“I think we really have the Beatles to blame for that.”
There’s something you don’t hear every day. The Beatles are many things: influential, lauded, a cash-money machine---but rarely the subject of blame. To A.A. Wallace, lead singer and mastermind behind Halifax’s Sleepless Nights, it really is the Fab Four’s fault.
“It all comes from the way the Beatles were marketed in North America,” Wallace continues. “There was the cute one, the serious one, the stupid one...”
When Wallace started Sleepless Nights in 2003, he wanted to create a band that---in its structure---defied that marketing impulse. No matter who came and went from the group, everyone knew they were replaceable.
“The one problem that always seemed to happen was, when someone would leave they would feel you were slighting them or dissing them by continuing to play the material you had played when they were in the group,” he says. “They felt like they had some ownership over that, regardless of whether they had actually written the songs or not.”
The problem comes from attitudes in indie rock, according to Wallace. When a member of a band leaves, so goes part of a band’s identity. “That comes from marketing characters” within bands and not bands as single, unified entities, he says.
Even once-successful acts like the recently reformed Smashing Pumpkins catch flak when members leave or are excluded from reunions. This stands in stark contrast to metal bands in the ’80s, such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. These bands not only switched members, they replaced lead singers. “Even the Ramones. They’re all characters,” says Wallace. “They even changed their fucking names.”
Sleepless Nights have been home to more than 20 musicians over their five-year lifespan, Wallace estimates. The movement has been the result of differing priorities: For some band members jobs and school took precedence over music. “I don’t want to have a job or a degree. I just want to play in a rock-and-roll band.”
The revolving door of personnel and contributors has garnered Sleepless Nights frequent comparisons to Broken Social Scene, something Wallace understands but is quick to dismiss, pointing out that the groups started out at the same time but were unaware of each other. Because he’s remained the one constant, different rules perhaps apply to him. Wallace calls the shots, making Sleepless Nights less collaborative than Broken Social Scene.
“I personally wrote and arranged everything, except one song, that we’ve ever done,” he says. “Not that I feel like I own the material---people do contribute---but the thing is, the song will still exist whether they’re there or not.” For the group’s new record, Turn Into Vapour, the music took an unexpected pop turn. The album is tight, catchy and loud. “It’s being pegged as being a very upbeat kind of record but the content’s not at all.” Wallace says this came from touring the band’s last release, the Hands Up EP, and from the band wanting people to stop talking and pay attention during their sets. “Now we’re probably the loudest band in Halifax,” he says proudly.
The Sleepless Nights founder never writes with a concept or destination point, rather he puts out albums when he has enough material. Having a backyard studio helps speed the process---the next Sleepless Nights record is already completed. “We just have to wait to put it out because you can’t put out that many records at once,” Wallace says.
Despite his prolific output, he says he’s almost completely stopped listening to modern music and is, instead, looking to the past for new sounds. But what he really wants to do with his own work is to mash entire musical ideas and experiences into one mega-project, one burst of sound.
“I really want to do everything as one but it just doesn’t work right now. I wanna just make this one record that’s like ‘the album,’” he says, “but that’s a ways off yet. I don’t know how and I don’t know if anyone would like it.”
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