how to make it as a touring musician

How to Make it as a Touring Musician: Sleepmakeswaves Tells All

how to make it as a touring musician

If you’re an aspiring guitarist, you’re going to want to get to know the instrumental post-rock quartet sleepmakeswaves. Hailing from Sydney, Australia, the band kicks off their United States tour this month, behind the release of their new album Love of Cartography.

We had a chance to catch up with Alex Wilson from sleepmakeswaves (bass, keys, electronics), to chat about the new album, and living the dream of being a touring musician.

TL: First of all, congrats on the new album and the tour, and thank you so much for chatting with us!

AW: Thanks for having me. Very excited about our upcoming tour of the United States with The Contortionist, Monuments and Entheos. Only a few days out now.

TL: Following the success of your previous album, what were you looking to do differently with Love Of Cartography?

AW: We wanted to shake things up for ourselves without vastly changing what we were about. One part of that was the process. We tried to bring our stage show into the studio as much as possible by tracking together in a room. Our producer, Nick DiDia, pushed us in that direction and we would be reluctant to make a record differently now.

The other shake-up was the emotional vibe. There was less emphasis on the darker, brooding side of our sound and more push to being euphoric and uplifting. A natural outgrowth of where we were as musicians and people when writing Cartography.

TL: You guys are living the dream of many aspiring musicians; what goes into being a touring musician, the dedication involved, practice, sticking with it when you may not feel inspired?

AW: It’s not so much a thing one does, it’s more like a way of life. There’s practice, alone and with bandmates. There’s admin ­­­— emails, making sure gear works, money stuff. There’s being away from work, home, loved ones and finding ways to keep everyday life humming along OK while that happens.

Most of all, it’s about a mindset I try to cultivate: balancing the fortune of living the dream with the discipline and dedication to not waste the opportunity. Being grateful for music and travelling the world, and gracious in the face of the tougher stuff: getting fired, getting dumped, being broke, and missing home.

TL: Speaking of touring, how do you continue to write new music and practice while on tour? What do you love about being on the road and performing live?

AW: I have to write music on the road or I lose my mind. It’s a way to unwind. On tour, I have my laptop, USB interface, headphones, Ableton Live, amp sims, EZ Drummer and no shortage of guitars. That’s enough to keep me cranking out the riffs. Big chunks of “Emergent”, “Great Northern” and “A Little Spark” were written this way.

For me, a good night on the road is when sleepmakeswaves takes the stage and is firing on all cylinders. There’s a vibe between us and the crowd. Then we get on the bus and talk and drink until 4 a.m. when me, and our drummer Tim, start making sandwiches. I’ve made some very deep relationships touring, have seen amazing parts of the world and shared moments with excellent people all around the world.

TL: How does being an instrumental rock band shift your focus, the way you play and practice , and how you write your music?

AW: I always wrote music sleepmakeswaves-style, I just happened to find the band that would fit the sound in my head when we got together 10 years ago. The instrumental approach fits my muse well because I’m at my best when I’m exploring pure sound and finding new ways to approach the geometries of rhythm and pitch. I have a huge place in my heart for excellent singers and lyrics but I think it’s part of sleepmakeswaves musical path to focus predominantly on the power of instruments and pure sound.

TL: How does music allow you to express yourself? Do you find it harder to create music when you are dealing with personal hardships or is it a great outlet for emotions?

The whole point of music, to me, is to convey emotion. Sometimes the relationship is one of pursuit. I feel an emotion (joy, despair or something we don’t have a name for) and try to nail it down in a song. Sometimes it’s discovery, writing just for the love of music and chancing upon a feeling or vibe that is unintentional but running with it.

Johnny Marr, one of my favourite musicians, called songwriting daydreaming in sound. Emotionally, I love composition because it’s satisfying to create. Live, the volume, audience, and physical intensity of what we do takes me out of everyday thought patterns in a way little else can.

Writer’s block for me has sometimes corresponded with hard times, sometimes with really great stretches in life. There’s a dark and intense side to my personality that I think would be far harder to manage had I not created such a large space for music in my life.

TL: Can you talk a little about your creative process? I know you guys have said originality is a priority, how do you use your musical influences and still maintain your own originality?

AW: That’s really hard to answer, a great deal of the process is intuitive. I view songs as puzzles that need to balance fresh musical ideas with a kind of emotional narrative that will give them shape and impact. So we tend to cycle through ideas and arrangements until things feel exciting for us while satisfying obsessions we have about balance, melody and atmosphere.

For me, originality is good in moderation. I like things to be fresh, but being different just for the sake of it won’t impress me on its own. There’s got to be craft and emotion to give weight to a new idea. Some bands are Radiohead and change all the time and remain brilliant. Other bands are Converge and make the same kind of record each time and remain brilliant.

TL: Many of our readers are beginner musicians, what advice do you have for someone who is just getting started learning an instrument, or who feels discouraged?

AW: Push through the awkward beginnings when your fingers hurt and you don’t want to practice. Because eventually you’ll be good enough to play your favourite songs. And that’s one of the best things ever.

TL: We’d love to share your video for “Great Northern” what would you like our readers to know about the video, can you give us a little background?

AW: It’s made by a friend of ours, Bradley Coomber, who works in the film industry. We told him we wanted a video clip about a kid who travels to space. Because upward motion is heaps inspirational and space rules hard. The results speak for themselves.

Again, a big thanks to Alex and all of sleepmakeswaves for chatting with us about music and guitar. Check out their website to keep up with the latest band news; we wish them the best of luck on their tour!

Now, check out the new music video for “Great Northern”!

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