Posthumous, Post-Mortem, Post-Metal: An Interview with Sleeping in Gethsemane

I first experienced Fargo, ND’s Sleeping in Gethsmane while on tour with KEN Mode. The scene was a show in the band’s hometown and I remember expressing my enjoyment of their set to guitarist Brandon LaPlante, describing them as “one of the few instrumental math rock bands out there with some balls.” Brandon must have agreed to a point as he very willingly allowed us to crash at his place that night and even took myself and KM drummer Shane Matthewson on a donut run at some ungodly hour later that night. I kept in touch with Brandon, got him to contribute an awesome story to the book I wrote with Graf Orlock’s Justin Smith (Do You Have Anything to Declare? Copies available here) and made random attempts to keep track of what SiG were up to over the year or two since we’d met. As it stands, the band disbanded after recording their third full-length, When the Landscape is Quiet Again last year. Brandon, having put too much of himself into what ended up being the band’s final work, is making it his duty to promote the album and get it out there as best he can in lieu of shows, touring and all that regular promo stuff. So, I figured I’d help a brother out with my Thursday posting spot. Check SiG out; they combined honesty and organics with mathematical swaths of sound and did it because they loved it. Until they collectively stopped loving it.
So, what’s the status of Sleeping as a band? Are you looking for new members and to go on? Or is When the Landscape is Quiet Again your last hurrah? I noticed you’re selling a shitload of gear on your Facebook page. What am I as a bystander supposed to assume from this?
When the Landscape is Quiet Again is the final chapter of Sleeping in Gethsemane. It was never our intention to make it so, but life happens and it doesn’t always allow for every member of the band to keep the band as the most important pursuit in their life. I was the member who was still pushing 100% when it all started to dissipate so I was overcome with every sort of negative emotion imaginable. It had been eight years and it was still just as satisfying to me as it was the first time we played a show. Playing music is the only thing that has ever been a fully satisfying pursuit to me. Losing the band that I’d put my entire being into for eight years wasn’t just emotionally strenuous, it stripped away all of the progress I had made within the music industry. Now I get to start at square one again and that is unrelentingly frustrating. I was originally trying to sell all of my amps, pedals and a few guitars that I no longer use to try and help me pay for this record. Now, I am only selling my Taylor acoustic so that I can keep all of my amps. The logic from this decision was that when I started a new project that I could just get new gear that gave me the sound I was looking for, but after a few months of not playing music I realized how attached I’d become to the tone I’d developed over the years playing in Sleeping in Gethsemane.

What’s the story behind the two other dudes quitting? Was this a long time coming and something you saw coming or a shock?
It was a complete and utter shock to me. I was devastated, later only to find out that a lot of our mutual friends saw it coming from miles away. That was really hard for me to find out, because I feel as though if I would’ve been more aware that I could’ve somehow kept it going. [Drummer] Shane [Heilman] has his reasons for quitting, but I cannot for the life of me speak for him. Because I took this all so damn hard I wouldn’t be able to illustrate it in a way that honors his reasoning. It would just come out sounding negative towards him and I can’t have that because I understand where he was coming from. I just don’t have the capacity to comprehend feeling that way since SiG has been my baby ever since the beginning. [Bassist] Brandon [Schiwal]’s reasons for leaving are more obvious. I don’t feel as though I can speak for him either, but I think I can put it in a way that he would appreciate. Brandon is the only one of us who is married; he and his wife had just moved to a new city, bought a house, got new jobs and are now expecting their first child. I don’t think he planned on quitting until Shane told us that he had to quit, but when he did all of the things going on in his life kind of made the decision for him. He was also staying true to the pact that we’d made long ago that SiG would only ever be comprised of us three.

What are Shane and Brandon doing these days?
My previous answer pretty much sums up what Brandon is up to. He did just graduate college though, can’t forget that. Shane is living the same life he was before Sleeping in Gethsemane ended. He and our really good friend Troy who came on multiple tours with us and recorded with us at GodCity (on a song that ultimately didn’t end up making it on this record) started a surf rock band called Super Cruiser. Other than that he is really into motorcycles and is working on getting his dream job as a motorcycle mechanic.

