Interview with guitarist Eric McNelis | By John B. Moore
Two years ago, the South Jersey band Collisions shed a couple of members, added in a new guitarist, and opted to start fresh with new songs and a whole new name. They re-christened themselves Sleep In and got to work on writing their debut. The result, Settling, is a great indie rock full-length that will drop at the end of May through Hideaway Records. Guitarist Eric McNelis speaks about starting over, recording the new record, and finding time to tour.
How did the band first come together?
The majority of us played in a short-lived band called Collisions from the end of 2010 until around the spring of 2012. Two of the members in that band moved to Texas and ended up starting a new band called Nominee, while we recruited Joe [Franks] to play guitar for us. Originally, we were going to continue as Collisions and keep the material we had, but that didn’t fall into place like we wanted. It just didn’t feel right. We did however start jamming on new material with Joe, and that worked extremely well and felt really natural. That was when we decided that it would be best to change the name and start fresh.
How long have you been working on the songs for Settling?
We started writing music together as Sleep In somewhere around the summer of 2012, and by early 2013, we had an abundance of songs. More than what you hear on the record. So we started recording the album in May 2013, and spent the next few months on it.
How did you record this album? Was this your first time in the studio?
We practice and record in my basement, and I take care of all the engineering. Most of us have spent a lot of time in recording studios over the years, and since I was doing the recording, it was a pretty relaxed process. I think it was a really good way to continue the creative process from writing to recording, because we were in the comfort our own rehearsal space. We just kinda did it on our time, whenever worked for us. If this wasn’t the case and we had to shell out all kinds of money to book time and go into a commercial studio, we probably wouldn’t have done an LP for our first release.
How do you approach writing songs? Do you write separately or are they born out of playing together?
Joe and I would often bring in a riff, or maybe a couple riffs that go together, but beyond that, the songs were written mostly by jamming them out in the basement with all five of us. If we had a riff, we would bring it to practice and go from there, usually just letting the band as an entity take over and sort of write the song for us. It was all about collaboration. There were a few songs that were literally born out of an impromptu jam that no one previously had any material for. It’s a really fun and rewarding way to create, because there was far less thought involved, compared to sitting on your bed with an acoustic guitar trying to figure out how a song should be structured before the rest of the band has even heard it. That path works for a lot of bands, but it’s just not how we ended up operating.
“Bound to Fold” is one of my favorite songs off of this record. How did that one come about?
That is really the only song on the record that wasn’t totally hashed out before we started recording. Joe had the riff, and [vocalist] Keith [Badtorff] had the first verse ready to go for some time. That’s sort of where the song was when it came time to record it. The second half with the extra instrumentation was written on the spot as we were recording it, and this song was done dead last. Even though it was done a little differently than the rest of the record, I think it still holds true to the organic “let things fall into place” mentality that the rest of the record was built on.
Why do you think the South Jersey/Philly scene is so fertile right now?
There is just so much great talent in Philly right now. There are a ton of people who I know from the early 2000s wave of bands who are still making really fantastic music, and then there are younger kids starting bands now who have a similar DIY aesthetic. There is also a really great community in the area and a lot of awesome places to go see shows, no matter if it’s at Union Transfer or a small house show in West Philly. I think it really just comes down to the fact that people really care about their music scene here, and it’s really great to be a part of.
Do you guys share similar musical influences?
We do and we don’t. We all love the culture of underground music, and a lot of us grew up playing in bands that were part of this scene. But when you really break it down, our tastes are all across the board. For example, I’m a huge fan of stuff like Sunny Day Real Estate and Braid, and the other guys like that stuff too, but not everyone likes it to the extent that I do. The same could be said about music that the other guys are super passionate about. I like a lot of it, but it’s not necessarily my go-to thing. I think that this has been a great thing for us, because it hopefully helps keep our music fresh and original. Ultimately, the common ground for all of us is alternative rock, as broad as that is. We really identify as a rock band, plain and simple.
What is next for the band?
Besides lots of shows and some short tours here and there, we want to release an EP maybe within the next year or so, and maybe even a split 7” or two in the near future. We also have a music video in the works. We want to stay as active as we possibly can while working around our busy lives.