The band Sleepwalkers sound like if Mac Demarco and Fleet Foxes had a love child and The Moody Blues was the godparent. The band’s sound is a splicing of Virginia country mixed with California surf rock and a sprinkling of folky piano. Composed of Austin and Michael York (guitars/vocals), Alex DeJong (drums), and Brad Heath (guitar/keys) haven’t been around that long. Their album Greenwood Shade came out in 2014, but not before a Christmas EP in 2013, and now they’re on tour with The Lumineers. Such a change in circumstance seems abrupt from the outside, but Austin York is confident in the band’s ability to adjust.
“Y’know we’ve been in and out of bands together, and separate, for the better part of ten years now, and it’s just what we do. It’s what we wanted to do since we were young, and really it’s all we’re trained to do.”
Even so, to be on tour with an internationally known band comes with a few surprises. The tour goes through much of the US, with music festivals and amphitheaters as the majority of venues. Crowds of such size can be daunting, a shockwave of human voices greeting the performers. For musicians used to playing smaller clubs, the switch to packed stadiums and music festivals was something of a shock. “I mean you walk out there and it’s like thousands of people staring back at you. I don’t think there’s really a way to prepare for that.” Although Austin does have one trick, “We do look up the numbers beforehand [laughs].”
Another surprise about this joint tour is the seemingly disparate styles between the two bands. The Lumineers are well known for their mellow, folksy chants, but the Sleepwalkers are another beast entirely. Their hit single “Cocaine” sounds like something a spunky septuagenarian who partied a lot in the 80s would listen to while rollerblading by the beach, zigging in and out of cones. Compare this song to one of The Lumineers’ new songs off their album Cleopatra. “Ophelia” is a lilting, airy, dark song reminiscent of a redwood forest just after the rain. Fog hangs between the verses and Wesley Schultz’s emotive belts, the piano tinklings like dew on the burned out stumps of ancient trees. These two styles at first don’t seem congruous, until a second listen.
Where these two bands gel is in their use of vocal harmonies. In other interviews, Austin and Michael York have said, “the vocals are the most important thing. The vocals have to have the right feeling.” How these two bands use their vocals is the exciting part of this tour. Sleepwalkers tend to use their vocals as if they were another instrument, playing right through the whole song. The voices rise and fall with the emotion of the verse or bridge. A chorus of charms, bringing out the colors between notes. On the other hand, The Lumineers are more sparing with their harmonies, using them as accents to important moments in the songs, but no less mightily. Yet back to back listens to “Cocaine” and “Ophelia” reveal both bands know how use the power of the human voice to tell a story.
Austin York is confident of the band’s continued success with the tour, despite the exhausting toll. At the time of this interview, York commented that “the rest of the guys are asleep. They’re beat.” They need it, there are more shows coming up. Not all the shows have sold out, yet that is subject to change. “But even if it was just a hundred people,” York continues “we’d still go out there and give the best show we can.”
Catch Sleepwalkers on tour:
5/29 San Francisco, CA @ Hotel Utah
5/31 Portland, OR @ Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
6/1 Burnaby, BC @ Deer Lake Park
6/2 Seattle, WA @ Sunset Tavern
6/3 Redmond, WA @ Marymoor Park
6/4 Redmond, WA @ Marymoor Park
6/7 Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre
6/8 Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre
6/10 Kansas City, MO @ KC Live! at Power & Light District
6/11 Indianapolis, IN @ Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
6/12 St. Louis, MO @ Peabody Opera House
6/14 St. Paul, MN @ Roy Wilkins Auditorium
6/15 Milwaukee, WI @ BMO Harris Pavilion
6/16 Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern
6/17 Madison, WI @ The Frequency
6/19 Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theater
Words: Evan Nyarady.