Louise Wener of Sleeper: ‘It felt as if we were jumping off a cliff’
Sleeper, who emerged during the Britpop era of the mid-1990s, are back and set to stage a Cambridge gig next month.
Led by lead singer and principal songwriter Louise Wener, the band was one of the biggest names in guitar-based music at that time, along with the likes of Oasis, Blur, Cast, Supergrass and Suede.
After breaking through in a big way with their debut album, Smart – and the memorable single Inbetweener – in 1995, the group’s platinum-selling album, The It Girl, followed a year later. It is the 25th anniversary of this record that Louise and co will be celebrating when they come to the Cambridge Junction on May 7.
Produced by Stephen Street, The It Girl was released in May 1996 and reached number five in the UK chart. The album will be played in its entirety on this tour – the first half will feature all its songs, such as defining Britpop singles What Do I Do Now?, Sale of the Century and Nice Guy Eddie, before a selection of other hits in the second half.
Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from her home in Brighton, Louise says of The It Girl: “It was just a lovely album to make. It was our second album and we’d had a big success with the first one. We felt like it was going to break us properly.”
Louise looks back on that whole period with fondness. “We were touring all over the world, we were releasing albums,” she says. “It was very exciting; it was a very positive, optimistic time compared to now, I guess, so it feels lovely to look back on that.
“It really was a golden period of post-Cold War, and all the stuff that’s happened more recently was stuff you couldn’t really imagine, so I think we will look back on that as maybe a golden period.”
The band – whose current line-up consists of singer/guitarist Louise, fellow original members Jon Stewart (guitar) and Andy Maclure (drums), as well as new bass player Kieron Pepper – originally broke up in 1998 after six years together.
The three founding members decided to reunite in 2017 and recruited Kieron, who had previously played drums on stage for The Prodigy. “We were all hitting 50 and it felt like an amazing time to just do something utterly different,” recalls Louise.
“I hadn’t really wanted to go back to music at all, it wasn’t something I was planning. Someone very close to me got very sick and that made me rethink things a little bit, and I thought I wanted to try something very much out of my comfort zone, just to see what it would feel like. It felt like we were jumping off a cliff to see how it would feel.”
So when the band got back together did it feel like time hadn’t passed? “It’s very strange, I mean we’d all been away from each other for 20-odd years, so a huge gulf of time,” says Louise, who wrote four novels and a biography – and raised children – during the lengthy period that Sleeper was, well, sleeping.
“We’d all gone off and lived lives and done very different things, but there’s this strange thing when you get back together where it’s this feeling of ‘Oh my God, it’s just like it was!’
“It was like when you go and see an old friend and you start chatting to each other maybe in the way that you last did. It’s a bit like time travel, in a weird way.”
I couldn’t go without asking Louise the burning question, Blur or Oasis? “I’m neutral,” she replied, “so let’s say Pulp.”
As well as successful albums and singles, Sleeper had two tracks featured on the era-defining Trainspotting soundtrack and also appeared on popular television programmes of the day like TFI Friday, Later... with Jools Holland and Top of the Pops – an episode of which Louise presented.
The band played the main stages of major festivals such as Reading and Glastonbury and also supported REM at the Milton Keynes Bowl. Sleeper will be performing at the somewhat smaller – but probably more atmospheric – J1 at the Cambridge Junction on Saturday, May 7.