There's something Southern about Sleepy Eye Giant's musical and lyrical charm. It's apparent in their polite demeanor and mildly disheveled look. It's present within the fluidity of their music, and it sneaks into the poetic leanings of their lyrics.
Speaking with City Paper over a few pints at Moe's Crosstown, lead singer and guitarist Wil York and drummer/keyboardist Lucas Rhoad were willing to touch on their Carolina-based Southern-ness and divulge a few trade secrets and band plans.
"I was reading a review today of Dead Confederate and how they've lost their Southern roots or something," says York. "I thought, 'Well, I wonder if we're Southern?' I think so ... I mean, we are Southern boys."
York grew up in Charlotte and Mt. Holly, N.C. He played guitar in garage bands in college and afterward. Rhoad grew up in the midstate South Carolina town of Bamberg. He picked up playing drums from his dad. The two met through a mutual friend while attending Erskine College in Due West. They relocated to Charleston just a few years ago and set up a band room on James Island.
With a guitar 'n' drums configuration resembling those of The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Flat Duo Jets, and Jucifer, York and Road moved ahead as a rock duo with a dash of elegance and a slightly raw delivery.
"I've always enjoyed music that has imperfections," York says. "It's more real. The sound really happened. The flaws and shortcomings can enhance the personality of the music."
On stage, York handles a trebly fender Telecaster and taps a Roland MIDI pedal board with his foot (the same way an organist handles the bass-tone pedals). He has colored pieces of tape on certain pedals to remind him which notes are where. Rhoad presses his keys by hand at the side of his kit. There are small pieces of tape on his keys, too.
"Listen to older bands like The Cars and Tears for Fears and listen to newer bands like The Arcade Fire and Spoon, who are using older keyboard sounds," says Rhoad. "We don't want to go back to that style entirely, but it's really fun to keep those old tones going. The biggest challenge early on was filling that space. Now the challenge is to not overplay."
They went for a garage/lo-fi aesthetic, but their playing, with its suprisingly full sound, has attracted local indie fans. The band's recent demos were recorded at a home studio with engineer Brian Hatchell.
"We recorded low-budget and low-key," says York. "As part of our trade, we actually bought Brian some nice headphones."
The tracks demonstrate the duo's gentle dynamic. "Dead Weight" is pulsating and hypnotic. There's a bit of anxious stiffness in "Hurt Someone," a song with a gradual build-up and yelpy singing. "Shut Your Mouth" bounces with a bulbous bass line, chirpy electric guitar, and an antique disco beat (a la Talking Heads or Split Enz).
Sleepy Eye Giant already has plans to record another batch of tunes this year, and they hope to utilize their gear more efficiently and effectively, with a few more overdubs and double-trackings.
"When we recorded the first batch, we were okay with layering a little extra percussion, but we didn't want to record extra parts that would be missed live," says Rhoad. "We didn't want to fall short on the sound."
York agrees, but he's fascinated by the idea of enhancing their song arrangements and production quality. "Recording is helpful for scrutinizing your music," he says. "And it's helpful to record with an engineer you can trust. You can play how you want to. Having two people can be a limiting thing, but we can actually do it."