Barnaby at Ipswich Music Day
By Richard Haugh
"Disregard what I just said and pretend like it's something really meaningful and profound." Still in their teens, SleeperCell write songs about what they know. This means girls, love and the hidden elements of Halo 3.
SleeperCell have risen dramatically in the public eye in 2008 following their appearances on Channel 4's Orange Unsigned talent contest. Singer Barnaby has since left the band so we've created an updated page - but our original chat wil stay below:
The band members have changed slightly since they formed at the end of 2006, but when I spoke to singer Barnaby Courtney in June 2008 SleeperCell were a five piece made up of fellow singer and guitarist Kyle Orton, Matt Fowkes on bass, Rob Banthorpe on drums and newest member Pat Richardson-Todd on rhythm guitar.
Listening to a session they'd recorded at BBC Suffolk a couple of months earlier, the first thing that struck me was the vocals being sung in an American accent. Why do English bands do this?
"I'm from the States", explained Barnaby. That's a good enough reason I guess.
"I was living in Seattle with my mum and my step-dad, who was an absolute arse, so I decided to come and put myself upon my dad. I've been here for three years and really like it."
Barnaby's migration was eased by his invitation to join SleeperCell and their willingness to get out and play as many gigs as possible.
Barnaby, Rob and Kyle
"Despite the initial lack of culture I experienced when going to school here I soon found that Ipswich had a pretty good music scene.
"As opposed to places like Cambridge or London, a lot of pubs in Ipswich will allow God-awful bands to play which is great. If you're just starting out you need gig experience.
"The Steamboat were really good to us when we started out. We were not gig-worthy at all and probably should have stayed in the dark where we belonged for a while.
"But they gave us a shot and we've been playing there ever since - they really helped us to develop our fanbase."
Seattle be the day
However dedicated a fan one may be of the Ipswich music scene, it's hard to argue that its musical heritage matches that of Seattle.
So did growing up in the home of grunge have an affect on Barnaby?
"Funnily enough in Seattle I wasn't really into music at all despite all the bands that are from the area - Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Death Cab For Cutie, Jimi Hendrix. God, I can't believe I didn't get into music when I was in the States.
"We're still developing our sound and aren't totally sure what direction we want to go in. When I first arrived it was very much a classic rock influenced band - very droll Metallica type stuff - but we're bringing in a lot of funk now and trying to experiment with a bit more pop rock.
"We've started to listen to a lot of really, really decent bands like The Beatles, which is helping us to broaden our spectrum and we try and create something a bit more original than what else is out there."
The band members share the songwriting duties and take up the old adage of writing about what they know.
"Most of it does tend to be about love and girls, although Kyle did write a song called No Limits which was about super bouncing on Halo 3."
Kyle and Barnaby
A decade older than SleeperCell's 17 and 18-year-olds, I had to ask what super bouncing is.
"When you run into a corner it creates some glitch in the game and if you jump in just the right place it will project you out of the level - hence the lyrics "I'm on top of the world and nothing can bring you down".
"Actually, disregard what I just said and pretend like it's something really meaningful and profound."
A highlight for SleeperCell has been the two times they've laid down tracks in an East Anglian studio. But the experience has also taught them a lesson which Barnaby hopes other bands will learn from.
"The first time we went to this studio we had some really good sound engineers. Our ability wasn't as good back then but they came across really well because of their work.
"This time we had a different sound engineer who charged us twice as much because it took twice as long, because of his incompetence.
"The tracks came out really badly, so it sounds like we've got worse.
"I'd advise other bands to check out the sound engineer beforehand. Ask how many years experience they've got as it takes several years to get in the know.
"Also don't spend too much when you're starting out as it's not worth it. Your ability doesn't really require all that extra stuff.
"Save the money for equipment and merchandise."
Purpose built venue
Like many of the bands we speak to, Barnaby believes Ipswich is in dire need of a venue dedicated to live music. The Steamboat, The Swan, The Milestone et al are doing their bit to support up-and-coming bands, but all are pubs converted to host live music, rather than being purpose built.
Yet Barnaby is confident that change is just around the corner: "The manager at The Steamboat wants to spend some money on an actual club for live bands, which isn't just a bar with a small stage. The Twist at Colchester, for example, is geared up for bands rather than having a drink.
"I think the smaller the place the better the atmosphere. You cram 30 people into a room which is built for 10 and you have a fantastic gig, whereas if you cram 100 people into a room built for 300 there's definitely a significant change in the amount of energy you get from an audience.
"For some reason people like to be packed in like sardines. Is there a word for the opposite of claustrophobic?"
Agoraphobia perhaps? Either way SleeperCell have become used to playing in front of a decent-sized crowd in Ipswich and are now looking to broaden their horizons.
"We're trying to expand our fanbase by getting gigs outside of Ipswich.
"I think it's essential to the band's success that we get ourselves out there, but we're not very organised. We've been lucky that most of our gigs have been offered to us.
"With none of us being able to drive, and a lack of any sort of van, it is hard to get ourselves out there.
"Kyle's dad Carl is like our manager but with a bit extra added - he does so much for us. He drives us to every single gig, and Kyle's mother comes along with her camera to make sure we feel appreciated!
"It's nice to watch yourself back because you can improve on what you're doing. One thing I've learned is everything I do on stage is 10 times less than I think it is at the time.
"So I always make sure to go excessively over the top so as to put on a good show.
"I think there's a fine line between good showmanship and making an absolute arse of yourself.
"I may cross it on the odd occasion but for the most part I think I'm alright."
last updated: 12/03/2009 at 11:23
Have Your Say