Catching up with Sleeper Agent at Forecastle Festival

On Influences, Fellow Kentucky Musicians, and Their New Album

Leading up to their Forecastle Festival performance on Friday the 13th, founding members of Kentucky’s Sleeper Agent, Alex Kandel (vocals) and Tony Smith (lead guitar) chatted with me about their influences, what they think of other Kentucky musicians, Alex’s recent nomination in the latest Rolling Stone readers poll, and what their new album holds.

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Jason Ashcraft: I’m here with Kentucky’s own Sleeper Agent, Tony and Alex, how are you all doing today?

Tony Smith: Pretty good

Alex Kandel: Yeah, we’re doing good.

Excellent. So here we are at Forecastle Festival 2012, and it’s Friday the 13th. Any superstitions?

Tony: (laughing) No!

Alex: No, well we’ll watch a horror movie I guess. We’re big horror movie fans as a band.

Horror movie fans?

Alex: Yeah.

Does that have any influence on your music by chance?

Tony: Only on stuff like “Be My Monster.”

Alex: Yeah, I guess. then there is our publishing thing called “Sleep-away Camp” which is named after one of favorite movies.

You guys have really been an up-and-coming band after only being together for just a couple of years, so tell me about your musical influences and your chemical influences?

Tony: Uh, a lot of beer.

Alex: (laughing) Caffeine.

Tony: Musically, if you’d ask me two years ago it’d be totally different….

Alex: Constantly changing. Right now? I mean I will always be influenced by The Ronettes.

And you also have a [fondness] for Fiona Apple, who I believe was the first concert you ever went to?

Alex: Um, yeah it was THE first concert I ever went to. It was like, I didn’t actually know it till I found a journal entry from that time. (laughing)  But, it’s kind of funny how things work out.

So I like to focus on a lot of Kentucky artists. And since you guys are amongst that group now, I’ve got a list here of other Kentucky based artists. I’m gonna call their names out and the first word that comes to mind when I say their name, just tell me what it is.

Tony: This could be dangerous.

So let’s start off with My Morning Jacket.

Tony: Epic

Alex: Epic, yeah that’s the word.

Nappy Roots.

Tony: What happened?

Alex: (laughing) They’re great.

Tony: They’re great guys, but after their second album they kind of disappeared.

Black Stone Cherry.

Tony: Metal.

Alex: I don’t know. I’ve met them a few times. They were really nice.

Cage The Elephant

Alex: Family.

Tony: Family (laughing).

Loretta Lynn

Alex: Amazing.

Tony: Up there.

Days of the New

Tony: Unheard of.

Alex: No idea who that is.

Kentucky Headhunters

Alex: Legendary

Tony: I was going to say that actually.

Good to know. Welcome to the Kentucky music family ,so to speak.

So, Alex. Turning the attention to you for a moment. You were recently nominated in Rolling Stone’s latest reader poll for “Women Who Rock.” So, tell me. Why do you rock?

Alex: (smiling) Because I’m actually in a ‘rock’ band. Which, you know, some of the other contestants aren’t. I got that going for me. And because I live in a van, and just like play shows all the time and there is no smoke and mirrors. I’m just working my ass off.

Tony: You’ve gotten injured several times.

Alex: Oh, I have scars.

Oh, scars. Scars are good.

Alex: (pointing to a scar on her upper forehead) Can you see it? From a guitar.

Yeah. What happened there?

Alex: (smiling and laughing) I broke Tony’s guitar with my head.

That is totally awesome! If you don’t rock for that alone, then I don’t know who does.

With a lot of bands it takes a long time to get where you guys have already gone. Why do you think it’s happened so quickly for you?

Tony: Well, technically it took us nine years to get here.

Alex: Yeah, there is a lot that goes into it, too, and you have to be the right sound with the right path. Our first record was just good timing and the right people believing in us at the right time. A lot of factors go into what makes us a band. It has nothing to do with what we make alone. It has everything to do with what people hear it, and every fan that bought our record and came to our shows.

Well, I’m looking forward to hearing you play here at Forecastle Festival. And I just caught wind that you guys are writing a new record already. Any thoughts you’d like to share with that?

Tony: I’m really excited.

Alex: Even though I’m just hearing the songs in their very early stages where they’re just infants, it’s really cool to know that I am already proud of this record.

Do you have a release date yet?

Alex: I have no idea.

Would you say your music is evolving or are you staying with your same roots?

Tony: Yeah, the first album was more of a sketch. This one is more of a painting.

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