Sleepmakeswaves: Ten Highlights From Ten Years

21 September 2018 | 3:40 pm | Otto Wicks-Green

Ten years on from sleepmakeswaves' debut EP, guitarist Otto Wicks-Green takes a fond look back the highs (and a few lows) of a decade playing in Australia's premier "weird, niche, art-rock band".

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American dreaming

We’ve been to America twice and had two very different experiences that speak quite vividly to the development of the band.

In 2012 we were invited to showcase at SXSW in Austin, and we hastily organised a mini-tour around this opportunity to play our first-ever international shows. It was a whirlwind. Back to back shows on the same night in Houston and Austin, Texas, then back to back shows in Brooklyn, NY. We squeezed LA and Philadelphia in there too. I have blurry, happy memories of it - heavy metal garages and clubs. Shots in NY bars after the show. Hanging out in Austin eating death metal pizza and watching bands like And So I Watch You From Afar and This Will Destroy You play tiny club shows. Brutal, early, hungry days for a young band. What a time. Also, Alex and Kid ate dried chicken sandwiched in a Krispy Kreme doughnut from a food trailer in Austin and I’m pretty sure almost died.

A bar somewhere in America

Death metal pizza in Austin

We returned in 2016 for a really thorough and far-reaching tour with The Contortionist. This run took us all over the country for a month, and we travelled in comfort with our own tour bus (run by our old mate from Brisbane, Adam Perry!), a world-class crew, and got to explore parts of the country we may have never otherwise seen, including wild chickens in Ybor, the remote old-timey charm of Boise, Idaho, and the Grand Canyon at sunrise. We also performed live for Audiotree, and played to a packed house at the infamous Gramercy Theatre in New York City, a real bucket-list moment for me.

On stage in New York

Otto & Alex at the Grand Canyon


There was a meme a few years back along the format of "what people think I do, what my mum thinks I do, what I actually do", and the one for touring in a band was basically waiting in airport lounges and vans for hours. This is mostly true, touring is like non-violent war - long stretches of mundanity interrupted by frenzied excitement and occasionally terror. In the moments of mundanity, a favourite sleepmakeswaves pastime is finding the local minigolf course and having a putt, which is made all the better by some contraband beers. One particularly memorable course was somewhere in rural Denmark. We found the most enormous beer can we’d ever seen (called FAXE) and hit the (mini) links. Our sound guy Brett ended up winning this one, and amid the excitement I managed to lose the keys to the van, ending the night with a frantic torchlit search (they were found in a tree stump I’d been standing on).

Minigolf in Denmark, 2015

Touring with our musical inspirations

Being a weird, niche, art-rock band, getting some big opportunities to support influential bands has been instrumental to our development (V sincerely no pun intended). When you’re starting out it feels huge to get offered a spot with a band that has influenced and inspired you, and some of my most thrilled moments have been when I’ve got off the phone with Mike Solo (our manager) after he’s revealed sleepmakeswaves will be going on the road with some amazing band I’ve long admired. The shows themselves are also obviously often career highlights and utterly terrifying ‘do or die’ moments. I’m talking real 8 Mile vibes. You all know the rap.

My all-time favourite of these has to be the Polymorphism tour with Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus, particularly the two sold-out nights at the Palace Theatre (RIP) in Melbourne. It was a dream come true and resulted in lasting friendships between all the bands. Special mentions also to 65daysofstatic, Opeth, Underoath and Cog.

Ian Kenny (Karnivool) & Otto

Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus & sleepmakeswaves

Touring Europe

Europe has been a big, big focus for the band ever since our first 2012 tour there. We flew over on a wing and a prayer and embarked on what our road-seasoned driver called, "The most brutal tour routing," he’d ever had to drive. Relentless eight-hour drives one after the other on a seemingly impossible schedule that must surely have been devised by some mischievous djinn to break our spirits entirely. But we did persevere and the absolute highlight was getting to play dunk!festival in Belgium to a massive crowd, and enjoy their generous hospitality. MANY beers and frites were consumed. When we returned a year later we spent two months on a nightliner bus with 65daysofstatic. There were some cracker shows on this run, I remember a packed out Scala in London as one of the best shows of our career.

You already know Europe is such a diverse and picturesque place, but experiencing it on a tour is like watching it in fast forward. The stark differences from country to country are all the more pronounced with the rapid cycling through each. We’ve had so many highlights in this continent, and it’s been really wonderful to see the band grow there, slowly but surely, into bigger and better rooms. We’re super grateful for everyone that comes out to see us so far from home, particularly the people who have been coming to shows for six years. Special shoutouts also to Italy, Spain and Greece, which are just persistently amazing places to visit, let alone perform music in. We’re very lucky to have been there, and I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how we can get back as soon as possible.

China, its people and its food

When the band began we never really thought that we’d get to play in China, let alone that it would become our favourite place in the world to perform. We first travelled over there in 2015, straight after an enormous run in Europe, and we arrived utterly dishevelled and exhausted, hoping for the best but mentally preparing for the worst. We needn’t have worried. Under the thoughtful and watchful eye of our promoter Jef Vreys from New Noise, the experience turned out to be restorative and enriching and wild - from the pandas and outrageously tasty streetside vegetarian BBQ in Chengdu, to our ongoing disbelief at every packed house (especially in Shanghai and Beijing).

Special mention also to the dog in glasses quarantine picture on a flight out of Wuhan, causing a risk to the tour as Tim and Otto almost died laughing.

