Slomo Sapiens | photo by Britt Boyce
Slomo Sapiens’ Cabin Fever Dreams is music for the era of isolation
Slomo Sapiens is a psychedelic “sludge rock” project that emerged through collaboration between members of Manaaki, Dawn Drapes, and Lady HD. Founding members Jon Pritchard, Ceallaigh Manaaki, and Greg Geiger spent the last year recording their latest LP, Cabin Fever Dreams.
A psychedelic concept album that follows both a literal and figurative exploration of cabin fever and fever dreams, this release exists in a space somewhere between fantasy and reality. The concept story follows the process of what it means to become truly “unhinged,” and delves into the band members’ personal stories of isolation and self-discovery. Though the instrumentation and lyricism is based in this realm of “sludge and grunge” and psychedelia, the deeper themes of loneliness and mental illness are taken seriously, but presented in a disguised and digestible way.
They definitely didn’t realize it at the time they were writing, but this album comes to us during a moment of global uncertainty. As we face a shut-in and deal with our own individual senses of cabin fever in light of the COVID-19 crisis, this album seems to hit listeners with an even more specific sense of relevancy than Slomo Sapiens might have intended. Playing on themes of becoming “unhinged” are now directly paralleled to the state of our own unique panics. Is this going to be the soundtrack to our isolation and further pull us into a state of unknown, or will it serve as a beacon of hope and remind us that an escape from seemingly unshakeable cabin fever is still possible? Below, read our conversation about the record, which took place last month at Kurant Brewery.
The Key: Give me the elevator pitch of who Slomo Sapiens is.
Greg Geiger: We used to go with “sludge pop” as a genre, we kind of made that up. Now I’d say we’re like an anxious surf rock sound, you can hear that in the songs.
Ceallaigh Manaaki: A lot of the themes in our songs are kind of about being unhinged or becoming unhinged. I don’t think that was intentional, but even in our first EP, Hot Milk, and the songs “Toes” and “Floater,” it’s there. “Cinnamon” is about taking acid. And it seems like that’s where I’d say the general ethos of the band is — exploring themes of kind of going crazy. And musically I would say it’s quiet. So yeah — surfy, garage, psychedelic. But I think we leave ourselves with a lot of room to explore genres too. If we came out with a kind of poppy garage rock song and then if we came out with a heavy stoner song, I don’t think it would seem out of place for us.
TK: Who did you work with when you recorded and produced Cabin Fever Dreams?
CM: We went to Drowning Fish Studio and worked with Davis Shubs and David Skovron, they’re a great two-man team for mixing, engineering, and producing. And then we had it mastered by J.J. Golden in California. And he’s mastered a lot of our favorite albums.
Jon Pritchard: Having two producers in the studio — they kind of played off each other and got excited about different things.
TK: What did the writing process look like for this one? Sonically and thematically there seems to be some overlap to your older work, but describe how you put this LP together compared to previous releases?
GG: We started out by jamming on a lot of songs and riffing on stuff at this old practice rehearsal space we had off Delaware Ave. This real scuzzy, dilapidated place. It’s an abandoned salt factory or something, and we tried to get ourselves hyped up to be there for long days because the place just sucked and it was totally abandoned. I think that intentionally influenced our sound because as soon as we got there we started playing heavier stuff and realized “this is our new sound.” The space definitely influenced that. One of the singles, “Be Gone Ye Demon,” is just a fast surf sound.
CM: I think we stopped worrying. We didn’t worry about whether we would play some of the songs live or how we would play them live, which is what we used to focus on. So there are some songs on the album that we really want to play live. And there’s more instrumentation — like you see a lot more keys, you see a lot more guitar tracks. So we’re expanding the band a little bit more, it’s more technical for sure.
TK: So you think this album is more mature than previous releases?
GG: It’s definitely a little more mature. The other one was just like a garage rock EP. This one’s more thought-out surf rock.
