Sleepless - Interview
I love "Winds Blow Higher"; it was the most thought-provoking album of recent years for me. Sleepless is a band that has sprouted from two radically different Israeli musical visionaries. David Bendayan and Maor Appelbaum have two vastly different perspectives towards the music scene, yet both are able to find solace in the musical project known only as Sleepless. David represents the more mainstream and jazz avenues of music, while Maor prefers his recipes dark, brooding and extreme. I spoke to Maor on the phone in Israel and he was gracious enough to provide me with sufficient information to compile at least half a biography on himself and Sleepless. We talked long into the night...
How did Sleepless come together? I'm not too sure concerning the details of the Israeli music scene, was it hard to find someone else with the same sort of general approach to music? Were you friends previous to Sleepless or did you bump into each other at the local bar or something...
We knew each other from school and stuff, but we weren't in the same grade or anything. Once I took a ride with David's friend, because I wanted to go to a place and you know I asked him 'can I take a ride with you to this place?' and he was like 'yes' and we started talking. I was into sound engineering and David was working on some of his stuff, but he was not working on engineering anymore. So I gave him some tapes and I had some equipment, a few microphones and he had a bit of equipment, but it was really bad you know? Anyway, we had to work with some really bad equipment, a bad sound card, a bad computer and we did some improvising with music samples and the material turned out really well. All this improvising that David and I did actually turned out to be something very productive.
So from what you told me it sounds as though Sleepless was an accidental occurrence, is this correct?
Well it is like a big fusion of a lot of elements, some of them we were doing on purpose and then again some of them we were not doing on purpose. So what happened actually is that we were taking a lot of elements that we liked and a lot of elements we didn't like all that much. I come from a lot of different musical perspectives; progressive, gothic, metal; all types of metal you know? Doom, heavy metal, true metal, speed metal and also industrial. David comes from a more mainstream background and had some jazz stuff and I also like some jazz. However the point I need to make is that a lot of stuff influences me, even though I don't hear it. So in the end it (Sleepless) is between a progressive style of the 70s, like King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Genesis to the stuff with a gothic vibe, like Sisters of Mercy to more alternative stuff, like The Cure to more metal stuff, such as The Gathering and Arcturus to more avant-garde, like Devil Doll.
Now, you were speaking before that you did sound engineering. What musical background do you have for Sleepless? In terms of education... I mean "Winds Blow Higher" draws upon many, many varying musical styles and tastes.
I worked with sound engineering, a lot of years I was working with many bands coming to Israel and I was doing technical supervision for productions and gigs. I was doing lighting engineering, sound engineering, mastering, mixing, backlining. I work with a lot of bands when they come here (Israel); Alphaville, you know the guys who sing 'Big in Japan'? I worked with them as a technical supervisor and technical producer. I studied sound-engineering for 1176 hours and then I started working in studios as a sound engineer and after that evolved to broadcasting. I have a diploma of sound engineering. But mainly I have a lot of experience and I also teach audio engineering.
Is David in the same boat for background/education?
David is not educated in terms of sound engineering but he is self-taught. Both of us are not musically trained in terms of proper schooling. I play bass, but I don't know the theory of playing and theory of music. We just play. Also in sound engineering I started in PA and stuff like that, later on I studied it, but after I was already working on it, you know? Today I manage studios and I am an audio-consultant at the University of Tel Aviv. David is more into computers, but both of us really didn't study many instruments. I really don't have any theory background; I just played in bands from when I was younger. At the ages of 16 or 17, I was in a speed metal band so I really had to play well, everyone else was really competent, and I had to show what I could do. I worked hard to play well. Then I had a rap-metal band much like Anthrax style, Public Enemy influences... I played more in different projects and also I play other kinds of music. I have a solo album only on bass guitar and sound samples/effects, which is dark ambient, experimental and avant-garde.
Wow! What label is the solo bass album on?
I only have songs on compilations... but I have a finished album and have some labels already interested in it. I have one compilation in Israel, three compilations in the US and one compilation in Australia, also. And I have another project, which is not limited to bass guitars. The one that is limited to bass guitars is called Screening. [Maor then goes on to mention 5-6 projects that he is working on, but due to static I couldn't make out the names].
