An Interview with Chris Newhard Sleep Cycles

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Sleep Cycles is a band that formed in 2019 who are trying to navigate their way through the digital age during a pandemic. If this conversation has taught me anything, it’s that persistence and believing in both yourself, and your future self is key to success.

The band may be new, but, the members have been in previous bands and carry with them backgrounds in music that go way back. This October, the band will take the stage for the first time as Sleep Cycles which services as a live representation of their persistence.

Taking influences from early to mid-2000s Alternative Rock, Emo, and Punk Rock, Sleep Cycles hits us with a new but still familiar sound that’s easy to get into for those of us that like this nostalgic era, and also for those completely new to this style of music.

Be sure to check out their singles here and here, and be on the lookout for their first EP around Halloween! As a fun side note, I will never get used to someone’s speaking voice sounding completely different from their singing voice. [Laughs].

Anthony:
Alright, so this is my first time interviewing an artist live, so forgive me if I transition in slowly.

Chris:
What do you mean live?

Anthony:
To date, most of my interviews have been sent out via email, so this is my first time doing a live one.

Chris:
Sweet, yeah, that’s fine. And also, in my day job, I interview people so we’re in good hands here.

Anthony:
What’s your day job?

Chris:
I’m a filmmaker by trade. I work on commercials and documentaries and things like that, so I just do in the interview game either on this side or on that side, almost weekly. Anyway, it’s nice to meet you!

Anthony:
It’s nice to meet you too, Chris. I was talking to Mike [Cubillos], he said there was a Chris Paulson as well, so there’s two Chris’ in your band.

Chris:
Yeah, it gets a little like tricky ’cause people are like, “Yo, Chris,” and it’s like, “Oh.”

Anthony:
So, how have these past couple of years been? You just started the band in 2019, right?

Chris:
Yeah, so it’s so funny because we are…Sleep Cycles is essentially like a brand new band this weekend…I don’t know when this is airing, but this coming weekend, October second is our first show. So, it’s pretty exciting. It’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. And the last two years, we’ve just been writing and hanging out, and then you’re about to launch everything and the pandemic happens, and we’re like, “Oh, I guess we’ll wait ya know.” So, it feels right because I think this music is a little bit more important post-pandemic than pre-pandemic. Some of the lyrics and thematics in the songs kind of came out of the pandemic, and everything that everybody went through. So, ultimately, we’re just really excited to get out there and play some shows. We’re a band of older people, we’re not kids or anything. We range from our early 30s to almost 40, and so all of us have been doing this with other bands for like 20 years. So now we’re in a position where we’re just ultimately doing it for ourselves instead of trying to be something we’re not or conform to another singer-songwriter sort of agenda. It’s nice to just kinda do our own thing.

Anthony:
I was about to mention that you all came from different bands as well, so it’s not like completely new to you. The band’s new, but all of you came from different places and have been making music for quite a while. When did music enter the picture for you?

Chris:
For me, probably in high school. I was in a bunch of different Punk Rock bands, and I was considered one of the band guys at high school. I mean, I’d walk in with…You go to Hot Topic on the weekend, and you’d get studded belts and blue hair gel. Everybody just wanted to play Marshall amps and Les Pauls and stuff, and a million patches sewn all over the clothes and the backpacks. I still have patches on all my stuff, which is funny, but I would say in high school is when I started getting a little bit into my head that this could be something that is a major part of my life. Ultimately, after high school, I went to college and I sold my electric guitar, sold my amp, sold everything because I was broke, and going to art school, and trying to figure out who I was. So, I had three other roommates my freshman year, and I was like, “Okay, well, I can’t be jamming and doing all this stuff,” so I bought an acoustic guitar and started writing acoustic music. I released an album in 2008, my first record, and for being a kid in Pennsylvania with not any support, and was doing it myself on weekends– it did pretty well, I’m completely sold out of all them. There are no physical copies of that record, sold probably 1000, I’d say, which is pretty decent for a young kid, I was like 18, 19, something like that.

Anthony:
And they were all on burned CDs and whatnot?

Chris:
The first 300 were, and then I got them pressed and it was like $1500, and I was like, “This is so much money.”

Anthony:
But you got it done, and you put your music out!