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You did record with Kurt Ballou, so obviously you had goals and aspirations for this record, originally anyway. What was the mindset going into this album before the shit hit the fan? What were you looking to do differently? Do you feel you achieved what you set out to do?
This was “THE” record for Sleeping in Gethsemane and still is, just in a different way now. I was pushing as hard as possible this go around. The other guys laughed at me when I said Ballou was the engineer I wanted to work with, as if it was out of our reach. I’ve never even considered there being any obstacle that we couldn’t overcome. Their reaction was unforgettable when I told them that I contacted him and it only took him a few hours to respond with a resounding yes. They also didn’t think that Aaron Horkey would ever jump on board to do the artwork for the record, but he was more than stoked to do it. Since we aren’t active he has pushed back our art until he can get to it, but when he’s done I will be releasing this record on vinyl. I also had a full world tour planned to support this record. I was planning on putting much more time and energy into marketing this record in every imaginable way. Now, I am just hoping to get it out there in every way I can so people can hear and enjoy it. It might take me a little longer now that I have to concentrate on starting something new, but I will definitely keep promoting this record. It is the body of music that defines us as a band, as people and as artists in the way that every musician always dreams about. I am proud of this record like none other, but I know for a fact that I will always wish that we could’ve written multiple more.

What was the song writing process like for the new record? How long did it take? Did you alter the way you usually wrote as a band in any way?
This was a whole new monster. After we released Burrows we had a very defined sound. So, when writing When the Landscape is Quiet Again we were much more critical. We were always very critical musicians but with this album we had more of a sense of direction. This made writing a very long, drawn out process. We wrote this album over a period of three or four years. There is hardly anything that we started with at the beginning that ended up on the record. When we finally started to dial into our musical mojo, we pretty much wrote the entire album in a few months. When we locked in our dates at GodCity, we had a little less then five months to finish the record and in that time we wrote half of the album and tightened the rest of it up.

Tell me about the process of going to and recording at GodCity. How did it compare to other studio experiences? Was there anything Kurt mentioned that he was doing differently in working with you guys seeing as you’re a little bit outside the sphere of what he’s become known for?
Recording with Kurt was a dream come true. We had to adjust and readjust our summer tour many times to make it work with Kurt’s schedule. It was worth every last bit of stress with booking though! We were all imagining something way more out of this world than it actually was. His studio is very quaint, nothing more than he needs which I was very impressed with. He is the master of his craft! One thing that we were all blown away by is how absolutely broad the spectrum of his knowledge really is. He just has the most incredibly complete understanding of every aspect of recording, playing and instrument upkeep. It was a huge learning experience; we’ve always thought we were above and beyond when it came to preparedness as a band, but that notion was destroyed working with Kurt. One thing about recording us that was different than recording with other bands is our determination to use two bass rigs. We know how we sound live and our main goal with recording with Kurt is to finally have a record that can live up to our live show. He was adamant that using two bass rigs makes the bass tone muddy and gross. We were kind of terrified to question his authority on recording knowledge, but we insisted and it turned out to be worth it. Seeing as how we are an instrumental three-piece, there was less going on to disrupt the final tone of the instruments. The bass tone on this record speaks for itself!

What’s the story behind the album’s title?
We’ve always put a lot of thought into our album and song titles. Seeing as how we don’t generally have any lyrics, we’ve found that using concepts that we were all very involved with as our titles a good way to help create a general mood for our music. When the Landscape is Quiet Again was a dual meaning title, I think now it has even more. During the main stint of us writing this album, North Dakota had become the newest oil boom area in the country. With all of the devastation that the oil industry wreaks on our earth we were all very unhappy about this new development. Back in the 70’s, North Dakota’s governor Art Link delivered a speech titled “When the Landscape is Quiet Again” during the first real threat of an energy crisis in an attempt to implore the people of North Dakota to not allow the devastation of our state’s land through the process of developing industry. The speech was a unanimous success & for at least a small time our land was safe. Though the speech was our title’s inspiration, we took it more as a simple way to illustrate a view of post apocalyptic life on earth. Our species is on a warpath on our planet and it won’t be a sustainable way of life much longer. When the Landscape is Quiet Again is posing a question. Will we bring ourselves into utter extinction or will a small amount of us survive to become a more sustainable part of this ecosystem called Earth?

