Kaotican Alphabet

Sleepercar interview

We spoke to Jim Ward from Coldplay's latest support act

WithTexan alt-country dudes Sleepercar beginning their run of dates supporting Coldplay in Detroit tonight, we called up frontman Jim Ward to find out a bit more about them.

Hello Jim. How are you?
I’m good. I’m standing here in my front yard.

Are you excited about your shows with Coldplay?
Yeah, I am for sure. I’ve been friends with those guys for a long time and we’ve tried to do shows before, so I’m glad it’s happening now. I feel that it’s the right time.

Where did you meet them?
In the hotel at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas show in LA in 2000. They were out there on Parachutes and I was with a band called At The Drive In. We were both playing that show. And then a few weeks later we both went on tour on Big Day Out in Australia and I ended up spending a lot of time with them, getting to know them. We’ve been friends ever since.

Is there one member you’re particularly good friends with?
I’m friends with all of them, but I keep up with Chris the most. In this lifestyle you cherish the friends that you knew when there was nothing to gain from being your friend. And Chris has been a really good friend to me – he’s been there when I needed a friend and we’ve had quite similar paths as far as being in bands and I think we understand each other. It’s good for me to have some British friends and I think it’s good for them to have a Texan friend.

It’s nice that you’ve kept in touch.
Yeah – I’ve always said those guys have always stayed exactly the same as far as being really good dudes. And that’s what you want in friends because the other stuff will come and go.

Did you think they had the potential to get as big as they have done?
It’s not one of those things that I really thought about. As a musician, you’re just trying to turn people on to your songs. Obviously their career path has been pretty hectic and I’m nothing but proud of them. They’re good people and I think good people deserve good things, so I’m always really happy when I see them doing well. And again, they’ve always stayed good guys and you only ever wish people like that the best.

Have you played these kinds of arena venues before?
I have a lot – always as a support band. I was also in a band called Sparta and we did a lot of tours with bands like Weezer, Pearl Jam, Incubus. So, yeah, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in arena locker rooms.

Do you approach an arena support show differently to a normal gig?
Yeah. To some degree you can end up being background music if you don’t keep reminding the crowd that you’re on the stage and they’re supposed to be having a good time. It’s just one of those things – arenas are such huge places and people don’t exactly know what’s going on when they get there. They’re there for a certain thing and they’re excited about it. But I’ve been to enough Coldplay shows just as a fan and as a friend that I know their crowd and I’m pretty excited to get to play to them. They seem like a good bunch of people.

For those who don’t know too much about Sleepercar, can you give us an idea of what you sound like?

It’s kind of a meeting point between indie-rock and a little bit of old school country rock. We have a pedal steel player and one of our biggest influences is Gram Parsons. He did a great job, back in the day, of combining country and rock: finding the coolest elements of both and kind of combining them into one sort of sound much like The Flying Burrito Brothers. It’s funny because Guy was the one who got me into Gram Parsons. All those years ago in Australia, we discovered that we both had this mutual love of country and he’s the one who turned me on to Gram Parsons.

How long have you been doing the Sleepercar thing? Because, as you say, you’re best known for Sparta and At The Drive In.
I worked on the record for about seven years off and on. Sometimes it would be like a joke: "I’m working on my country album!" But towards the end I decided that I really wanted to finish it, so I got busy last year and I mixed it in December and it came out in April. We’ve been touring since March, cruising around in the van in North America – the record’s only out in the States, Canada and Australia. And right after these Coldplay dates, I’ll be heading out to Australia on my own for some solo shows where I try and convince people that Sleepercar need to come to Australia!

Are you planning to release stuff in Europe?
Yeah. Musically, it’s a big departure from what I’m known for and I’ve found that to be a big challenge. There’s a feeling that if I’m not screaming or playing big guitar riffs then people won’t be interested. This will be a good opportunity to show off what I can do.

Do you think you’ve acquired a new fanbase for Sleepercar?
I think a lot of the old fans have been coming along. I’ve been really happy with the number of people who have followed me for the last ten or twelve years. But I definitely seem to have some new fans too. I find that a lot of the older generation gets what I’m doing, which is nice. My dad played bass on the record so he’s obviously been whoring it out to his friends as much as possible!

Is he coming along to one of the Coldplay shows?
He’s going to come to Denver – he won’t play because he’s a completely nervous wreck about playing live, but he’ll come. I’m really excited to introduce the Coldplay guys to him because he knows how good a friend they’ve been to me and he’ll be excited to see the show. He loves rock ‘n’ roll, so it’ll be good.

Touring with a band like Coldplay, do you get to hang out with them much?
I’ve always ended up being quite good friends with the bands I’ve toured with, but this is the first time I’ve gone into an arena tour being good friends with the band before I start. It’s one of those things where I have to make sure my camp are doing what they need to be doing. And I’ll take care of my business and stay out of their hair as much as they need me to. I’ll try and be transparent because that’s what you’ve got to be when you’re supporting. Nobody needs to see you until you’re playing and nobody needs to see you after that.

Do you have to work hard to grab the crowd’s attention when you’re supporting?
Yeah, but you don’t want to be annoying about it. I hate watching a band that’s trying to demand your attention. But I think with our band the music stands on its own. I have a really good band behind me and I think people will really enjoy it. I’m looking forward to it.

Presumably you’ve seen Coldplay live many times.
Yeah, I’ve been watching them since 2000. But I haven’t seen this tour yet. I was actually trying to find out what hotel they would be staying at for the Dallas show so I could arrange to go and see them. Then I got the call that we would open! I think their booking agent called my booking agent so he knew we were available. Then I sent Chris a text saying, "if it works out great, if not, I’ll see you in Dallas, don’t sweat it". We’ll always be bros no matter what.

But you were pleased to get the gig?
We’re over the moon. A bunch of the guys in my band have never played in an arena. They’re nervous as hell but it’ll be good.

Atlanta on November 5 could be a really celebratory show, with it being the first one after the election.
We’re hoping, yeah.

Then again, it could be like a wake.
No, Obama’s going to win!

Final question. What is your favourite Coldplay song?
Oh man! There’s a lot to pick from. Yellow’s always going to be a special song for me even if it’s the biggest hit. I’m sure it’s not the coolest answer to give, but when you fall in love with a band there’s always going to be that first song that draws you in. So for me it’s Yellow. Or Spies.

Well, you should get Yellow, but they haven’t been playing Spies.
I’ll threaten them with a Texas ass whooping! That’s probably a good way to get kicked off the tour. Yet you never know. Maybe I should just ask nicely. The first time I saw them, at the Almost Acoustic Christmas show, I remember watching them play Spies and just thinking "Fuck! This band is good!" And then I went and bought the record. They got me – hook, line and sinker! Maybe if I tell them that story they’ll play it.   

If not, perhaps you could cover it every night.
That would be awesome! Although it’s probably another way to get myself kicked off the tour!

For more information on Sleepercar check out their MySpace page here