Sleep In Sundays, a.k.a. Eric Williger, released its debut full-length, Okay, on Blackburn Recordings last weekend at Apop Records. Its eighteen tracks were written over the course of four years, starting when Williger was in the tail end of high school in Webster, running through his graduation and other attendent life changes. Okay is unassuming music in the sense that there is plenty of room in the mix for a vividly wandering mind. The deliberate hush of Williger's voice, humming over golden guitar, lends a particular context to everyday field recordings -- suburban expats will know the feeling. Listen below to standout track "July."
Sleep In Sundays plays tomorrow night at Off Broadway with the Blind Nils and Mountain Man. We spoke with Williger about the "inspiring" challenges of breaking into the St. Louis music scene and how these songs have grown with him.
"July" by Sleep In Sundays
Kiernan Maletsky: How has the meaning of some of the first songs you wrote for the album changed as you've gotten older?
Eric Williger: I don't know if the meanings themselves have changed for me at all, as I still feel very much like the same person that I was when I wrote most--if not all--of the stuff on the record. But I am more removed, and that creates a rift between what was happening then and what's happening now. A lot of times a song is this growing thing in my mind, where I write it, and then for the next few years or so I realize I was talking about things I wasn't necessarily conscious of at the time. That's a pretty cool experience. But mostly it's just that I hear, or play, a song that I wrote four or five years ago and I just feel a little bit more numb; I remember exactly what I was trying to say, but I just don't feel it in an immediate sense anymore. Or, conversely, sometimes -- and this is a very rare thing -- I feel whatever the song is saying more intensely than I did when I wrote it. That almost never happens, but when it does, it feels kind of weird, like I didn't have as much warrant to write it at the time that I did.
Okay seems to embrace your suburban upbringing rather than try and reject it (as many artists do). Not that you recommend it or anything, but it's pretty plainly used as a setting. What do you think the album gains as a result. Specifically, why'd you include the field recordings?
I wasn't conscious of including anything distinctly suburban on the recordings, but I think it's interesting that something like that comes through. I think that's a bit of a thing these days -- suburban pride. I feel like that started with Vampire Weekend plainly being trust-funders, and them bragging about that, sort of riffing on what rappers tend to do, not realizing there's a big difference between those two situations. Real Estate, a band I like, did something similar, too, with the "Suburban..." songs on their first record. The Arcade Fire even called their newest record The Suburbs. But I never intended to embrace that idea, regardless of that there is something poetic about it. The Real Estate line, "Suburban dogs are in love with their chains," is great line, and has a lot of truth to it. And I think that's the double bind I feel with suburban living: it is comforting, but a lot of what we say about it ties into an economic/political system that I don't necessarily agree with. So, to get to the point here, I hope the album doesn't give the feeling that it's advocating anything in particular. But I do come from a suburb, and that's a big part of my life -- just as St. Louis as a city is a big part of my life and what I have to offer artistically. If I deny where I am from, then I am denying a piece of myself, and the whole point -- or, at least, a big part of it -- of creating like this in first place is to not deny pieces of yourself, to just put it out there and exorcise whatever is itching and stinging inside of you. So if remnants of that come out, I'm glad that they do.
As for why I included field recordings in the first place, I really can't say. I don't know what originally inspired me to stand outside and record the street, but that was the first idea that I had. I live right on a very busy road, and I always had the sound of trucks and horns and sirens in recordings incidentally, even when I was recording inside. I think at some point I decided to just embrace it and mix the street noise in and see what happened. I really liked the dimension that gave the recording -- it fills in a lot of sonic gaps, as far as my ears can tell -- and so I kept doing it. I think I wanted to put more definite atmosphere in the recordings, because, to me, they represent really specific times and places -- times of day, even -- and so I wanted to express that in a more real way to listener, I guess. I did a set on WNYU a few months ago, and I had street noise playing in the background, and the DJ said she thought it was a recording of waves. I really liked that, too. I like that ambiguous quality it has.
You say you started writing the songs on this album at sixteen and that it was nearly four years ago. Those are typically pretty big transition years -- where are you now in life as compared with then?