Chris:
It came to me very early on that if you wanna do something, you just kind of do it yourself, it doesn’t matter what it is. That kinda started it off for me because I recorded with Eric Plesha. I don’t think he records anymore, he runs a hugely successful restaurant now, but he used to be recording, and he recorded a bunch of people whose records I love and went to see their shows, and so I just looked up who was recording them, and I just went there because I just love the tones they were getting and all that stuff. Back then it seemed trivial, but now I look back on it and I’m like, “Well, that was so important,” because that laid the foundation for Sleep Cycles to exist because I later ended up playing in the groups with those guys that recorded there. After all, they actually played there, and then that introduced me 14 years later, or whatever it is, or 12 years later to Chris Paulson and now we have a band. And so I’m like, pointing out things so long ago that feel irrelevant, but they’re pretty important when you look back.

Anthony:
You’re working with some big-time producers now too. People that have worked with The Used and Yellowcard.

Chris:
Right off the bat, Chris was in The Color Fred for a long time and played in Breaking Pangaea. So, right away, we knew Fred Mascherino is half an hour away. We all grew up listening to Taking Back Sunday, so we hit him up and he was like, “Yeah, come on in and let’s have a go at those two songs,” and that was huge for us because that just started us off on with the right foot. After we finished up recording, I was like, “Well, who’s gonna mix this stuff?” I don’t know anybody that makes these things, so whoever I recorded with in the past just mixed, we didn’t send it out to a mixer. And so it was like, “Well if we’re doing this, we kinda want this to be the absolute best it can possibly be, so who do we listen to?” When we wrote down a list of all the bands who we listen to a lot of records and the tones and the dynamics, everything they got out of it, the sound and feel of a record, and Paul Leavitt was one of them, and I was like, “There’s no way Paul Leavitt does this.” Because he does like All Time Low and The Dangerous Summer, and everybody — Senses Fail and Yellowcard, but he said to hit him up. He was the nicest guy in the world. He was a sweetheart. And he was like, “Heck, yeah, let’s do this, here’s my price,” and I was like, “Oh. We’re not on a record label we can’t afford that.” And I sent in some of the songs, I was like, “Maybe you can mix it, and we’ll get somebody else to master it or something.” But he listened to it and was like, “Yeah, let’s do it this is great. We’ll figure out a price don’t worry about it.” He was like, “I believe in the songs,” and so having him perform those final touch-ups, and make them sound the way they sound on was an incredible blessing.

Anthony:
It’s great that you were able to get somebody that high up so early in your career. You got your new EP coming out in January, right?

Chris:
It’s funny because just to drop a little mini surprise here, but we’re going to release it probably on Halloween, so we were thinking January and then I was like, “You know, let’s just get this out for Halloween. They’re done, they’re just sitting on a hard drive, why don’t we put ’em out?” Yeah, we’ll be releasing that soon, and that’s like having a great first start for a first EP…it starts off sounding A+!

Anthony:
I listened to the first two songs which came out recently. That said, how many songs will the EP contain in total?

Chris:
Probably, maybe seven…yeah, probably seven. There are definitely six that are staples, it’s just…there’s a couple of others where we went, “Is there room for this? I really like this one.” You know, that whole conversation you have, but yeah, again, we’re about to launch the pre-sale on our next single, which comes out Friday, so tonight, probably I’ll get that done they’re just waiting on me, but I gotta design some stuff and put them up, but we have a new song coming out Friday, it’s called “Confines,” I think it’s our best song, my favorite song, and I was just thinking, “You know what? Let’s just put it out a month later and get it done get the record out.”

Anthony:
I can’t wait to hear that. The music that you’ve been putting out, these last two songs, it’s such a familiar sound — that mid-2000s era to today sound. Was that something that you planned for? It’s a nice mix of Pop-Punk, Emo, and all the good stuff that came out of the mid-2000s. To me, that was the best time for music. So listening to your music, it already sounds so familiar.

Chris:
Yeah, I mean, you bring up a great point. I’m in my mid-30s and for me, that stuff saved my life, and it’s like, “Okay, whatever, it’s 15 years ago, we need to go, whatever, 2002, power chords are just taking over the world.” The next five to six years that I spent through high school, and entering college were so formative in how I almost defined my emotional scale internally, you have songs, you connect with moments of your life and eras and different bands that you would turn to when you needed them, and that stuck with me. That was something that I take very seriously, and to me, I just wanted to make…as much as I love that exact style of music, I never really was in professional bands that were in that style of music, they were always a little bit different, a little more Pop, a little more Alternative, a little heavy or Hardcore, and we never ran in that pocket of what these songs are. I wanted to write a record full of songs that people could listen to when they needed them and they really need them, not necessarily music for people who just wanna have a grand-old Tuesday. Songs with meaning…the lyrics, they’re not about what most songs are about these days, and they’re personal, and so my way of transforming everything that’s happened to me the last decade or so into lyrics that hopefully someone can relate to.

