Sleep On It—Hard But True

Sleep On It is a truly phenomenal Chicago-based band that really seems to take all of the best elements of the classic pop punk style, but also takes handfuls of components from other genres and mixes it in, creating an original sound that resonates with listeners of all ages and of every musical interest. I spoke to lead guitarist TJ Horansky and lead vocalist Zech Pluister recently about how they created that interesting, personal sound, as well as where they’re going from here, and who their dream collaborations would be with. (Hint: It might not be who you think.)

You guys are doing a hometown show in Chicago toward the end of July where your fantastic debut album, Overexposed, will be played in its entirety. That is bound to be a stellar night all around, but what made now seem like the time to do this?

TJ: Well, I think our thought process was that we have a new record coming out pretty soon, we’re about to start a new cycle for a new album, and we’ve been touring on Overexposed for almost two years. This Chicago show is at Bottom Lounge, so it’ll be our biggest headlining show ever and it seemed like a great culmination of touring on Overexposed… and then also moving forward into this new album cycle.

That makes a lot of sense. What are you most excited about playing at this show, specifically off Overexposed, that maybe doesn’t maybe get a lot of time on stage normally?

Zech: As far as songs that get played not that often, we’ve never played “Always Crashing in the Same Car” live, so that’s going to be really cool to do. We’ve played “What We Stay Alive For” once or twice, so we’re just pulling it out of the bag, but that actually hasn’t been played live since before the record was out. It was one of those things where we had played it and were like, ‘Alright, let’s test this out and see how it goes.’ Also, “Autumn (I Wish I Was Better)” never really gets played live, which is going to be extra cool to do since we’ve only done it a couple of times. I’m excited to just play the album front to back. I don’t think we’ve played all of the songs on it since before we recorded it. We used to play it in chronological order for the most part before we went into record it, just to get a vibe as to how the record was going to flow, and we haven’t even played some songs—like “Always Crashing”… since we recorded the song. It’s going to be really cool to pull these ones back out and kind of dust them off and give them a new life for the night.

That’s super exciting for you guys—just to be nostalgic about the music, but to also live in the moment with it yet again.

TJ: Yeah, for sure! I think it’s a great sort of end to the Overexposed cycle, the end of that chapter, to celebrate it, but also move forward to the next album.

Absolutely, and speaking of moving forward to another record, I know that your sophomore album has been in the works for a bit of time now—are you able to tell us anything about it yet? Does the sound fall in line with Overexposed, or is it something totally different? What can we expect?

TJ: Well, there is an album. We can confirm that. It’s done and there is no set release date yet, although it will be out in the near future for sure. I think while we were writing the record, it was a bit of a grind for me and a bit more of figuring out what we wanted it to sound like and what kind of band we wanted to be on a sophomore record, which I think is kind of a make-or-break album for a lot of bands—the sophomore record. We definitely did not want to hit that slump, so while writing it, I was really trying to figure out what sound we wanted and what kind of band we wanted to be; just what kind of things we do well and what our strengths are. I was kind of all over the board as far as sound when we were demoing. I had something like 40 different demo ideas at one point—not all of them were fleshed out songs, but at least ideas. Then when we actually got to the studio to record, we sat down with the producer and all the guys, and I think we just realized that we should hone in on what we do really well and not try to get too crazy, not try to reinvent the wheel on this record. A big thing for me was communicating with Zech while he was writing vocals and what he felt would be a strong song to sing on and what fits in his vocal range, so there was a lot more communication while we were planning out the record.

Zech: Definitely! The big difference between Overexposed and the new record is exactly that communication. With Overexposed, we would have half a song with vocals, and then we would go write half a song with different vocals. We would kind of just pass them off and finish them, but with this record, especially because we had a lot of ideas to choose from, we had sat down and dwindled it from the 35 or 40 ideas down to like 12 or 13. Then, [TJ] and I sat down and we were like ‘What songs are we going to pick that works well with my voice, that flows all together the best, and just makes the best record for us?’ With Overexposed, I [think we overthought it]. We tried to make this overarching, kind of thematic, up-and-down-type of record that we kind of used to listen to when we were kids. But we definitely put a little too much of our overthinking habit into it. With this record, we just […] picked 10 songs that really showcased that to the best of our ability. I think we did it! I really like all of the songs on this record and I think that taking the time and just talking through everything, figuring out what songs were going to achieve to the highest of their capabilities. It really panned out…. At least for me.