Yeah, those were formative years for me, and, to my perception, that sort of comes out on the record--ending in a pretty different spot from where I started. When I began recording for this record, I was planning on having it take only about a year to finish, because recording didn't take me very long back then. But I started adding more to recordings and getting more in the mindset of recording things well--realizing what "production" can do for a recording, and to the presentation of a song. But, musically speaking, I feel like I'm kind of back where I started. I've been recording in different ways, and putting a song down takes a lot less time than I did when I had more options. It was a pretty circular experience for me. Even on a personal level, I feel like I've sort of lived in a circle. But there's obvious differences. I graduated high school. I've moved around and lived in a few different places. I've met new people and lost touch with others. Etc., etc. Standard life stuff. I play a lot more shows now. That changed the way I played. I used to record a song before I had ever played it all the way through, and sort of improv with overdubs. That process has definitely been altered. Nowadays everything revolves around a plan, most of the time. I try to get back to that mindless, plan-less mindset as much as possible, though.
What's the deal with Blackburn Recordings -- Jonathan Williger is a relation, I presume?
Jonathan, who runs Blackburn, is my older brother. When he graduated high school, he moved to New York City to attend NYU. He graduated NYU at the beginning of this summer, and has been running Blackburn out of his apartment in Brooklyn for the past three (or so) years now. He just released my record and a new Sore Eros 12" EP called Just Fuzz. The label is primarily an all-vinyl (and some tape) label, but the vinyl for this album would've been too expensive, so we went with CD. You can find a bunch of the Blackburn catalog up at Apop Records (best record shop in town). There's some Big Troubles seven-inches there that he released that are out of print, and go for a lot on eBay and stuff, and they're still the standard shelf price over at Apop. If they're still there, some collector should go snatch 'em up. A side-note: Blackburn Recordings is named after the park in Webster, Blackburn Park. I think everyone that grows up in Webster, or goes to high school there, at least, goes there pretty frequently. I still do, sometimes. It's hard to not have really important memories made there.
What have you found inspirational about the St. Louis music scene -- any artists you've enjoyed seeing?
This is possibly the toughest question of all. St. Louis has such a complicated, multi-tiered scene, and it's really hard to say what's inspirational about it. One thing I find really motivating -- if not inspirational -- is how hard the St. Louis scene is to break into. There's a lot of opinions floating around the city, and not everyone gets along. But I don't mean that in a necessarily negative way; I think that the contradictions of the city give it a lot of color and life, and I've always found the nature of St. Louis really inspirational and bright. The music scene is just a piece of that. Just like how new-comers to the city feel distanced because they didn't grow up here (and that's a big deal around these parts), people who are pushing to become a part of the local scene tend to find it really hard to feel accepted. But that feeling has always been sort of inspiring to me.
All that said, as far as bands in St. Louis go that I like to see... My favorite local band is the Conformists, by a pretty wide margin. With that band, once you get it, you've got it, and then they really stick with you. I really like Theodore, and I felt really lucky to get to play with them a few weeks ago at Pig Slop. Cassie Morgan does really good stuff, and I am excited to play with her (in the Blind Nils) on Thursday at Off Broadway. I did a split with Falsetto Boy (the first Blackburn release), and he's been totally inspirational to my music, and changed the way I play and write. (In fact, Falsetto Boy is probably a big part of the reason I started writing music in the first place.) Nick Bitikofer (another local songwriter) and I used to be in a band with Jordan Howe (of Union Tree Review fame), and so both of them totally affected the way I play music, too. Kid Counselor and Ra Cailum are both friends of mine, and I think they both do totally awesome stuff. Navigator is amazing. Dubb Nubb blows my mind every time I see them (and usually puts me on the verge of tears). I play with We're Wolf a lot, and Maya & Anne write amazing songs. I am missing people, but there's a lot of great music around town, so... that's a sampling.
What's your plan next for Sleep In Sundays?
Most immediately, I'm going to be on Blackburn's Various Deficiencies, Vol. 2 compilation, along with fellow St. Louis artistic wunderkind Brett Marren. We both have exclusive tracks on the comp, and it'll be premiering in the next few weeks. But this is a tricky question, because I don't want to talk about the future too much, seeing as it hasn't happened yet. But I have three tapes I am going to self-release in small runs that are in the works. I am waiting to get the master back on the first one right now, and that one should be out by the end of the summer (I hope). I've got my follow-up LP recorded, but it needs to be mixed (to be done soon, if I stick to plan), and should be out sometime on some label somewhere. I've got other miscellaneous recordings that may take the shape of seven-inches or something else, but we will just have to see. I've also got some new stuff I want to record before the end of this summer, so hopefully there'll be new stuff out pretty soon.