Anthony:
That’s kinda how the genre of Pop-Punk is for me. It hits on all those subjects that you can empathize with. We all interpret it differently. You can take the music at face value or you can take it more on a deeply personal level.

Chris:
You can be like, “That’s a great song.” And then when you read the lyrics you start to see between the lines that there’s more to it.

Anthony:
So, Sleep Cycles only formed in 2019. Have you been able to perform live at all?

Chris:
No, like I said, certainly Sleep Cycles has not…I have randomly dabbled on stages here when there is an open mic or jam with other bands, and playing other shows, but Sleep Cycles has our very first show this weekend, we’ve never even played a show as a bad. We’ll see how it goes. We’re playing with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.

Anthony:
Are they touring with you throughout your whole tour? I see you have quite a few shows
on your docket.

Chris:
No, we’re just hopping on…I think they just have an extra date outside of New York, and so…yeah, it was a great opportunity. We talked to some people and they were into the song. We have another show in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania in two weeks. And then we’re playing with The Spill Canvas a couple of weeks later, it turned out to be a good Fall for the band.

Anthony:
As far as instruments go, I know you play guitar, and you handle the vocals. How does the rest of the band break down in terms of instrumentation?

Chris:
There are two guitar players. I handle rhythm usually because our lead, Steven Morel, is absolutely incredible. I’m terrible at guitar, believe it or not, I spent most of my adult life playing acoustic guitar, and only in the last six years I’ve had electric, and so to me, I didn’t spend all my time learning scales, but what I did is I spent all my time writing songs, so it’s like my contribution comes in, and the ability to help that rhythm feel the way it should feel in my head at least.

Anthony:
What’s the process for you in terms of songwriting? The music you write and play is pretty much on the same wavelength as Pop-Punk, Alternative. Still, it does come from a personal level. So, do you find a lot of inspiration for your lyrics from your personal life as well?

Chris:
Yeah, absolutely, man. I mean, these songs are journal entries into the past or my life. A great example of this is the song “Blister” that we put out, and it’s like that song is a direct reflection of living with the duality in your life between being good and being depressed. Sort of what would happen if you sat down and had a face-to-face conversation with depression, and that’s what that song is. It’s like calling out things that you’ve done and messed up in your life, and ways you let yourself bring yourself down, and that was something that was like a direct reflection of my life. We just released that song “Come On and Say It,” that one is about a really good friend of mine, me and him ended up going in a little bit almost different paths in terms of how we saw life, and it was a little bit of anger and stubbornness. If you don’t talk about your problems with your friends, and you just end up drifting away, and what if someone’s upset that they didn’t say anything you know what I mean? Or upset that someone didn’t see things the way you wanted to see them, it’s like defending your decisions in your heart and what you value, so the songs are very, very personal to me.

Anthony:
As you were just saying, you’ve got the frustrations of dealing with the in-between, depression and being clear, and sane. All of that shit just hits me personally on a deep level as well…of course, not just me, but a lot of people as well.

Chris:
I don’t know how old you but when you get older and you start looking back and you’re like, “Oh, I was a piece of shit when I was younger,” and you start to see those things. And to me, I have love in my life, I love my life, but I have been through some shit. And even this week, I buried one of my best friends on Friday and at the beginning of the pandemic I buried my other best friend, it’s like — shit happens. It sucks. But there are direct reflections of these things within the act of creation. And so creating songs became my outlet, and it was funny because I couldn’t think of any lyrics. I was like, “Well, I’ve never been a frontman before, so I guess I’m supposed to come up with lyrics,” and then the pandemic happened, and it’s just like the flood gates opened. I was putting down 10, 12 songs a week and sending them to the guys and I was like, “I can’t stop writing!” And so, love, loss, regret, and despair…all these thematics start to appear in that world you’re living in.

Anthony:
Is it easy for you to turn those thoughts and feelings into lyrics? I know journalism is one thing, and then trying to turn that stuff into a coherent rhyme scheming lyric sheet — is that hard to do?

