Spotlight Band: Sleeping in the Aviary
Sleeping in the Aviary (Elliott Kozel, Phil Mahlstadt, Michael Sienkowski, Celeste Heule, and Kyle Sobczak) has whipped out three albums in the last four years on their local indie label, Science of Sound – each new album bringing with it a new member and a revamped music profile. The first album made with just Kozel, Mahlstadt, and Sienkowski, Oh, This Old Thing (2007), in its spastic post-punk rage somehow maintained a controlled delivery, earning them a loyal local following. Their sophomore album, Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel (2008), added Heule to the mix and introduced a folksy but clever flavor, which brought them some underground national attention. The newest album, Great Vacation (2010), maintains a sense of garage/folk, but in introducing new member Sobczak has also brought in more storylines and even an island flair.
With a Blackstreet cassette rolling and Kozel raggedly swigging Jim Beam from the bottle, we sat down the night of their cd release (with Sienkowski and Sobczak chiming in occasionally from the couch) to discuss the band’s tour kickoff, the newest album (Great Vacation), and how you can’t always trust strangers on craigslist.
Interviewed by: Dorise Gruber
Dorise: You are about to embark on a nationwide tour – what are you most looking forward to?
Kozel: Oh man, seeing all of our friends that we miss.
Sienkowski: “Eating Fresh!”
Kozel: Eating Subway a lot, trying to get exercise at gas stations. Kyle’s gonna do jumprope at every gas station.
Sobczak: Yeah gotta whip em into shape.
You guys seem to spend a lot of time on the road. Do you have any cardinal rules for the tour van?
Kozel: Not really. Uh, try not to fall asleep if you’re the front passenger.
Sienkowski: Only one Billy Joel album at a time.
Kozel: We can only listen to Billy Joel once, and that never happens…every goddamn day. I dunno, I drink a lot of energy drinks. Not as much of a rule as it is a habit.
Sienkowski: I take a lot of power-naps. Four or five hours.
Kozel: Yeah, everyone sleeps a lot, cuz there’s nothing else to do.
What’s your favorite city to play in?
Kozel: Um, I like playing in Atlanta. I like playing in Little Rock, Arkansas quite a bit. Wichita is awesome.
Kozel: Austin is fun, cuz we have friends there. It’s mostly based on where our friends are, who we get to see. But yeah, Wichita and Little Rock are two little un-turned stones.
What makes them so cool?
Kozel: The kids there are really excited cuz there’s not much else to do, so they’ll be really excited to see you. I don’t know, they’re just scrappy little cities, and there’s something very lovable about them, cuz it seems like there’s nothing there.
At your shows nationwide you’re known for a rather frenzied performance style – have you ever gotten injured during onstage antics?
Kozel: Yeah, I’ve accidentally cut myself on broken glass. That was probably the worst thing, though. Surprisingly I haven’t gotten too badly injured. I punched somebody on tour but that wasn’t during a show, and I broke my wrist. That was not during the performance.
Not just your performances, but your sound too can be pretty rambunctious. The Boston Phoenix described your music as “If Conor Oberst knew how to throw a party.” How would you describe your sound?|
Kozel: I don’t know, cuz that’s just them going off of that one album [Expensive Vomit]. I don’t think the other ones sound like that, but I can see how they would say that. I’ve been telling people we’re a Hawaiian garage folk band. I don’t know, I don’t know what that means. I like “Hawaiian” being in there, but it’s probably not as true.
I can definitely hear the Hawaiian in your new album, Great Vacation.
Kozel: There’s a lot of Hawaiian influence on the new album. I got really into Hawaiian records.
So what else distinguishes Great Vacation from previous albums?
Kozel: A lot of things, I guess. Where the songs are coming from is a lot different. The songs are a lot goofier, and a lot sillier, and there’s a lot more joking around going on. Not as much serious subject matter, it’s not as personal as the other ones. There’s not very much screaming, it’s kind of mid-tempo, not super amped-up and fast and crazy. And the production is quite different. We recorded it ourselves, and there’s just like 9 million sounds going on in every song. Lots of synthesizers.
