Interview: Louise Wener on Sleeper’s new LP

Britpop icons Sleeper recently released their fifth studio album, This Time Tomorrow – a time capsule of an album featuring recordings started at the end of the millennium and completed under lockdown in 2020. Described as “a labour of love that dates back twenty years,” by singer Louise Wener, it continues a remarkable return to form after the band’s reformation in 2017. Joyzine’s Paul F Cook was suitably impressed, declaring it “packed with more gems than a Swarovski catalogue” (read the full review here).

Pater Richard Adams caught up with Louise to find out what’s been going on. 

Hi Louise! Thanks for taking the time to chat with Joyzine. How has lockdown been treating you and Andy?

We’re all well and making music has kept us the right side of sane. But the situation is universally awful. I lurch between “everything will be better by the summer” optimism, and an apocalyptic pit-of-the-stomach sickness that our way of life has changed forever.

What have been the key differences for you about being in Sleeper in the 90s and Sleeper now?

Everything is different. Making music on our own terms with direct contact to fans feels all kinds of wonderful. The pressure was enormous in the 90s. You often felt like a product rather than a creator. It’s all about the joy this time.

And do you think there is a way of getting a reformation right? 

I’m not sure. We threw ourselves into it without much planning or thought, it was very much an impulse decision. My sister became severely ill in 2017 and part of my reaction to that grief was to throw myself back into music. The idea of reforming after so long seemed unimaginable. Which is exactly why we did it. I’d only say that writing new material felt important. There’s pleasure in nostalgia but there’s nothing like conjuring a brand new song and seeing other people respond to it so positively.  

The live shows have been universally joyous affairs. Has lockdown made you eager to get back on a stage? Or is the very concept starting to feel a bit weird the longer we’re all inside?

Both! The longer it goes on the less likely it feels. I have days when I think I imagined the entire thing. Us back on stage at festivals playing to huge crowds in the sunshine. I was out in Brighton before this last lockdown and there was a fantastic band busking in the street. It was mesmerising. Just seeing live music for a moment. It’s going to feel extraordinary to perform again.

The new album This Time Tomorrow was 20 years in the making – is there anything else lurking in the archives? Or have you cleared the decks?

I think that’s about it. But there’s brand new stuff now. Writing and recording is the most escapist thing we have at the moment. It’s the only mechanism to “travel” somewhere outside my head. 

And did any of the songs radically alter between the initial sessions and when you finished them?

Not radically, no. It was a case of embellishing them and bringing them up to a finished standard. Some songs we couldn’t change because we didn’t have separate parts to add to or re-mix. But most had music added, backing vocals, sections of new instrumentation. Some songs had half finished lyrics, so those needed to be completed and re-sung. 

It’s only January and it’s already been a bumper year for Sleeper with the release of This Time Tomorrow (which contains some backing vocals from George Michael) and your collaboration with The Wedding Present (‘We Should Be Together’). Is there anyone else you’re eyeing up to work with? 

I’ve just finished a collaboration with The Lottery Winners, guesting on a new song of theirs. Coming soon. We love this band. Check out their online content. They’ve been heroes of lockdown.

Britpop is currently undergoing a sort of undefined 25th anniversary. How do you feel about that period now? Especially how the press treated you?

It’s kind of a rose tinted spectacles situation. A time of hot summers, optimism, and confidence. An explosion of great new music.  It wasn’t quite like that in reality but, even so, it feels infinitely preferable to now. The 90s music press was patronizing and sexist to a degree that’s hard to imagine. They wrote from an ideological position. It was entrenched and conservative and I wasn’t quite prepared for it.  

Between Sleeper stints you were busy writing novels and the rather brilliant radio drama Queens Of Noise. I mistakenly thought it was actually a dramatised version of a real band’s story when I accidentally first heard it and had to look up The Velveteens. Who were the inspiration there?

No one band! But that was a lot of fun to write. Music drama is hard to get write, I think. I liked that the band were all girls. You’ll be too young to remember this but one of the first TV shows I loved as a kid was Rock Follies. An ITV drama about a female rock band that aired in the 70s. I think it was my first musical inspiration to be honest!

And do you have any plans to return to writing soon?

I do. I’m working on a couple of projects at the moment. Between the home schooling and new recordings.

Anything else you’d like to share with Joyzine’s readers?

Dry January was always a stupid idea.

This Time Tomorrow is out now on vinyl, CD and digital download from the Official Sleeper Store.

Peter Richard Adams really liked Britpop. He had his own school Britpop band in the 90s and even got them back together for the 25th anniversary. They are not as popular as Sleeper.

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