you look back at being at school, it was all fun, and those summers were always sunny. You have that rose-tinted view.

So, you all got on famously?
It was hugely competitive. Everyone was watching each other, checking each other out, and seeing who was being more successful, whose mid-week chart position was better. There was a lot of pretending that no one cared, but everyone was super ambitious at the time.

What about the famous episode when some of the stars of the day got into bed with the Tony Blair government of ’97? In the Live Forever documentary of the Britpop phenomenon, you criticised Noel Gallagher for going to Downing Street, indicating he had been neutered in the processs…
I didn’t fall for it. I think I said they cut his bollocks off or something. I think I was a cynical old bird even then. My feelings about it then, and probably still are, is that if you join in with those people, join in the politics in that way, you can’t stand back and criticise it. The fact that you join in, and take the champagne, have the parties, you can’t then stand back and be critical of it. And that’s the job of artists, and musicians, and writers: to critique it.

Of course politicians are to used to it, and why wouldn’t they? I understand the lure of it. I suppose I was a bit cross. ‘You didn’t invite me. I’m going to slag everyone off now’!

What about the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon, and all the love that is flowing his way?
I wouldn’t ever get into bed with Jeremy Corbyn. Even figuratively.

Is the band the same as before?
It’s nearly the same, except we have a new bass player. Our old bass player lives very far away, while the rest of us all live in Brighton, so that made it easy to do rehearsals, and fit them around our busy lives. Me, Jon Stewart and Andy Maclure (Wener’s life partner) live in Brighton. We have Kieron Pepper on bass, who used to be in The Prodigy.

What can we expect? All the hits?
We’re taking a different rout; progressive rock, arty songs, five minute songs…. No, we’re doing all our hit songs!

Are you writing any new material?
We are writing some new stuff, so who knows.

Have you written any music these last 20 years?
Yes. But, I started writing and I enjoyed that so much. The idea of having total autonomy over something. You go away with your laptop and you write a book. It’s yours to mess around with for a year or so. I loved that after the pressures of being in a band, and everything is collaborative, and every tiny thing that you do has to be cleared through everyone else. I’m a bit of a control freak is what I am saying!

I still write a lot of melodies. I like messing around with that stuff. My guitaring is slightly shonky. Hence the rehearsals.

Have you been on stage at all these last 20 years?
I have played with some friends, a little covers band, called Huge Advance, which was with my literary agent and a journalist, and Andy. We’d play anything from White Stripes to The Beatles, to Kylie. We only did two of those. That was it in 20 years.

How did it feel going back into a rehearsal studio?
It felt strangely alien at first, but it came to me quite quickly. We’d played those songs hundreds of times, and gradually your muscle memory, and the synapses start clicking.

I remember seeing you once at the old Concorde (where Harvester is now, across the road from the Pier). Remember that place?
It was an odd shaped stage, wasn’t it? Was there a chip shop above it or am I imagining that?

No. But, coachloads of day trippers would descend upon the Concorde during the day when it functioned as a fish and chip style restaurant.
I knew there was a chip kind of vibe going on there!

What else is in the Sleeper pipeline?
We are doing the Star Shaped Festival (from their Britpop Star Shaped Club nights) in various places, four Saturdays over the summer. Other bands playing are Space, Dodgy, Bluetones, My Life Story, Salad. And we’re doing our own show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, 2nd December.

How long have you been in Brighton?
About ten years. I fancied being by the seaside. Andy got a job down here, and I was pregnant with my second kid, and Brighton seemed like a nice place to bring up kids. And, it is!
Jeff Hemmings