Chris:
I would say I’m not great at it. To me, it’s funny because I essentially write the song musically first. Almost every time, to me, the music has to support the lyrics and the lyrics have to support the music, and so the moment I have a riff or something, I know what it needs…what the sound of something is like a melody. This is what it should be, this is what I wanted. And then a lot of it just comes down to like, what is the emotional connection that I have to the songs? Is it a morose song or is it uplifting and hopeful? Is it reflective? I also have my lyrics, which are like 1000 pages in the Apple Notes app just venting in an artistic way on paper. Then it starts coming together for me, but almost all the songs start as 10 minutes in lyrics because you’re just sitting there working on them, and I gotta start cutting them down. It’s like, “This doesn’t rhyme, this scheme is bad”…so it’s not something that comes easy. I have some friends who just blow my mind with how good they are. I think I find a lot of fun in imperfection. I’m not like one of those “natural songwriters.” I wish I was, but it takes a lot of work, and then I’m always talking to the band like, “What do you think of this? Does it just sound corny. Does it sound cool? Would you listen to it?” You know what I mean? And it’s all just second-guessing yourself over and over and over, and then eventually someone goes, we’re recording go, and you’re like, this is what it is, we’re in a commitment.

Anthony:
I think that’s something people don’t think about on this side of the music. Listeners…I’m sure some of them do, but you don’t think about what it takes to write the songs — where the lyrics come from, how to structure the lyrics, and how to structure the songs. And of course, all the instruments in there too. And then how to put it together to make a cohesive song. And then you gotta do that six, seven more times for your EP, and up to 12, 13, 14 times for a whole album. It’s no wonder why it takes four years or longer in between albums.

Chris:
It’s also if there are 10 songs on it, there’s another 20 that didn’t make the album…you have to do a lot of songs. And then some of them are gonna be good, and then some of them you’re gonna be like, “This is not as good as the last one is.” Even for me, when we entered the studio, we recorded over the pandemic throughout that, so we would just go for a couple of days here a couple of days there, and there would be times where I would start singing, and I would record an entire chorus, getting it all in there. Then we would listen to it and my friend would be like, “This needs a different chorus.” We would re-write the entire thing right there together, and change it because we knew it should go something like this or that. So, it’s just one of those things that just took forever. It was so, so fun because of that…it’s like you’re calling out the double side of the knife and the sword, right? On the one side, it’s incredibly alarming and terrifying to commit a creative decision to forever-ness, but at the same time, you have to trust that if you don’t think it’s where it should be, it’s probably not, and just trying to trust your gut. That was like a fun exercise for me as I have never really been a frontman.

Anthony:
Did any of this come from your time in school? You mentioned you went to art school. Was that specifically for songwriting? Singing?
You did mention you’re a filmmaker.


Chris:
Yes, I went to art school for film-making but I wouldn’t say that it came from art school. I would say that a lot of it came from being around musicians and because my best friends are musicians. It has been very frustrating, not to be around them with the pandemic, but I’m usually at three to five shows a month either playing or supporting my friends. So, just being in the world of like…it’s like if everybody in your social circle played golf at some point, everybody wants to be good at golf, not just play it. So, it’s like we’re all trying to get better and there’s always like, “Oh, you know, what do you think about this? I always think it’s better if we do this or that.”

Anthony:
So, did you take any singing classes growing up?

Chris:
Yeah, so growing up, I was in the chorus and the plays. I was completely untrained for a while, and then I got cast in a musical, and I needed to take vocal lessons and kind of warm my lungs up for what I would end up singing. It’s funny…in high school, I was so embarrassed by my voice because I couldn’t sound like a great singer like the guys that would sing in the chorus that sound so pretty and these ethereal voices — good singers. And then I was just sort of trying to sing after listening to Reliant K growing up. I know what they’re doing, it just doesn’t sound like them, and once I started doing my album in college is when I was like, “Oh, I should try to find my voice and accept what I sound like.” So, as I’m trying to push that to evolve it, and work within it to the best of my abilities which is kind of this weird loud yelling thing that I do.

Anthony:
Right. It’s what you do. It’s what came out of it. And it works! I know how that is. I’m almost about to hit my mid-30s. I tried so hard to do anything artsy in high school. I went through all the art classes. I tried photography for a couple of years. The only thing I didn’t try was singing or anything with the band, and I probably should have. Now I am listening to music that I missed out on in high school…Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Coheed and Cambria, stuff like that. My brother gave me some of his CDs from the 90s and mid-2000s, and I’ve been catching up. I’m still catching up on some of that stuff today. So, listening to more music now doing these interviews with people, I can start comparing and learning how music sounded in the mid-2000s, early 2000s up to today.

Chris:
Absolutely. Spotify is the best and the worst thing ever, because all of the fun of finding bands went away because it became so annoying because there are a billion songs and you’re like, “Who do I listen to, it’s all on my fingertips so much decision pressure.”

