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Sleepthief feature

  SLEEPTHIEF











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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 elements?

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 developed.

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 instrument.

4. Who were your earliest inspirations to get into musicmaking? Why?

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 be?

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 vocalists?

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 sound.

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 Folder.

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" of Delerium.

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 it roll!

12. Would you ever consider branching out into other genres of music?

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 album.

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 opinion!

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!

:: More interviews in archives and front page ::

 

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