May 8, 2014 Interview – Alex Kandel of Sleeper Agent
Cited as one of the “bands to watch” back in 2011 by Rolling Stone Magazine, Bowling Green, KY band Sleeper Agent have made quite a name for themselves in the past few years. After the success of their debut album Celabrasion (2011) the band built a name among the alternative rock scene combining electrifying vocals and catchy sounds. Touring with the likes of Weezer, New Politics, and now scheduled to be on Vans Warped Tour this summer, the future looks bright for this young talented band. Recently we sat down with lead vocalist, Alex Kandel, discussing the band’s new album About Last Night, touring, musical inspirations, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Sleeper Agent have been together now five years. In that time you have played with some of the biggest names in alternative rock including Weezer, New Politics, Fun, and Circa Survive. You have had music featured in commercials and continue to grow a fan base. How would you describe the past five years of the band?
Alex Kandel – It was like a whirlwind. I cannot really see where it starts or ends because I feel so part of it, it all continues to keep growing, and I am very thankful for it.
CrypticRock.com – It is quite amazing. The band’s sound is a nice mix of pop rock, punk rock, and garage rock. Many would call your music more along the lines of a retro sound. Most of all, the music is extremely catchy. Tell me what was objective was when first forming and developing your sound?
Alex Kandel – Initially in 2010, when I started with Tony and Justin, the goal was to play music that we could open for a Memphis artist we really love called Jay Reatard. Our first show was when we found out he passed away. I think that made us want to do it even more. Just knowing someone we looked up to that much was gone. We just wanted to create really fun pop music that existed in a punk way. That was definitely the launching off point of where Sleeper Agent ended up.
CrypticRock.com – It seems you took a tragic event and made an inspiration out of it all. Your debut album Celabrasion was release back in 2011, having a couple of successful singles with “Get It Daddy” and “Get Burned”. The album received extremely positive reviews and is solid from start to finish. How important is it for you and the band to put together an album, not just with one or two singles, but cohesive as an album?
Alex Kandel – It is extremely important to us. That is why it took us over a year to complete this new record. We wanted to challenge ourselves and make something different, we did not want to make Celabrasion part 2. We could have easily done that, even when we started writing that is how it kind of sounded. We wanted to push ourselves, we by design made it difficult for ourselves writing, re-write, and think outside of what we typically do. If you listen to all the demos you would think it did not make any sense, we go out there. I think it was totally necessary for making the record we did. At the end of the day when we were listening to what we had already created, it was a matter of hearing the cohesive record that existed within it.
CrypticRock.com – The band’s new album About Last Night was released a few days ago. This album sees the band venture into different styles and sounds. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
Alex Kandel – I definitely do not think it is as immediate as Celabrasion, but I have only seen the greatest responses from the die-hard fans that have been here since day one. I think they get it, I think they understand why this is the next step for us.
CrypticRock.com – It is a very good record and has a lot of texture. Do you think it is deeper than the first record?
Alex Kandel – I do think it is deeper, I think we intended for that. We wrote and recorded the first record in about a week. Let us be real, it was very quick, it was a record from the gut and not questioning our instincts and that is why I love that record. This record, we did not want to do that again so we challenged out instincts. It is not from the gut, everything is thought out. That is why you have to think a little more when you listen to it. It is something you have to digest. I am proud to have made a record like that, which is what we set out to do.
CrypticRock.com – You should be proud of it. That is the point of being a musician, to continue challenging yourself and your listeners. You are one of many bands part of the new wave of alternative rock music. The scene was dormant for the early part of the 2000’s but seems to be coming back with a lot of inventive and exciting bands. What do you think has ignited the new movement in alternative rock?
Alex Kandel – I think it is really interesting, because you find fans who are not just fans of your band, they are fans of all the people you consider your peers. It is exciting because I, with friends, meet people who are trying to accomplish similar goals as us. There is no feeling of being an outsider when you get to know people like Grouplove and all of our friends we met over the years. To be able to call them friends and know we are all striving toward the same things makes it a lot easier on a band to know you are among friends. I love when I hear when a fan of our band is a fan of another alternative band because there is a certain kinship that you feel automatically, whether you meet them or not. There is a kinship that you are on the alter-charts together.
CrypticRock.com – It is special that everyone is friends within the scene, and it is really blossoming in recent years. It is great to see it; it is healthy for pop music. Pop music needed that jolt of alternative flavor again. What is your opinion on that?
Alex Kandel – I totally agree. Lorde is all I hear on the pop station back home, and to know she started as an alter-artist is incredible, it really is. To know it is starting to lean to some guitar-based music, dare I say it, is amazing! I really did miss it.