CM: It’s a concept album, for sure. “Cabin Fever Dreams” is like a bit of a play on “cabin fever” and “fever dreams.” The songs, like I said earlier, kind of explore the different ways you could become unhinged, and we kind of feel like at the time that we were writing the album, we were personally becoming unhinged as well. It just explores isolation and somebody partying, making you go a little nuts. There are instrumental tracks and sound waves that glue the whole thing together. And I think that’s that definitely affected our writing process, too, knowing that it was going to be one cohesive thing.
GG: There’s this episode of The Simpsons that kind of got us thinking more of the cabin fever, specifically where Homer and Mr. Burns get trapped in an avalanche in a cabin and kind of go insane and want to kill each other a little bit.
TK: When you’re writing, who’s responsible for what? Do you write separately and then come together, or is it consistent collaboration?
JP: Ceallaigh usually comes up with an idea, and then Greg and I tear it apart. We reform it — that’s usually how it works. It’s one giant three-way argument most of the time. Then somewhere at the end of it, we come up with something. But I’d say the most time Ceallaigh comes with the meat and potatoes and then Greg and I contribute the gravy, you know. We really mix everything up on the plate and bring something different.
CM: They work as a great filter as well, because then they can be like, “that’s good, that’s not.” It helps to have an outside perspective on something that comes from yourself, because it’s difficult to see how other people are going to interpret it. And then usually I’ll do lyrics last.
JP: We’ll have a rough idea of the lyrics, and then when we’re actually tracking vocals in the studio we’ll kind of figure out on the spot what fits.
GG: We’ve played songs live where we didn’t even have lyrics finished. Ceallaigh would just kind of make up these phonetic sounds, and it sounds great but then we go back when it’s time to actually record and adjust. I mean — nobody noticed.
CM: I like to do research when I write lyrics as well. I like to put in the time.
GG: The three of us wrote and recorded the album, and then we added Ciaran Wall from Lady HD on keys as a part of the live lineup, and Mike Sanzo from Dawn Drapes filled in for me for a little while, and now we all kind of function as a five-piece and it adds to the beef — that food analogy Jon made.
JP: We had Ciaran come in on keys and add textural stuff, but Mike didn’t play on the actual album, that was Greg. It was cool because that was kind of like Greg’s last hurrah before moving on from the band for a little while.
GG: I’m lucky these guys let me back in, there were a lot of strings for them to pull to figure out what to do without me.
JP: He came back for that Christmas show at Boot & Saddle in December, we’d just started all playing together again.
GG: It worked out well that Mike is a multi-instrumentalist so I could play bass again.
CM: Mike and Ciaran are probably better musicians than the three of us combined, so they’re so valuable to have around.
TK: You guys play in a couple other projects as well — how do you avoid creative overlap between the sounds of those bands and the sound of Slomo Sapiens?
CM: We don’t really dip into any blues whatsoever. And that was intentional for me, because my inclination is to always write from a blues origin. Slomo Sapiens was completely forgetting all of that and starting from somewhere fresh. And honestly, my other project was never really meant to be a project, it was just when Slomos was going slow…
JP: And I got hit by a car. Ceallaigh’s side project wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t been able to drum. So he started writing some blues songs that didn’t really fit the Slomos bill, so he started Manaaki and they kick ass.
CM: I go into Slomos songs with the intent of understanding what our band’s vision is and we have a defined sound. Or if the guys don’t like a song I come up with they say I should use it as a Manaaki song.
TK: Who are some of your most major influences?
GG: Probably one of the more obvious ones are the current surfy rock groups, like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Ty Segall, Wand, Fuzz, Bass Drum of Death…
CM: Bass Drum of Death was a big one earlier on. Our first Johnny Brenda’s show was with them. The Growlers are another one.
JP: The newer Slomo stuff sounds a little like Brian Jonestown Massacre.
CM: Babe Rainbow. But lots of older influences too, like Iggy Pop, Syd Barrett, The Kinks, The Beatles.
