While slick melodies, homogenized hooks and good looking people will always have a place in popular culture, there’s no denying that the most vital, visceral and altogether revolutionary rock n’ music is born in basements, back alleys and filthy clubs. A lot of bands pay lip service to “saving kids lives” and “promoting positivity” these days. But the most authentic art draws from true struggle; and is created from desperation vs. vanity.
SLEEPWAVE cuts through the white noise of sound-a-like charlatans like a dull knife. Broken Compass, the Florida based band’s debut album, speaks truth to power by bucking trends and digging deeply with a creative determination all too lacking today. A Sleepwave show is full of spit, snot, bile and vibrant redemption, performed by the core duo of Spencer Chamberlain and Stephen Bowman (and various live collaborators) with purpose and meaning. Compared to the camera-ready prima donnas around them, these guys look like they slept in a gas station and they sound like the pop apocalypse.
“Art is a vehicle for emotion and when that sentiment doesn't actually have anything honest behind it, it's just a waste of energy,” declares vocalist Chamberlain, who shared guitar, bass, keyboard and programming duties with longtime friend Bowman in the studio. “Music offers an escape, but it’s noise when the overall content is cheap, or only as deep as a puddle. Sounds offers something, but a sound and a message is stronger.”
The message doesn’t have to be political or otherwise ideological. It’s more about having something meaningful to say that contributes something of value to the culture. What Sleepwave has to say is multifaceted, provocative and unapologetic. Broken Compass delivers the dirty dark side of electronica through the lens of classic song structure and melody. Sleepwave is a cocktail of Nine Inch Nails and The Beatles, Muse and Nirvana, Deftones and The Who, with echoes of the ‘90s alt-rock radio dial.
It’s already proven to be invigorating career resurgence for Chamberlain, who has lived the rock n’ roll tale of self-sacrifice, chart success, substance issues and a crashing “early retirement” as frontman for Underoath. The band once sold over 100,000 copies of an album in a single week, graced the cover of magazines and influenced an entire generation of bands, including Sleeping With Sirens and The Devil Wears Prada, and took their rightful place atop the screamo revolution alongside Thursday and Thrice.
Yet when the majority of the guys in his band decided to move on to other careers, Chamberlain found himself pouring the last of his savings into a brand new project. In a Most Anticipated cover story, Alternative Press painted a bleak picture: Spencer, alone at his kitchen table in his soon to be foreclosed upon home, sitting beneath his Underoath gold records while counting pocket change to buy the night’s fast food grub.
“I lost basically everything I had and a lot of that emotion is right there on the record,” he explains. “Sleepwave is heavy and aggressive, but there’s a lot more to explore. I love what I did in Underoath, I love metal, but it’s not all of who I am. There are all these different sides of me I get to express with this band. There’s a somber overtone to the album, there’s a lot of sadness, but there is also some hope. And there’s a lot of freedom in making a debut album, because nobody knows exactly what to expect.”
Chamberlain and Bowman gravitated toward one another several years ago, based on their mutual appreciation of bands like Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden and Filter. A lot of their peers were just as wrapped up in the overall “scene” as they were the sound. But the future Sleepwave duo shared a focus on musicianship, on writing, on great songs. Bowman knew of Spencer through the pre-Underoath band, This Runs Through.
“I always respected what Spencer was up to musically and our friendship just developed organically over time,” he explains. “We shared a lot of the same appreciation for different bands, but we have individual, but complimentary, artistic identities, too.”
The pair worked on Sleepwave off-and-on during breaks from Underoath’s touring schedule. But once they realized this was going to be a real band, things took a much more serious turn. By the time the two guys hit the studio with producer David Bendeth (Bring Me The Horizon, Breaking Benjamin, All Time Low), Chamberlain saw it as an all or nothing proposition: Sleepwave would work because it had to. It just had to.
“I love Deftones, but oftentimes the songs are a little too mid-tempo for me. I love Alice In Chains, but it’s maybe a little dated for some. I love Nine Inch Nails, but I often wish [Trent Reznor] had a wider vocal range. Stephen and I feel like we can do just about anything, so we figured, whey not make a ‘super band’ that sounds exactly the way we want a band to sound,” says Chamberlain. “We wear our influences on our sleeve, but we’ve put it together and approached all of it in a way that’s fresh and unique.”
Each of the guys is incredibly pleased with the Broken Compass, but they are far from content. They are both more driven than ever to keep pushing forward creatively. It’s a process that isn’t likely to stop until they’ve both shuffled off this mortal coil. “Contentment is the death of creativity,” Bowman contends. “The second you find that peace - I think it's the absence of that creative spark that leaves the peace available, you know what I mean? The creative spark is such a tumultuous thing when it hits, but at the same time, it's practically orgasmic. That inspiration is like nothing else in the world.”
“Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Trent Reznor – those guys weren’t writing those songs thinking about how they were going to change somebody’s life,” adds Chamberlain. “They were writing down their deepest, darkest emotions as a means of trying to save themselves. My songs are selfish. I’m expressing myself. I’m helping myself. That may sound selfish, but that’s the truth. If people get something from it, that’s even better.”
Sleepwave’s sets on the sold-out Taking Back Sunday/The Used co-headlining tour were a jarring twenty-five minutes of spectacle, boldly declaring Sleepwave’s artistic mission through thunderous performance and breakneck bravado. The world is on notice: Spencer Chamberlain is ready for round two, with a Florida sized hurricane behind him.
“People ask me all the time why I didn’t just do a new band that sounds like Underoath. It would be easy to do that. But I wanted to do something that’s not out there right now that needs to be out there again. Underoath was laughed at and picked on in the early days. Now there are all these bands that are more like actors, perfect muscles, teeth, choreography, and Instagram photos of their houses and cars. Not everyone will love Sleepwave. But nobody will be able to leave a Sleepwave show saying we phoned it in.”
Bowman agrees. “If you are upsetting people, they're still responding emotionally all the same. I feel like you put that effort into it, and suffer your own experience to go through the process to make it, one way or another, it demands a reaction, positive or negative.”