We had the chance to speak to Cristina Peck from indie/alt-rock band Sandman Sleeps about their debut album Crisis Actor. The band was originally created by Peck and her bassist sister Alex Peck when they were teens, but between spells of separation and togetherness, the band reconvened with renewed passion in 2019. Sandman Sleeps was then enhanced even more with the addition of drummer Karsten Andersen and guitarist Zack Jones in early 2020.
‘Portrait of Jennie’ is the first single off of your debut album Crisis Actor. What led to the decision in making this the first single?
I love that question! We really didn’t plan on ‘Portrait of Jennie’ being a single at all. It’s kind of a long song and one that we were even more on the fence about putting on the album because we hadn’t had a chance to marinate it enough, being one of the newer songs with the band. Once we finished recording, we sent the album to some of our friends to see what they thought in general and their opinion of what a good single would be. Most comments in general were on ‘Portrait of Jennie’- saying it was a catchy unique song. James Wisner also had commented on how artful and creative the song was and I think we just decided from there that the song was a good example of what we sound like as a band. It kind of covers the spectrum of our sound versus one particular style. For example, if you were to hear ‘Fellini’ first you might think oh this is going to be a post-punk maybe surf rock sounding album. I do think that ‘Portrait of Jennie’ may not be the most digestible single but it feels authentic as far as representation goes.
You’ve recorded the album multiple times due to perfectionism (something I understand wholeheartedly). How did the album evolve sonically and/or thematically through each recording session?
I wouldn’t really say it was due to perfectionism, why the album took so long. In fact it still felt slightly rushed probably due to the fact that we did already record most all of the album once through so this was our second go around with it (which ended up working greatly to our advantage anyway). We did not have the time to record and complete one song each at a time before moving on to the next one which we all knew would be a better way to give each song the fullest attention possible, as Nick had recommended. The quality of the recording is better than what we could as for. We could have spent more time with instrumentation and little things to add (or take away) production wise, but we did spend a lot of time with Nick (engineer and producer of Thunder House Studio) honing in on sound and finding the right tones for everything. I felt like we lived there at the studio for the 5 months we recorded with Nick. It was a really exciting and a lot of fun. Nick spent so much time with us and contributed production wise – it was a great collaboration and match. I think we are all really happy with how this record sounds and feel very proud of it. We never had in mind a polished in depth production was the goal of this album but more so a documentation of what our band sounds like so really. And with Nick we achieved our goal with flying colors.
Concerning recording the album twice – we began at a studio and spent about 6 months recording and had to switch due to morale differences with the engineer (which ended up being a blessing in disguise because we found the sound we were looking for with Nick). I think it was just as important for us to work with someone who could fit personality wise just as much as achieving the sound we wanted. The people involved in a project definitely contribute to the overall feeling of it and we’ve always gravitated towards what feels right for us even if it means abandoning ship or months of work and starting over. We’ve definitely all been through a lot and this situation in particular could have easily ripped us apart but we stuck it through, thankfully.
The songs evolved naturally sonically just because we had spent so much time with them. By the time we started recording at Thunder House Studio, naturally, we were playing the songs better than the first time we recorded them. And it helped that Nick listens with a pretty critical ear so he was always providing an honest opinion concerning sound and production. He was also a great at giving vocal direction. I really learned a lot working with him, I think we all did. There definitely was a level of perfectionism when it came to tone and performance when recording this album. The only compromise made was knowing when to stop because if you keep recording as you’re evolving it is pretty evident we wouldn’t have finished the record it would probably have sabotaged itself.
Stylistically, there’s a lot going on in Crisis Actor – everything from ethereal, moody alternative to punchy upbeat tropical punk leaning. Tell us a bit about this. Is it something that just kind of happened or was it a way to explore and showcase your range as artists?
It was something that just kind of happened. Since the songs on this album were written at different times over the course of 12 years, each song is more so its own entity and atmosphere versus a continuation of a theme. So really we just catered the best we could to what each song needs stylistically.
The album has recurring themes such as “fear of illness, a hyperawareness of mind/body, love/break ups, as well as feelings of dissociation.” Which of all the songs on the album was the hardest to write?
I think “Induced” and “Rare Cloud” were both the hardest to write emotionally. “Induced” was about three different things happening in my life all at the same time which had a lot of weight. On the album I feel like “Induced” is the most secretive but for the most part its theme is sacrifice. “Rare Cloud” on the other hand was hard to write mostly because it is about feelings of emptiness so there was a lack of inspiration there but I knew the chord progression of the chorus could be exciting so I finally finished the song after three years and playing it with different groups.
Is there a song lyric in the album that sticks out to you the most?
“As I watch you exit the living room so tame in outer space you show me just enough” from ‘Induced.’
“I’m sipping in the dust and light. It’s just another way of keeping you close to my side” from ‘Spiral’
So Cristina wrote ‘Portrait of Jennie’ and then brought it to Alex, Karsten, and Zack to make it into what it is now. Is that how the writing process usually goes – Cristina writes the lyrics and everyone then brings their own element and style to the table?
Yes, that’s pretty much how the writing process has worked for Crisis Actor.
There are some songs such as ‘Fellini’ where Alex and I collaborate more in the writing and arrangement of the music first and then show it to the band too. For the most part the songs on this album have been fully fledged out first and then introduced to the full band. Everyone in the band writes their own parts catering to the song. I love the idea of everyone having creative freedom even though the song structure is already there- I love seeing what the songs turn into when filtered through our group. The care everyone has shown for the songs has only made me care for them even more playing with the band. We do have newer songs which are more co collaborative and music written together as a group which are very excited to share with you as well in the future! The next album I’d say is already half way written. Zack also writes songs which he is bringing to the table and our chemistry as a group has only grown so the next album is expected to be very dynamic and hopefully even more exciting.
I’ve got to ask, does the name ‘Sandman Sleeps’ come from Courage the Cowardly Dog or is there another significance to the name?
Yes it does! So back in 2009, Alex, our good friend/drummer Gavin McAlexander and I were trying to come up with a name for our trio as we just started playing and writing together. We all got pretty high and put on our favorite cartoon (besides SpongeBob Squarepants), “Courage the Cowardly Dog” and somehow we just decided Sandman Sleeps was it. It is also Alex’s favorite episode of Courage.
What’s next for Sandman Sleeps?
We are ready to get back into the studio and record some new singles. There are also some other songs which didn’t make it to the album which we have the option of recording or waiting to put them on the next album. It’s really exciting because there is no shortage of songs here in this band. In fact we’re kind of in over our heads. I think starting up this band right when Covid hit caused a sense of urgency since it instilled this sense of unpredictability, that is life – so I feel like we’re always racing time before something happens. But as negative as that sounds I think we’ve used this mindset motivate us and stay productive. We are currently honing in on our live performance of the songs on Crisis Actor as we are very much so probably more than anything, a band to be enjoyed live. A tour is in the plan for the future for sure. As of now we are playing by ear with what’s going on with the world and what makes sense for us. We will definitely keep you updated!
Listen to Crisis Actor by Sandman Sleeps below.
Photo credit: Parisa Farbakhsh