And you just acquired a new member, Kyle.
Kozel: Yeah, we got this guy sitting next to me here.
Sobczak: Yeah, I’m the best thing to ever happen to him!
And what was the impetus for the new addition?
Kozel: He’s my roommate and probably my best friend, and he helped out a lot on the recordings – he’s a talented recording engineer. He helped us with production of the album, and he added a lot of tracks to the music. We were trying to play the songs live and we were like “Man that sounds shitty. You know what would make it sound less shitty? Get Kyle in on the action.” He had just left his old band, A Paper Cup Band, so we stole him.
Sobczak: I didn’t know I was in the band until on the inner-sleeve of the new album it said “Sleeping In The Aviary is…” and then my name was there.
Kozel: Bad communication.
Your new music video for “Last Kiss on a Sinking Ship” had a lot of interesting animations – who did the artwork for the video?
Kozel: Well, we all did the artwork as a team. We all had a painting party at my house, a bunch of times with a bunch of random friends and whoever was around, painting waves and fish and crap, and then the director, Chris Heubach did all the computer magic. He must’ve spent a long-ass time with his mouse.
Where did you get the couple?
Kozel: The couple: the old guy was from craigslist. And, we had some issues with him. The old woman was somebody’s mom’s friend or something like that. I don’t know where she came from but apparently the old guy was hitting on her kind of creepily during the entire shoot – he will not be asked back. Yeah, he was hitting on the makeup girl, too, apparently. He said that she had fabulous breasts, was the quote that I heard, so… But he’s a great actor, he’s a tremendous actor, he did the role really well. He really hammed it up in the right spots.
So minus the random hitting on everybody involved, he was ok?
Kozel: Yeah, I mean, he did a job, he did it well. He was definitely a better actor than a lot of the other actors we found.
Do you have a favorite track from the new album? How about from past albums?
Kozel: It’s really hard for me to enjoy any of the albums that I make, at all, cuz I spend so much time working on them, and listening to it over and over, trying to mix it and that kind of shit. I end up usually just hating it when I’m done. But, I guess I like “Weightlessly in Love,” that one’s important to me, and “Blacked Out Fun,” which is kind of a doo-woppy number I like a lot, and that’s sort of where the band’s going to go now. Spoiler alert! I guess from the previous albums there are a few songs that I can stand, still. I still like “Gas Mask Blues,” that one feels real, the secret song from the first album – that one still feels real… but a lot I just hate cuz I’ve heard it too many times, played it too many times, don’t care to listen to it.
That’s crazy, since you’re so engaged when you play! In the last couple of years, you’ve even gotten pretty close to really breaking out, featured in numerous “best unknown” types of lists, (Best Album You Didn’t Hear, Bands Not to Miss from “X,” etc). Do you prefer to fly under the radar or is it the ultimate goal to make it big?
Kozel: I would prefer to be making *some* money, and it would be nice to play for more people. That’s more fun, you know? Definitely not being unsuccessful on purpose. But, it’s just more of a means to be able to do what you love to do all the time, and nothing else.
Right. I’ve heard rumor of a second leg being added to your tour, any truth to this?
Kozel: Yeah we’re going to come see you! We just haven’t booked out that far yet.
And then after the tour, what comes next for you guys?
Kozel: Well, in between legs I’m hoping that we can go record a new album, and I don’t know when we would be touring on that because he’s [Michael’s] in school and stuff. Or when it would come out. But I intend to go back home and become a children’s singer. That’s my plan. But yeah, keep going, I think is the plan, right? There’s nothing else to do, and it’s fun, isn’t it? Right guys?
Sleeping in the Aviary will be hitting the East Coast around March of 2011 – more details to come, since this is the kind of show you absolutely don’t want to miss!