interview by Kristopher Upjohn
The Dawnseeker is the new album by Sleepthief
- a gentle, lulling journey that speaks to the heart. It calls to
mind wistfulness, love, loneliness, loved ones far away, the mists
of a land of fantasy, melancholia, joy, beauty... in short, it's
evocative music. Topping the audio picture are the charmingly unassuming
but quite talented female vocals. All of these wonderful elements
blend together into a blissful caress of chillout wonderment.
To find out more about the man (and women) behind the cool beats
and electronic melodies of Sleepthief, we talked to Justin Elswick,
and here's what he had to say.
1. What was your first exposure to music rooted in electronic
I would say early new wave and rap groups like Blondie, Yaz, New
Order, Sugarhill Gang, Run DMC...
2. Did electronic music grab you instantly, or how did you
get involved with it?
I've always enjoyed the sounds that keyboards and
samples can make. Some of the early stuff is pretty
cheezy in retrospect! However, there is something
comforting about hearing a fake sampled Casio
hand-clap (haha). Nowadays, it is great fun to use
the expansive samples and loops that have been
3. Did you have any pre-electronic musical projects (not necessarily
before there was electronic music but before you got into it)?
Not really. I wrote many of the songs on piano and
keyboard. Keys have always been my primary
4. Who were your earliest inspirations to get into musicmaking?
I would say Enya was first and foremost the artist that really
woke me up to the possibilities of making music that is stirring
and filmic. As strange as it sounds, when I heard "Watermark,"
I realized that I had to write music. Also, artists like Sarah McLachlan
and Abba and Gordon Lightfoot have been big inspirations for me
as well. I think that the trick of writing a solid melody and meaningful
lyrics is a real tough thing to get at.
5. If you could work with anybody musically, who would it
I would say Lisa Gerrard at this point. The last few
years I've become totally obssessed with her voice.
Everytime I hear it, I just do a head-check and
realize how unearthly her voice is. Also, Liz Fraser
(Cocteau Twins) and Morten Harket (A-ha) and Mylene
Farmer would be great too.
6. If your music was a painting, what style would it be/what
would it look like?
Pre-Raphaelite for sure! It would be a nature-scene
with slightly otherworldly elements...like that road
in the forest that kind of winds away beyond the
hills...and you just want to follow it.
7. Did Sleepthief come about originally with a focus on female
Yes. I knew that it would be female-fronted from the beginning.
8. Why, in your opinion, are female vocalists such a strong
pull in electronic music?
I've asked myself this question before. I think that
the female voice has something mysterious and alluring
that the male voice often cannot capture...with
electronic music, alot of it is about "mood" and the
female voice can be seductive or relaxing or playful
in ways that a male voice cannot be.
9. How did you go about selecting the vocalists you picked
for your Dawnseeker CD?
I actually had an idea about my favorite singers and kind of dreamed
what it would be like to get them all together on one album. All
of the artists on the CD are singers that I've loved (some for many
years). It is still unreal to me that they got involved and that
they are now more than just names, but friends as well.
10. Tell me a little about each of the women you chose.
Jody Quine is this really committed and funny person.
We've become such good friends that I can now tease
her all of the time. She has a solo-album ("Star") and
also sang for Balligomingo. I love Jody's voice
because it is pure and direct and has a very rounded
Harland is an intelligent and creative woman. She
listens well and is very intuitive with music. She is
also a great producer as well. She has the "chameleon"
voice that can do anything justice. Harland has
collaborated with Delerium, Ferry Corsten and Pole
Nicola Hitchcock is a strong and deeply invested person. She will
work her hardest to make sure something sounds its best. She was
the lead singer of Mandalay and has a collaboration/solo album called
"Passive Agressive" that is just amazing. Kyoko Baertsoen
is a funny and warm and accessible person. Very hardworking. She
has a power voice and this instinct for nuance. Kyoko is lead singer
of the group Lunascape. Walter Hilhorst is the other primary member
of that band.
