Beauty Sleep – Coffee, Synths and Indie Pop
Beauty Sleep are Belfast’s own dream-pop band; producing music over the last three years to noticeable critical acclaim.
Tracks laden with synths and guitar riffs overlaid with soaring, almost-angelic vocal harmonies have lead to favourable comparisons with the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and Chrvches and the band have racked up appearances at festivals such as Castlepalooza, Stendhal and Other Voices.
With a number of singles already under their belt, their first album is due for release in May accompanied by a launch gig-come-party at The Mac in Belfast on the 25th of May.
As a result, Gigging NI set off for the afternoon to hang out with Cheylene Murphy (synths/vocals), Ryan McGroarty (guitar/vocals) and Aimee Williamson (bass) to talk about their journey so far, the new album and their launch party.
It’s clear from the outset how this interview is going to pan out – Cheylene is very definitely the talker, usually first to answer questions and always ready to volunteer information. Ryan is quieter, and tends to chip in when he has something to say. Aimee is definitely more the silent, taciturn sort, munching her way through a delicious-looking toastie and occasionally joining in. There’s no sign of a drummer, but more of that later……….
GNI: You only formed in 2016 – how did you meet?
CM – The official story? Ryan and I knew each other already.
RMcG: We had been working on loads of tunes but didn’t tell anyone.
CM: We needed other people to actually be “a band” –we were at a house party and Aimee floated into the kitchen clutching a gin and tonic and started spelling out dirty words on a fridge magnet Scrabble set.
AW: That was a great party.
GNI: So you met over dirty words on a fridge – 2016 isn’t that long ago; do you still feel like relative newcomers on the NI music scene?
CM: Not since we’ve done the album – it’s like since we finished that we’ve grown up as a band; maybe we do feel a bit like newcomers but we’ve done so many crazy things it’s just been a mad adventure and it feels like we’ve known each other for a million years.
GNI: I’ve seen you play live a few times and wanted to ask – what’s the story with your drummer? You always play live with one but there’s never a drummer to be seen in band photos?
RMcG – Early on we used drum samples or had a few friends play. As we went along we had to play live shows and gigs and it became a little bit of an issue. Now we have Ross Bickerstaff and he’s super committed – very organized; he cares a lot – he’s great craic and he’s a brilliant player.
CM: He really shows us all up with how good he is.
RMcG: Its kinda sums it up his role – we all hang out loads and it feels like a band but if there’s ever a discussion about artwork or a video idea he’ll just sit back and go “I’m so glad I’m not in a band.” He’s not really interested in all the minutiae but he loves playing with us.
GNI: So he gets the benefits of being in a band without any of the hassle that comes long with it?
RMcG: Yeah – that sort of sums it up. He wants to be a great session drummer – if that’s with us, then great.
GNI:I know that you are involved in other musical projects and I’ve seen Cheylene and Ryan playing with Catalan; I wondered how do you balance that, especially now you’re in the position of bringing your first album out?
RMcG: It’s a concern but we’ve maybe got away with it so far – it’s really well planned – it has to be –things would fall apart if it wasn’t. The Catalan thing – I work in a recording studio and worked with Ewen (Friers, Catalan) on his record and he asked me to play on it. You get me and Cheylene as a package deal – you don’t get one without the other. It’s really just scheduling – if Beauty Sleep have something on then Catalan can’t do anything and vice versa. Ewan knows this is our priority. It takes a lot of communication and consideration.
CM: Also – all three of us have played in so many bands outside of Beauty Sleep – I think there’s a lot you can get out of that and playing with other people. Every band I’ve played in, I’ve taken something from it – really positive stuff – you learn a lot. Catalan has been amazing and Ewen has been really friendly, kind and considerate.
GNI: Ryan – you were saying about working in a studio. I wanted to ask – is music a full time thing for you now or is a matter of having day jobs and doing the music in your spare time?
CM: Music is our day job too – we all do stuff. Aimee does lighting engineering.
AW: I do that – stage lighting at the Waterfront.
CM: I do some teaching and educational stuff as well as musical stuff.
RMcG: It all works in tandem – I think the three of us when our first release came out it was when I was trying to push myself as a studio/sound engineer for hire. It all helps – we were talking earlier about our stage show for the album release and Amy was talking about the specs for the lighting. You bring all your extra-curricular knowledge back into the band.
GNI: You’re signed with Quiet Arch Records – they have a reputation for working with some great local artists like Malojian, Joshua Burnside, Ryan Vail and others – why did you decide to go with Quiet Arch?
CM – We have a studio and office in the Oh Yeah Centre. One day Lyndon (Stephens, Quiet Arch main man) came down and said he’d seen us play at The Great Escape gig that he organized. He offered to manage us, even for a trial period. We thought “fuck it – yeah” – it just always felt so positive because he’s also so supportive of anything creative we want to do. He’s so smart – so modern – not stuck in old ways of doing things. He pushes us – he was telling us to write an album.
RMcG: I’ve always respected the stuff that the label has put out – it was the best collection of artists doing the best things in Northern Ireland. At the time Lyndon started talking to us, it really focused us – his vision seemed to be the same as ours. We were hitting a bit of a wall – releasing things, playing shows. Working with someone else allowed us to condense this and plan out a path for what we were going to do.
