A byproduct of the Bowling Green, Kentucky, music scene, Sleeper Agent has emerged in a short span of time to become one of the most buzzed about bands in a recent garage punk revival that has seen bands like the Black Lips, and even locally, the Jacuzzi Boys, rise to prominence on the strength of raucously-paced tracks infused with undeniably youthful energy. Composed of vocalist Alex Kandel, Tony Smith on guitar and backing vocals, Justin Wilson on drums, Lee Williams on bass, Scott Gardner on keyboards and synth, and Josh Martin on lead guitar, the band was named a band to watch by Rolling Stone magazine, even prior to the release of their acclaimed debut LP, Celabrasion. Their auspicious debut seems to show every indication of a young and talented ensemble in complete command of their ability to compose compelling pop songs, while pouring on the heavy instrumentation, and rocking out in the process. They do what many other up and coming bands seem to lose sight of in the process of making art for the sake of art, and that’s the element of fun. Kandel can channel the same playful aggression that made Joan Jett an exciting persona and never ceases to lose sight of the greater goal: making music that not only entertains and has merit, but is also fun to listen to. The band has forged a strong friendship with fellow Bowling Green rockers, Cage the Elephant, and have continued to impress on the momentum of strong showings in high-profile events, most notably South By Southwest. The band is set to perform at this year’s Hangout Music Festival, taking place in Gulf Shores, Alabama this weekend.
It’s my understanding that you guys came together as a band in a piece by piece sort of way, with each of you coming on board at different times. How did that all come to be, and how has it influenced the way you work together and make music?
Alex Kandel: It was a natural progression. We had a band house and Tony had two different bands. As Sleeper Agent started to have a real shot at a career and as some members left our friends who were in Tony’s other band (Scott and Lee) jumped right on in. We were already used to playing and living with them.
What bands or artists inspired you when forging the Sleeper Agent sound?
Alex Kandel: Jay Reatard was a big one at the time we wrote our first album. Before I joined, Tony and Justin were talking a lot about writing material in that vein. And after I joined all wide eyed and terrified, singing too softly into the mic they played me a lot of Be Your Own Pet videos. Jemina Pearl made me want to strive to be more confident.
Hailing from an eclectic music scene, how has coming up in the Bowling Green area sharpened and honed your abilities as performers? What do you think touring on a bigger stage in the festival circuit will do to better that?
Alex Kandel: I didn’t get to play much in Bowling Green. Being seventeen when I started limited the venues I could play in Nashville. I think what really made us come together live was just the constant touring of the U.S. since February 2011. The festival circuit has been great to us so far. We love playing in that environment just as much as a playing in a dive somewhere.
That being said, many people have speculated on just how viable the festival circuit really is in the wake of the current economic crisis. What role do you think festivals will be playing on the music scene later on down the road, and what differentiates the festival experience from touring on your own?
Alex Kandel: Ha, man I don’t really know much about that. All I know is there are people who still love going to shows whether its a large festival or us touring on our own. We’ll be happy to play for them in either setting.
Sleeper Agent has sort of been a whirlwind in terms of the amount of success you’ve seen in such a small span of time, with getting mentions from Rolling Stone and Spin as a band to watch before you had released your debut. How did this buzz affect you from the point at which it all started flooding in, up until now?
Alex Kandel: The buzz did nothing but help. It made a lot more heads turn our direction as we released the record and we still have people come up to us after a show and say “I read about you back then, bought your record, and now this is my third time seeing you”, or something like that.
With just one listen to your debut, Celabrasion, it becomes pretty apparent just how much your relative youth as a group has influenced the energy and the vigor with which you play music. In what direction do you see yourselves going from the standpoint of your sound?
Alex Kandel: A few different directions. We aren’t going to make the same record twice. But Celabrasion wasn’t over-thought and we want to make our second record just as honest. But honestly, we’re in a different place so it will be a bit different.
This weekend you will be playing on the beautiful Gulf Shores beach, and taking the same stage as The Flaming Lips and Wilco just to name a couple. What are you looking forward to most about this performance?
Alex Kandel: Everything. I’m coming into this festival as a fan too. I’ve never seen Wilco live which I personally think is a crime on my part. I’m just really ready to throw down for a weekend.
Tell us who’s on your Hangout Fest must-see list?
Alex Kandel: Wilco, Alabama Shakes, Dr Dog, Devil Makes Three, and of course our boys in Young the Giant and Cage the Elephant.
Check out their latest single “Get Burned”