Returning from the U.S. consulate in Perth, Australia, The Sleepy Jackson drummer Malcolm Clark sounds positively jubilant. Don't know why, really-the American officials neither denied nor approved his band's request for a visa to tour our country. But with the way things are going for his band, there's a lot to smile about.
The Sleepy Jackson is on a roll. On the road for a solid 12 months, the four-piece brainchild of frontman Luke Steele has conquered the psyched-out, guitar-strummed hearts of everyone from London to L.A. and back again. In a jolly Australian accent, Clark begins to discuss the music industry and his hometown of Perth, but he's quickly interrupted by an eager voice in the background.
Who is that? Who are you talking to? the voice inquires.
"It's San Diego calling," Clark answers, before turning back to our conversation. "That's Luke, and he just gave you a jolly hello. In fact, it's so big, it's like the whole of Perth just waved hello."
Clark must realize just how possible that is. With a little more than 1 million people, Perth is the only major city on the sparsely populated west coast of Australia. In a city where the most common career is in the mining industry, Steele and his cohorts kicked up quite a commotion when they started playing music in 1999. They had moderate success playing the local scene, but really found success when Clark joined three years ago.
"It's kind of like this band has subconsciously been trying to find the right lineup and some day all the right people will join, like they have now," Clark says. "Hopefully it works and you stay together forever like The Beatles."
Lovers, Sleepy Jackson's debut for Astralwerks Records, is a hop, skip and a jump from the Fab Four. Steele has the gee-haw country voice down pat and his strumming echoes the simplicity of classic Brit-pop on the disc's first single, "This Day." The album also churns jangly alt-country ballads ("Come to This") and psychedelic dance numbers ("Tell the Girls I'm Not Hanging Out"). Accolades have been pouring in from Rolling Stone, CMJ and NME. Sleepy Jackson played a showcase for the latter magazine's annual awards show.
"I was losing myself, going, "Oh my god-it's Thom Yorke at the table next to us and he's got his fingers in his ears!'" Clark giggles about Radiohead's frontman, who will play alongside The Sleepy Jackson at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in May.
"I was star-struck a bit that night," Clark admits. "But then I met John McEnroe in Sydney a bit ago and he was hanging out in a hotel lobby. I fawn over tennis players, too. He had a T-shirt that said-excuse my language-Get fucked you fucking fucker. It was great!"
If one were the sort to go by rumors, it wouldn't seem inappropriate for Clark's vocalist to wear the very same T-shirt. Luke Steele is reportedly a bastard of a musician to work with. The son of blues singer Rick Steele, it was Luke who named the band. Some reports say Sleepy Jackson was a narcoleptic drummer who worked with his father. Others say it's the name of a drug. Clark doesn't even know the truth.
"A lot of people have asked what the name means, and I've asked what the name means, and I think the truth is that none of us know what it means," he says. "I guess some day Luke will tell me [the truth], but whether I believe him or not is a different story.
"When it comes down to it, we're just this little Perth band-we're big fish in our small little pond. But everywhere else we're the smallest fish in the biggest pond, and the only thing we want to do is make our music, which I think we do relatively well."The Sleepy Jackson plays with Earlimart and On the Speakers (ex-Creeper Lagoon) at The Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on March 13. $10. 619-232-HELL.