Since the release of 2003’s Ghosts, the members of Sleeping At Last have logged in thousands of miles on the road, earned heaps of critical acclaim and continue to refine its well oiled alternative rock machinery. From early spot dates with Zwan to touring with Switchfoot and Bleu to time with Yellowcard, Something Corporate and The Format to a solo headlining jaunt, the Chicago based trio has amassed a considerable following in all parts of the globe, connecting with its artistic melting pot of swelling anthems and lyrical sincerity. Along the way, the group also scored the sublime single “Say,” which shot straight to the top of Fuse TV’s “Oven Fresh,” leading to the band’s encore appearance on the network’s most popular program “IMX.”
Such a series of appearances has built anticipation for its second national release Keep No Score, which released to a flurry of attention, starting with a soundtrack slot for the song “Quicksand” on the Season 3 premiere of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” That track, along with the eleven others, finds singer Ryan O’Neal, his brother and drummer Chad O’Neal and bassist Dan Perdue evolving with their greatest degree of enthusiasm and creativity to date, further solidified by superb handling of the self-production reigns.
“Our appreciation and passion for songwriting becomes so much greater with each record” Ryan relates, citing Sleeping At Last’s return to Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio. “We’ve never enjoyed the creative and recording process as much as we have this time around. Recording Ghosts was a much more tedious process because we recorded more takes than were needed and we just gave ourselves too many options, which we’ve now learned wasn’t really necessary. This time we realized the best material comes from a more organic approach and we enjoyed that dynamic all the way through the recording process.”
Such a series of expressions were rounded out by a reprise collaboration with engineer Bjorn Thorsrud (Smashing Pumpkins, Zwan, Dandy Warhols.) And with new friend, mixer John Goodmanson (Blonde Redhead, Death Cab for Cutie, Sleater Kinney) with whom the band joined at Boston’s historic Longview Farm Studios (Rolling Stones, Aerosmith). The record also features a renewed tag team with the Ghosts string section led by Susan Voelz (Poi Dog Pondering), who appears on eight songs this time leading to incredibly lush and spacious sounds, coupled with ethereal undercurrents.
Though there’s no specific theme that ties all the tracks together, an underlying sense of hope seems to seep into each selection. Whether it be the momentum building lead track “Tension & Thrill,” the emotionally anchored “Careful Hands” or the orchestrated ebb and flow throughout “Levels of Light,” the lyrics are steeped in openness, honesty and vulnerability. The group’s two favorites “Envelopes” and “Needle & Thread” possess an obvious immediacy, unfurling with atmospheric bliss and poetic ease.
“Each song means something specific to me and I choose the words and imagery based on exactly how I feel,” Ryan continues. “The thing I love about lyrics and songwriting in general is how much weight there can be in a single line. There’s always different ways people can interpret a song, but our writing has progressed to a point where I’ve chosen my words more carefully to try and say things in the most interesting way possible.”
More than just the sonic and songwriting growth chronicled on Keep No Score, the years in between albums fostered new degrees of personal wisdom for the guys. They’ve discovered sticking true to their roots, desires and hearts means much more in the long run than any hype meter or chart position, especially in an ever shifting musical climate driven by commodity styled marketing.
“The Switchfoot tour for sure was a factor in us coming to that understanding as was [Smashing Pumpkins/Zwan front man] Billy Corgan’s advice in understanding how the music industry works,” notes Chad. “From the very beginning of that ride, he sat us down and explained how there would be ups and downs and challenged us to pinpoint where we wanted to go. He gave us a gift by wanting us to go out and discover for ourselves who we were. Over the past few years, we believe that we’ve found that.”
Those realizations tie back into the disc’s title itself, which seeks to clear the slate so to speak for a renewed sense of expansion and invention. Aside from exclusively applying to the group’s dynamic, the moniker also fits fans seeking a fresh start in any area of life and the promise that better days are beckoning around the corner.
“Besides being the name of the record, ‘Keep No Score’ as the title track sums up in general what human beings want out of life,” summarizes Ryan. “You go through a series of emotions throughout every day, and when something doesn’t go as planned, you want to start over, try again and do better next time. We’ve reached a place where we’re happier now than we’ve ever been before. What you’re hearing is exactly who we are and where we want to be.”