Interview: Sleeping Policemen

Sleeping Policemen - Photo by Thomas Burisch

Sleeping Policemen – Photo by Thomas Burisch

If asked, the members of Hamburg indie pop band Sleeping Policemen might be inclined to describe their story as a bit of a happy coincidence. Even before the band came to be, the five members had been friends, something which may or may not be responsible for how swimmingly things have progressed for the quintet.

“Pretty much everything just seems to fall into place by itself,” member Sonja Müller said, referring both to how the band was formed and how it functions as a unit. “All of us work on songs together, so most of the time one of us comes up with an idea and whilst playing around with it the song unfolds…when it comes to who wrote what song we can never tell as well. We just dwell on things collectively, and all of a sudden they’re there.”

It’s rare that bands are able to stumble upon such a combination of friends that works so well on a musical level. Furthermore, Sleeping Policemen shared that they have been lucky enough to encounter various creative types along the way who have not only supported and advanced their music, but also become friends as a result.

As example, the band only needed to point to its first gig, after which the members were approached by Hanns-Christian Mahler of Apricot Records, asking if they were interested in releasing a CD or seven-inch with the label. Following a recording session with Rick McPhail of Tocotronic, the members ended up not with a couple songs, but a whole album’s worth, which was released as a self-titled debut on CD and vinyl in March.

And as is often the case with many musicians, the recording process can result in a bit of burn-out in regards to the songs, something which occurred to the members of Sleeping Policemen as well. Fortunately, a bit of separation and the natural evolution of songs in a live setting have led to the group once again appreciating the release.

“There certainly was a time when we felt we had listened to it a few times too often. Playing live we changed a few bits here and there to keep things interesting for us…some songs on the album have changed quite a bit since we recorded them, and now we play them differently from the record when playing live. But we’re still happy with the recordings nonetheless. Things change all the time. Songs do, too. That’s fine. We try not to dwell on things like that too much,” Müller shared. “Now we can listen to it again and enjoy it. We like the sound of it a lot, which has a lot to do with Rick producing it…he had that sound in mind right at the start. Quite dry, sounding not too ‘expensive,’ quite dynamic. Some reviewer once wrote about the album that it was sort of conservative in sound, which is true. It is not very modern concerning so-called trends. But we hope that this could be a reason why we, as well as other people, still might want to listen to it and enjoy it in a few years time from now.”

Where song lyrics are concerned, Sleeping Policemen feel most comfortable penning words in English, as many bands they grew up listening to sang in English, something that simply felt natural. Meanwhile, the content is inspired by common occurrences, told in story form.

“We like to write about every day life. It seems that procrastination is quite a topic; we obviously like being lazy. Some songs are quite happy tunes with some sort of gloomy, sad or sarcastic twist, if you listen to the lyrics,” Müller said. “But, to be honest, most of the time we just need a few words or a topic, and it all falls into place. We like to tell little stories, even if most of the time nothing really happens in them.”

Of course, being a band from Hamburg–and one that sings in English as opposed to German–tends to conjure a few different ideas for music listeners. In particular, as it was the birthplace of the Hamburger Schule of the late 80s, many assume that is the predominant scene there. However, the band insisted that Hamburger Schule was much more media-driven and instigated, and is hardly representative of what the present-day status of the scene is.

“Concerning what is going on in Hamburg musically, around us and also involving us, the music is pretty diverse,” Müller said. “Furthermore, press is less interested. So we’re kind of having a ball in our little bubble, [watching] our friends play, collaborate on things and have fun together, [and] somehow it does thrive. But in a different, a smaller, and probably more personal way.”

And it’s not just hearsay, as Sleeping Policemen is evidence of a small and thriving network of connected musicians and artists–in and around Hamburg of course, but also extending beyond city and country borders.

Case in point: the band just finished recording three new songs with friend Tilman van der Leeden, from the band Tripping The Light Fantastic. Those songs will appear as a free digital single on EardrumsPop, a net-label–spread across a handful of countries–that took interest in the band, without ever meeting or seeing Sleeping Policemen live.

Meanwhile, the band’s artwork and videos are also done by people, some of whom were friends already, but others who became friends in the process.

“[Everything has been done] with the feeling that we were hanging out and working with people whom we like a lot personally and who strangely seem to be able to relate to what we do in a glimpse and just come along,” Müller said.

That is something she and the other members certainly don’t take for granted.

“The best thing ever happening to us are all those wonderful people who were and still are involved in getting Sleeping Policemen out in the open,” she said. “We are ridiculously lucky concerning the people we know.”

Sleeping Policemen play Sunday at Marie-Antoinette in Berlin, as part of the weekend-long Indie Pop Days. The show begins at 16.00.

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