Crisis Actor may be the debut album from Florida-based indie rock band Sandman Sleeps, but it represents a musical history that spans more than a decade. Sisters singer/guitarist Cristina Peck and bassist Alex Peck initially formed the group in 2009 and reconvened with a new passion in 2019. They made Sandman Sleeps a proper four-piece band with the addition of Karsten Andersen on drums and Zack Jones on guitar. While the songs on Crisis Actor spans Sandman Sleeps’ entire career, the album is an entirely cohesive work thanks to their focus on capturing the live energy of the current line-up. Over Zoom, the four members of Sandman Sleeps discussed the making of Crisis Actor.
Could you discuss the history of Sandman Sleeps, and how it evolved into the current version?
Cristina: Everything started, I guess, in 2009, with my sister and I. Our friend Gavin played the drums and about three or four songs were written then. One of which made it on the album and the others that we still play. That’s when the name Sandman Sleeps came about. I was 20 at the time and Alex was 15. We went our separate ways and did our own projects and then reformed in 2019. We were looking for a drummer and then everything kind of came together again when we met Zack. He was frontman singer/songwriter of Gravel King, which is an Americana band that’s really popular in the area. And he introduced us to Karsten, who plays the drums. Everything kind of fell into place; I think that would be March 2020.
Which of those original songs make it onto the album?
Cristina: “Fellini” is the oldest because we wrote that in 2009. The other 2 songs that were in 2009 are also released on Spotify under Sandman Sleep,s but we have a different drummer on those. It was not a solidified band yet, more so just backing Alex and I up. But all the songs are written over the course of, I’d say, 12 years.
Musically, how do you feel the band has evolved from that early work to what we hear on the album?
Alex: It’s changed a lot over the years. It’s kind of interesting. We went through so many different phases, like playing with so many different musicians, we got to hear different versions of the songs that we wrote. It was very helpful though, because it kind of made us figure out more of what direction we want to go in with it, and what we like or don’t like. So then like coming together as a band now, I feel like the direction was very easy because we kind of already had an idea of what we wanted to turn the songs into. But it’s also kind of cool because I feel like different versions of the songs, they’re all different, but it sounds really cool too. You hear some of the songs like solo, or electronically, with different vibes.
Cristina: And then at the same time, I think the production on the album still wasn’t the main focus. I think it was more just documenting what we are as a live band. I feel like we’re always kind of racing time these days.
I didn’t really know what the album should sound like, and I feel like the songs can be played a lot of different ways. But this is what this album sounds like because of the way the four of us sound together. I love it though. It’s what we sound like live. There’s a lot of energy to it, which I really love. Because I think that’s what kind of has always bored me before with my own music. It can be just slow and singer-songwriter-type stuff, but that was never really what I imagined for it. But at the same time, I didn’t know exactly what it should be. Introducing it to Alex first, really that’s what I kinda do, is I show it to Alex and see what she thinks and then we jam on it and she comes up with really awesome baselines that get the group started and makes it very melodic too. We play off each other a lot. And then, the energy with both of the guys is just like … I think it’s what I like about it, it’s like we can get a crowd going. I feel like the album shows that, I think it reflects that energy.
What impact has the current lineup had on the shaping of your current sound?
Cristina: It changed everything. Playing with Zach and Karsten for us is like …it was almost like finally we had a sound. It finally felt like we weren’t being like backed up as a duo. It felt like it became its own entity. I think a lot of it has to do with the style that the guys both bring into the band. And we welcomed that. We’re not like trying to control that. We want everybody to write. We all allow each other to write our own parts, and we’re all really supportive of each other and respect each other’s opinions. Karsten, for one, playing with him changed the way I play my rhythm guitar. I’ve gotten a lot better and kind of tried weirder things. And I’m really excited to show … to see like what the next album really is gonna be because this album was kind of more just like, how are we gonna deal with the songs that are already there?
Zach: The stuff we’ve been working on since …. I think that album showed us how we’re supposed to work together. And then now, it’s almost so easy to come out with a song. The last two songs we worked on have been almost completely done within like 30 minutes of an idea being presented to the rest of the band. It was just like, all right, that was good. We didn’t have to zero in too much more on what we were all satisfied with. And they’re really fucking awesome songs.
Given that Sandman Sleeps had been around for a while, what made you decide that this was the right time to do that album?
Zach: It’s weird with these songs. I feel like I’ve been wanting to work on this album for a really long time, and I feel like I’ve been thinking of an album like this for a really long time. I just couldn’t write the stuff on my own. And then I meet these two people, and then my best friend joins the band. And I don’t know if I answered that question properly at all?
But COVID was happening. So it’s like, well, all we can do is make an album right now. We can’t really play shows. I think this is our COVID project. Everybody had something that they were working on. I feel like this is our baby from that. It’s all all we ate, slept and drank, like the whole time we couldn’t go anywhere and see people.
Cristina: And I think, like me personally, playing music with my sister again and then having [met] two people who also enjoyed it was kind of a miracle for me. So I was like, okay, I’m really thankful for that more than anything because I’ve never been able to just introduce my songs to a band before where they were welcomed; they were received that way. So, to me it was just like, ‘okay, whatever you guys like, whatever clicks, let’s make it happen.’
So do you feel COVID had an impact on your overall process of making the album? Did it lead you to spend more time than you might have otherwise?
Karsten: Well, we did go to two different studios.
Zach: I don’t think we ever wanna do that again.
Karsten: Because we pretty much had it done, in the can. Well, we got the drum tracks done at the Hit Box, and then we decided to go to Thunder House to finish it. So it’s kind of like we spent double the length of time.
Cristina: I think what we really realized, and I actually think this is probably more important than the music itself in a certain way, is just that the integrity and morale of people is just as important, if not more, than the music. So we kind of stuck to our guns on that and finding the right engineer personality-wise and skill-wise as well to help us. And I think that’s where we got lucky too with finding each other is because we all get along. I think that’s always the hardest thing. So everything, I feel, does come down to working with people.
Alex: I think with COVID, like the lockdown and stuff, we had a lot more time to just focus on recording. So we were able to … we took full advantage of that time. Not so much focusing on getting shows and stuff like that. It was just recording an album, being in the studio and perfecting these songs to prepare us for when we’re gonna start playing live shows. So I think we really just took advantage of that, which was good.
Is it all material that you’ve played live previously? Was there any newer material?
Zach: “Portrait of Jenny” was the one that was the newest because Cristina wrote that while she had COVID.
Cristina: Most of them we had played live. When we recorded the album, there were about three songs on there that were newer. They weren’t, like, marinated as much as the others. But that’s okay too. I think first and foremost as a live band, we all enjoy performing so much.
You mentioned a couple of early songs that are available on Spotify. Had you considered including them on this album?
Zack: For some reason, we just couldn’t get them tight on the album. “Icy Jungle” and “Your Specter.” We were gonna do new versions for the album and add them on, but they didn’t come out right. And it’s just kind of funny because they are the first songs that me and Karsten learned, and somehow we just still couldn’t come up with it. So maybe, we’ll try those again, for the 15th time.