So Sleepless is your main thing?
Sleepless is a project, I have another main band of mine which is an industrial, techno, hardcore and metal band called Vultures and we have finished an EP of 4 tracks; 3 of which are songs and the 4th is a remix of song not appearing on the EP. Vultures is produced, mixed and mastered by me. Sleepless is mixed, mastered and produced by both of us.
Sounds great, let me ask how did the name for Sleepless come about?
Ahhh... because there is one song I really like by Anathema, I knew the music of Anathema, but I wished all the songs would be like that, you know? And the second thing is because I am always sleepless. Right now as we are speaking I have gone 24 hours without sleep.
Geez, why is that?
I don't sleep much, because I am thinking all the time...
You waste time sleeping?
I dunno... 5 years ago when we started Sleepless, we worked 2 years on the demo and after the demo I would come home from work and then I was the chief engineer of a broadcasting studio at a university in Israel. I would come home at 11pm and then I would work until 4am for promotions to get a label to sign us up. Then I would sleep maybe 3-4 hours before having to go to work again.
Yesterday, in fact for 2 days now, I have been doing mixes for an album by a student of mine who does abstract/electronica stuff. I did 24 hours of mixes for this album and I have not had sleep since yesterday.
Speaking again of music backgrounds, what music do you listen to? The "Winds Blow Higher" album uses some harsh vocals, some jazz elements etc, etc.
Umm... I can tell you that a lot of stuff that I have done I did it without knowing, like Screening, when I worked on it 4 years ago and started thinking about it and I didn't hear that kind of music that Screening is, and did not know that such a sort of music existed. But I wrote that kind of music, and today I think there is a genre like that. So a lot of stuff if you do something without listening to a particular style of music, but still come up with that specific style, to me it says that the music comes from the heart. Sleepless is something that from my point of view Devil Doll were really inspirational for me. The first time I heard Devil Doll, I was like 'Wow! This is progressive but it is very dark and avant-garde'. Also of lot a metal, too. I am the main metal DJ here in Israel too and I got of a lot the stuff here in the clubs I play in, that wasn't played previously. Like King Diamond, Dream Theatre, Blind Guardian, Manowar, Overkill and even Rammstein. I hear a lot of kinds of music. David, as I said before is more mainstream, and some jazz stuff, and he has his own Hebrew stuff he is working on.
You have composed songs as long ago as 1997, yet "Winds Blow Higher" was released in very late in 2001, how come the time difference writing songs took sooooooooo long for you to release "Winds Blow Higher"?
What happened is this: the thing is when we started recording we had a computer that was only 166mhz or even less, the soundcard was really bad and the equipment was so bad. But we started recording and all of Sleepless was actually improvising and working on it. It took us two years to make a demo of five tracks. After that it was quite hard to redo and record those tracks because they had a very good vibe in them and it was hard to 'renew' that vibe. We worked very hard in improving and improving and doing better mixes and tweaking it to make it sound better. That music was written then and it is the same music as today. As time wore we bought better equipment and kept improving the sound quality. They are actually the same tracks, we worked on them very hard and did a lot of productions from the demo and to the demo and we got fantastic reactions from people. The reactions were great, we got 5/5 and 7/8, a lot of good reviews and we tweaked it to make it sound better.
If you and David had by chance only been able to stick with the poor sound quality of 1997, would you have gone about releasing a Sleepless album, despite the sound quality?
Well the time that we were shopping for labels in 2-3 year period, we sent more than 200 demos and all the labels said, 'yeah, this is great original music, but we are afraid to release it on our label, but is too risky because you are new band,' you know what I mean? So all that time gave us even more time to work on the sound quality even more.
So how did you come across working with The End Records? As I understand you signed to Raven Music in Israel?
