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Sleepercar rolls into town

Members explore new country rock sound on debut album, West Texas

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Who: Sleepercar

When: Sunday, Sept. 7, 9 p.m.

Where: Garfinkel’s

Admission: $10 in advance, $12 at the door

Anyone who has heard the progressive, unconventional rock stylings of Sparta or At The Drive-In may be surprised to hear that their singer/guitarist, Jim Ward, has moved on to start a new alternative country rock group, dubbed Sleepercar.

Ward and the rest of the Sleepercar crew — Chris Heinrich, Matthew Schmitz, Gabe Gonzalez, Greg Sosa and Clint Myers — just started out the last leg of the promotional tour for the band’s first album, West Texas , on Monday.

They’re heading to a few stops along the west coast of the S`tates before they make their way north of the border to play gigs in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba, and luckily for us, they’re hitting Whistler on the way.

While West Texas may only have been released in April, it certainly wasn’t a spontaneous effort. Rather, Ward lovingly assembled the album over a period of four years, while he was still a member of Sparta.

“For quite a while, it’s been sort of a part of me, and I just kind of took my time making sure that I developed it in my own way, and not just sort of mimicked things that I liked,” Ward said, explaining the slow cultivation of the album.

“…It’s more a labour of love than really thinking about a career or making a living or anything like that.”

But the outcome was well worth the wait.

“When I was done, I definitely was like a proud poppa,” Ward said of the 11-track album, featuring Fences Down, which was the first song he wrote for his side Sleepercar project while at one of the final shows of At The Drive-In.

The project was also a bit of a family affair — Ward got his dad, Jeff Ward, to play bass on the album.

“He kind of always has ultimate say because he’s the dad, he can put his foot down,” Ward said with a laugh. “…He also treats me with a tremendous amount of respect.”

Sleepercar’s alternative country rock sound is definitely a departure from the heavier rock of Ward’s former bands; both are pretty hardcore in comparison to this new sound. But Ward explained he wanted to have a chance to expand into different genres, pointing out that as a writer, he wanted to keep his work fresh and have a bit more freedom.

“Most people have a pretty varied record collection, and I’m just the same. I mean, everything from jazz to metal,” he said.

“…I’ve made a conscious decision in the past four or five years to not be necessarily — not that I ever really was career-driven — but to avoid sort of stagnation, I guess.”

Part of the decision was also just to keep things interesting.

“I never put limitations on the next record, you know? I’ve always said that… you shouldn’t be forced in one thing or do one thing forever. I mean, I could go get a real job if I wanted that, right?”

While he was still playing with the other bands, Ward was introduced to some new alternative country stuff, as well as some country rock from the ”60s and ’70s. For a while there, Ward even considered going the country route.

“It’s just what happens when your band gets big and you get tired of doing interviews, you start going, ‘well, I’m going to be in a country band, like, fuck this — you want to commit career suicide,’” he said.

What started out as a joke eventually evolved into this country-inspired sound, which is radically different than the music he had been making beforehand. But the reactions from fans that have followed Ward from his days with At The Drive-In and Sparta have been overwhelmingly positive, though Ward said he has encountered a few who admitted they were skeptical, at first.

After Sleepercar shows, he’s been approached by a few guys he’s seen at old shows who said they weren’t expecting to like the new sound.

“It’s good for them to challenge what they expect — that’s the part that gets me excited,” Ward added.

Ward writes all of the lyrics for Sleepercar’s music, drawing inspiration from a wide range of everyday experiences and observations.

“I always tend to be a little bit on the negative end of the dial,” he said. “I’m still that kind of artist, and probably always will be.”

But his music also has an optimistic message — hopeful for the future.

All of the members also have their own bands or other musical projects on the go, as well, so a few weeks of touring at a time with Sleepercar is working well for them all.

“Everybody’s having fun — I think it’s kind of different for all of us,” he said.

Their recorded sound isn’t the only thing that’s radically different — the live vibe at their shows is much more laidback and spontaneous than Ward was used to.

“I come from very well rehearsed bands that go for a really big, perfect show… very structured, rehearsed and very practised. I actually drive these guys crazy because I sort of refuse to practice,” he admitted.

A more casual approach to the music seems to be working for everyone, and they’ve still managed to get 15 or 16 weeks of touring in this year.

“We treat it seriously in that respect.”

The new relaxed approach and atmosphere, coupled with an easygoing attitude, translates into a solid show for everyone, not just the members of Sleepercar.

“I think people come to the shows and have a blast, whether they know the songs or not, it’s just fun.”