“It really feels like everything is just winding up now,” Hodges says. “We’ve just announced a support tour with Jungle Giants and then we’ll have the album tour following that which will be huge. We’ve been sitting on this record for over six months, burning holes in our pockets. It’s great, because by then people will have heard the record and, ha, might actually know most of the songs in our set. It’s been a lot of hard work and fingernail biting, but man, this is such an exciting time.”
Having had the album on repeat for a fortnight now, I can appreciate the anticipation. It rarely puts a foot wrong and will raise the band to a well-earned new level. Part of this is the quality of the production, the instrumentation and Hodges’ voice; but what keeps you engaged is the strength of each song’s lyrics. There’s a good deal of darkness on the album, as exemplified in tracks like the lovelorn ‘I Could Make You Happy’ and the spectacular ‘Jefferson’, whose lyrics lament, ‘I fall apart, I come undone / I know I’m not the only one / But lately I’ve been feeling like I’m always on the road.’
“A lot of people would see me as a happy-go- lucky, extroverted person, but it’s quite the opposite on the inside. You learn to just bottle it all up, and keep it there and never really let it out. Songwriting is my chance to say these things without being weird or awkward. That’s what [Jefferson] is really about, that constant unhappiness, where you’re always being told that you want something else and you’re not where you want to be. Success, recognition, money, whatever. One of my favourite songs of all time is ‘A Simple Man’, by Graham Nash. It’s such a concise song that has this vulnerability, you feel like he could just fall apart while singing it. He just nails it, and I’ve always wanted to achieve something like that in the kind of lyricism I work on. That’s my hope. Something that is vulnerable and real, not some made up story with a drum beat and guitar solo.” That vulnerability is certainly present, but make no mistake; this is about as far from a brooding, self-conscious album as you can get. The tunes are catchy as hell, and if it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I am; this is a seriously good record, made all the more affecting for Hodges’ raw and earnest songwriting.
“In all honesty, I can’t do the whole imaginary life writing thing. You hear a lot of people finding a character and writing something entirely fictional, and one day it would be nice to do that. But at the moment, the writing I’m trying to do is translating something that’s real, to say something true that might mean something important to other people. That’s how I do it at the moment, but that’s not really a conscious effort. It’s just how they all come out.”
By their own admission, Art of Sleeping’s live performance has come a long way, and what fans are going to witness throughout the album tour is a very different beast to what has come before. Part of their changing ethos has been an acceptance of finding contentedness in the here and now – a carpe diem approach to their musical odyssey. “There’s never a point in music, or in any kind of creative aspiration, where you think, yes, this is it, I’m on the pinnacle! I have completed it all! Maybe there is when you’re much older, but I’ve never experienced that feeling. I think to be always aiming at that is kind of misleading. It’s an easy way to feel unhappy, dissatisfied and unsettled. Just through the whole experience of writing this album, and I guess just being in the music industry, seeing other people manage it, I really decided to enjoy every moment for what it is. Try and take that by the horns, and that’s my outlook on the whole process now and it’s been amazing.” Hodges laughs, and it sounds as though there is genuine relief in his voice. For all of the work that has gone into forging a name for themselves, you suspect that only now is the band truly comfortable with what they have become.
“I’d been on tours where I’d be stressing so much, focused on the next show, how to do the lighting for this one, what’s the next song I’m going to write, everything! But for the last six months I’ve been like, ‘just enjoy this day for what it is’, and I think that’s the most wonderful way to do music. You’re giving people everything you are when you’re there in that moment, and you’re also enjoying it for yourself.”