Originally published in The Worcester Journal on March 19, 2016
From the moment you walk into their apartment, you begin to understand more about who Sleepovers is and where the band’s sound comes from. Plants pepper the place—dead and alive, on the floor and on the walls—and the coat rack in the corner has transformed into a plush kind of tree on its own, stacked at least fifteen coats deep. The art on the walls looks like the type that could be in a gallery—or maybe one of them just made it the other day. Maybe it was one of their friends.
Made up of housemates Marina Khananayev and Hannah Corbin, along with the recent addition of drummer Jacob Folsom-Fraster, Sleepovers began in a Worcester, Massachusetts bedroom, and that’s exactly how they sound. Even when screaming about dumping your boyfriend, there’s an authentic intimacy in both singers’ voices which conjures the soft quiet that must have made them want to scream. In the same way that they somehow create warm melodies out of bleak subject matter, one of the most striking elements of Sleepovers is how the band is able to uniquely capture the feeling of feeling alone and yet deliver this feeling to us with reassurance. The close friendship between the lead vocalists is particularly palpable in songs like “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Hot Dog Song,” but is also felt, even in their solo songs.
With just two EPs on Bandcamp and a couple of local performances under their belt, the group has already managed to win over an impressively devoted following of listeners. When I first saw them in December, it was just Marina and Hannah playing “Whiskey Song” to a stunned and silent audience in their own living room; then the full trio of Sleepovers was booked as the opening act at Clark University for New York project Eskimaux and opened their set with the same song—this time with a full floor of standing fans singing along to every word. With lines like “Don’t have a crush on you” “I like getting high” and “I’m not anybody’s rock” among perhaps the loudest in the repertoire of audience favorites, it’s easy to see why Sleepovers is quickly becoming one of the most popular local bands in the city of Worcester. Known to friends and fans for their unassuming honesty, uncomplicated language, and utterly endearing onstage dynamic, the band and their music already has a reputation for treading the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking, often invoking both at the same time.
As an early fan of Sleepovers, I was thrilled I had the chance to talk with them personally about their project and methods of making music. Though our interview was a first for both parties involved and (at least, my) nerves were bouncing off the walls, the carpeted floor of Hannah’s bedroom began to feel familiar as our conversation floated on and away from Hollywood Street, beyond Worcester and back to other bedrooms—for, as Sleepovers reminds us, there is perhaps no better place to think about first times and new things than on the carpeted floor of your best friend’s bedroom.
So you write most of your songs in here?
Hannah and Marina: Mhm.
Do you write most of your songs together?
M: Not most of them, but a few of them we’ve written together.
Do you like working together better or is it easier by yourselves?
H: I don’t know, ’cause there’s some stuff that I’m like ‘I don’t know what to do, I need help with this’ and then some stuff that I’m like, ‘Oh, I wrote this’ like it just happened, I didn’t need help, it just came out.
Yeah, so do you guys ask each other for help, or like if you’re writing songs together, how does that happen?
M: I think it usually happens like one of us says, you know, ‘I wrote this guitar part’ and then you’ll start singing something, or the other way around, or something like that, and then we’ll just sit there and—I don’t know, trade off singing lines. We also just sing a lot of shit and then we’ll be like, ‘Oh write that one down.’
H: Yeah. Yeah we’ll just like sing a bunch of lines, like random things, then write it down later and decide later what’s good to keep.
On the addition of Jacob
How did you come into the Sleepovers project?
Jacob: Well, a kid put a drum set in my basement, so then a bunch of bands started practicing there. So then, I don’t know, when [Hannah and Marina] would practice I would just come down and play the drums for fun. I don’t really play the drums, I kinda just started messing around ’cause there’s a drum set in my basement.
That’s really cool. And you played for them we you opened at the last PEC show?
J: Yeah, ’cause I don’t know, you guys were thinking you wanted drums and I already knew all the songs, so…
It was a really good effect, people loved it. The drums added a lot.
H: We practiced so much for that show [laughs]. ‘Cause [Jacob] had just started playing with us that week before. You were like, ‘Me? Really?’ [laughs] ‘Are you kidding?’
J: I’m like, the worst choice.
H: I feel like you are the best choice though, because I feel like we’re all the same level of instrumentation at this point, where we’re all kind of figuring it out together, so it’s cool to like—I don’t know, I feel like I’d be intimidated if there was someone who was like, mad good at drums, like shreds. I’d be scared to play.
On their show in February
What was it like opening for Eskimaux? I heard they were one of your favorite bands.
H: Yeah, we saw them a few months ago. On my birthday, actually. We went to go see Girlpool and they were opening.
I just started listening to Girlpool and remember thinking they reminded me a lot of Sleepovers.
H: Definitely, yeah. I like Eskimaux way more now after opening for them, just ’cause she was so nice.
M: And also at first when I was listening to their music, I was like, ‘Oh, you know’ but I listen to it all the time now, like ‘This is really good songwriting.’
H: Also just knowing someone in a band—okay, we don’t know her that well, but like meeting her and talking to her—we texted each other—just makes the music so much more enjoyable. I don’t know. For me, at least.
