Minneapolis indie rock band Sleeping Jesus take us track-by-track through their sophomore album ‘Hollywood Smile,’ an illuminating record whose radiant harmonies and soul-speckled sounds warm the ears and heat the heart.
for fans of Mt. Joy, Hippo Campus, Big Thief
Stream: “Ferdy” – Sleeping Jesus
A ‘Hollywood Smile’ represents a hollowness… This big promise of opulence and grandiose is just pummeled the second you look at it.
We’ve all heard of the “Hollywood Handshake”; Paul Hollywood’s sign of approval on The Great British Bake Off is often a prelude to star baker, a title of reverence and respect in the baking world.
Perhaps Hollywood Smile can be Sleeping Jesus’ precursor to star status, as well; while not quite as prestigious (not yet, at least) as the aforementioned handshake, the sophomore album from the fast-rising Midwestern band is a veritable smash in its own right, full of radiant harmonies and stunning, soul-speckled indie rock that warms the ears and heats the heart.
So stoned and talking a lot last night
Dance around the room with just your t-shirt on
Lip-stick over cherry chapstick,
tastes just like summer ending
Sing every word to your favorite song
so loud your neighbors can sing along
While I’m drunk can we stop pretending
tomorrow won’t be like nothing happened.
Independently released December 4, 2024, Hollywood Smile promises to have listeners grinning from ear to ear as they bask in the nectar of Sleeping Jesus’ sweet songs. The follow-up to 2022’s debut album Leave the Party Early – another true sleeper hit worth its weight in gold – finds the Minneapolis-based five-piece of Nick Elstad, Tyler Steinley (drums), Andy Bauer (bass), Seamus St. Clair (lead guitar), and Dante DeGrazia (keys) working with friend and producer Mike Noyce (Bon Iver, Tallest Man On Earth) to craft a spirited collection that stuns, soothes, and stirs – often all at once.
Together for over seven years now, Sleeping Jesus seamlessly blend folk, pop, R&B, soul, and pop elements together into an eclectic, yet cohesive (and endlessly catchy) melting pot of piping hot sound. They’ve got the grit and gusto of Mt. Joy, the Midwestern charm of Hippo Campus, and the breathtaking, sun-soaked glow of bands like Sammy Rae and the Friends and Lawrence.
In short, Hollywood Smile is relentlessly irresistible – a sonically and emotionally charged collection that hits hard and leaves a lasting mark through candid songwriting, colorful melodies, and deep, dynamic grooves.
“I think a lot of these songs had been written while we were finishing the first record,” Sleeping Jesus bassist Andy Bauer tells Atwood Magazine. “We had spent some time practicing the music and making it feel right the previous year. We hit a studio like a week or two after we did a long run up and then down the East Coast. We were playing really well, and it was something that we hadn’t done. When the project started, it was all Nick. When we did Leave The Party Early, we tracked everything piece by piece. We were inspired by the Neil Young documentary ‘Harvest Time’ and wanted to get all of us into a live room.”
“We managed to find this unbelievable space in Iowa City,” he recalls. “We brought down our producer and an engineer and had a hell of a week in the studio creating the tracks. It was an adventure for us as a band because it was the first time that we really got to track in a nice space all together. It was an amazing time – isolated out in Iowa City, sleeping in the bunks above the control room and getting to explore anything we wanted to.”
You would never guess that Sleeping Jesus’ first two records were released within consecutive calendar years; Hollywood Smile presents a comprehensive evolution in band dynamic, song structure, style, and sound. The group sought a more ensemble sound this time around, driven by their energetic, impassioned live performances.
“While we explored and added an incredible amount of different musicians in the mix, we wanted to be anchored in a sound that felt like what we had been playing,” Bauer explains.
“I think our musical ideas have changed and we have changed. I think both records capture the correct elements that make it feel like Sleeping Jesus. The new record feels more cohesive. All of those songs belong together. And maybe that is the mixing process, but this album feels like a cohesive piece of art. I think that is what we are always trying to do. We are trying to find something that feels right to us and that we feel we are proud of. This is a change in direction of the sound, but we feel that all of it is still us.”
He describes Hollywood Smile as a wistful, sentimental, and hopeful album. The title, he says, represents a hollowness.
“Like, if you drive through South Dakota or just anywhere on i90, there are all these signs for Wall Drug. And, in some ways, you expect it to be this ordeal, this beautiful opulent place. When you get there, any concept that you had before of opulence is just erased. It feels like a cardboard town, If you scratch, even just a little bit, you are likely going to bust through the wall. A ‘Hollywood Smile,’ to me, feels like that. This big promise of opulence and grandiose is just pummeled the second you look at it.”
Highlights abound on the journey from the album’s richly resounding opener “Last Time” to the fiery, feverish title track “Hollywood Smile” and the groovy, glistening, disco-tinged instrumental finale “Sweet Misery.” Lead single “Ferdy,” released in September, is sure to turn plenty of heads; sun-soaked, soulful, and all kinds of seductive, the song captures both the euphoria of being young and free, and the weight of following through on our dreams.
“The first verse is about the youthfulness of falling in love and being free,” Nick Elstad explains. “And the second verse is more inspired by a country singer-songwriter friend of ours who moved from New York to LA, and I remember him telling us like, ‘Man I don’t know if I can do this all over again out here.’ Because he had been building himself up in New York for a while, then made a change, and had to try to fully immerse himself into the new scene. So that sort of stuck with me.”
“But he was still believing in trying to create something you know, out west, and fulfilling that dream. For a Midwesterner, you always have this ideal version of LA or NY, that it will change something for you.”
