Sleeping in the Stereo is made up of five Madison high school students, but the band's stage-ready pop-rock is anything but amateur. It has been on a winning streak lately, earning two Madison Area Music Awards and finalist honors at the Launchpad high school rock band competition. Most recently, Sleeping in the Stereo clinched the coveted Isthmus Band to Band Combat crown at the Majestic Theatre Dec. 2. Audience members chose Sleeping in the Stereo from a four-band lineup.
Sleeping in the Stereo has even been seen on television, thanks to a promo spot for the band that aired on MTV, Comedy Central and Spike TV in 2010. Rick Rubasch, owner of Tilt Media, saw the band perform at the Launchpad finals and was so impressed that he offered the opportunity. Other cool gigs, such as a Summerfest performance in Milwaukee, stemmed from Launchpad as well.
"Launchpad has been our biggest opportunity to grow," says bassist Alex Leeds. It pushes us to practice our songs because it's on a big stage."
"And almost all of our other opportunities are from Launchpad directly or from someone who saw us at Launchpad," adds singer Frankie Pobar Lay.
Opportunities are exactly what these teens seek as they try to take their act to the next level. Leeds, drummer Teddy Mathews and guitarist Henry Stoehr have been playing together for almost five years, making Sleeping in the Stereo veterans compared to many upstart college bands.
Building a fan base is tough when you're too young to perform at many bars - and the Band to Band Combat win didn't make the musicians instant celebs at West High School, where four of them study. "Most of the people we know aren't old enough to go to a lot of the clubs, and the club owners aren't always interested if you can't get a decent-sized crowd through the door," says Leeds. "A few places, like the Frequency, have been great, but overall, it's been really hard."
That's why Sleeping in the Stereo's members are looking for ways to reach music fans who've experienced life after high school. They hope the Band to Band Combat title will get them into more local venues, help them find a manager and pave the way for touring once they've got enough resources - and driver's licenses - to hit the road.
The band's top goal for 2011 is to craft a more sophisticated sound. The 20 hours of Blast House Studios recording time they won at Band to Band will help Sleeping in the Stereo create its first full-length album, for which it has recorded three songs.
"We're going for more of a '60s sound, but it's also turning out more like the music we listen to," says Leeds. Expect to hear hints of the Strokes, Vampire Weekend, Locksley, Two Door Cinema Club and Jet, with undercurrents of doo-wop and old-school pop and soul.
When it comes to composing, the young band has developed a habit of pickiness. "We're very particular," says Lay. "For every five chord progressions we come up with, there's one we stick with." Stoehr is the most brutal critic: "It always sounds good right when you make it, but at the next practice, you're like, 'Oh, this sucks.'"
The band's live skills sealed the Band to Band Combat win. Lay even earned a comparison by a local reviewer to Dion DiMucci, the crooner best known for the 1961 hit "Runaround Sue," while Stoehr and Paul Arbaje received kudos for their guitar pyrotechnics. Leeds and Mathews provided the glue for a tight and catchy set at the showdown.
Just performing at the Majestic was a thrill for the band, which has played the bulk of its shows at birthday parties, churches and high school auditoriums. Performing in the big room was a far cry from the band's practices in a local basement, which are fueled by pizza-flavored goldfish crackers and a lot of inside jokes.
Even so, band members report that magic happens in that humble basement. It has happened that after the last note of a song sounded, everyone exclaimed, "This song sounds blue!" Sometimes the band members run out to the yard, spin around as they look at the stars, then race back to the basement to see what cosmic melodies result.