TJ: I agree, and I think along those same lines, we knew that we really wanted to tour a lot on this record, so I was very conscious of the live show, what I thought would translate really well live, what would have that energy that gets the crowd excited, and is something that would just translated into a live space. Hopefully we will get to tour even more so on this record cycle.

Do you have any life-goal, dream-making collaborations that you would love to do? Either on a song or album?

Zech: That’s a long list! I mean, personally, I’d love to work with Jim Atkins and just kind of pick his musical brain that seems to be full of endless amazing ideas. Everyone in our band loves Neal Avron, he’s an incredible producer. We loved working with Mike Green. I’d love to write a song with Jason Lancaster from Go Radio and Mayday Parade. Of course, Alex Gaskarth. Jason Vena from Acceptance… that’s a big one for me.

TJ: There are a lot of artists and producers within this scene that we would love to work with, but I would also love to maybe one day work with somebody maybe in a completely different genre, in a completely different scene. I think that would be really fun and something that I wish happened more often. We love Kacey Musgraves, or even work with a hip-hop artist. That would be awesome. Something along those lines that would really be something completely fun and different.

Zech: We’re trying to make Collision Course Part Two.

TJ: [Laughs] That’s exactly what I’m saying! Thank you.

Zech: Linkin Park and Jay-Z did it first. Sleep On It and who, next? [Laughs.]

You’ve been touring extensively and consistently and now you’re heading out again. I can imagine that visiting these new places and playing to new people in and out of the country is a great place to find inspiration.  How has traveling, growing, and just learning on the road affected you guys as a band and how you make music?

Zech: That’s a good question. I don’t know. As a writer—and this is the most cliché answer of all time—I am definitely always trying to get inspiration from what is going on around me, just my surroundings. Being on the road… people make it sound way easier than it is. Being on the road and trying to take inspiration from that is actually really hard for me, just because I don’t have enough time in a day to really take in what is happening. You are really only in a city for eight hours and then you’re on to the next one. For me, I more so try to take in the way a place makes me feel—the certain vibe that a city, venue, crowd, or a person that has a conversation with me [makes me feel]. I try to take all that in, and more so, take in how it or they affect me and if they have an interesting story. I try to keep that in my back pocket, because that is the stuff that really affects who I am and how I tell stories.

TJ: I would say that it’s two-fold for me. I think touring and traveling really helps keep me open minded. Meeting people all over the country and all over the world with all different backgrounds and all different stories is really helpful in adding to that open minded feeling towards the world, and it keeps me humbled and grateful. I think that is really important for me as the band continues to grow and have more success. Being able to relate to these people who are coming to our shows, that we get to meet and tell us their stories, is incredibly humbling every night for me. Just being in different parts of the world is really interesting to me and I try to take in the vibe and the culture that is a part of wherever we are. On the flip side of that, being gone a lot and away from friends and girlfriends and family… it makes me value and appreciate the time that I do get to spend with them. It makes me appreciate their support and their love that much more because I know how difficult it is for them. It’s not really about us as individuals in the band, it’s about everybody, the time and our support system that helps keep us going and keeps us motivated. That can be really difficult, but it’s also really fulfilling and really humbling.

Zech: To add on to that, touring makes you feel very small—in a good way, in a humbling way. Something that I’ve noticed is that life doesn’t stop when you leave. When you’re gone, doing your thing, all the people that you love at home [their] lives don’t stop and wait for you to get back. There is so much happening when you’re gone and that is something that took a long time for me to wrap my head around. Obviously you get back from tour and everyone picks up where you left off, as if you never left. But then all of a sudden, you’re catching up with your friends and realizing that you were only gone for a month or five weeks, but so much has changed in that time for all these people. I remember the first time I noticed that, it kind of put me back in my chair, and made me realize that I’m not the only thing that’s happening. My life is not the only one that’s changing while I’m out there and I’m not the only [one with an] interesting story to tell. That was really cool for me and something that I kind of tried to put into the lyrics of this new record, as well.

I’ve never really thought of it that way. I don’t think I’ve ever taken note of artists’ feelings and connections back home and what it’s like to have to be caught up to speed about their life and understand and reflect in regard to the people around them.

TJ: Definitely. I think for a lot of people, touring is not a very common thing that you get to experience, so it’s a little hard to put into words and to explain, but I think that is what makes the relationships with the people we’re close to so special. They might not understand this life, but they support us, and they love the passion that we put into it. It’s hard—that’s true—but worth it.