CrypticRock.com – You are right. It appears as if rock-n-roll in recent years has become a stigma when it came to pop music, and pop radio stations shunned bands which played guitar. There does seem to be a turning of the stone recently though.
Alex Kandel – Yes, somewhere along the road, it jumped the shark in the 90’s, which is fine; a lot of things did. I think that the 90’s rock sound definitely jumped the shark then, and it took us a little while as a genre to re-evaluate and re-invent where we were. I think that is where we are now is kind of becoming attractive to what pop radio is.
Crypticrock.com – That is very true. You recently have been very active touring. You recently completed your first headlining tour and completed a tour with New Politics and Magic Man prior to that. How did that tour go?
Alex Kandel – We have become so close on that tour, all three bands; New Politics, Magic Man, and us. It is really special when that happens when you are on the road and build those friendships. It is just amazing that I feel comfortable calling up those guys any time of day. I feel lucky and very fortunate to be able to tour with those bands. There were a lot of different people in the crowd that night. That is all you can ask for, is to play for different kinds of people and to see different kinds of people come together. I loved the headlining tour. Holychild and Pagiins are such great people, we met them at South By Southwest music festival prior to the tour. It was probably the most fun I had on tour.
CrypticRock.com – With that said, how excited is the band for the chance to get to play the Vans Warped Tour this summer? Considering you have put a lot of time into touring over the past few years what do you take with you to help endure the long trek?
Alex Kandel – I would say the number one thing we talk about as a band going into Warped Tour is being kind to everyone, because it is intimidating going into Warped Tour, especially as a new face going in. I think because of how the festival is designed, there is a lot of old friendships which have formed through it, you always know you are coming in as a new face. The guys building the stage are there all day, and that is a huge point of respect for us knowing how early their day starts. To be part of something so iconic is already such a gift that we are going into it with as positive an attitude as we can. We are looking forward to building new relationships with those kinds of people and getting to experience the festival. I have never even attended the festival, so I am very excited to be able to experience it as an artist from day one.
CrypticRock.com – It is an exciting experience. You get all different types of people at Warped Tour. The great thing about Warped Tour, opposed to other rock festivals, is there is no distinct one group of people. Everyone is there for all different types of music.
Alex Kandel – Exactly, I think the only distinct group of people you can call out is just music fans; the kids who want to see a ton of different music. I think that is something that Warped Tour has that many other festivals really does not. There is just a huge amount of Warped Tour audience that is there just to watch music, regardless of sound or shape. That is such a huge opportunity to play for true music fans like that.
CrypticRock.com – It is a really special time indeed. What are some of your musical influences?
Alex Kandel – Personally, a big one is Ronnie Spector, the Motown area. To me she is the first rock star, and she continues to be one today. Her story is just incredible and heart breaking. I will always love Ronnie, I still sound check with “Be My Baby” every night. It is something very dear to me.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite interesting. What ignited you to be so inspired by her?
Alex Kandel – To be honest, I picked up her biography on a whim at a used book store when I was a freshman in high school. Reading it at that age when I was trying to decide if I was going to start singing in front of people. I think it really ignited me to do it, and that is how I ended up in Sleeper Agent.
CrypticRock.com – That is really a great story. It is important to understand the history of rock-n-roll and music.
Alex Kandel – Definitely, especially as a female. I have had very young fans come up to me after a show and say they are not typically a fan of female singers. I say, “What! Hold up, have you not listened to Ronnie Spector, Anita O’Day, Fiona Apple, and all these amazingly kick-ass women”. They are not all these over sexualized people that you cannot relate to at thirteen. Unfortunately that goes the way of a lot of female singers, but there are those idols to look up to. It is so baffling to hear that. I am not re-inventing the wheel here; I am going off all these amazing women before me (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and there are so many great female fronted bands out there.
Alex Kandel – It is becoming more and more common to have strong figures, but to the average 12 year old girl they are just at that point starting to seek out music on their own. The first thing they face is over sexualized women leading a band, or a pretend band which is all backing tracks. I remember being twelve years old and it takes a little while to find those artists if you look for them. I think it is becoming more and more common for women to be strong, as a front of a band, and not have to be too aggressive or act too masculine to be able to front a band. That is the other side of the coin; you are either over sexualized or you have to be a dude (laughs). I have definitely tried to always stay true to the middle ground; I can be feminine but I can still kick your ass, I can do both.
CrypticRock.com – That is the best way to be. You want to be yourself and be comfortable on stage. My last question for you is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com is a music and horror film publication so we like to focus on all the genres. If you are a fan of horror films what are some of your favorite horror films?
