What does the American Dream look like these days? Wealth, freedom, and prosperity? Or perhaps pandering and selling out to play a backyard birthday party for a 100 year-old woman resulting in a brawl with a chain-smoking clown and a trio of goths? In Sleeping Jesus’s wildly entertaining new video single, “Ferdy,” this is exactly what it looks like.
“Ferdy” encompasses a specific version of American Dream-chasing, and doing what’s necessary to achieve it- even if that means kicking pride and integrity aside. More specific to the band, it pertains to being a Midwest artist, and the prospect of taking to the highways to either the beaches of California, or the boroughs of New York City to pursue their dreams of “making it.”
The Minneapolis indie pop rockers dropped the buoyant synth-laden track September 11th, and the comically can’t-look-away video came to the masses on September 18th.
Sleeping Jesus came to life via Nick Elstad in Winona, MN, in 2016, and the five-piece band features Tyler Steinley (drums), Andy Bauer (bass), Seamus St. Clair (lead guitar), and Dante DeGrazia (keys). “Ferdy” is the lead single from their second studio album, Hollywood Smile, due out in November. The album will follow their acclaimed debut album, Leave the Party Early, that was recorded with friend and producer Mike Noyce (Bon Iver, Tallest Man On Earth).
Elstad talked to us about the origins of the band, the making of the wild video, the upcoming album, and more.
So why the band name ‘Sleeping Jesus’?
It was a phrase my grandma used to use. She owns a restaurant, and she would refer to lazy employees or employees who were stoned or flat-footed, and she’d call them “Sleeping Jesuses,” and it just kind of stuck.
Regarding your new single, “Ferdy,” you stated, “It’s a salute to those who still believe in the promise of the American dream, however dilapidated and fucked up that pursuit has become.” Can you elaborate on that?
The first verse is about the youthfulness of falling in love and being free. 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 awhile, 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.
Can you breakdown the creative process and vibe you were looking for?
So the last album we put out was done in a lot of places, spread out, and was pieced together during Covid times. For this one, we wanted to do the complete opposite.
In December before Christmas, we booked a place called the Magic Barn in Iowa. This guy Steve, who’s an eclectic dude who runs it, is really passionate about it and is not running it as a for-profit studio. The cool thing about that place is that all the gear used to be at the Magic Shop in New York. It’s got lots of cool old analog gear that we were able to record on that had some legendary mojo to it. The piano from Viva La Vida is on “Ferdy” which is so cool.
So we went down to Iowa and spent the week, and just made the best thing we could. I’m all for it if people want to go to the coast or whatever and do cool shit, but it’s fun to be in the Midwest and make art here, because that’s important too.
Why did you choose “Ferdy” as the lead single off the new album?
This one has just been like something that people had been excited about, because we’ve been paying it live for like a year now. We’ve gotten really good feedback from people, and it just gets people moving. And at this point, I’m just really happy making other people happy with our music.
What was your thought process for this crazy music video and how does it correlate to the lyrics?
The believing in the American Dream sort of thing. In the video there’s a cowboy, which is a very American idea. And so is pandering. So in the video, we’re basically selling out to get this job. So that’s where the cowboy came from, same with the American flag being in there and the stupid matching sports jackets.
Where was it filmed, and what was the process like for getting all these actors involved?
It was a total group effort, like all of our friends are in the video and made things happen. The guy who plays the cowboy character is in a local band in Winona, the clown is in a local metal band in Winona, and it was kinda cool bringing local artists together to do something weird and out of the norm.
The main old lady who’s sitting on the chair, her name is Vivian Viscillo, and she’s like this local legend in Winona. She was a professor in the theater department at Winona State, and legend has it, she is the inspiration for the lead actress’s character in the movie Grumpy Old Men. The movie allegedly takes place like 30 minutes north of Winona. So we were really stoked to have her be a part of our video. The way we were able to get her was because Dante, our keyboard player, plays piano at this Italian restaurant, and she totally has a crush on him and sees him play every week. It’s small town stuff bringing people together.
What can you tell us about your upcoming album, Hollywood Smile? Why the title, and any overarching theme or motifs?
So there’s a song on the album called “Hollywood Smile,” and I don’t know why but those words together just made sense to me. It’s something like a facade, it’s fake, and ties into the American dream motif. It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, like we’re doing this thing, but there’s something a little fucked up or sketchy about it. It caters to the illusion of the 21st Century ideal of the American Dream as it pertains to creatives and artists.
What does a dream gig look like for Sleeping Jesus?
Probably doing a headlining show in the main room at First Ave in Minneapolis. Prince owned that club for awhile, and that’s where “Purple Rain” was shot. It’s a 1,500 cap main room. We’ve played the side stage a decent amount, so that’s a dream of a lot of Minneapolis musicians to play that room, and especially headline it.
How important is humor and having fun to you/the band?
It’s probably one of the most important things. It’s one of the main reasons we’re still a group. Because how difficult it can be to go on the road and potentially lose money, sometimes have bad shows, and do a lot of things that we love. We’re also happy to be doing these things together. There’s a lot of love as a band, and a lot of respect for each other. It’s turned into a beautiful friendship, and I don’t think the band would go on if anybody left.
What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?
I know I’m most happy when I’m practicing the art of songwriting and making something out of nothing. So if I have freedom to make music and play music for people, then that is a big part of success for me. Obviously we all need to make money, and at the same time we all do other stuff too. We’re trying not to bend to please anybody but ourselves. But we also want to make music people enjoy if that makes sense. Trying to be ourselves but letting people be a part of that process too.
What are one or two pinnacle moments for Sleeping Jesus?
Everytime we have a show and people show up for us, we’re so grateful for them. Whether it’s our friends or some band’s local fans. Anytime we go on the road – and sometimes you play for like 10 people, but we’ve had some moments where people in another city have found our music and will be singing along in the audience, and that stuff makes our entire week. We live for moments like that.