Sleepy West may be the most all-American group ever to come out of Bendigo. On their new EP, the five-piece offers a subtle twist on country and blues traditions.
“I would say we’re best described as Americana,” says Sleepy West frontman Joel English. “We cross a lot of genre lines and I think that’s down to what each member brings to the table. We all listen to different things, so when producing a song, it starts out one way and ends up a completely different beast.”
The group broke into the wider Melbourne scene with their 2016 performance at the Bendigo Blues & Roots Festival. Since then, they’ve been refining their style and working on a series of EPs, of which Blood & Wine is the third. Blood & Wine builds on previous releases, marrying a straightforward twang-and-croon redolent of Tennessee with catchy, pop-style riffs. In ‘Don’t Like Your Love’, the EP’s only single, English strives to balance raw lovelorn expression with toe-tappability.
“Each track represents a pivotal moment in life, from young love, people trying to help but causing more harm than good, doing things you hope one day you’ll be forgiven for and having to make hard, potentially life-changing decisions fully knowing the potential consequences,” explains English. “They all have a different emotion attached so it’s hard to pick one. The first single ‘Don’t Like Your Love’ is a blast to play and listen to, so maybe that’s the stand-out.”
Blood & Wine’s title track is a prototypically alt-country lament for lost love that would be as at home in Kentucky as it is in Victoria. Since English founded the group in 2014, Sleepy West’s mission seems to have been to prove that music can at once be intensely sad and also pleasant. The smooth and harmonious sound of this EP is a testament to the working chemistry the band have developed over the past four years.
“It took about two years for the whole current group to come together,” recalls English. “I think once you begin focusing on the craft of songwriting and producing, the songs naturally draw musos into the project. It also helps that we all get along and like to laugh at ourselves.”
The gospel-influenced track ‘Forgiven’ showcases guitarist Jordan Allen’s penchant for heartfelt but unostentatious instrumentation, and imbibes a flavour of Bob Dylan’s Saved period from Jayme Tolley’s solid drumwork.
“This EP is a collection of four tracks we have a great time playing live, but also mean something to us,” says English. “Each track has a clear story behind it and paints a picture that I believe everyone can relate to in some way. All the tracks reflect a chapter of life and the curveballs it tends to throw you.”
Sleepy West list alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams and folk musician Justin Townes Earle as primary influences, and, in past releases, the band has combined some of Adams’s expressiveness with Earle’s Gracelandian rhythms. For the launch party of Blood & Wine, Sleepy West have chosen The Golden Vine Hotel, a classically Victorian venue with a wraparound verandah and unbeatable drinks prices.
“We were all born in Bendigo and so we really felt we had to do our launch there for our friends and family,” says English. “It’ll be a pretty intimate show. We have a few new tracks to play and also the EP tracks to show off and we also have a great artist, Daniel Aaron, on the bill, which we’re super pumped about. So we’re keen to just have a great night of music and hang out at The Golden Vine which, as a venue, has always been a great supporter of Sleepy West and all our endeavours.”
What’s next for Sleepy West? The band hope to produce a music video or two to accompany Blood & Wine, says English, and are working on new material for a future EP that will feature stripped-back production and a strings section.
“I don’t tend to get to ahead of myself because life has a funny way of reminding us that we have no control,” says English. “We’ll tackle the next season once we’re done with this one, I guess.”
Sleepy West will launch Blood & Wine at The Golden Vine in Bendigo on Friday October 26 before dropping into Melbourne for a show at Bar Open on Saturday November 3.
Written by Zachary Snowdon Smith via Beat Mag