JP: There are a couple Beatles-y songs on the album.
GG: Yeah, a lot of the back half of the album is pretty Beatles-y.
CM: I think Greg might even bring a sort of 90s element to it, very grungy. And maybe not even intentionally.
GG: Yeah I try to bring the sludge.
JP: It worked out that Side A holds all the heavy-hitting rock songs, and Side B is more experimental, singer-songwriter, 60s-inspired.
CM: But I think Syd Barrett was a big one because, you know, he was in that whole 60s psychedelic sound and he did actually end up going crazy. He recorded that process as well, himself losing his mind. That was always something that really interested me.
JP: I think we just wanted to dip our toes into it, though. I don’t think we were actually trying to go crazy.
TK: Who are some of your favorite local bands to play with?
GG: Big fans of Party Muscles, Local Smokes, Kelsey Cork & the Swigs.
JP: Ceramic Animal, Dawn Drapes.
GG: Sixteen Jackies, Saint James & The Apostles, The Bad Larry’s, Grave Bathers.
TK: Who is a band, local or otherwise, that you’d love to play with that you haven’t yet?
TK: And what about otherwise?
GG: Fuzz — we’ve been trying to get on that Fuzz bill when they come around. Ty Segall’s fuzzy band.
CM: Brian Jonestown Massacre, too. They would just be fun to meet.
GG: The Rolling Stones.
CM: The Black Lips.
TK: When someone asks you what your favorite album is, what’s your guilty pleasure answer, and what’s the answer you give when you want to seem cool?
GG: I’m listening to a lot of low-fi house music on YouTube. I think it’s a fantastic genre. I’d love to start making my own. That’s not a guilty pleasure, I’m proud of that. That’s my impressive answer. Not sure who would be impressed by that, though. I love pop. Like, good old fashioned high school pop. Blink-182 is still great. Guilty-pleasure worthy.
CM: I’ve been listening to a lot of Funkadelic. I’m loving all the brown acid compilations on Spotify. Someone found all these bands that never made it in the 70s and put them together into compilations. That’s my impressive answer. Then I always go back to Mars Volta’s first album as a guilty pleasure.
GG: When you grow out of stuff, you don’t want to tell people that you used to like it, but I think they still have a big part in your heart because of all the nostalgia factor that goes along with it.
CM: When you’re a kid and you get into bands for the first time, you really connect.
JP: I can’t think of a specific guilty pleasure album but just let me love Smash Mouth. Forget it — that’s not even a guilty pleasure. “Walking On the Sun” is a great track. To impress someone, though, I’d probably say something really obscure like Gary Wilson or something.
TK: What stories from this last year stand out to you during the record process? What are you going to look back on as your defining moments in putting together Cabin Fever Dreams?
JP: Santucci’s pizza.
GG: I think just the conditions that we put this together under — playing in that really dilapidated space, writing those songs in the summer.
JP: A lot of sweating, a lot of Miller Hi-Lifes.
CM: I got really into Alister Crowley and watching Kenneth Anga films, and that was to help get me into the mood for writing the new lyrics. There’s one other clear memory — we were sitting outside behind the studio one day, and it must have been Easter because we could hear church bells in the background. That’ll always stand out for me.
JP: We were waiting for the producers to get to the studio, so we were just sitting out there for like a half hour, just listening to the birds and the bells and enjoying the day. We have a phone recording and some of that was going to make it onto the album.
TK: Is there one song that you’re all collectively the most excited to play live?
CM: I think the single, “Be Gone Ye Demon,” for sure.
GG: We have a music video for that one that this animator, Spaghetti Jesus, made. It’s all claymation. It’s really cool. He’s coming with us on tour, too. He’s doing live visuals for every show.
JP: It was really cool to work with him because he’s done stuff for some of our favorite bands, like Frankie and the Witch Fingers.
CM: His live stuff is lots of analog, feedback-type visuals. It’s trippy.