Grand Rapids Michigan’s Sleep Waker are gearing up for the July 23rd release of their sophomore record Alias on UNFD.
The record builds on debut Don’t Look At The Moon to create an aural treat with equal parts progressive djent, metalcore and hardcore – with a dash of locals La Dispute for good measure.
We caught up with Aaron Lutas (Bass) and Frankie Mish (Drums) to talk about the record, their love for Neural DSP tones, and going digital on the road.
Alias is your first record with UNFD – how did that come about? How has it been working with them?
Aaron – Working with UNFD has been fantastic so far. We’ve been in talks with them for a long time, and they definitely stuck out as a great team to work with as soon as we got in our first meeting. They’ve been extremely supportive of our ideas for Alias and helping us organize and execute them. I’m stoked to see what the future looks like with them.
What should fans of your debut record Don’t Look At The Moon expect from Alias?
Frankie – Expect a new evolution of Sleep Waker. The classic sound we’ve been working on is still there but we’ve added more melodic elements and experimentation with where to go. There’s some singing, some weird stuff we’re playing with, and some stuff you’ll just have to check out for yourself.
How did the band deal with the lockdowns in 2020? Did you end up spending more time on the record than you might otherwise have?
Frankie – Aaron lives 2 hours away from the rest of the band so he was probably the most bored haha. We spent most of the time tossing ideas around, bouncing demos back and forth.
Aaron – I wouldn’t say we spent more or less time on this record since we never gave ourselves a set deadline. Frankie had a lot of songs demoed out before we decided to write Alias and we got to pick and choose riffs and idea from that, then everything snowballed from there. We got together every few weeks or so and really dug in the ideas we came up with as a collective.
Frankie – If we didn’t have the lockdowns maybe it would’ve been done sooner but the product wouldn’t have been as well thought out and we wouldn’t have had as much time to collaborate and lock in exactly what the album was meant to sound like.
How ready are you to play shows again? Anything special planned for your first back, or are you thinking more about easing into things?
Aaron – We’re so ready it hurts. We’ve been working on ways to up our live show, and still tossing ideas around, but there’s one thing that’ll be newer to the set at the moment. I won’t say what yet but I think it’s pretty cool. We are definitely ready just to be in front of people again.
Frankie – We’ve done livestreams during Covid, but it just wasn’t the same as having actual people in front of you. We want to hit shows as hard as everyone else has been but also want to stay careful and we don’t want to push anything just yet.
So guitars! What did you use on the new record in terms of guitars/amps/pedals?
Frankie – For the Double Drop D (DADGBE) songs we used the Squier Baritone Jazzmaster with Ernie Ball’s 6 string bass pack (.020w – .090). For our Drop G (GDGCFAD) songs, we used a second Squier Baritone Jazzmaster for all the rhythms set up specifically for that tuning using Ernie Ball 6 string Baritone sets (.013-.072).
Then all of the leads in drop G were recorded on a Sterling Music Man JP70.
We went digital with the amps on the record. It’s a mixture of several tones, the Kemper Putney tone with some slight adjustments, Neural DSP’s Nameless set to low gain, and a high gain tone all blended together and mixed differently depending on what the part called for.
Aaron – For bass we used a Dingwall NG-2 and NG-3, both five strings with Newtone strings Alex Milovic signatures (.053 .070 .090 .130 .174). For bass amps we used the Parallax by Neural DSP and the Darkglass B7K Ultra plugin.
Did you have any reference records going into the studio in terms of how you wanted the finished product to sound?
Aaron – We didn’t have a set idea of what direction we wanted yet after going in so we didn’t have any specific record(s) that we were like “yeah we wanna do something like that”. At the time of recording Frankie was listening to tons of Deftones, Turnover, and sad emo music haha. I had been listening to alot of Thornill, Loathe, and hip hop so those definitely had some impact with my writing, and our guitarist Jake was listening to Sleep Token, Varials, and heavier stuff.
Are you a gear head at all? Any pieces of gear you’ve played recently that were a pleasant surprise? Anything you got to play that was disappointing?