I know Andreas, and he liked the music, but at the time he wasn't sure and when Raven released "Winds Blow Higher"; or when one label releases something then people can jump and work with it, you know what I mean? So what happened is a lot of people wanted it, but they were all afraid to release it and when Raven Music took it, (and Raven I also knew from a long time ago) it seemed they were not afraid anymore. In the beginnings we had recordings on cassette and it had a potential. In time we worked on the demo and improved. And the labels saw we were getting better and better. We got more Internet access and people became aware of it and we began to get more airplay, and reviews in magazines. So people were interested in what was happening and when Raven Music released it, it sold really fast and reviews poured in. And in the end, The End Records really liked it. And Sleepless fits with what The End Records was working with.
Do you listen to the other bands' music on The End Records roster? There seems to be a underlying element that you could draw a line through all the bands that form The End Records and come together with a single identifiable element that makes an The End Records band... do you agree? Like Arcturus and Winds...
Right... and Green Carnation.
So we fitted as the mellow part, you know? Mellow, more jazzy, more dramatic, more melancholic music. Don't get me wrong, we have some peaks in our music but they are not really aggressive.
Does Israel provide a big market for your sort of music? As I said previously, I am unsure of the music scene over there, could you maybe let me in on a few specifics?
We don't rely on the Israeli market, but lately the sales have been really good. You see, David and I come from different scenes, ok? I was sure the Israeli scene could handle Sleepless, but there were a lot of people who were skeptical about us. I said it could be because that we are a crossover band; progressive, metal, gothic, avant-garde and alternative. For the metal labels we were too progressive; for the progressive labels we were too gothic, for the gothic labels we were too metal, know what I mean? For each one, we were too something else [laughs].
[Laughs] Yeah I know what you mean...
...So in the end the crossover is good because is it more fitting and original to various people. But at the beginning many were skeptical about the potential for sales from a crossover band in Israel. But the sales in Israel are very good if you compare it to a lot of other stuff. We have sold quite well in Israel and in the US, also. Europe too also, I hope. I don't know how well it is going in Australia though.
...Well at the moment I am actually trying to establish a distribution for The End Records and their bands to get distributed down under.
Great!!! This is very important to me because now with all the things with terrorism and terror everyday for us this is something to show the world and that we are suppressed by terror everyday that we still make music and don't preach.
Yeah well hopefully more quality music will be able to be heard in Australia.
I really respect that, it is important to me as an Israeli band. For someone that has sent 200+ demos and got no, no, no, no every-time. And for five years I have been working on Sleepless and I respect a lot that people can buy it outside Israel because this is something against terror. And this is something we can show that says, 'look we are an oppressed and troubled land, but we can still make music'.
Speaking of which, would I be overstepping the mark asking what the current situation between Israel and Palestine is like at the moment? Is it hectic for you living there?
I don't have a problem telling you that, the best thing I can tell you is that when you are here, you will understand. I can say a lot of stuff, but it won't help anything unless someone is here. If you are feeling endangered all the time and fear of bombing and shooting, then you are living a different life. You are afraid to ride the bus, afraid to go to the mall and to a pub. You know 500 meters from my house there were two shootings and a bomb? Also from my friends' and my girlfriend's house and when people go to pubs they explode. So I can't explain really to an outside person. The best way to explain is to tell to someone to try living in this situation. I can tell people this, but they will say, 'yeah, but why do you do not try peace?' I am not against peace, I want peace. But it is very hard to make peace when you are living in the way and people are threatening you, and they are not threatening soldiers but civilians. It is different, it is not war against armies, but war against civilised people.
It is terrorism, isn't it?
I can't explain politically what is right and what is wrong, but the best thing is to understand is if you see TV then it is not enough. To really understand you have to live in this situation.
Hmmm... from my point of view terrorism in any shape or form is not on. One only has to look back to the September 11 attacks.
Yeah for sure, look at September 11? Look what happened? Try and make peace with the terrorists and they will surprise you. They don't do it for reasons you can understand, suicide and such. Really something you can't explain. Mothers are sending their sons to it and it is not like they are gaining something for it. There are always extremists.
...And you can't reason with someone in this frame of mind.
