Sleeper and Snake on new LP Fresco Shed + first single ‘Flats’: “There’s all these people with power next to disempowered people… AND it’s all on Stolen Land. Everywhere you look is a little snapshot of this…”

Original photo Mia McDonald. Handmade mixed-media art by B.

Melbourne duo Sleeper and Snake, Amy Hill and Al Montfort, are set to release new album Fresco Shed via brand new independent Australian label Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (from the folks behind Lulu’s record store) and the UK’s Upset the Rhythm.

Sleeper and Snake craft beautiful and delicate songs about tough matters, their songs are political without being overtly so, you have to dig deeper, they make you think. Al and Amy skillfully and uniquely tell stories observed from their local surroundings of trains, farmers, corrupt handshakes, of Pentridge prison and the Melbourne war memorial. Through laid back alto and tenor saxophone peppered lo-fi soundscapes and poetic words, Fresco Shed sparks imagination and charms the listener.

Gimmie chatted to Al and Amy about the forthcoming LP and song “Flats” which we’re doing the Australian video premiere for today. We also talk about their other projects in the works.

What initially inspired you to write a new Sleeper and Snake album Fresco Shed?

AMY: Good question! [laughs].

AL: Yeah.

AMY to AL: You’re just always writing music, endlessly… it’s gotta go somewhere.

AL: We were writing a lot of Terry songs together…

AMY: We just enjoy playing music together.

AL: I guess…

AMY: Some of it didn’t suit that.

AL: Yeah. We had saxophones so we were making a lot of music with them.

I wanted to ask you about using saxophone, because that’s kind of a less traditional instrument to write songs with; have you been playing for very long?

AMY: No, not really. Al got one…

[Laughter]

AL: Yeah, I got one. I got a tenor sax from EBay from a fancy rich suburb in Sydney for 200 bucks! [laughs] …maybe six years ago when Total Control were up there for a gig. I didn’t bother getting any lessons, in case you can’t tell.

AMY: I tried to play it once and I managed to get sound out of it and he pestered me into playing [laughs]. Georgia from The UV Race plays saxophone and she had babies recently so she wasn’t using her saxophone, I managed to borrow hers and that’s what I’ve been playing. We thought it would sound quite cool to have the tenor and alto saxophones together. It seemed like a fun thing to do.

AL: Yeah. Amy just picked it up and was way better. She was a total natural at it straight away.

What do you enjoy about making music?

AL: It keeps me sane-ish. I think any kind of creative outlet is really important for people. The process of writing lyrics is a really great outlet for me to get through the day, to make things compute and it helps this horrible place make sense.

AMY: I think it’s just fun!

[Laughter]

Making something from nothing is the most fun!

AL: Totally!

AMY: Yeah. It’s also been a real social thing for me, I get to hang out with my friends and we do music together. It’s always been what you do, go see bands and play music together.

How have you guys been dealing with not being able to be as social and do those things, especially play live?

AMY: It’s pretty weird. At first it was almost like a little bit of a holiday from it. By playing in numerous bands we’d find ourselves playing something like four gigs a week, which is quite insane when you’re also working fulltime [laughs]. The first lockdown it was kind of a bit of a novelty but it starts to just become quite odd, I feel a bit odd. There’s a lot of people that you don’t see anymore because you’re not going out to see live bands. Your life feels a bit like it’s on hold, I guess most people would be feeling that.

I think so. I’ve been going to gigs my whole life and this has been the longest I’ve gone without going to see live music. Right now in Brisbane a handful of venues have brought back a live shows but with a small capacity and it’s sit down at tables, socially distanced; you pay the ticket price and then you have to pay a minimum of $40 each extra on top of that which is redeemable in bar tab or venue merch. That means for my husband and I to go see a local live band it can cost around $120; we don’t drink and we’re not going to spend $80 on soft drink and we don’t need venue merch, so these new rules excludes us from going to do something we’ve done and supported our whole lives.

AL & AMY: Whoa!

