Very rarely does a band strike the ideal equilibrium between indie credibility and commercial viability, but it’s a sophisticated scale balance that Sleeping At Last has mastered across the entire decade thus far.
Sleeping At Last come from Wheaton, Illinois, where life is comfortable but maybe less than thrilling; in circumstances like these, the artist-to-be looks inward for insight. Finding nothing, he looks a little harder. And he listens to what's in the air for guidance.
The O'Neal brothers (Chad & Ryan) and Dan Perdue were all into Radiohead as kids. Later they got enthusiastic about Sunny Day Real Estate; to different degrees they found something in U2, The Beatles, and other sources. They took these influences with them as they started playing around town, in bands that seemed to look no further than the next gig.
Ryan was the first to perform. Just six months after Chad took up drums, they started playing together. Soon they met Dan through his sister, who was friendly with the O'Neals. With a couple of years of performing already under his belt, Dan complemented both the musical discipline and youthful energy that Ryan and Chad maintained.
Three weeks after its first rehearsal, the trio made its bow at the Fishbowl Café, a neighborhood coffeehouse. Without any publicity machine grinding away on their behalf, without even so much as a demo to shop, they started getting booked at local clubs. Armed with funky equipment and just enough material to play a 30-minute set, they made waves among listeners who could sense something special taking shape.
In 1999 they recorded an EP, There's A Quiet Understanding, at a studio in Wheaton College; selling it at shows, they spread their reputation throughout and beyond Chicago. Radio stations from Texas to Paris, France, began playing it, and sales of more than two thousand copies paid for their first full-length album, Capture, described at ChicagoRedStreak.com as "a mesh of careful rhythms and cherubic vocals that seems equal parts dark rock, emo, and the gritty balladry that made the Pumpkins famous."
The Smashing Pumpkins reference is prescient, for in March 2001, just a couple of months after Capture was finished, the band was hanging around backstage at the Metro, one of the city's most celebrated venues. They'd finished their opening set and were mulling over what to do with the rest of the night when..."Dan came up to me and said, 'You'll never guess who's here,'" remembers Ryan. "'Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins!' So we started talking about whether we should give him our CD. We didn't want to bother him. But then he walked right by us, and I just stuck out my hand and gave him a copy of Capture. We had no idea whether anything would come out of it. In fact, we were all pretty positive he would throw it out."
No such luck. The following day, Corgan called the O'Neals, expressed his enthusiasm for the band, and offered the beginning of what has turned into early support for Sleeping At Last. "We've had so many conversations with him," Ryan says. "He never interfered with what we wanted to do, but he'd tell us what he thought was really strong. He'd say, 'That's a great direction. You can tap into more of that, if you want.' He taught us a lot about song arrangement. And he always said he really believes in what we're doing."
Inspired, Ryan dedicated himself over the next couple of years to tightening his writing. The more he focused, the more the music began to advance beyond what they had achieved on Capture. "I wrote everything that you hear on Ghosts during that time, on a typewriter, without music in mind," he explains, "just to get to what I was feeling and thinking. When it came time to add the music, I began to put the songs together. Each one was different: Some started with a distinct direction, and others took form on their own and ended up saying exactly what I wanted and hoped they would say even though I couldn't quite figure out how to do it."
This work was apparent to Interscope A&R representative Mark Williams, who followed a tip from a friend at the Metro to the O'Neal house in Wheaton. There, in that same basement where the trio had first played, the process began that led several weeks later to their signing with the label. For six months, in early 2003, they disappeared into Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studio in nearby Lakeview and, with producer Bjorn Thorsrud (Dandy Warhols, Zwan, Smashing Pumpkins) on sliders and knobs and mixer Alan Moulder (U2, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails), and recorded Ghosts.
"Everything came out sounding exactly as we wanted it to," Ryan says. "It was especially fun to hear the strings record and to watch as the vision we had for the album got pieced together into physical form."
After the release of 2003's Ghosts, the members of Sleeping At Last logged in thousands of miles on the road, earned heaps of critical acclaim and continue to refine its well oiled alternative rock machinery. From early spot dates with Zwan to touring with Switchfoot and Bleu to time with Yellowcard, Something Corporate and The Format to a solo headlining jaunt, the Chicago based trio has amassed a considerable following in all parts of the globe, connecting with its artistic melting pot of swelling anthems and lyrical sincerity. Along the way, the group also scored the sublime single “Say,” which shot straight to the top of Fuse TV's “Oven Fresh,” leading to the band's encore appearance on the network's most popular program “IMX.”
Such a series of appearances has built anticipation for its second national release Keep No Score, which released to a flurry of attention, starting with a soundtrack slot for the song “Quicksand” on the Season 3 premiere of ABC's “Grey's Anatomy.” That track, along with the eleven others, finds singer Ryan O'Neal, his brother and drummer Chad O'Neal and bassist Dan Perdue evolving with their greatest degree of enthusiasm and creativity to date, further solidified by superb handling of the self-production reigns.
With its third national release Storyboards, the critical charmers from Chicago are just as comfortable calling upon legendary arranger Van Dyke Parks as they are appearing on “Grey’s Anatomy” with the goal of relating to its astute audience topping any accolade amassed on either side of the dial.
“We’re attracted to melodies that are pretty relatable and listen to music that is slightly obscure or under the radar, but find both sides coming together in an organic way,” observes front man Ryan O’Neal before bassist/keyboardist Dan Perdue interjects. “All of our favorite bands are always forward thinking and ground breaking, but also accessible, which is the hardest balance to find. But being forward thinking doesn’t mean anything if no one wants to listen to you and it’s obviously not all that exciting to sound like everything else out there.”
“My approach to lyric writing is pretty much like an audio journal where I write about whatever’s happening in my world, but the themes are universal and subject to interpretation,” unveils O’Neal. “No matter where you’re coming from, I think everyone can find common ground of having experienced a really difficult period, but realizing there’s something better on the other side of that hurdle. Those are the type of emotions I hope these songs bring to people in hopes of realizing immediate struggles sometimes add up to more important parts of the larger picture.”
Listen to Sleeping At Last Here
|There's A Quiet Understanding EP||1999||Independent|
|Ghosts of Christmas Past EP||2005||Independent|
|Keep No Score||2006||Independent|