And that affects our music because even though we don't show it aggressively, people don't feel right, you know? We feel very sad. We are trying not to put in under the table, but we are trying to live with it. I mean it probably makes us stronger, but we still fear a lot of stuff. And a lot of the lyrics that I write are general lyrics about relationships; friends, love, feeling under pressure, terror. And the music of Sleepless flows with these general lyrics.
Now as we were previously speaking about The End Records and their bands, do you listen to many of them?
I like the Green Carnation album, I can't remember if is their second or third album. Arcturus is a band that I like, actually I started listening to them after I was involved with Sleepless. When I was doing DJ work I remember there was the first black and green album from Arcturus [Maor is referring to "Aspera Hiems Symfonia"], but I didn't know Arcturus then you know? I really got to know them from their second album ["La Masquerade Infernale"]. Also when I heard Agalloch I really liked their material, too. I like the stuff on The End now, they have some really good bands, I am quite impressed with their newer signings, now. Very 'thumbs up'.
Yeah for sure, I don't really think The End Records seem to be coming out with any bad or mediocre records as of late.
Yeah, but to tell you the truth I am not really familiar with the older albums on The End Records. I heard some of it, I mean speaking again of Agalloch, I really like their new stuff, but have not heard the old stuff. Scholomance is a band I think I quite liked, also.
Have you heard any of Australia's Virgin Black?
Ahh... yeah, Virgin Black, yeah. Yeah I really liked them. They reminded me of a little bit of stuff like Devil Doll, but not in that kind of way, you know? I like many of their bands; Virgin Black, Winds, Arcturus, the new Scholomance and also Green Carnation, they had a very, very good album.
Yeah it was, wasn't it? Even though it was 60 minutes long for one song.
Yeah I actually like short albums, also. That is why "Winds Blow Higher" is a short album, it sounds long but it is not.
I think "Winds Blow Higher" is a great album, and it has a good running time [laughs].
42 minutes, 42 seconds [laughs].
How did you come by Travis Smith to do the artwork for "Winds Blow Higher", it is quite uncanny how many big metal names he has worked for; Opeth, Iced Earth and King Diamond to name a few... I imagine you would be pretty happy with end result?
We were looking for someone that could make a really good image that could fit "Winds Blow Higher" and Raven Music sent him a copy and he loved the music. So he made a first cover and it didn't fit, and then he made a second cover and it fitted well. It fit very much the concept of the "Winds Blow Higher" album. And we said 'great' and we liked it and from then on it stuck.
Does Sleepless work for the fans or for yourselves?
We can't work for the fans for one reason; when we made that music, we didn't know someone would like it, we just enjoyed making it. It was an improvisation. I respect working for fans and I respect working for yourself. I think a band, in one period or another works for the fans because they want the fans to enjoy their music. If someone is releasing something they are doing it for the fans, you know? Otherwise they would keep in for themselves, on their shelves, for example. But because this is a project a not a live band that is performing right now; hopefully in the future but right now it is hard as each song has live 5 tracks of bass guitar and a lot of keyboards. Right now it is a studio project, I don't want to rush and do a second album without the first one getting adequate attention.
...And maybe not the right impact that you were looking for?
Right. I would rather the people know "Winds Blow Higher" really well and expect a second one, not to make a second one to sell the first album. That is important for me. I am doing it for me. If I was doing it for the fans more, I would have probably already released a second album.
Does it phase you how many records you sell or is it just a bonus for the way you can express yourselves by other people enjoying the musical collaboration?
I won't lie to you. I care because I do want people to listen to our music. I don't care about the money, because I do not make money from Sleepless. You probably know today that musicians don't make money from it music. I don't make any money from it; I just put more money into my projects that get money out from them. I have spent a lot of money, you know? For 200 and something demos sent by mail, and phone calls and pictures and mastering for $400 and everything. That is quite a lot, you know what I mean? I don't expect to make money from Sleepless, it is how many people know about Sleepless and this is important for me. Even though I said that the music is personal, I want people to listen to it. I like to know that people feel connected to the music, connected to the lyrics and that they have a feeling with the "Winds Blow Higher" album. If it fits people's views, great. If it doesn't fit, well I am not going to change anything, you know? However, it is not an easy album to listen to, though. It takes time to listen to and understand the vibe of "Winds Blow Higher". It fits different situations in life; you sleep with it, you take a walkman and listen to it and sometimes you have to be in the right mood, you know?