I can understand venues are in a weird spot with having limited capacity and not having been opened for a bit but to basically enforce a alcohol minimum to see bands is really weird.

AL: That is really weird.

AMY: Someone was telling me that Cherry Bar here in Melbourne was trying to gauge interest, they want to do a gig where there’s some hotel and it must have a courtyard in the middle and the rooms have balconies that look down on it; they want to have the bands in the courtyard and then you book a room, so it’s a festival where you have to have your own room. It’s insane.

Wow! Totally.

AMY: You have to have money to be able to do that!

Same with the bands doing gigs at drive-ins up here. It’s something like $200-$250+ per car to go.

AL: Whoa!

Yeah, it puts going to a show out of the reach of a lot of people, especially with many people losing their jobs.

AMY: Do you think people do it because they think they’re supporting live music? But then it’s so inaccessible for so many, it’s so weird.

Yeah, the kind of crowd that end up being able to afford it are the ones that go to a festival like Splendour In The Grass just for the experience… its crazy to me that festivals like Splendour have a stall/tent you can go to and get your hair done and a nail bar! I mean, what the actual fuck?

[Laughter]

Is there anything that frustrates you about making music?

AL: Hmmmm [thinks for a moment]… dealing with promoters. I think there are a lot of good promoters that have their heart in the right place, but I think the money making, money obsessed side of it…

AMY: It’s a bit grim!

AL: It is pretty grim. Even what’s happening now with the shutdown, I know a lot of the venues are keen to open up because there’s people that work for them and the landlords need money from the venues, the business owners need money and they’re pushing this stuff more than the artists I feel. I feel like the artists and the fans are like, let’s respect this, it’s OK…

AMY: We’ll just have a break. There’s a real push from the business side because they’ll go under if they don’t have the chance.

AL: I feel like maybe there’s not that much interest in the cultural, artistic side of musicians/artists… it’s more about the bottomline. That can be frustrating.

AMY: Some people probably love it, if they’re in it to make money [laughs].

AL: Yeah, totally.

Photo: Mia McDonald

I grew up in the punk rock community so I’ve always been very wary of the music industry.

AL: Yeah. I went to a lot of punk gig growing up, there weren’t many at pubs, there were many at cafes during the day or DIY venues, house parties, and they went along just fine without these huge bars making a lot of money off of people drinking themselves to death… I’m not quite straight edge but…

AMY: I guess there’s that thing that musicians often get paid in their bar tab to a certain degree which… it’s a bit of a weird normality that that’s what you get.

I’ve been listening to the new Sleeper & Snake album Fresco Shed all afternoon since I got a sneak peek of it, it’s so cool. The opener “Miracles” is an instrumental and has a feel about it sonically that is kind miraculous and magical sounding.

AMY: Thank you.

AL: “Miracles” is inspired by Scott Morrison when he won the election and was like “it’s a miracle… I’ll burn for you” and he kept on saying all this stuff about miracles [laughs]. It was really upsetting.

AMY: [Laughs].

That’s like how in the US Donald Trump said that the pandemic will “disappear… like a miracle”.

AL: A miracle! Ugggh… Love that! [laughs].

I love how Fresco Shed has a real gentleness to it but then the themes are very political and serious.

AL: Yeah. It’s funny just making the music at home because we don’t play through amps very much with this project. Because we’re doing it like that and playing at home using saxophone and that, it does become gentle in a way.

AMY: You don’t have to be loud.

AL: Maybe it’s just sad and defeated?

AMY: Sad?! [laughs].

AL: It’s that side of politics… it’s the sound of defeat [laughs].

I saw press photos and there was an abstract hand-painted “fresco shed” in the pics; did you make it yourself?

AMY: We were getting quite crafty in lockdown.

AL: [Laughs].

AMY: Al’s always trying to make papier-mâché things. In Terry he made the papier-mâché Terry. He likes to get crafty.

AL: Yeah, I like to get crafty! I was really proud of the corrugated iron type roof.

AMY: We envisioned a real shed covered in fresco paintings but then all we could physically achieve was a cardboard box [laughs]. We like making the art and being hands on in that way. We had a lot of time on our hands.