Did you guys get to talk to her after?
H: They had to leave right after the show, but we chatted for a bit.
M: It was nice. She told us about her first show ever, and it was like this really hilarious story about some bubble tea place and she couldn’t see anything because— [laughs]
H: Because she scratched her cornea.
M: It’s not funny. [laughs]
H: Yeah it was really nice, and she was so supportive, and just meeting someone who’s like, famous, and having them tell you they like you--
M: It was really cool.
H: I freaked out a little bit. I also had a flash of like, ‘I’m gunna quit school. All I’m gunna play is music from now on.’
On actually starting a band
So what was the moment you decided to start a band? Like, when do you decide to do something when you’ve only been thinking about it?
M: I don’t know if we ever decided.
H: I wrote a song--
M: Yeah, [Hannah] wrote a song--
H: And I liked it—which had never happened before.
M: Was it the cat song?
H: No, it was “Philly.”
M: Yeah, you wrote “Philly” and I was like ‘damn, this is really good!’
H: Then I was like, ‘we should start a band’ and you were like ‘eh’ and I was like ‘please.’ And [Marina] was the one who didn’t want to start a band, and then Jacob was like, ‘all these people are playing at my house.’
M: Oh yeah, they had this like Sunday music festival thing at their house during the day, and Hannah was like ‘let’s
do it! Let’s perform there!’ and I was like, I don’t think we’re ready. We had “I Wanna Start a Band” and “Philly” and those were the only songs we’d ever written. We wrote them like two days before the show and then we were like, ‘shit, what do we do?’ Oh! And I had just bought that bass, too. I bought a bass from our other friend--
So you didn’t play bass before?
M+H: No. No no no.
M: Well, it’s kinda similar to guitar, so it wasn’t too difficult.
Yeah, I think about that too, like ‘I can definitely learn bass, probably.’
M: Yeah, it’s just a little harder to push down. [laughs]
H: But anyway, we played at it and we messed up a lot, but I mean, people came up to us afterward and said, like, ‘great job!’ and it just felt good. It just felt—I think both of us realized ‘damn, this feels good.’
On Sleepovers’ sound, name, and aesthetic
To me, it’s so clear what you are, just based on what your music sounds like and what your house looks like, and it’s so interesting that you manage to get that into your music. As someone who’s trying to write songs and failing miserably, I’m curious as to how you make songs that sound like you?
H: I’ve been trying to write songs for a really long time and I wrote a song that I like for the first time this year. I’ve also written a bunch of songs we never play because I’m not in love with them, but I just needed to like, get shit out so I just wrote it. But it’s like a keep-away.
Save for later.
H: Yeah. Or for never. [Laughs] Or just to like, have expelled from you. I kinda appreciate you saying that though, because I don’t really know, like–I have a hard time describing our band to, like, relatives and friends from home that ask, ‘What’s your music like?’ Like, eh, I don’t know.
I also feel that, because I’ve also been asked to describe your music and I’m like, ‘Uh, it’s kinda—uh, it’s soft I guess, but it’s like rock, uh, I don’t know.’
H: I just hate the word ‘indie’ and being like, ‘it’s indie.’ Because that doesn’t say anything about what it sounds like, it’s just like, ‘independent’? Okay, like we don’t have a record label? So what does that—that’s so many artists! What a stupid term.
J: [Sleepovers’ music] makes you feel happy and sad at the same time.
M: Yeah, you said that to me once.
To me, it feels exactly like a sleepover. It reminds me of sleepovers in like, fourth grade, and it’s so specific but for some reason all the details are right just in the way it sounds and the words you choose and, I don’t know, the vibe you give out. It’s all very cohesive.
H: That’s awesome. It’s funny you say that because that name just isn’t—like it wasn’t intentional at all. We were so frustrated trying to pick a name.
J: There were like, six different names.
H: Yeah, there were so many different names, and like, I liked one and Marina liked the other, and we were just sitting in here--
M: Every day we’d text each other being like, ‘what about this? What about this name?’
H: Like I’d walk down the street and see a package with like, ‘mermaid’ on it and be like, “Mermaid should be our band name.’
M: [Laughs] When did you see a package--
H: I don’t know! It was just like you’d see something and you’d be like, ‘this should be our band name.’ But we were sitting in here, in these exact same spots one night, and we had just finished writing a song and we were feeling loopy, and Marina was just like, ‘Sleepovers’ and I was like, ‘cool, that’s our name.’ It was like—boom. And we haven’t talked about it since. [Laughs]
M: We didn’t even deliberate or anything, like ‘Should that be it?’ We were just like, Sleepovers. Done. Don’t wanna think about it anymore.
What are your musical backgrounds like?
M: I’ve been singing in choir all my life, pretty much, and I took piano lessons for a while. My family’s pretty musical, I’d say, it’s not a huge thing about them, but just singing all the time I guess, just any chance I could get. I was in a Renaissance singing group in high school where we dressed up in Renaissance clothes and sang around the community. [Laughs]
M: You have to watch the videos. It was awesome. You know, haters gonna hate but it was so much fun. We’d go to like, old folks’ homes and sing for them.