Assuming SiG is kaput, what do you feel have been some of the bigger lessons you’ve learned from being in the band?
That’s one hell of a loaded question my friend! Here’s my best go at answering this honestly. I would say that the two biggest lessons learned from my involvement with Sleeping in Gethsemane are this: 1) No matter what the rest of this world tries to sell you, there is no way that the life of being a wage slave complacent with just being a cyclical consumer will ever be fulfilling. No matter what you have to give up in current cultural conveniences, a life of following your dreams and putting every last bit of yourself into pursuing your truest passions is the only life that I will ever be satisfied by. 2) In every walk of life, the things that we are most concentrated on will inevitably come to an end. We can either let this paralyze us into completely giving up or we can grieve and then pick up where we left off and learn from the mistakes we made in our previous endeavours. The idea of just giving in and not having to put the incredible amount of effort needed to succeed into anything new sounds quite alluring when you first deal with a huge loss. Then again, if we follow this path we lose track of the kind of life which is truly fulfilling. There is no pleasure without pain; no success without failure. Duality is a heartless bitch, but one that we all have to appease in this life.

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What are you hoping to do with this album? Just get it out there for anyone who wants to check it out?
My initial dream for this record was to tour it to death! I wanted to tour every last inch of this Earth promoting this record. Now, I really just want the people who loved SiG to be able to enjoy it and for many, many more people to discover it and fall in love with it just like I do every time I hear it. I also have an obligation to the music itself to make it into the best physical representation that I can. So, when Aaron Horkey finishes the art for it I will be printing a very special limited edition vinyl pressing to honour the album, to give the people who love our music something tangible to own and for my own piece of mind. I couldn’t live with the idea of When the Landscape is Quiet Again never being fully finished.

I noticed on your webpage that you asked fans to fire off their favourite SiG memories. What’s your favourite SiG memory?
There are so damn many! I mean, being in a touring band that has written and released three full-length records is, in my mind, more intense of a relationship than marriage. I mean come on; replace your spouse with two dudes that you have to compromise on your most passionate creative pursuit and live with them in close quarters for months on end with personal hygiene being almost non-existent and then tell me I’m wrong. With that being said and not lessoning the importance of any specific experience we went through, I’d have to say that our European tour as a whole is my favourite memory of Sleeping in Gethsemane. That month was such a huge eye opener for all of us. It was everything I’d ever dreamed life would be like. I got to tour Europe playing music that I wrote and genuinely love alongside one of my all-time favourite bands (Aussitot Mort). How could life get any sweeter than that? That is the standard I will hold all of my future endeavours to from now on.

What’s next for you musically and/or artistically?
Lots! As of right now I have been writing a lot of music on all sorts of different instruments in all sorts of different styles. I have three or four musical projects that I really want to pursue ranging from really Heavy Dark Doom Folk, to super Progressive Jazz and the one that I am most driven towards currently, Contemporary Classical Composition. I plan on starting bands for the first two projects and pursuing them fully. I want to really delve into the piano, violin and cello to fully compose my own records that might be comparable to Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds or Les Fragments de la Nuit. I’ll probably finally finish my solo album as a singer-songwriter soon here too. As a visual artist, I plan on finally giving myself a chance by taking my experience touring and promoting my music and developing my art in the same way. After I graduated with my BA in classical figure drawing, I completely put drawing on the back burner to pursue music. Seven years later I’ve got the itch to create visually again. I think that spending all of that time away from my art was a very good thing because now I can come at it with the same skill but from a perspective of a far more knowledgeable man. Taking what I’ve learned from one endeavour and utilizing it towards my current pursuits! LIFE!!!

Check ’em out:

SiG on bandcamp
SiG’s fucking facebook