In Kentucky, Sleeper Agent blossomed at its own pace

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
Bowling Green, Ky. typically doesn’t get cited as a city with a “music scene.”
Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, San Francisco and even Seattle have given rise to musical movements at one time or another. But Kentucky is probably better known for the Derby than its music.
But for the band Sleeper Agent, which calls Bowling Green home, honing their craft away from the big city lights had certain advantages, explained the group’s singer Tony Smith.
Sleeper Agent, which is touring behind its sophomore effort “About Last Night,” is one of the bands traveling with the Warped Tour when it arrives at the Xfinity Theater on Sunday, July 13.
If Sleeper Agent were in a New York or San Francisco, explained Tony, and the band performed in one of the “scene” clubs and didn’t bring it, and maybe blew it, their career would be “one and done.” No club would give them a second chance in those big markets, said Tony, who was calling from a Mexican café back in Bowling Green.
But being in Kentucky, away from the spotlight, said Tony, allowed the band to find its own way. “I made my mistakes in front of loved ones and friends,” said Tony.
Also, Tony said, Bowling Green is “more poppy and less scene,” which meant Sleeper Agent could find its own sound without trying to match the “hot” trend of the moment.
Being in Kentucky also meant the band had a lot of opportunities to play in front of an audience. “I learned how to play my instrument in front of people rather than in my bedroom,” waiting for a performance opportunity to pop up.
Sleeper Agent’s latest “About Last Night” definitely has a unique feel where you can sense certain influences, you can sense a touch of pop flavors, but the sound is unique rather than an echo of someone else.
Tony—who is joined in the band by Alex Kandel on vocals, Justin Wilson on drums, Lee Williams on bass, Scott Gardner on keyboards and synths, and Josh Martin on lead guitar, said when it came to finding its musical identity “the idea was always to make music we liked.”
And Sleeper Agent found an interesting musical nexus.
“We love the Strokes… and the Pixies,” said Tony. But the band also has a thing for old school pop such as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons or the Ronettes.
So, said Tony, Sleeper Agent tries to combine that lo-fi sound with the pop mentality of an earlier era… and then it goes from there.
The band’s latest, “About Last Night,” is a continuation of sorts of a theme initated by Tony on Sleeper Agent’s last record, “Celebrasion.”
Tony said when he graduated college, one of his friends convinced him to rent a cabin and have “one last adolescent” moment, before moving on to the next part of his life. “Going out with a bang.” This was the theme of “Celebrasion.”
“About Last Night” touches upon the morning after that big bash. The album ponders what happens when you have to be a little bit more mature and responsible, said Tony.
Sleeper Agent is heading out on Warped, a festival tour that Tony said keyboardist Scott and vocalist Alex were big fans of and who convinced Sleeper Agent to take the gig.
Tony said he, himself, has never been to any edition of Warped. He said he’s a bit older than the rest of Sleeper Agent, so when Warped made its way into the world, “I was a little too cool.” Instead, said Tony, he was a Lollapalooza man.
Although Tony said he wasn’t someone who attended the Warped Tour originally, he has no problem with festival type concerts. In fact, the band recently performed at Firefly Music Festival in Delaware. And there are several outdoor festival shows on its summer itinerary beyond its three week stint on Warped.
Tony said festivals are a bit “weird” because they become a kind of rock and roll family reunion. Since most festivals have an “artists’ area” for bands to hang out, you often run into people you know. For instance, at one festival, Tony said Sleeper Agent ran into some old tour mates, Magic Man, New Politics, and Young the Giant.
Tony also said festivals also give you a chance to see your heroes. For instance, said Tony, at Firefly, he was able to see the guys from Outkast just hanging out.
Festivals also are great because after you do your set, you get to just kick back and enjoy, said Tony.
There are some down sides to festivals, said Tony. For example, at Warped, bands don’t really know when they’re playing or what stage they’re taking until the day of the show. He said he’s used to having a set go-time on most tours. This can be stressful at time, said Tony.
But, he said the band is up to the challenge of the chaos of Warped.
Beyond the Warped Tour, as noted, Sleeper Agent has a few more one-off festival dates. Tony said the band also will be performing a couple of shows organized by radio stations. Then in the fall, said Tony, the band expects to go out on a headlining tour with another band eager to join Sleeper Agent on the road. (Tony said the name of the band can’t be divulged just yet.)
With luck, said Tony, Sleeper Agent will be touring through December and maybe beyond.
“I don’t like being home,” said Tony. “I love being on the road.”
As for the next album, a follow-up to “About Last Night,” Tony said, “Hopefully, what we do next is very successful.”
The Warped Tour comes to the XFinity Theater in Hartford this Sunday. Performances begin at 11 a.m. For more information, go to WarpedTour.com or SleeperAgentMusic.com.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.