Yeah I hear what you are saying... by chance do you listen to Ulver much at all?
What is Ulver?
You know Garm/Trickster G. from Arcturus...
Ahhh...Ulver!!!!! Oh sorry about the pronunciation.
[Laughs] Don't worry it is probably mine.
Maybe... Actually I really got into Ulver quite recently. I knew about them earlier because they were a black metal band.
I was just thinking that their latest album; "Perdition City", gives off the same sort of similar vibe to "Winds Blow Higher".
The trip-hop one, you mean?
Yeah that is a good one. I got this album just under a year ago or something, maybe a shorter time... I can't really remember. A lot reviews I have received recently say they can see some connection between Garm and me, and the music and whatever. We have had a lot of comparisons; King Crimson, Sting, Arcturus, Ulver, Pink Floyd, soundtracks of music. Even once we were compared to Rotting Christ, Tiamat I can understand, but Rotting Christ I do not see the comparison.
Yeah, well the point I was making is that there is a common easy-going/laid-back theme that exists between "Perdition City" and "Winds Blow Higher", you know? I mean a lot of stuff is nihilistic and destructive in the music scene.
We have some peaks in aggression in our music, though, but they are not high peaks but don't stand out or in your face too much. Like in 'Winds Blow Higher' and 'Change', the middle part which is quite aggressive.
Do you have a goal for Sleepless? Where do you want to see you Sleepless in five years time?
I would like to release a few more albums with Sleepless. I am frank with you, you know? I am not saying 'blah-blah' or something. Of course I would like to release a few more albums out to the audience. We don't get paid as musicians; we have our day jobs. Music is a hobby for us.
"Winds Blow Higher", seems to follow a concept of reality; human emotion, time, space and travel all seem to be strong elements that make up this album. I am right here?
Yeah, for sure. It is like dreams, visions, sounds that we hear, entities that we think about. Lyrically everything is very general, and everything has a lot of views and there is more than one side to a story. There is stuff about relations, the meaning of time. Future, Past and Present also. And musically I think the vibe fits very well with the music also.
Do you have a favourite track from "Winds Blow Higher"?
It is not that I have a favourite track...
...Maybe a favourite part or section?
I like the instrumental 'Rain', because it fits well with the song after which is called 'Moments'. Each track symbolises something, and then in the same manner each track symbolises everything.
It fits well together.
Yeah it is like a whole concept. I like how it starts and I like how it ends.
A lot of releases I listen to nowadays are seemingly trying to incorporate everything at once. It almost as though they are compilation albums with the lack of direction and focus they show. I don't think Sleepless does that. I think this is one of the best elements off the "Winds Blow Higher" album.
Yeah it is like a trademark, each song has the work of Sleepless. It doesn't matter if it is upbeat, slowbeat, in your face, aggressive, more ambient; you always feel that this is Sleepless. Always it is important to have the signature for us.
On "Winds Blow Higher" the bass seems to be mixed extraordinarily high into more or less all of the songs, providing a subtle backbone to each song and maybe giving them a launching platform, is this a continuation we will see for future Sleepless albums, or just a one off?
Generally "Winds Blow Higher" has a lot of tracks of bass: lead and rhythm bass and various playing techniques and fretless, fretted, distorted and fuzz bass. There are many different kinds, some of which I told you sound like an acoustic guitar or samples or whatever. The beginning of 'Strings' has [Maor makes a humming/clicking noise]; that is bass, I don't know if you knew that? Did you notice that it was bass?
No, I didn't notice that it was bass, no.
Also, some of the noises of 'Change' like the [Maor rolls his tongue] 'prring' sound. This is also bass. There are a lot of bass guitars, but they don't do regular stuff, so some people will not recognise that it is bass.
Was "Winds Blow Higher" an album based around bass?