Aaron – I’m a small gear head. I really love pedals. I haven’t played anything new recently since covid so no real surprises or letdowns. But I did upgrade my rig a bit. Got a new Dingwall NG-3 that I haven’t been able to put down. That and the Darkglass ADAM pedal have been preoccupying most of my time.
Frankie – Absolutely yes. I’m all about gear and I’ve always loved sitting down, building tones on the Helixes, testing different amps, learning how backing tracks work, in ear rigs, etc. I think my dad definitely passed it down to me, after having a basement full of drums, amps, pedals, etc. I’ve always thought if I wasn’t in a band I’d become a sound guy so I can just stay surrounded by gear constantly.
Is there any one piece of gear that you couldn’t do without? Anything that’s integral to your sound?
Aaron – I don’t have a specific piece, but I do have a brand. Darkglass, I HAVE to have at least one of my darkglass pedals with me at any show. I just started using the Alpha/Omega again and before that I was using the B7K Ultra. Recently I picked up the ADAM pedal that I’ve been using mostly at home.
But yeah I need my Darkglass babies haha. I used a sansamp before and it worked, but I didn’t like how it sounded with the lower tunings. My darkglass pedals make it so my low end can really get down there without getting too muddied but allowing the higher registers to shine through.
Frankie – As a band I’d have to say Helix. Without our helixes we’d be screwed, they’re the perfect one stop tone library. The midi patch changes, and snapshot modes are insane, and it’s made our setup so easy to use.
A lot of guitarists are embracing modelling and profiling amps these days, especially due to making fly in gigs much easier. What’s your take on digital amps and effects?
Love them. I [Aaron] use a Kemper and Jason and Jake both use the Line 6 Helixes. They’re just so convenient, reliable, and most of all consistent.
We organized the rig so that everything is in one unit and we only need to plug in one thing and we’re set up. I’ll take that over having to load in 2-3 different heads, hoping nothing happened to the tubes on the last drive. Then you have to find power, run cables, etc. Open, plug in, turn on, ready to go.
Another big thing for me is how much you can tweak right then and there. Every few months or so I’ll load a bunch of profiles onto my Kemper and depending on the day I can pick from an ocean of different tones. In studio or home use I’m a little more split between digital and tube amps but on the road digital any and every day.
For someone who’s just discovering your band and wants to hear more music that sounds like you, what bands would you suggest they start with?
Frankie – I wouldn’t necessarily say bands that sound like us. But bands that someone should listen to to get an idea of what Sleep Waker is would be Northlane, Ocean Grove, Kingdom of Giants, The March Ahead, and Void of Vision
If someone maybe wasn’t familiar with you guys but wanted to learn to play one of your songs, where would you suggest they start? Any riffs/licks/passages in particular that are fun to play, or maybe challenging but rewarding for more advanced players?
Aaron – Our stuff isn’t too technical really. To start definitely Turnaround from DLATM. It’s simple and the pick scrapes are a lot of fun. There’s a riff right before the buildup that’s mine and Jakes favorite to play live. Candlemaker if you like weird timings haha.
Frankie – I’m the drummer, but I write a lot of our riffs, so the simple ones are definitely my favorite to play haha. I think Skin is an insanely fun song to play on guitar, and the title track of our new album, Alias as well.
Any rad local Grand Rapids bands people should be aware of? Any great past GR bands that went unnoticed nationally that you think should get a second look?
Frankie – Grand Rapids has always had a really cool scene with very passionate bands. There was a time when it looked pretty bleak, but right before covid some cool bands either found their second wind, or just started up. City State, Amoura, Seraphim, and Ritualist are all some really cool up and coming bands, and for greats that people would probably know of, Hollow Front is right around the corner from us, For The Fallen Dreams, and Still Remains.
What’s up next for the band? Any post-rona plans?
Aaron – Our brand new album, Alias, drops July 23rd and we’re playing the VCTMS album release show right before that on July 10th. Aside from that, our plans are pretty open when it comes to the middle of the year, and the end of the year is when you’ll be able to catch us out and about more often. Post-rona we wanna tour as much as possible. We’ve been home for a while now and we’re ready to get back to it and hit the ground running with this new music.