“Ferdy” is a sweet ode to believing in ourselves and weathering the storms as they come our way. It’s a summery, smile-inducing groove that brings the heat – both metaphorically and literally. It also contains Bauer’s favorite lyric: “LA sure beat the shit out of you, trying to make a living playing country tunes.”
Looking elsewhere, Bauer cites the album’s second track, “Someone New,” as a personal favorite. “It captures a different feel than I think we have before,” he explains. “It was also a really adventurous recording process. We rearranged the room, put paper in the strings, tried a ton of plate reverb, did like 100 takes and finally got it the way we wanted to.”
The folkier “Old Friend Neil,” laced with nostalgia, stacked vocal harmonies, and blasts of gorgeous brass, is another standout – one that highlights the band’s graceful genre-bending prowess. “Pretty much all of ‘Old Friend Neil’ scratches an itch in me that makes me feel hopeful about the future and excited about the future while simultaneously feeling nostalgic,” Bauer smiles.
Ultimately, Sleeping Jesus’ Hollywood Smile is genuine in all the ways its namesake is not.
An achingly emotive breath of fresh, energizing sonic sorcery, the Minneapolis band’s sophomore effort soars on the wings of eight illuminating, uplifting songs that promise to light a fire deep down inside all tune in.
“I think we all hope that people find something in the music that they connect with. We are immensely proud of the record,” Andy Bauer shares. “Music is the most powerful thing I have ever experienced. All my life, I have listened records that have been soundtracks to times in my life. This one is too, but, in a different way, as I was involved in it. I hope that people just find something that they like and connect with, and I hope it can be a soundtrack for others.”
“I think creating it really solidified the care that we have for each other and the friendships we have. I think that our relationships within the band are very healthy and supportive. I think there is a camaraderie that we found in each other. It is rare to find five people that want to create music together for years; that want to sit in a car together for long weeks. It is hard to find a group of people where you can be critical and never feel alienated. We have been so lucky to find each other and to continue to be friends and a band together. Seven years is a long time to be playing music together. I think the bonds that tie us together have deepened, and I think we are better people because we have each other.”
No, this isn’t the Hollywood Handshake; it’s something much, much better. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Sleeping Jesus’ Hollywood Smile with Atwood Magazine as frontman Nick Elstad goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of the band’s second studio album!
Stream: ‘Hollywood Smile’ – Sleeping Jesus
:: Inside Hollywood Smile ::
I wrote this song right after watching the Beatles “Get Back” movie. It was a little different from what Sleeping Jesus had been releasing at the time, so naturally I sat on it for about a year before we really started playing it. I would say that this song really set the tone for what the rest of “Hollywood Smile” would become. We made a really experimental pop record in 2022, “Leave the Party Early,” and wanted to shift gears for this new record. The more raw band sound of “Last Time” felt really exciting to us all.
When I wrote this tune, I was in a similar spot to writing “Last Time,” as in I wasn’t sure if it was a Sleeping Jesus song right away. I knew a few things, though. One, it’s a really sad little song written from the perspective of a failed relationship, and two, I loved the song and wanted to find a home for it. I had even daydreamed the idea of putting out a solo ep of acoustic songs to get it out in the world. I’m really happy I didn’t, as I don’t think I could have come close to the magic I feel we captured as a group. As our music style in Sleeping Jesus slowly shifted, it seemed like “Someone New” made absolute sense to put on the record.
We started playing “Twenty Five” live for a long while before we ever began to record it. From the first time we played it, I still remember the rush everyone had. It felt really big and bombastic, which was so exciting because it seemed a bit like uncharted territory for us. So much of this record has been trying new stuff, and that is one of the best feelings you can have as a band. We were thinking about Bruce Springsteen when we recorded this one, maybe some of that shines through.
Old Friend Neil
This one comes from an extremely personal place. I love my band mates and that’s really what the song is all about. Being a live band in 2023 that does a fair amount of touring can feel a little crazy at times. I wrote this as a thank you to my bandmates for always being there and sticking with me on this weird and amazing journey. I really never thought Sleeping Jesus would release a song with a “train” beat, but here we are, and I’m damn happy we did!
“Ferdy” has always been that song that we have played live and everyone always asks, “When are you going to record that!?” So when it came time to record it for the record, we knew we wanted to capture that live feel. As with almost everything on the record, the bones of the recording were all live-tracked in a room in a studio, Magic Barn in Iowa to be exact. It was nice to have Mike Noyce and Alex Proctor with us to take the wheel in the studio. That way, we could really just focus on being a band and trying to get good takes of each song.
This song started as a little tune that I wrote on the acoustic guitar. I was taking a class in songwriting at the time and the idea was to write about what was directly around you. So, my best bud and dog George became the inspiration. It’s really exciting to me that a song I wrote on acoustic guitar has become one of our loudest and most raucous songs.
This song is in part a plea for something sincere in a beautiful but often fucked up world. “Kids don’t know a goddamn thing, ain’t we the same?” Just when I think I’ve finally figured life out, the universe quickly shows me I, in fact, do not have it figured out. This one is me coming to terms with that, and being mostly okay with it.
This little instrumental tune was not always an instrumental. It was once a full fledged tune with verse and chorus. But within the context of the other songs on the album, it never really found its proper place. We had the idea that it could become almost like the music that plays when the credits roll at the end of a movie. After some fun chopping, it became a fun little exit tune that we couldn’t resist putting on the album.
— — — —
© Harrison McCormick
:: Stream Sleeping Jesus ::