It depends, the bass has a lot in it such as riffs and like that. Sometimes the bass is added on and sometimes it acts as the backbone. Like 'Solitude' it is the backbone of it. Whereas in songs like 'Do You Remember?' the bass has been added on. But then again on the instrumental track 'Rain' it is the backbone, there is heaps of fretless bass and a few fretted bass. But generally speaking the bass does play a big role in the structure of "Winds Blow Higher". The end of 'Lying In Wait' does have many tracks of bass, the jazzy part has four or five tracks of bass. I also played guitar on three tracks, and I am not a guitar player.
So the guitar you played was just self-taught?
I took a guitar and probably started playing the notes at the right time [laughs] for the tracks, 'Lying In Wait', 'Change' and 'Winds Blow Higher'. In 'Solitude' and 'Sands of Time', I bought in an electric guitar player, and on 'Rain' and 'Moments' we bought in a classical guitar player. On the track 'Strings', we have a saxophone player and finally on 'Solitude' there is a fluted saxophone player.
Now being that Sleepless is just you and David, do you think there is a possibility of becoming more than a two piece band?
I believe we will always be a two piece band because it is very hard to make this music already and to give it the right vibe. But we may probably have some guest musicians in the future, like in "Winds Blow Higher". We work the best this way.
Yeah I agree, a clash of four differing opinions wouldn't work at all well...
...Exactly. We already know what we want. It took five years to release "Winds Blow Higher", and we understand each other's temperaments and taking into account arguments over specifics and such...
It would probably hinder and detract more from the next album if you had more creative minds inside Sleepless. Speaking of a new album have you been working on any new lyrics/compositions for a new EP/album?
We have some stuff, I have some new lyrics and some new ideas for songs, but right now we are basically working on increasing awareness of "Winds Blow Higher"; we are pushing the album out more and when the time is right we will come back to the studio. It depends on the feedback we get. When I know a lot of people listen and like "Winds Blow Higher"; it will give more motivation to start work on something. Also, we have got writer's block after you release a lot of emotion, in which "Winds Blow Higher" did. It will take a little time. We have some stuff and ideas that we worked on before the album and we have some stuff that we worked on after the album.
Are you happy with the press and feedback that "Winds Blow Higher" has received back from fans and press?
Yeah very much, I am very happy. If Sleepless will grow then great because I will be interested to see if more people know about us I would like to see opinions; both good and bad on the album.
Any last words? I am indeed, very grateful to you for answering these questions for me, Maor. I await a new Sleepless album soon!
Ahhh... 'My Last Words', that is a nice song from Megadeth. [Maor starts singing the Megadeth song].
[Laughs] I am not a big Megadeth fan.
[Laughs] Just joking. I hope people will take the chance to listen "Winds Blow Higher", those already have listened to the album, I hope they keep listening to the album for years to come, because it is a timeless album.
And I am sure those people hope you bring out another album soon.
I would be interested in doing that, and hopefully that will happen. Thank you very much.
Winds Blow Higher
- Beyond The Hate - Darkest Times - Mar 08
- Merrimack - Of Grace And Gravity - Mar 08
- Apogean - Cyberstrictive - Mar 08
- Puteraeon - Quindecennial Horror - Mar 08
- Ecclesia - Ecclesia Militans - Mar 08
- Alterium - Of War And Flames - Mar 08
- Houwitser - Sentinel Beast - Mar 08
- Magefa - Rotting Away - Mar 08
- Shadohm - Through Darkness Towards Enlightenment - Mar 08
- Skeletal Remains - Fragments Of The Ageless - Mar 08
- Shadowpath - The Aeon Discordance - Mar 10
- Rites Of Regress - Dust - Mar 11
- Defect Designer - Chitin - Mar 14
- Vltimas - Epic - Mar 15
- Malsten - The Haunting Of Silvåkra Mill - Rites Of Passage - Mar 15
- Lutharo - Chasing Euphoria - Mar 15
- Corpus Diavolis - Elixiria Ekstasis - Mar 15
- Necrophobic - In The Twilight Grey - Mar 15
- Chapel Of Samhain - Black Onyx Cave - Mar 18
- Acathexis - Immerse - Mar 20