Cover Story – Featured in Blunt issue #136
Leading man Kellin Quinn stars in “Sleeping With Sirens and the Curious Case of the Fourth Album”.
The new Sleeping With Sirens record you’ll listen to isn’t technically the band’s fourth studio album. In fact, it almost wasn’t an album at all. The US-based five-piece – currently consisting of frontman Kellin Quinn, bassist Justin Hills, guitarist Jack Fowler, drummer Gabe Barham and newly recruited rhythm guitarist Nick Martin (D.R.U.G.S.) – did the studio sessions for what was to be full-length number four back in the early months of 2013. In the time leading up to the release of Feel, the band were holed up in Nashville, Tennessee’s Rock Falcon Studio churning out 13 raucous tracks for a follow-up LP called Wasted Generation, all under the guidance of producer Nick Raskulinecz, who you may remember from such films as Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary. Little did the band know at the time, their months of hard work and nearly $250,000 of their hard-earned cash would be sunk into a release that would later be discarded.
“I think you just know,” says Kellin Quinn, considering the change in direction that led to Madness. “I think that if you feel like it’s not the right album, then everyone else will feel the same way. You’ve also gotta go up and play those songs every night and if you don’t feel comfortable with those songs, then everyone else will feel uncomfortable as well. I think it’s just one of those things: when you know, you know.”
Losing a $50 note at a festival stings. Having to pay $800 for an unplanned car payment hurts. Coming to terms with an ill-fated quarter-million dollar investment is more than enough to break and bury a band, but Sleeping With Sirens are all in agreeance that the process for Wasted Generation had to happen in order for Madness to exist.
While Raskulinecz may be the man of choice for the Foo Fighters, Mastodon and Alice In Chains, his raw, rock’n’roll-based approach wasn’t the right fit for the five-piece, and damned if they were going to release an album they all weren’t 100 percent behind. Enter resident hit machine John Feldmann, the Goldfinger frontman whose producer credits include The Used, Good Charlotte and 5 Seconds Of Summer among countless others. Although he was initially only brought in to tweak a few new tracks for Wasted Generation, Feldmann quickly took the band under his wing and offered a means for getting that polished pop sound they yearned for.
“I think that we all kind of trusted Feldy,” Quinn says, fondly referring to the producer. “We went in there with an open mind, and I think he really saw a direction and helped us produce what I think is our best record. So it was a lot less stressful; it wasn’t all on our shoulders, we had somebody there to kind of give a little input and help direct us in the right way.
“He’s a very intense and hands-on producer, but I like that. I don’t think we’d go to anybody else, I just really appreciate the way he works and I feel like he and I work really well together as far as writing melodies and vocals and lyrics goes; all the other guys really enjoy working with him too.”
In August of last year, Sleeping With Sirens were looking as though they were going to pull an A Day To Remember for the release of Madness – they’d left their record label Rise, their home since their 2010 debut With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear, and seemed content with their independent status. Major labels beckoned, but again Quinn and the band were drawn to what felt right – in November 2014, Sleeping With Sirens announced that they had signed with long-standing punk label Epitaph.
“I just didn’t feel like our next step after Rise was going to a major label because I knew that everyone would be like, ‘Oh, this band’s selling out, they’re gonna start putting out songs like Fall Out Boy’ or whatever,” the frontman concedes. “I just felt like solidifying ourselves with someone like Epitaph because of their history and because of the bands they’ve worked with. Brett [Gurewitz, Epitaph founder] is a very cool dude and he believed in our band and he believed in the music first; it’s not about the other shit. I feel safe with my band being on that label.
“My thought was, I sat down with major labels and I said this, I said, ‘If you work with artists like Lady Gaga and you work with artists like Katy Perry, and they sell what, 150,000 in the first week, and then you then have my band – no one knows who the fuck we are except for the people that come to my shows and the scene; we don’t have billboards around the city, we don’t have TV spots, we don’t have commercial spots – and we sell 59,000 records first week. Why would I sign to your label? What are you gonna do that’s gonna really boost my band any more than we’ve already done on our own?’”