They loved it, I bet.
M: They loved it! We looked like nerds, but whatever. [Hannah’s] been in a band before.
H: I was in a band but I was like a novelty. I was in the band to be the only girl in that band, you know what I mean?
Like a token girl?
H: Kind of. I also have a really hard time singing in front of people and I didn’t do it until this year. Like, at all. So this is a pretty new thing. I didn’t sing before this, really, but I’ve played guitar since I was 13. But only like—not real, like initial ‘I’m learning how to read music and play chords,’ I was like ‘teach me this Green Day song!’ [Laughs] I just wanted to learn songs that I liked.
And what about [Jacob]?
J: I feel like I’ve always been surrounded by music but I was never that serious about playing it, like I took piano lessons in third grade--
Right, because everyone does.
J: [Laughs] Yeah, and like I took guitar lessons in middle school, memorized some songs, still know ‘em and don’t know anything else. But my dad is a sound engineer, so until I was in third grade, he was on tour most of the time, so we would go visit him and I would go to shows. And my parents’ group of friends are like, all these musicians that were playing in Boston in the late 80s and 90s, like this band Morphine.
H: I know Morphine!
J: You know Morphine? Yeah, they’re like my family friends. [Laughs] I don’t know, at family gatherings there was always music, just—music everywhere in my house.
H: I have one thing to add, just ’cause it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done: when I was in high school, I was in an all-female rap group that would only play at parties at the end of the night called Red Lips Big Hips. I just wanna let you guys know that ’cause it’s the best name I’ll ever come up with.
On their best song
I’m interested in what you guys think is your best song, just because someone behind me at your show—right when you started playing a song—was like, ‘This is the best song they’ve ever written’ and I’m interested to hear what you guys think it was.
M: Ooh, we have to guess? Hmm, I don’t know.
H: Wait, do you wanna know something kinda funny?
H: At our last show, our roommate was there and afterwards, she was like, ‘The guy behind me just kept being like, ‘The blonde one’s really hot’ [laughs].
M: [Laughs] I was so pained and proud at the same time. But our best song…I feel like the songs we write together, in the moment, are our favorites to play.
H: Also, every time Marina—we’ll send each other things that we’re working on by ourselves, and every time Marina sends me a song, I’m like, ‘this is my favorite one you’ve ever written.
M: [Laughs] That’s how I feel about yours!
H: Every time she sends me a new one. I hope that sentiment doesn’t like, lose its value cos every time I’m like, ‘ah, this is the best one.’ But I do really—I love your songs.
M: Aw, thanks.
H: I don’t play anything on “Hot Dog Song” but I think it’s my favorite one to play because it’s just so fun.
It is! It sounds a lot like First Aid Kit to me, just in terms of the vocals.
M: Oh, yeah, I do see that.
H: Also, I hated playing “Philly” because I was just so over it until we added the yelling part.
M: Yeah, I think the most fun to play, for me, is “Hot Dog Song.” At this moment in time. [pause] What about you, Jacob?
H: Yeah, what’s our best song, Jacob?
J: Well, fun to play is different from the best. I think some of the best songs are the ones where I do the least. [Laughs] But um, hmm…
Or, what’s your favorite?
J: I don’t know, “Too Nice Outside”? That’s always been my favorite. That song gives me the chills.
M: Oh, wait, I actually retract my answer for most fun to play personally—it’s “Dark Thoughts” because I get to play the xylophone.
I love that song, it’s one of my favorites. Honestly, it’s a tie between that one and “Neighbors” for my fave on the new release.
H: Really? I never wanna play “Neighbors”!
I really liked it!
H: Shit! Thanks!
Was that real?
H: Yeah, I was here alone one night and our next-door neighbors were having a really loud, sad breakup, and I was playing music already and just like, ‘these are two chords and here are some words…’ [Laughs]
Yeah, I really like that one. The one that the audience member behind me said was your best was “I Wanna Start a Band,” which I also think is tip-top.
M: I think that’s the first song I’ve written that I’ve ever showed anyone. And then we finished it together.
H: We did finish it together.
M: The last verse and then the yelling part.
J: That’s the anthem.
The yelling is really good. And it sounded really good with the drums too.
M: The drum really changes the game.
It does. It was a game changer.
H: The thing too is like—keeping rhythm, we didn’t worry about it when it was just the two of us ’cause we’d just be like ‘this part’s fast, this part’s slow’ but then Jacob came in and we were like, fuck. [Laughs] “I Wanna Start a Band” was so hard to learn ’cause there were so many changes.
Yeah, I love when songs go through tempo changes though. My personal favorite of yours would have to be—I just have “Whiskey Song” stuck in my head all the time. Like, since I first heard it.
H: Written on this floor.
M: That was the first song we wrote together.
H: Marina spilled whiskey all over my floor—look, there’s a stain right there.
Oh my god, the stain!
H: The stain! And then we wrote that song together.