Clockenflap darlings Sleep Party People lighten up on new album Lingering
Brian Batz, multi-instrumentalist and producer for Danish band with a strong Hong Kong following, talks about how much fun they had playing Clockenflap and how he ‘tried to write happier songs’ for fourth album Lingering
A peculiar troupe of musicians wearing black clothes and rabbit masks cast a spell over the crowd at Clockenflap 2015 with dark, shoegazey electronica and vocals pitch-shifted to saccharin softness. Sleep Party People, the project of Danish multi-instrumentalist and producer Brian Batz, is a solo endeavour on record, but when playing live on stage, blossoms into a full theatrical band show.
Eighteen months since his first appearance at the Hong Kong music festival, Batz has just released his fourth album, Lingering, and is busy locking down dates for a fresh batch of live shows. Performing live has never come easily to the shy artist, whose song Fainting Spells, from the new record, was inspired by stage fright and childhood social anxiety. But thanks to constant encouragement of his fans and the reception at shows, like the enthusiastic crowd that turned up to witness his Hong Kong debut, he’s looking forward to touring again.
“It was so much fun to play and we had a really nice energy onstage,” the musician says of his Clockenflap set. Mired in sound problems, the day got off to an uncertain start, yet culminated in Batz crowdsurfing for the first time and getting mobbed by fans in bunny masks after leaving the stage. “It was the best concert on that Asian tour,” he adds.
Compared to his previous album, 2014’s Floating, which was recorded “during an intense period in San Francisco”, Batz took longer on Lingering, stripping away the synthetic sounds and focusing on a more “organic feel, with no computers or electronic beats”.
Full of sensuous soundscapes and transfixing melodies, the resulting record is airier, warmer and less introspective than Batz’s previous works. It contains some of his strongest songs to date, including the poppy The Sun Will Open Its Core, the delicate Lingering Eyes and the achingly beautiful Odd Forms.
The eerie-sounding vocal manipulation of his previous recordings is pared down too.
“Playing a lot of concerts has made me a better singer and I feel more confident singing in front of people now than I did seven years ago,” he explains.
As well as clearer vocals, Batz also introduced live drumming instead of synthetic beats on Lingering. His aim is to have no backing track during shows – even for older songs – something Batz hopes will bring more freedom and experimentation to gigs.
So far, Sleep Party People’s recorded sound and live experience have been two distinct entities. Batz writes and produces all the music from his studio, before teaching the music to the band – an assortment of friends from the Copenhagen scene. Pulling apart the songs into separate sections for each musician might have been daunting after such an introspective creative process, but it’s actually “very easy”, says Batz.
It’s partly thanks to not being too precious about his ideas. “[The band is] always allowed to interpret what I’ve written in the studio,” he says. “It’s important to include them in the process, especially when we’ll be playing those songs hundreds of times. They stay close to my blueprint, but they’re allowed to do whatever they feel like in the moment.”
One of the songs that feels primed to be taken in an experimental direction on stage is Dissensions, a helter-skeltering swirl of soaring vocals and synths. Luster, aka Jacob Haubjerg, a fellow Danish musician and Sleep Party People’s touring bassist, sang the vocals, while Batz called upon Peter Silberman of US rock group The Antlers to write the choir parts. But the album’s big-name collaboration happened almost by accident.
A long-time fan of Air’s album “Moon Safari”, Batz was stunned to receive an e-mail from US singer Beth Hirsch, who collaborated with the French electro group on their seminal debut. Hirsch had heard “Floating” in a restaurant and felt compelled to get in touch to ask if he wanted to collaborate. “It was insane, so surreal,” Batz says.
The pair chatted and shared ideas, yet never met in person – there was no need when files could easily be swapped back and forth online. Hirsch wrote her own lyrics and recorded them in Portugal, where she lives, while Batz created the music and mixed the track, We Are There Together, in his Copenhagen studio. “I said to her, ‘Write whatever you feel like writing’. The lyrics are personal for her. I didn’t interfere at all. I like that,” Batz explains.
Sleep Party People’s sound has always been a curious, contradictory combination of happy-sounding music and sad lyrical themes, an approach inspired by British indie rockers The Smiths. “Sonically, their songs are very happy, but the lyrics are so sad and melancholy. I was drawn to that on this album [where] I tried to write happier songs, but my lyrics are always really dark,” Batz says.
Batz has never been one to divulge specific meanings behind his often abstract lyrics. But lines such as, “heavenly ocean, covered in flesh” from Lingering Eyes take on a sombre weight knowing that the plight of refugees in Europe was a issue on the artist’s mind throughout recording.
“I couldn’t understand – [Denmark is] a rich country. We have plenty of money to help these poor people get on their feet again. And we just didn’t, which was heartbreaking to watch. I was watching Sweden taking a lot of refugees and Norway too, and I was just ashamed,” he says. “I thought the Danish people would be more help. This is important – what if it happens to us? Wouldn’t we want help from the outside? It just tore me apart, and I really wanted to write some lyrics about that.”
However, Batz hints that he saved the very darkest cuts for a future release, with only 12 of the 22 songs he wrote for Lingering making it into the album. “They’re completely mastered, but I think I’ll just hold on to them for a while and use them on an EP,” he says.
Though Batz hasn’t shaken off the gloom entirely, Lingering is certainly pointed in a sunnier direction. Missing Steps, written three years ago, uses a euphoric, chorus vocal hook in its outro and is “catchy and more uplifting than other songs” he has written. “It was important for me to say ‘this is the new sound of Sleep Party People. This is a more uplifting, positive album – it’s not that dark any more’.” he says.