Where Feel saw the band gravitate towards a modern rock sound and away from their post-hardcore roots, Madness is Sleeping With Sirens delivering an unabashed pop record for left-of-centre youth. When you’re following up a record that charted at #3 on the Billboard 200 and gained the band serious traction across the world, there’s always the temptation to revert back to that working formula – countless bands claim their “token sound” early and hold on for dear life as the scene waxes and wanes – but rather than rest on their laurels, Quinn was adamant that the band had to push themselves and defy the expectations of fans and critics alike.
“There’s always those conversations – and I hate those conversations – between my bandmates, like, ‘Oh we should make sure we have a song like this on the record because that was a big song on our last record’,” Quinn tells us, “and I just think that that’s silly to even talk about. I think that the reason that people like those songs in the first place is because they were different and unique, and I think that it’s always a constant goal of mine to push that boundary and to be different and unique.
“I don’t think that radio is really a force to be reckoned with as much anymore. The more important thing is to create a loyal fanbase that likes your music and tells their friends, and it’s all about word of mouth. If you look at a band like Breathe Carolina who had like one of the number one songs on the radio with ‘Blackout’… Yeah it was cool, they had a number one song on the radio, but no one knew what they looked like, no one knew who did that song, they just knew that song. Support your fans that support you and you’ll have a career; that’s where we want to be and stay.”
Opening with “Kick Me”, the first song the band did with Feldmann at the helm and the album’s catchy lead single, Madness flits between infectious punk-tinged pop rock with “We Like It Loud” and “Better Off Dead”, to the twinkly misfit anthem “The Strays” and even a delicate Beatles-esque ballad with “Madness”. Thought you had Sleeping With Sirens pegged? Think again.
“What is Sleeping With Sirens, really?” the singer ponders. “Because a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, it’s the first record’, a lot of people will say, ‘Oh, it’s Let’s Cheers…’ or whatever, but at the end, it’s something that should constantly evolve and for now, this is definitely Sleeping With Sirens. It’s where I am musically, it’s where the band is musically – it’s where we want to be.”
Ahead of Madness, the singer found himself looking to the albums he grew up with and reminiscing about the ones that shaped him – bands like The Starting Line and Finch and The Used and Taking Back Sunday, the ones that dominated the alternative music scene in the early ‘00s when Quinn was coming of age. The ones that showed him and his bandmates the power of the guitar and made them want to start a band.
“You could see those bands on MTV, you could hear those bands on the radio, but the most important thing about those bands is that they had a record that stuck with me, even now,” Quinn explains, “and I kind of hope that for our band and our music, maybe later on in someone’s life they can put it on and remember a time or a point in their life, like, ‘Man, this album got me through this year’ or, ‘This album reminds me of this summer’, you know?
“I think it’s important to remember where you came from and remember why you’re doing music; you should be making songs for yourself first and foremost and everyone else comes second. But a lot of bands don’t though, and that’s the thing. A lot of bands don’t make music for themselves and they do it because they think that that’s what the people wanna hear, you know? I think that it’s our job as musicians and songwriters to change minds and styles and ideas rather than assume what people want and I think that’s kind of been lost in our music scene. You can stay in your box or you can try to break out of the box. I’m 29 now – I’m not the same kid that made With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear; that kid is a lot different to who I am now. I want to make music that is more suited towards me and if people get it and they understand, then awesome, and if they don’t, then that’s okay,” he chuckles.
There’s an innate level of honesty in Quinn’s voice as he speaks, and it takes us back to issue #120 where the singer was grappling with his newfound fame as a sought-after scene frontman à la Pierce The Veil’s Vic Fuentes and Of Mice & Men’s Austin Carlile. In the time since, he’s come to terms with his place and above all else, he respects what he means to his fanbase.
“Seeing somebody that’s true and honest, not somebody that’s trying to be fake and sell records, that’s something that’s really important for our fans and listeners. In the end, it all comes back to making music for yourself first.”