Alex Kandel – Sleepaway Camp (1983), as a band, is probably our favorite campy horror film. We love horror movies. We literally have built a score for a future horror movie as a band. We know if someone would come to us with that opportunity we know exactly what we would do. For a modern day slasher flick, I know exactly what we would do (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – That is pretty cool. One of the key elements of a good horror film is kind of lost in modern horror films, and that is the soundtrack. It seems back in the 1980’s these films had soundtracks that you remember the songs.
Alex Kandel – Oh yea, they are always overly synthy and I love it.
CrypticRock.com – Speaking of Sleepaway Camp, that film was campy but at the end become so serious and disturbing so quickly.
Alex Kandel – Yes, it got so dark at the end, it leaves you on that dark note and it is incredible. When we lived together as a band, we had a house together. It was fall and I went out to buy us some pumpkins. Instead of the guys carving the pumpkins they paused the movie on that last scene and they drew the scene perfectly on the pumpkin. That pumpkin lived for over six months; it was creepy how long the pumpkin lived (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – Do you have any other favorite slasher films?
Alex Kandel – My new favorite slasher film which I really enjoyed was You’re Next (2013). Joe Swaberg is in it and he is a great director. It is kind of tongue and cheek, but at the same time they play it totally straight. If you were just an average viewer you would think they were just playing it straight the entire time, but if you can catch the winking jokes, it is amazing. You’re Next, to me, captures the comedic spirit of an 80’s slasher film.
Watch the video for Sleeper Agent’s single “Waves”:
Catch Sleeper Agent on the following dates:
May 10 Tulip Festival Albany, NY
May 15 The Fillmore Charlotte Charlotte, NC
May 17 97X Backyard BBQ @ Vinoy Park St Petersburg, FL
May 18 WXXJ 5th Annual Rock on the River Jacksonville, FL
May 21 97.5 HFS Cheap Date @ Ramshead Live!
Also check out Sleeper Agent all summer long at the Vans Warped Tour on the following dates:
June 13 | Houston, TX | Reliant Park – Main Street Lot
June 14 | San Antonio, TX | AT&T Center
June 15 | Dallas, TX | Gexa Energy Pavilion
June 17 | Albuquereque, NM | Isleta Amphitheater
June 18 | Mesa, AZ | Quail Run Park
June 19 | Las Vegas, NV | Luxor Lot
June 20 | Pomona, CA | Pomona Fairplex
June 21 | Mountain View, CA | Shoreline Amphitheater
June 22 | Ventura, CA | Ventura County Fairgrounds
June 25 | Chula Vista, CA | Sleep Train Amphitheater
June 26 | Wheatland, CA | Sleep Train Amphitheater
June 28 | Seattle, WA | White River
June 29 | Portland, OR | Portland Expo Center
July 2 | St. Louis, MO | Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
July 3 | Indianapolis, IN | Klipsch Music Center
July 4 | Toronto, ON | Molson Canadian Amphitheater
July 5 | Montreal, QC | Parterre Notre Dame
July 6 | Holmdel, NJ | PNC Bank Arts Center
July 8 | Darien Center, NY (Buffalo) | Darien Lake PAC
July 9 | Scranton, PA | Toyota Pavilion
July 10 | Boston, MA | Xfinity Center
July 11 | Camden, NJ | Susquehanna Bank Center
July 12 | Long Island, NY | Nikon at Jones Beach Amphitheater
July 13 | Hartford, CT | Xfinity Theater
July 15 | Pittsburgh, PA | First Niagara Pavilion
July 16 | Cincinatti, OH | Riverbend Music Center
July 17 | Cuyahoga Falls, OH (Cleveland) | Blossom Music Center
July 18 | Detroit, MI | The Palace of Auburn Hills
July 19 | Chicago, IL | First Midwest Bank Amphitheater
July 20 | Minneapolis, MN | Canterbury Park
July 22 | Columbia, MD (Washington, D.C.) | Merriweather Post Pavilion
July 23 | Virginia Beach, VA | Farm Bureau Live
July 24 | Atlanta, GA | Aaron’s Amphitheater at Lakewood
July 25 | St. Petersburg, FL | Vinoy Park
July 26 | West Palm Beach, FL | Cruzan Amphitheater
July 27 | Orlando, FL | Central Florida Fairgrounds
July 28 | Charlotte, NC | PNC Music Pavilion Charlotte
July 29 | Nashville, TN | Tennessee State Fairgrounds
July 30 | Milwaukee, WI | Marcus Amphitheater
July 31 | Kansas City, KS | Sandstone Amphitheater
Aug. 2 | Salt Lake City, UT | Utah State Fairpark
Aug. 3 | Denver, CO | Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium
Purchase a copy of About Last Night on Amazon here.
Read the review of About Last Night on CrypticRock here.