We were nerds and zoomed in on the photos to check out the paintings better and we noticed that each picture correlates to song themes on the record, you have the V-Line country train, Pentridge prison, crooked handshakes…

AL: It’s conceptual but literal [laughs].

AMY: Al told me what to paint and I just painted it, that was the rule! [laughs]; I said I’d paint it if he told me what to paint. They all relate to the songs.

I really love the image of the “farmer full of feelings”.

AMY: [Laughs].

AL: That’s one of my favourites, I think. That person definitely looks defeated!

That image is related to the song “Lady Painter”?

AMY: Yep. The farmer full of feelings has just watched a Scott Morrison press conference [laughs].

That song even mentions the “fresco shed” right?

AL: Oh yeah.

AMY: That’s where the title comes from.

We’re premiering the video for your song “Flats”; what’s that one about?

AL: We moved to a different suburb a year and a bit ago, Richmond is an inner east suburb of Melbourne…

AMY: No one we know really lives here, everyone lives north side. We moved to a suburb that’s kind of wealthy…

AL: It’s diverse, it has a lot of public housing but it’s really rich as well, heaps of wealthy people. You really see gentrification at that umpteenth level, how extreme it can get…

AMY: All the apartments going up and stuff. It was during summer and we were going for walks and we were talking about ideas and things and that kind of came up and that turned into a song.

AMY to AL: Did you write it?

AL: I think we both wrote it while we were walking around taking Tramadols [laughs]. We were walking by the Yarra River, it runs through the whole thing and you really see the worst of Settler society here…

AMY: All the wealthy people have their houses on the river and all the wealthy schools row on the river.

AL: There’s all these people with power next to disempowered people… AND it’s all on Stolen Land. Everywhere you look is a little snapshot of this.

It’s always boggled my mind since I was a kid, the world always seemed to me to have enough for everyone but, then there’s some people that have so much that they don’t even need and then there’s people with nothing, no place to live. I remember observing that as a kid and thinking it was so weird and wrong.

AL: Yeah, totally. Moving to the suburbs that are much older, the juxtaposition between these two things are in your face. Another aspect of the song is about the privilege we have as white Australians, we don’t have experiences the same way… we might not even be from wealthy families or whatever but we benefit from it every single day. The “flats falling into the floor” lyrics is a reference to the Opal Towers in Sydney, all these apartment building falling down and such wealth being made from that stuff, it’s disgusting!

Totally! Do you have a favourite track on the new record?

AMY: I like playing the ones that we just play saxophone on together, they’re really good to play.

AL: They’re all good ‘ey! [laughs].

What do you love about playing saxophone together?

AMY: I think it’s just so new for me. To be playing a very different instrument than what I’m used to and having to work out how they sound good together… literally I don’t know some of the notes on it and have to figure it out [laughs]. Because it’s new it’s exciting to play. Challenging!

Musical experimentation must keep things creatively interesting for you; was there anything new you tried writing or recording this release?

AMY to AL: I don’t’ know if it made it on to the record but you were clanging on something, weren’t you?

AL: Oh, yeah. I was banging on a pot.

AMY: I don’t know if it sounded any good [laughs]. We just like to try weird things. We do that though with all of the bands to a different degree. Nothing ground-breaking.

AL: We recorded on the 4-track, which is what we usually do with Terry and Primo! too.

Photo: Mia McDonald

Toward the end of the song “Lady Painter” there’s some cool weird sounds that I couldn’t work out what was making it?

AL: That could be the organ, Nan’s old organ!

AMY: The Funmaker.

AL: Yeah, it’s called the Funmaker!

AMY: It has this one level of keys…

AMY to AL: Do you think it’s broken? Or is that just what it sounds like?

AL: That’s just what it does.

AMY: We didn’t even effect it, that’s just what it sounds like.

AL: I’ll plug it in… here we go! It’s pretty crazy.

[Al plugs in the organ and plays]

[Laughter]

I feel like fun is a really important part of what you both do?