Working with great producers

As the album cover suggests, we recorded our first LP ...And So We Destroyed Everything out in a log cabin in the middle of the Australian bush. We worked in the heat of summer with our long-time collaborator Dax Liniere who was pioneering new recording techniques that combined the latest digital simulation technology with old-school analogue skills. We stayed out in this log cabin for about a week and it was a great experience, if a little hot at night. It was a very experimental session and atmosphere, with this constant sense that anything was possible, and that the best idea would win. We made lots of creative decisions on the fly, and listening back the record I still hear the spontaneity and the creativity that we poured into every track. 

Our next two records being crowdfunded enabled us to work with a true recording legend. We instantly hit it off with Nick DiDia when we met him and admired his direct and live approach to recording music. We were looking to capture the energy we try to deliver live on record, and he felt like the perfect fit. He also turned out to be charming and sassy, and our relationship with him was super positive and productive. It also helped that both times we recorded with Nick were in simply beautiful locations in Byron Bay - 301 Studios for Love Of Cartography and his new studio La Cueva for Made Of Breath Only. Legend has it that Bernard Fanning walked in while Otto and Alex were tracking the quiet outro of Your Time Will Come Again and was disappointed by how non-heavy and loud it was after being told otherwise by Nick.

Recording Love Of Cartography

Recording Made Of Breath Only

Dealing with adversity

Hoo boy. It has not always been a smooth ride for ol’ sleepmakeswaves. Looking back it sometimes feels that for every stroke of good luck, there were two or three car crashes waiting around the corner (literally). I think I’ll just list a bunch of stuff that’s happened over the years:

We saved up cash for years to afford our first proper album recording with producer Dax Liniere only to have it all stolen just before recording began. We’ve also had gear, cash and merch stolen from shows on the road by thieving souls, despite our best efforts.

We had a tyre violently blow out on the interstate highway between Madrid and Barcelona, and after somehow swerving to a halt, had to redirect semi-trailers around our driver frantically changing the tyre.

Waiting by the side of the road in Spain

Tim got food poisoning from some beans he ate at SXSW.

Kid got gastro on the bus with 65daysofstatic, which was a bad place to get gastro as the toilets have a strict ‘liquids only’ rule. I ended up taking him to a hospital in Budapest as he was badly dehydrated, only to find that it was a very accurate recreation of a 1940s hospital, complete with nurses with little white hats with red crosses carrying silver trays with syringes on them. Also, no one could understand me, and I had to try and mime diarrhoea. We left empty handed and went to a pharmacy. 

Our van got sideswiped by a careless driver somewhere in the middle of Romania and spun into a ditch. The driver was trying to overtake us on a blind corner and swerved into us to avoid getting crushed by a semi-trailer. It was hectic. She paid us off to not take things to the police. Nothing suss.

I’m quite good at getting weirdly sick before tours, with two particularly notable cases. The first was acute appendicitis one week before the 2016 Aus tour with Cog. I managed to Uber myself to a hospital and get it out within 12 hours of the initial symptoms, and was back at band practice in four days, freshly sliced. The second was getting bitten by a spider one week out from our Europe tour. It flared up dangerously and I ended up in the emergency room. The doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I should not proceed with travelling to Europe. I informed him that my fans need me. The doctor did not laugh. This was about a year ago and to this day the spider bite flares up when it’s about to rain.

Otto surgery success

Most recently, Alex got bitten by a monkey while in Indonesia. He’s all good now but feel free to make monkey jokes when you see him on tour.

Artist recreation of Alex and the monkey

Flirting with the mainstream

We set out to do a few things with this project. Some of these things include: Play raucous shows with a punk rock energy. Make cinematic instrumental soundscapes. Drink lots of rider beers. But then a few things happened that we didn’t expect, which we never really factored into the plan at all. I’m talking about the few times sleepmakeswaves have flirted with the mainstream. You should have seen our faces when we found out we were ARIA-nominated in 2012. We thought it was a joke for the first few hours. And then it happened again! And again! Obviously we’ve never actually won, but hey, it’s a hell of a lot closer than we thought this weird, loud guitar band would ever get. Most importantly, I got to almost meet Taylor Swift in 2012, which still stands as a lifetime highlight (matched only in intensity by the crushing disappointment of being bounced cruelly away by her personal security). 

2012 ARIAs

2014 ARIAs

2017 ARIAs

Receiving immeasurable and practical support from triple j has also been a real thrill, from the early days of getting played on The Sound Lab and Home & Hosed by our beloved Fenella Kernebone and Dom Alessio, all the way to Something Like Avalanches being put into rotation, a J Award nomination for Love Of Cartography and being invited to perform the very first fully instrumental Like A Version on breakfast radio for our tribute to Robert Miles with Children. To say we were nervous is an understatement, but we were overwhelmed by the positive feedback from listeners all over the world. 

Fan support

This is a bit schmalzy but honestly where would we be without it? At our core we’re a DIY instrumental punk rock band, and everything we have achieved has felt like a partnership with the people who listen to our music and believe in the band. Crowdfunding has been the lifeblood of the last four years of touring and recording, from people all over the world who put their trust in us to achieve something new. Every time we tour back to places we have played, we see new faces that have discovered the band somewhere and come along to give us a chance. And then we see the faces that have been there since the beginning. And the tattoos of the band’s logo, and the sleepmakeswaves-decorated cakes, and the cards, and the photos, and the first edition CDs and old-school T-shirts. We love all of this and it’s the best part about being in a band. This sense of community and family that carries us forward all over the world, and is waiting for us when we come home.