Anthony:
With Spotify, how easy is it for you to get your music on there? Obviously, it’s easy just to throw stuff up on Spotify, but as far as people hearing your music, are you finding it easy or hard to get your music out there and heard?

Chris:
Yeah, it’s incredibly difficult. We’re in this world of music that has been passed, it’s been surpassed. It’s no longer the thing that everyone listens to. So, we’re trying to connect with people who are interested in going back in time a little bit with this music. We are kind of reliving the early 2000s again while still having modern influences, and the ways we write and probably like listening to. ut Spotify is a little bit of a son of a bitch, it’s like you’ve got the music up, and then even if you pay for marketing and do these things like you don’t get any views unless something pops and it’s kind of impossible. So, they’re like “Submit to these playlists,” and you’re like, “Oh, okay.” But then you never go. Spotify is tough, and I get it because I use Spotify. I listen to a song once and it’s amazing then the next day it’s like, “New album by a different band!” and I’m like, “Okay, I already forgot that other one.” I imagine that for some people it’s really easy, but I find it’s incredibly difficult to get people to pay attention to anything.

The translation of that is that we are in a very unimpressed society. You know what I mean? Society, in general, is unimpressed with things, whereas 15 years ago, if you were recording a CD and putting it out and using your computer to make it — that was impressive. So, it’s kind of like now, you’re like, “Oh, my car gets 33 miles a gallon and everyone is like ‘Ok, that’s fine.'” Today, I make a song, and someone can go, “I made this on my phone.” It’s not impressive anymore. So, what is and always will be impressive is a good live show. If the songs are just good, they’ll find their way to the people who need to hear them.

Anthony:
You haven’t gotten to play live as Sleep Cycles yet. That said, what are you most excited about? Getting on the stage? Playing certain songs? Or just seeing the crowd or being out there? I know it’s probably a mix of everything that gets you excited to be out there, but is there one specific thing that you like most?

Christ:
Yeah, I mean, I’ve been in front of very big crowds already, so they will be what they will be. It’ll be exciting to be in front of a crowd for sure, and interact with people — that’ll be great. Even if it was an empty room though, what I’m most excited about is finally playing a show with these guys that have become just such good friends. The act of curating an experience in a set at a show. That to me is what I’m most excited about. Also, how the songs translate, being able to finally connect with people, look them in the eyes and hear the sound of the PA system, and just the joyful-ness that comes with that experience. I’m just looking forward to experiencing that for the first time with this group of guys with our first set of music.

Anthony:
Here’s when we ask everyone — do you collect any kind of music such vinyl, CDs, or cassettes?

Chris:
That’s a good question. I have a small vinyl collection of records that are specifically meaningful to me. I won’t just seek records out. I have a little bit of a minimalist mentality with some of my stuff so I don’t like to have too much stuff. As far as records, I probably have 10 to 12 records. But they’re special to me. I don’t know about music necessarily, but I do have…I would say that I collect in my head songs that changed my life. I have a playlist in my head of just the songs that I’ll go play and whatever. There are certain songs like “Northern Lights” from Dangerous Summer, I will go to that song when I feel like I’m hitting a wall in life and need a kick in the ass, and you just go to these things. So, I would say that physically…no, I don’t have a very impressive collection.

Anthony:
But it’s your collection. It’s music that matters most to you. That’s how my collection started — music that meant a lot to me, and then it just kinda grew from there. There’s one last question I have for you — what albums mean the most to you?

Chris:
Sure, I have Abby Road from The Beatles, which was one of the earlier presents that my fiance gave me. When we started dating, I didn’t have a single vinyl record, not one, and she was like, “Here’s your first one!” That was my first one…it was a cool present from her because I love The Beatles. I have a Valencia record that got pressed, and I absolutely love those guys. I grew up going to see them, and they shaped a lot of my adult life by working with them, and playing shows with them, and all that stuff. They’re great people. And then I have a couple of others. Most recently, it’s gonna be hard for me to remember the specific ones, but most recently, the one I’m most excited about is I one I’ve just got shipped in from Dublin…it’s Live At The Sydney Opera House from Glen Hansard. Glen Hansard is like, he’s probably the most influential songwriter in my entire life. If you don’t listen to Glen Hansard — you should do yourself a favor and listen to Glen Hansard.

Anthony:
I think that’s everything! It was great meeting you. I hope to see you at the Charlotte show coming up!

Chris:
Thanks! It was a pleasure to meet you.

Interested in learning more about the music of Sleep Cycles? Check out the link below:

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
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