In the month of August, the band Sleeper Agent has been on an absolute tear. It started with their single, “Get It Daddy” being featured on Our Vinyl’s August edition of Back of the Rack. Their full length album was released through iTunes on August 2nd with the same track featured as the Single of the Week. That was followed with articles in both Rolling Stone and SPIN Magazine. They are currently touring all over the US to promote the album.
From Bowling Green, Kentucky, the band consists of Tony Smith (guitar, vocal), Alex Kandel (vocal), Lee Williams (bass), Josh Martin (guitar), Scott Gardner (keyboard) and Justin Wilson (drums). The main focal point of the band is the vocal play between Smith and Kandel and it almost never happened. At just 18, she was brought in originally to be the bass player. The instrument was too big and she almost left for a promising career in professional chess, but with a voice like that, they kept her as the yin to Smith’s yang.
Musically, the band doesn’t necessarily blaze any new paths, but what they do well is infuse tremendous energy into a garage-band, punk sound that is powerful and contagious. The album doesn’t even have breaks between tracks. If that is any indication of what a live show must be like, hydrate well in advance. You will need it.
Celebrasion is 12 tracks of raw energy driven by loud guitars and relentless drums. The verbal play between Smith & Kandel is seamless and the anthemic-styled hooks and choruses make for great fan participation. Smith cites a who’s who in punk when asked about influences (keep reading for a brief interview), but it is what he doesn’t say that is intriguing.
Most reviews are quick to point out a similarity to White Stripes. While flattered, the band does not see it. If one were to sit down and pull out influences from this album, what is striking is the homage to an era long gone. Each musical age borrows from the one previous, but what we have here is some fine 50s-60s rock and roll wrapped up in a 21st century punk/new wave wrapper.
That can be seen well in two of the strongest tracks of the album, “Bottomed Out” and “Get Burned” as well as the closest thing to a ballad in “That’s My Baby.” “Get It Daddy” is one of those songs that you will hear decades from now. It is definitely the strongest track on the album and has that “lightning in a bottle” quality. There are generations of songwriters wishing they came up with that song right now.
The second group of songs forms the meat of the album and provide great opportunities to get up, get loud, get busy. Songs like “Force a Smile,” “Shuga Cane,” “Some White Monster” & “Be My Monster” are crowd-pleasers. The continuous play between Smith and Kandel with the occasional full band chant hooks you in. All in all, this is one heck of an album with very few low points. Years from now, many of us will all be saying “remember when Sleeper Agent got big?” Some of have even documented it.
Here’s a quick interview with Tony Smith:
VA: You’ve been on a bit of a whirlwind recently with all of the media hype and the release of your album Celabrasion. What has been the most exciting part so far? How does it feel to cross “make it into Rolling Stone Magazine” off your music bucket list?
TS: The most exciting part is simply the reality of any of this ever happening. Years, months and hours have gone into speculating, arguing about, discussing and playing music. It’s a fan boy’s dream come true. First SPIN took interest and floored us, then MTV and now Rolling Stone. We’re still letting it gel.
VA: In the Rolling Stone article, you talk about drummer Justin Wilson getting sucker punched by the drummer from a rival band. Is there anything you’d like to say to that person now that you are on the verge of taking off?
TS: It’s all water under the bridge these days. We’d most likely hit up a bar, rather than a face now.
VA: Have any of those demos that you sent on to Jay Joyce gone on to make Celabrasion?
TS: 10 out of the initial 16 made the cut. 2 out of a second batch of 5 did as well.
VA: The band originally started with you alone on the vocals. So how difficult was it in terms of the songs already written, the sound and dynamic of the band, etc when Alex went from bass player to vocals?
TS: Most of the material was up in the air. It could’ve been anybody doing any part back then.
VA: There’s a distinct White Stripes feel to “Get It Daddy,” specifically in the vocal play between Alex and Tony, yet there’s so much more there. You’ve been quick to avoid being put into a neat little box in terms of your sound in recent interviews, and rightfully so. What other bands past and present, do you feel have influenced your sound and style?
TS: We’re quick to avoid comparisons that we don’t quite understand. Fortunately, most of them come from a flattering place. Celabrasion came from a healthy doses of Jay Reatard, The xx, Girls, Wavves, Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos, Andrew WK, T.Rex, Rolling Stones and there’s some Animal Collective snuck in there somewhere.
VA: Take us through the writing process for a Sleeper Agent song. Who is involved? How does it come together and how much input do each of the band members have?
TS: I sit down with my out of tune red acoustic guitar, beat on it and moan syllables to melodies until it forms something like a song. I show the other fellas the mish-mash and they help me feed and clothe it to make it presentable to society. Then, Alex and I listen to the syllables and form the words that make up an anecdote or story to accompany the music.
VA: What is it about the Bowling Green music scene that you think is different than other places in the U.S.?
TS: It’s starving and pissed off.
VA: What is the big fantasy for the band now? Is there a specific venue that you guys are dying to play and can’t wait to get there?
TS: The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. Big Fantasy: Enthusiasm towards Album #2.
VA: You guys are still doing everything yourself. You move your own gear, handle all tour manager duties, etc. A year from now, if we checked in on you, what will have changed?
TS: It would be nice to have an extra hand here or there, a full-time driver and somebody who could front of house sound for us. Other than that, we’re cool with the way things are.
VA: What is next for Sleeper Agent?
TS: Tour. Tour. Sleep. Tour. Tour.
By Victor Alfieri