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Band defies categories, merges sounds

Don’t judge a band by its album cover. Sleepers Awake might have decorated its CD with skulls and cobwebs, but its name pays tribute to a Bach cantata. The band will release its first album, “Priests of Fire,” at 9 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Scarlet & Grey Café.

Friends Chris Thompson (vocals/guitar) and Rob Bradley (lead guitar) formed the progressive rock band in 2005 to change the sound of modern rock and reshape the Columbus music scene.

“I think, more or less, they had a problem with the music that they were hearing on the radio,” bassist Joey Bradley said.

The sound they achieved is tough to classify. “I’ve heard several descriptions [of our music], but I think my favorite is metallic swamp rock,” drummer Chris “Ambrose” Burnsides said. “We’re a little bit heavier, but we’re not a metal band. We’re somewhere in that gray area.”

Thompson agreed that the band’s music has become heavier and more progressive. Yet, each member has individual influences, he said. And the music reflects that.

Brothers Rob Bradley and Joey Bradley were exposed to classical music at an early age.

“We grew up on classical music,” Rob Bradley said. “I’ve always really liked it.”

Rob Bradley said classical music inspires some of the chord changes, even if it is not apparent in the finished product.

“A lot of times, I’ll start off with something,” he said. “And then it will merge into something else. You don’t see where it starts off.”

For Thompson, bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Led Zeppelin and Queen influence his music. He admires the way Queen writes its songs, he said. “They’re not so repetitive. They’re very creative and linear.”

The group’s diverse musical tastes combine to create a sound that defies genre. But the music’s sound is not its only ambiguous feature. The lyrics evade categorization, as well.

“I write vaguely enough to where I get my meaning out of it, and somebody else can get totally something else out of it,” Thompson said. “I’d rather have that happen than everyone know what I’m thinking.”

Thompson does include some clues to meaning. He incorporates historical references in addition to modern political and religious themes, he said. One song alludes to the novel “1984.”

When the band members integrate their variety of musical backgrounds and interests, the result is unique. But the song writing process is a challenge.

“It’s a very painful process writing a song in this band,” Burnsides said. “It’s just a very, very self-deprecating, scrutinizing process.”

Thompson acknowledged the struggle to compromise, as well.

“Everybody has their parts that are like their babies,” he said.

For about four years, the members have engaged in the song-writing process, performing along the way. Now, they are ready to release their first album at Scarlet and Grey.

“We’ve had a couple of really good shows over at the Scarlet and Grey,” Rob Bradley said. “They’re fair with the bands, and the sound is really good there.”

Thompson also cited the sound system as a key consideration in choosing a location for the release party.

“We didn’t want to play somewhere with like an old, decrepit sound system,” he said. “And it’s down on campus, too. It’s easier to get people to come out when it’s within walking distance.”

Connecting with fans is an important part of making music for the members of Sleepers Awake. “It’s just a great feeling going and playing out or meeting someone online who really feels the music,” Burnsides said. “We’ve had a couple of people, you know, drive like an hour to come see us, and that’s just like the greatest feeling on the planet.”

The release party will also include performances by Pets or Meat and Town Monster. Tickets are $5 at the door.

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