Sleepbomb | Interview | New Album, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’
Since 2003, Sleepbomb has performed exciting original music for films, bringing doom, electronics and psychedelia into the filmic realm.
Their recent release of ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ delves into the world of silent cinema’s iconic masterpiece, reimagining its eerie charm and enigmatic narrative through the band’s lens. Featuring an evocative fusion of almost ghostly vocals, haunting synths, and intricate instrumentation, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ score captures the film’s dark allure while adding a new dimension to its chilling tale. ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ was released by Koolarrow Records and Consouling Sounds.
“Our goal with ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ was to replicate the live score”
You’re currently promoting your newest album, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’. How much time and effort went into it?
Tim Gotch: The process of writing and refining ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ took around two years. The basic structure was put together from early to mid 2022 and premiered live at Litha Cascadia that summer. We rewrote about half of the score after that to reflect how it felt and re-arranged a large portion once Claire Hamard joined the band. This “final” version premiered in Spring of 2023 and was recorded, mixed and mastered by Greg Wilkinson in June 2023 at Earhammer Studios in Oakland, at which point we declared it completed.
Claire Hamard: I have to say, it all happened pretty quickly for me! I joined Sleepbomb last year and worked immediately on ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ followed closely by ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’. When I started composing my parts for ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,’ I already had a good knowledge of the band, as well as the film, which made things easier. I personally worked on this project mainly from February through to the recording in June, experimenting vocally and technically (which I’ve been doing ever since!).
Can you share some further details about its recording process?
Tim: We began by recording the score live in the studio synchronized to the film as a three piece consisting of guitar, bass and drums. The intention here was to capture the drum tracks as final versions and the guitar and bass as scratch tracks for overdubbing. This was followed by a day of drum overdubs and then several days of guitars and bass overdubs. The primary bass in ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ was a Bass Vi essentially treated as if it was a rhythm guitar (which is what is used live) and we also recorded tracks with a standard four string bass to fill things out. Finally, Claire came in and spent a couple of days laying down her synths and vocals. Our goal with ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ was to replicate the live score, since we knew that we would be putting out a synchronized blu-ray version, so getting the timing correct was of utmost importance to match the film. Then Greg spent a couple of days working on his own on the mix, followed by several days of group mix sessions and a mastering day. All in all, it was quite efficient and effective!
Claire: From my personal point of view, it was quite special because on stage, I tended to work a lot with loops, both on vocals and keyboards, and I obviously approached things in a completely different way during the recording. So I rewrote and adapted several of my parts to fit in with what Charlie, Tim and Rob had been doing. Greg was a great help in shaping all this and implementing our ideas.
Would you say it’s a concept album and on that note, do you feel that all of your albums are?
Tim: ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ is a concept album in the sense that it is a film score and we’re trying to reflect the vibe of the film and the activities on-screen. However, I would not describe it as a concept album in the traditional sense of a record with an inherent narrative. The tracks stand on their own outside of the filmic experience and apart from the record as a whole. The lack of lyrics probably help with that here! That said, the tracks were not modified or re-arranged to be “songs” on ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,’ so when the record is approached purely as an audio object, the listener may wonder about some of the timing and repetition that occurs. As the rest of our film scores are for longer films, future score recordings will need editing down for audio release, though we’ll be recording full versions of the score as well if the film is appropriate for a blu-ray release for synchronization purposes. In regards to other records (‘The Path of Pins,’ future planned non-score releases, et cetera) being concept albums, definitely not. The tracks on those records may be filmed adjacent or even extracted from scores and modified, but the albums themselves don’t have an overarching concept to them.
Claire: I don’t know if the term concept album applies in this case, but if the record is listened to independently of the film, that’s exactly the impression I’d imagine it gives. We tried to capture the expressionist atmosphere of the film and the dark, dissonant beauty that emanates from it. Since the record follows the film’s variations to the second, its sonic and narrative construction can probably come as a surprise if listened to on its own.
Do you often play live? Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years
Tim: Sleepbomb has been a live project for 20 years now, so yes! While we just started up as a touring band in 2023, we’ve performed in the San Francisco Bay region multiple times a year for most of our existence. Generally, we are not playing with other bands though, since we’re performing in movie theaters and similar venues scoring a feature film live which tends to rule out additional bands due to time and logistical constraints. However, for the past few years, we have played a few club shows a year with other bands where we project montage footage rather than a feature film and play a set of excerpted score sections and songs, and ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ short length means that we now have a full film option that works in a club setting.
My personal favorite partners for live performance have been Oakland’s Oxide, Reno’s Beach Master, After Nations from Lawrence, Kansas, the sadly defunct Ails from San Francisco and Oakland’s Dispirit.
Claire: I only joined the band last year, but I’ve already played about ten to fifteen gigs with Sleepbomb. We often play in movie theaters, where we’re on our own. But as far as club shows go, I’ve really enjoyed sharing dates with Oxide, Reno’s Beach Master and Friendship Commanders.
What are some future plans?
Tim: We just finished tracking our score for Night of the Living Dead at Earhammer and will be mixing and mastering it the first week of the new year. The plan is to release it in May or June, exact date to be determined. We’ll be doing a couple of short tours in February and April to continue promoting ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’. After ‘Night of the Living Dead’ is released, we’ll be doing a longer tour in the summer to promote that record. Following that we’ll be returning to the studio to record our score for Nosferatu and an EP of new songs.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Tim: Wolvennest – ‘The Dark Path to the Light,’ Vastum – ‘Inward to Gethsemane,’ Bell Witch – ‘Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate,’ and Aerial Ruin – ‘Loss Seeking Flame’ are all great records to check out!
Claire: Primitive Man & Full of Hell – Suffocating Hallucination, GGGOLDDD – ‘PTSD,’ SerVo – ‘Day And Night Monsters,’ Lila Ehjä – ‘Clivota’ (to be released, two singles are out for now), Ritual Howls – ‘Virtue Falters,’ Swans – ‘Los Angeles: City of Death,’ Mizmor – ‘Prosaic’.
Headline photo: Fred Aube
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