Photos by Tom Spray
May 2014: Spot Festival, the most important industry festival of the Danish music scene. Brian Batz, the man behind Sleep Party People, enters the scene. He is 32 years old, but he feels as if he is a teenager. He is nervous. In retrospect it reminds him of the first time he went on stage with Sleep Party People as support for The Antlers at The Jazz House, Copenhagen, in 2010. But a lot has happened in four years. He is onstage in Århus to perform his third album, “Floating,” from start to finish. It will be the first time the world hears it. In their hands he and his band carry the rabbit masks that have become such an important visual aspect of Sleep Party People. To Brian Batz showing his face is unusual. What is also unusual is that album that Sleep Party People are about to play for the audience was written and recorded in just one month.
A floating soul
The story begins in mid-2012, when Brian Batz receives an email from Mikael Johnston, a producer based in San Francisco or rather Oakland which is located on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Mikael Johnston wrote that he had heard Sleep Party People and that he loved it. Would Brian Batz like to make a record with Mikael Johnston and Jeff Saltzman, an old hand in the profession, whom among other things has worked with Morrissey and The Killers. It is an offer Brian Batz cannot turn down and on February 15, 2014 – approximately one and a half years later – he’s sitting in the plane on the way to San Francisco. But he has not had time to write new material.
“I had written one song and I my conscience was killing me – I actually tried to move the trip, because I thought: Fuck, I can’t go there without any material. They be expecting that I return with an album or something”.
Nevertheless Brian Batz throws himself into it. He checks himself into a posh hotel in a run down part of Oakland and starts to work. In the daytime he works in the studio, in the evening hours he returns to his hotel room to make sketches for new material on his computer. After one and a half weeks at the hotel he moves into Mikael Johnston’s living room, and from then on he no longer has his own space. This will leave a mark on his work. He starts thinking about being in the company of others, and this inspires the lyrics, he explains:
“I was very interested in how I behave in social situations, because I was constantly pressured to be with new people – and I do not consider myself good at that; I need my own space, and it was just not possible when I slept at the couch in Mikael’s condo, where everything was just open.
I think it is interesting compared to what family you come from, and how one’s parents, for example, behave in such a situation. It is actually what many of the lyrics are about.
I also think that this is why the album is a little flighty or even psychedelic, as some people say. I believe that it comes from the fact, that if you do not really have a stand, you are a lost soul in some way – or so I felt. I had no peace. That’s probably why there are no quiet piano songs on the album – except for one, but that was written at home “
Brian Batz asked the artist Roby Dwi Antono, who also made the cover art for Sleep Party People’s second album ‘We Were Drifting On A Sad Song “, if he could illustrate precisely the feeling that he had during the process. On the cover of “Floating” is a girl who wears a rabbit mask. She hovers, apparently lifeless, in the air and out of her shoots a plant.
The man and the rabbit
Back on stage in Aarhus, Sleep Party People put their masks on and start to play the new material. To the trained ear something else has changed. On the new album, Brian Batz’s voice is more naked, there are not so many effects.
“I’ve turned down the rabbit voice, as people call it, quite a bit. It was necessary for me to do. It’s been a sonic thing that has taken up a lot in the Sleep Party People universe, and therefore I had the need to say, “Now I’m in San Francisco to make a record, it must be quite different from what I normally do: It must be analog, it should be like a band playing”.
In an interview with When The Sun Hits from 2010, he explains how the idea of the rabbit mask came as a result of the special vocal he had developed. It made him think that it was how rabbits would sound if they sang.
With the clean vocals he thought that it would be a good idea to let the mask fall in the background; Sleep Party People will still be in rabbit masks when they play live, but the rabbit gives way a little to the man behind.
The Bass Bomb
Floating is also the first album that Brian Batz has not produced at home in his own studio. He has limited himself 24 tracks, and thus had to move away from the rich Wall Of Sound production which he previously used.
“I love playing with effects and let things lie at the bottom and set the mood – and I could not set the bar the same way because I can not let 24 tracks lie at the bottom, as I usually do, because I have already exhausted my quota. It has been important to me that you can hear what’s going on in the mix. I’ve really been inspired by the work under these constraints, and more forced to think about what works.”
Floating is also the first Sleep Party People album where there have been others inside the process of making the record. Brian Batz says “using their ears” and getting to concentrate 100% on playing the music, not having to place microphones and so on, has helped him a lot. And then he enjoyed the atmosphere in studio with a myriad of people hanging out. He tells a story about a girl called Lisa Light, who one night, as he is working on the song called “I See the Moon”, enters the room with half a bottle of whiskey in her hand. She sits around for a while watching Brian play his guitar, and then, out of nowhere she gets up, picks a bass, plugs it into the soundcard, goes to the computer, makes a track, and starts playing.
“I was just thinking that I wanted to play some bass on your record. Is it cool if I just press record now and we go from there?”
Batz says yes.
“Had it been in Copenhagen, and it had been a friend of mine, my reaction would have been something like: “What the hell are you doing? I am jamming with myself, and then you just ruin it”.
But Lisa did had such a fine approach, he says, and she got her way and sings and plays bass on the track “I see the moon.” The spontaneous way the song came alive, makes it a special song to Brian Batz.
“It is a very unusual song to me, because I like to have control and that my work is well thought through. I just did not had the opportunity to work this way with this song and I think that’s very cool. “
Brian Batz flew home March 15. If you ask him what he took with him home, besides a newly written and newly recorded album, he replies that he verified that one must dare to move out into the unfamiliar and test his limits – for which he notes that he was quite nervous when he flew over. The trip home was different.
“It was quite strange because when I got into the plane, I was like “fuck, how crazy. What is it that I have made? It was two weeks before I could listen to it. I was about to hear with fresh ears, what it was I had created.”