- 25 Jul 07
Having previously traded as shoe-gaze darlings The Catchers, Northern indie-poppers The Sleeping Years are back with a new record – and a rather handsome sleeve
If The Sleeping Years isn’t a name familiar to you, their previous incarnation, The Catchers, will be.
Let’s take a trip back to 1994, when this band – fronted by the Northern Ireland-born, London-based Dale Grundle – released their first album Mute on Setanta Records. The lead track ‘Cotton Dress’ had already won the accolade of Single Of The Week from the influential Melody Maker. The album, meanwhile, propelled The Catchers to support the likes of Pulp, Oasis and The Divine Comedy across Europe. They were picked up by a subsidiary of Warner Bros. in the States, but strangely enough their main success was in France.
“We didn’t even know about it until we were on stage one night in Paris and people started going crazy and singing along,” Dale recollects. “We had to ask people afterwards how they knew us, and it had apparently been because their version of John Peel, Bernard Lenoir [who also picked up on The Divine Comedy and Duke Special], had been playing us.”
Sadly all good things come to an end and after another album, the band slowly disintegrated. Yet Dale didn’t stop writing – and the result of his post-Catchers musings is The Sleeping Years, who take The Catchers' brooding mentality that influenced the likes of JJ72, and strip it right down to its acoustic minimum.
“I go back to France quite often with The Sleeping Years, and I still get told by fans that The Catchers' albums changed their lives. Then again, there’s new fans as well, and they seem pleased to have a back catalogue that they can go and check out.”
The new form is essentially a solo project – Dale wrote, played and recorded his planned trio of EPs by himself, and he’s going it alone label-wise too.
“I’m still in touch with Keith Cullen, who owns Setanta. He helps me out a lot. But I worked with them for six years – watching them grow from essentially being run from a squat in Peckham to a label that released hit after hit – and I felt it best for both of us if I moved on and worked with different people.”
Even then, he’s reluctant to fall into the arms of another company readily.
“I’m learning a lot about the industry doing it myself. And this way, I have final say on everything – no record company would have let me package the new EP the way I did. It would have come out in the cheapest plastic case possible!”
And what a shame that would have been. Certainly, many a faceless CD in a clear plastic case ends up in HP towers’ postbag, so it was a joy to get something resembling a wedding invite plop in our (physical) inbox. It’s a stylish black card with a gold band around the bottom and the name and title – Setting Fire To Sleepy Towns – seared onto the paper.
“In the end, the problem was more the effort that went into it than the cost,” he explains. “We limited the run to 750, but I helped the design company, Pika Pika, brand them and number them all by hand. It was pretty monotonous!”
Why the effort?
“Firstly, I’m aware that the importance of artwork is being lost now that most music is downloaded. I remember getting Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth on vinyl and thinking it was amazing, even the sticker on it was fascinating to me. Also, it encapsulates the music really well. They came up with a package which they thought reflected the songs – precious, fragile, intimate, and something you could take home and cherish.”
It was the interesting cover – as well as the touching five tracks it contains – that caused a Rolling Stone journo to pick up the CD in a shop, after which Grundle promptly received a call asking him if he wanted to contribute the track to a compilation.
“It didn’t take me too long to think about,” he grins. “I’m still getting used to things like MySpace but the response I had after it went out was really amazing. We’re increasing the run of the third EP to 1,000 – though I know I’ll regret it when it comes to putting together the packaging!”