Kirsty Hawkshaw happens to be one of the most insightful and passionate
people I know. She has blown me away with her amazing persona...we've
had some long talks and she is like a sister to me now...Kirsty
is arguably the pre-emminent electronic female vocalist of the last
decade having started with Opus III and worked with numerous artists
like DJ Tiesto and BT.
Kristy Thirsk (as everyone knows) has the purest voice... like
the voice of celestial angels. She is determined and very tough--but
she is also a really nice person as well. She is a good laugh and
works incredibly hard at what she does. I've gotten to know her
better and really think she's great. Kristy is a Juno-award winning
artist (Rose Chronicles) and is considered by many to be the "voice"
Caroline Lavelle is this amazing paradox. She writes such beautiful
and darkly intense music. Her classical training just makes her
music so original and intelligent. She is actually hilarious and
a real vibrant and witty conversationalist! I've admired her for
so long that I still have to pinch myself when I think of her involvement.
Roberta Carter Harrison is this relaxed mom of four children (she
just had twins!) who also happens to have a truly unique voice.
She is also humble and so easygoing...just like a good friend you
want to go hang out with! She is the lead singer of Wild Strawberries
(her husband, Ken is the other half of the band) and she has also
had big success with ATB.
Jerri Eckert is one of my best friends. We went to prom together
in high school (haha). We've been buds for so long. I only recently
knew that she sang alot! She has performed with a world-music group
called Desert Wind. It is funny because she loves Berlin so singing
the cover of "The Metro" was right up her alley.
Lauren Edman is a very humble and mellow person with this striking
voice and songwriting/piano skills to boot. She has a great future
ahead of her. She works at a major record label right now...once
the world finds out how great she is, I am sure she'll be a name
everyone hears about! san.drine is a wonderful singer who lives
in NY, but hails from Switzerland. "drine" (as I call
her) is one of the smartest folks I know. She is multitalented and
knows loads about the music business. She runs her own label. She
is also such an incredible singer as well. She has a solo album
and has also worked under the name Suisse Modular.
11. How do you start writing a song?
Usually, I start with a chorus - I don't know why, but I usually
have the hook written first. I then go back and write the other
sections (I know, totally backwards). I am trying to discipline
myself on the next album to write music in a proper order and to
write lyrics simultaneously. I often just start with piano and let
12. Would you ever consider branching out into other genres
Yes. In fact, Sleepthief, will explore some new territories on
the next album. I love so many different sytles of music, that their
influences will always be in play. I would love to write an instrumental
13. Who are your current musical influences and why?
Keane, Eskobar, A-ha, Neverending White Lights, Death
Cab for Cutie: I love these male-fronted bands
because they have great lead male vocalists and the
songs are beautifully crafted.
Goldfrapp, Kosheen, Portishead: Love the energy and
mood of these artists.
October Project, Cowboy Junkies: Beautiful and forlon
folk-based music that is never boring.
Anything 80s--it was the best decade for music in my
14. What drives you artistically?
Just that inner furnace of creativity that has to be
fed. I will never stop making music because it has to
come out of me...I think that situations, life, death,
religion, ideas, history...all of these things work in
me and inspire me.
15. Where do you hope you'll be in five years?
Working on Sleepthief III and finished with the two films I am
working on. Also, I would love to have several artists signed to
my own label (Echotone Records) and most importantly, I would love
to have a wife and a family.
16. Why the name Sleepthief?
I was staying up very late writing music two years
ago, and the name just struck me as appropriate--the
music was stealing my sleep! Plus, it is memorable
and has a mysterious quality to it.
17. What music do you listen to that fans might find surprising?
Haha... now you are gonna put me on the spot. OK, I listen to
Belinda Carlisle alot when I work out. Also, I love Def Leppard
and Scorpions. I also really enjoy funk/r&b from the 70s and
80s like Parliament and Earth Wind and Fire! I listen to Japanese
music as well. There is a great composer named Himekami that writes
the most serene and touching music.
18. Anything else you'd like the Raves.com/DJfix.com
readers to know?
Just that I am thankful to all the friends and supporters who've
shown me such love. My deepest thanks for giving me this opportunity!
I deeply appreciate your support :-)
Thank you so much for your time Justin!
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