You could call them the “Little Pop/Rock Band From Kentucky That Could” or you could call them Sleeper Agent, which is their actual name so we’d recommend that. Frontwoman Alex Kandel, singer/guitarist Tony Smith, bassist Lee Williams, guitarist Josh Martin, drummer Justin Wilson and keyboardist Scott Gardner are Sleeper Agent and are only two records into their career, yet their March album release, About Last Night, with its single “Waves” that just won’t quit, 2014 is looking like Sleeper Agent’s breakthrough year.
High Voltage: What is the culmination of About Last Night? I read somewhere that you said it was “every tear and every cry and everything.” As the main songwriter, what is the sum total of the album?
Tony Smith: I do all the little toiling poetry for us. Our first record is called Celabrasion. That was a play on words with the word celebration and abrasion. That seemed to fly over everybody’s head a few years ago, so we really wanted to do a continuation of this vague narrative that was going on through Celabrasion, which was a pivotal moment for my and everybody else’s life. I was in my senior year of college, I graduated and got a record deal all in the same time. I really wrote a record that reflected on how I felt as I transitioned into adulthood. Like, oh shit, it’s getting real, so that was my last party – Celabrasion. That album is about the bittersweet-ness of any big party; that you come out with a few scrapes and bruises and maybe a little dizzy with a headache.
About Last Night is the morning after, waking up, the more reflective nature of looking back at who you were and where you are now and where you’re headed. The story is quiet moments talking with different people in my life and seeing us grow together. Omitting people and bringing new people in. It’s a very personal record.
HV: How long are you on tour this year?
Tony: Early on we didn’t have much going on at all. We just had the New Politics tour. It looked like we were going to be home quite a bit which is disheartening. Then today I looked at our schedule and I realized I’m not going to be home for a couple years. We’re going to be very busy.
HV: If nothing else, you guys have the Warped Tour: now that’s an interesting tour for you guys to wind up on.
Tony: It definitely is and it took a couple hour conference calls because we were all a little cautious about delving into that world when it has such history. We’d heard so much about it over the years from friends’ bands going and we’re very cautious and excited to do it, but we know we’re getting ourselves into quite the experience.
HV: You’re familiar with touring, of course, but I’m sure you know that touring with the Warped Tour is a whole different beast as far as not knowing what stage you’re going to be on, not knowing what your set time’s going to be until two hours prior, etc. What made you guys actually say we’ll do this tour?
Tony: I think it was me as somebody who didn’t really travel too much until I was 22. I’m always like a sponge and I want to absorb every possible experience before the lights go out. I was looking at it more for a life experience. I want to look back and, yeah, say I did that.
Whereas a couple of the other guys are less romantic than I am or thinking about, ‘Oh my God, I have to drive through the night every day.’ We could play at 10 am one day. Just looking at it more from that angle, from a more feasible angle. I think we met somewhere in the middle, and we decided to do three weeks instead of the full run, just to make sure we didn’t break up as a band through this experience. We’ve been putting on our body armor; getting ready for it. I really just couldn’t walk away from it and say no, because I wanted that experience.
HV: That’s definitely bold of you. Have you ever seen the Warped Tour documentary No Room for Rockstars?
HV: Good. So you know.
Tony: Oh yeah!
HV: I saw it a couple years ago when Dead Sara joined the Warped Tour. I thought, if anything, it would be a good primer. It’s well done. What did you take away from that particular documentary that you think you’re going to take with you on tour?
Tony: I think that attitude, alone, applies to the music industry in general these days. There really is no room for rock stars anymore. The idea of a rock star is just that: it’s an idea. It’s not even like a tangible thing anymore. Anybody who walks into a show or into a tour with that attitude is usually going to get their ass kicked to the curb. We definitely don’t appreciate it when we go out with bands and there might be a prima donna or somebody who still believes in that mentality. The honest to God truth is that nobody does. You look like a turd, a douchebag.
As somebody who eats up documentaries with the technology of Netflix now and Crackle, I’ve probably seen every rock documentary that’s out there. I remember for years, we watched the movie Dig!, have you ever seen that one? It’s with Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre.
HV: Yep, that’s a classic.
Tony: We’d watch it at Halloween because we thought it was the scariest movie out there. It was our Halloween movie! I’d been familiar with that for a few years, and I finally got the opportunity to hang out with Courtney Taylor. I was sitting there, and I was like, “I’m sorry, man, but I’ve got to talk to you about Dig!” Over a couple bottles of wine, he delved into the experience and told me which things were true, and which things were fictional. We had such a great time that we ended up working with him on a song.
There is definitely a line of story writing in a lot of documentaries, a lot of romanticism. I don’t know…I’m going off on a tangent here.
HV: No, that’s fascinating. What’s the latest rock doc or music doc you’ve seen that you would recommend to somebody?
Tony: A Band Called Death. That one is such a great one. Then another one that I watched about a year ago that I want to re-watch constantly is Hit So Hard. That’s the story of the drummer from Hole.
HV: True story: I was just flipping through Netflix last night, and I put that in my queue.
Tony: Yeah? You have to watch it. It’s phenomenal.
HV: Ever any thought of a Sleeper Agent documentary or mini doc?
Tony: Funny enough, our first year, we were given a couple Flips [FlipPhone] which I don’t think exist anymore, but back in 2009, 2010, Flips were all the rage before everybody had iPhones. Our first year as a band is documented in Flips. It’s hard for me to go back and watch all that footage because just knowing how naïve we were and how silly and ultimately stupid we were. I think someday when I feel at ease, I might go through it and put together an hour that is not for the public, just for us.
HV: It’s usually interesting to watch a band’s transition, like you said, from the time of the early flip phone to maybe 5 years from now, to see where a band’s come. It’s probably not necessarily comfortable to watch yourself, like you said, at that young age, being ridiculous and naïve, but it’s probably a good progression. There’s possibly a lot of good lessons in there for bands as well as fans about the transition, growth and the process.
Tony: Oh yeah. Unfortunately I’m kind of a person who always hates myself yesterday. I’m always like the present is great. The present is where I’m at and it’s where I need to be. Tomorrow, I’m like, yesterday I didn’t like myself so much. Today is good. So watching something from four years ago is my worst nightmare.
HV: I can feel you, especially if there’s bad hair involved.
HV: Thanks, Tony!