AL: Yeah.

AMY: It’s sort of like a hobby, what we do to relax and blow off steam and hang out with our mates.

Did you start creating from when you first got together?

AL: It took a while. Maybe Terry was the first band that we wrote together for, that’s four or five years ago.

AMY: We’ve been together for ten years. It took us five years because we just had our own separate bands.

AMY to AL: You were pretty busy because you had ten bands or something like that.

AL Too much going on ‘ey! [Laughs].

What’s something you both do differently when writing songs?

AMY to AL: You remember them, that’s one thing.

AL: I remember more of the riffs than some other people in the band [laughs]. I rush, I’m always keen to get things done…

AMY: Whereas I work more slowly.

AL: Not slowly though, I think more thoroughly.

AMY: I like to think over things.

AL: Amy does things properly and I rush it [laughs]. That’s what the report card says! Maybe that’s from just being in bands that tour a lot for a while… UV Race and Total Control would write a record, finish a record… we’d jam a lot and write a lot to have a record for touring; maybe that has affected my song writing style?

AMY to AL: You want to churn it out…

AL: Yeah, I want to fucking churn it out!

AMY: I’ll think about something for three months. 

AL: Which I think is better! I listen back to stuff and I’m like errrrrr, I wish you told me to chill out on that.

AMY to AL: Yeah, like… you need to do those vocals again!

[Laughter]

Did you do the Sleeper & Snake stuff in a few takes?

AL: I’ll always be like, that first take was good!

AMY: He’ll tell me to put something on it and I’ll be like; this is a demo, right?

AL: I’ll be like, yeah it’s a demo. Then I’ll be like, OK, let’s send it away for mastering now!

[Laughter]

I love when you sing together on your songs; what kind of feeling do you get doing that together?

AL: It’s pretty fun!

AMY: I’m like, oh god! [laughs].

AL: Singing is so fun. I think we both love singing and we try to egg each other on.

AMY: I sing high on some songs on the record. I think I sing better when I sing high but I really don’t like singing high. I’m always trying to go low but it always ends up that, nah, I’m gonna have to go up. It’s all figuring out harmonies.

Is there anything else that you’re working on?

AL: We have a few demos in the can. We’re got most of the new Terry record done.

AMY to AL: You’re still working on that Dick Diver record?

AL: Yeah, there’s a Dick Diver record that’s been 75% recorded about two years ago…

AMY: Sleepless Nights have been working on another record but that kind of stopped with Covid. Our drummer just went to Perth, we were like; why did you go to Perth?! There’s a few things in the works but everything is a bit on hold.

AMY to AL: Truffle Pigs?

AL: Yeah, Truffle Pigs! That’s Steph Hughes from Dick Diver, Amy and myself. It’s more like Soakie, country Soakie…

AMY: It’s a concept album. We’re always doing bits and bobs. Al writes songs and we figure out which band it sounds like [laughs].

AL: You write so many songs too; what are you talking about? [laughs].

AMY to AL: Noooooo. I write a riff and play it for a little while and then I forget it and then you remember it and turn it into a song [laughs]. You’ll be playing and I’ll be like; oh what’s that song?

[Laughter]

What are the things you value in terms of your creativity?

AL: I value collaboration and maybe a level of improvisation, especially in a live setting.

AMY: I enjoy that. Performing is good as well. But, we don’t’ get to do that at the moment. I do get really nervous though, but I enjoy it a lot [laughs]. Sometimes my hands will be shaking so much that I can hardly play the organ.

You could never tell you’re so nervous. We watched the live Button Pusher performance recently, which was great!

AMY: It’s just a physical thing I guess, it’s so weird. I’ve been playing for so long and it just never goes away. I still get so nervous! I think it’s a good things though to have some nervous energy.

Please check out: SLEEPER & SNAKE. Fresco Shed out in September via Lulu’s Sonic Disc Club (AU, NZ and Asia) and Upset The Rhythm (UK) pre-order HERE now. S&S on Instagram. S&S on Facebook.

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