Sleep Study Q&A
After a five-year hiatus, local Minneapolis band, Sleep Study, is back on the scene with its sophomore album, “Miss America.” I chatted with guitarist Ryan Paul Plewacki about how they got their start in music, why they took a break, and how they’re navigating the music scene today.
How long have you been playing music?
My dad’s a musician… he had a recording studio built in the house. I was always really exposed to it. I put together a band in high school that turned into bands in college, and now I’m 38. It’s just kind of always been a part of my life.
How did the band get together?
I was working on a record out in Boston with a producer named Al Kooper. He’s a producer who discovered Lynyrd Skynyrd… and he’s kind of this legendary producer dude. I was flying out to Boston, routinely working on it [the album] with him… I really wanted to have some Minnesota people on it, so I kind of got together a group of guys, with the intention of them coming out to Boston and working on that record. That album project fell apart… and it’s sitting in a vault or something at Kooper’s place, but the guys and I were like, “We don’t hate each other, and this isn’t terrible, so let’s keep doing it.” That was a while ago, and we’re still doing it.
Did you put out a call for musicians to join you, or did you know them personally?
I am more of a sideman than I am a frontman. I play in The Honeydogs… and do a lot of substitute work, too, so I see myself as a guitar player more than a band leader. Through that, and through session work, I met a bunch of musicians. I basically just hand-picked some people who I thought were great and would work out really well… I kind of put together my own personal dream team.
Where do you get inspiration for songs?
It kinda depends. This record [“Miss America”] is actually the second time we’ve recorded this record. We did it the first time and it was blissful pop music… it was pretty happy and airy. Then the 2016 election happened… so we redid it. The world is a different place now than it was when we did it the first time… this whole album is me taking out my frustration, not only with the executive branch, but the state of people in this country in general that I guess I didn’t realize even existed because they had been in hiding for so long… a lot of this album is me expressing anger and kind of mourning the country I thought I lived in.
It’s been seven years since the release of the band’s first album. Your sophomore album, set for release in February, comes after quite the hiatus. Can you talk a little about the break?
After we put out the first record, we toured really hard, just constant. We just didn’t stop. Definitely every weekend, we were out… there’s kind of this run, this Midwest run that you do where you hit like Des Moines, Chicago, somewhere in Wisconsin, and then come home, and then you do it again and again… we had just been doing it for so long, and also some larger national tours. We started working on that second record, and we were getting along fine, there wasn’t any interpersonal issues. I think we were all really tired. This is another reason that that middle record didn’t come out was because the unintentional hiatus happened. I just remember driving back from Des Moines in the middle of the night, dropping everybody off one by one, and we just kind of stopped calling each other. We intended on taking like a month, it was Christmas time… The Honeydogs put out a record, so I found ways to get distracted with that… I basically fell back into the role I was comfortable in, which is doing the sideman thing, and I think everybody else did too.
How has it been difficult to get back into the flow of working together?
No, not really. It’s not like we stopped playing… it wasn’t like we didn’t see each other and didn’t play together. We would still absolutely do very select local performances. We were still probably doing between 10-12 dates a year. It was local, and it had to be on a weekend, everything kind of had to line up to make it as easy as possible for us to do it. We weren’t totally estranged or anything like that. Specifically the bass player, Justin [Hartke] and I, we work really well together. With him, it’s always going to be we pick up exactly where we left off musically and personally.
So you guys were on a “break,” but not really on a break?
No, we were still doing occasional things. We on a break from putting any effort into it.
You’re only releasing your new album on vinyl and digital platforms. Is there a reason why you chose to exclude CDs?
I feel like the CD market… I don’t think it’s dead, but I think it’s mostly being driven by, like, Christian music and the folk musicians who are selling stuff out of their trunks. There’s an age and there’s a culture of people who buy CDs, and I just don’t think that we line up with that. We did our first record on CD and we couldn’t sell it. It was hard. Every place we played, someone would come to the merch table and was like, “Do you guys have vinyl?”
What do you love about the Minneapolis music scene?
It’s super tight-knit. I feel like everybody at some point in time is going to play with someone else. Eventually, you kind of know everybody, which I think is really cool. I think people describe Minneapolis as being a “small town in a big city.” The music scene is kind of a testament to that.
Has it changed from when you first started touring?
Absolutely. Being completely honest, there are a lot of younger musicians who I haven’t been keeping up with. There’s a lot of new stuff I’m experiencing… I also feel like a lot of younger groups are finding new places to play and new ways of getting their music out.
What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened at a show?
It was not the first time we played South by Southwest but the second. We got stuck in traffic on the way down, and we were just barely going to make our set time for our first night. We had to park at a hotel and pay like $70 for parking, and we had to haul all of our gear… down 6th, which is the busiest street [in Austin] full of people. We got there and the stage manager was like, “Get on the stage now!” Everything was frantic… we get into our first song, and right then, this drunken girl appears out of nowhere, like, goes from the crowd and comes up onstage… she looked at me, and she said, “Welcome to Austin.”
What have you been listening to lately?
I mostly listen to a lot of older music. I’m a big Beatles fanatic… Lately, I’ve been listening to the new Unknown Mortal Orchestra record, something I have not been able to stop listening to… a lot of Thundercat, and Vampire Weekend just put out a single, so that has been something that has been on repeat because it is absolutely stunning.