CM: It’s great that he’s so close by – you can go and meet him or talk to him anytime you need.
GNI: My impression of Quiet Arch has always been that it focused on a small number of high quality local performers and artists?
CM: Yeah – we’re fucking delighted on be on there to be honest!
AW I can’t believe it sometimes as well.
GNI: Here’s the stock question that every interviewer asks new bands – who influenced you? Where did the Beauty Sleep sound come from?
CM: I can tell you more about the synthesizers that influenced our sound – they were the Juno 106 and the Korg MS20. I just had the Juno 106 since I was 18. I’ve grown to love it – we started writing songs on it and that’s where the dreamy, chorus sounds came from. When we were finishing the album the Korg MS20 was definitely the other sound that influenced us. They are our actual big influences in terms of sound. Band-wise, Tame Impala.
AW – yep – we all love Tame Impala.
CM: The current Tame Impala album came just before we were starting to do lots of stuff. I remember at some of our first meetings we were watching their videos and we were like “wow.” Various other indie people too.
RMcG: St Vincent? Early days we used to look through Amy’s Spotify playlists and were just “what does Aimee like” and there was lots of cool stuff there. I think at the start it was the limitations of having just one decent synthesizer and a collection of drum samples that influenced the whooshy, synthy slow and emotional sound.
CM: We love indie and pop – we also love rock music.
GNI: That’s interesting – people generally describe you as being “pop” – how do you feel about that?
RMcG: – It’s a bizarre thing – how to describe yourself is really difficult. Pop can mean so many different things; indie can mean a million things. I think at the heart of it they are pop songs – they are catchy melodies.
CM: The songs are short too – that’s the pop thing I suppose.
GNI: Everything seems to come in under three and a half minutes?
CM: Everything bar two songs! But they are only four minutes.
RMcG: The initial rule was that everything had to be under three minutes or over six minutes. There’s a harder sound sometimes and lots of fuzz guitar that gives more of a rock sound – it’s all music at the end of the day.
CM: Genres are just weird – they’re just ways to box you in. Indie pop is just such a broad umbrella.
RMcG: We could be in the car listening to The Bronx and then it’d be Janelle Monáe.
GNI: Favourite gig so far?
CM: With Beauty Sleep? Maybe the Quiet Arch birthday gig?
AW: That was great craic!
CM: We had written and recorded the album over the course of last year. We hadn’t done that many gigs but we’d finished the album by that time in December. At that point we had everything in place – we knew that the album was happening, we had practiced the songs. We knew it was a big celebration for the label and we got excited and put a big show together for it. It went really well and that was the first time we got to play some of the album on a big stage – it felt amazing – like the start of the next chapter?
RMcG: It felt like a bit of a reward for us – after working for so long on the album and being stuck in a studio it was a chance to sell the songs. We had our friend Micky (McCullagh, from Son of the Hound) playing guitar and it was a real celebration before Christmas. It was, like, we’d done the album – now on to the next thing and the next year.
GNI: And that was my next question – what are the plans for after the album launch? Where do you go from here?
CM: Loosely? A UK/European tour. We’re firming up dates at the minute. We have a few things to release over the summer and then hitting a few festivals. We’ve nothing confirmed yet but we want to play a load of shows this year because we love playing live. After that? I guess we’ll have to write a new album.
RMcG: We’ll have the craic with this album first – I think you’d need to do some living first – to rejuvenate your writing and give you something to say. We toured Germany last year and it was an amazing experience; playing in different places and meeting new people all feeds back into you wanting to write new music.
CM: And then write another album………
RMcG: A top ten smash album!
CM: We talk a lot about the second album is going to be a party album – I think we’re in a real celebratory phase. Writing the album was such a big thing – we’d never done that before – it was challenging and exciting.
RMcG: An album has to have a narrative – a start and an end –we found it quite tough.
CM: It was hard but we’re super proud of it – people say that albums are dead – no-one listens to albums but Lyndon convinced us to do it. It was a huge amount of work and I’m really pleased about it.
RMcG: With streaming services like Spotify, an album can be any length you want it to be. It’s not about how much you can fit on a record or a CD. It’s an art form – writing an album is a thing; it was a challenge to do our interpretation of what an album should be.
GNI: What can we expect from the album launch in May at The Mac?
CM: A lot of lights
RMcG: A lot of lights!
GNI: Any pyrotechnics?
AW: If my pyro license comes through in time – definitely
CM: We’ll play the whole album – a lot of new songs which is exciting for us – a big celebration of all those new sounds. We’ve got amazing support from AVRO Party.
RMcG: It’ll be like a big hug!
CM: It’s going to be a big party and I’m going to be very emotional and very excited so please do come – Cheylene says “please come.” It’ll be the first time we’ve played the whole album – I can’t stress how proud we are.
There you have it. I’ve been looking forward to a debut album from Beauty Sleep for some time, and it’s finally here.
The band produce a sound that marries pop, indie and rock into a seamless mixture topped by soft and soaring harmonies that manage to sound fresh and unique.
The launch party on May 25th is going to be immense. Get your tickets now – this is one party that you don’t want to miss!
Album Launch > 25th May > The MAC, Belfast > Tickets