Interview performed and transcribed by Landon Defever.
Things are starting to look up for Chicago pop-punk/emo quintet Sleep On It. Less than a year ago, the band was without a vocalist, label representation and unsure of the direction they wanted to take together. And, at the time, vocalist Zech Pluister was in a similar place. As he was winding down with his former band Bonfires, the vocalist became uncertain of where his musical career would take him.
Flash forward to present day, and things have changed for both parties, as Pluister found a home shortly before 2016 with Sleep On It, and the band have found solid footing in the certainty of their bright future. Now with the band having released their latest EP Lost Along the Way just a few weeks ago on Equal Vision Records, Sleep On It has nowhere to go but up as they continue to make headway in not only the Chicago-based music scene, but in the worlds of pop-punk and emo as well.
Vocalist Zech Pluister recently discussed Sleep On It with Mind Equals Blown, as well as joining the band, how loss influenced his writing, recording with State Champs vocalist Derek DiScanio, and what he’s learned from being in bands for nearly a decade.
When did the guys in Sleep On It reach out to you about joining the band?
The other members approached me back in January of this year. They knew I was leaving my band because I had been close friends with them for quite a while between playing shows together and what-not. Jake (guitar), who’s been one of my good friends for about five years, after I played my last show, he told me, “Look, we don’t have a singer – would you be interested?” Basically, they bought me a drink, we all sat down and talked about what we both wanted. I decided to audition, and we’re now here, which is pretty cool.
When did Equal Vision approach you about signing?
I’ve known Johnny Minardi for a few years. He was a fan of my old band, and we had gotten lunch a couple of times and hung out just as friends. When I joined Sleep On It, he hit me up and said, “You know I love you and love those dudes, let me know when you guys get some demos together, I want to hear them.” It was one of those things where I didn’t think about it at first, I thought he was just saying, “Oh, hey, that’s Johnny, my buddy wants to know what I’m up to.” We got together, wrote two songs and demoed them out. I emailed them over to him and he told me he was going to come over to the house, saying he wanted to hear us play. It was pretty much immediate, honestly, looking back at it. After just two demos and hearing us practice, he was in, which was the gnarliest thing in the world.
The lyrics for Lost Along the Way touch on the idea of loss and the type of loss that all of the members of Sleep On It have experienced over the past few years. Could you talk a little more into the idea of what that loss was, and how it influenced your writing?
When we say “loss,” and the thought of “loss,” it’s pretty much on every spectrum. They had lost their singer after parting ways with him, and I had lost my band after parting ways with them, which in a way is a family aspect, because being in a band is a lot like being in a family. I have personally just gotten out of a relationship. I had lost my grandpa early last year, someone that was very close to me. Really, it all kind of happened in a short amount of time that it was just one of those things where it kind of caught up with me around the time that I had joined Sleep On It, and it was like the world stopped. TJ, who writes most of the lyrics with me, he was kind of having the same thought process, so once we started writing, we had been talking about a name for our EP, we realized the constant theme was changing and how loss changes your perspective. They were all going through the exact same thing that I was. That was kind of the constant theme: Loss changes things, and make you put life into perspective, taking what you have and running with it instead of staring at it, wondering what could get better and how your life isn’t exactly what you want it to be.
How did you and TJ split songwriting duties? Do you each write your own material, or do you collaborate?
We collaborate probably about 95% of the time. With this record, we each individually wrote two songs, but on “See You Around,” we kind of collaborated on. It wasn’t at practice or anything, where we said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea…” and we would work on it. It was kind of strange for me because I’m used to being 100% collaborative. This time, I had so much downtime between recording the last thing I had done, and now I had a few fully formed songs to work from. Right now, the stuff we’re currently working on though is 100% collaborative. TJ will send me a verse or chorus idea, I’ll branch off of that and we’ll bounce ideas off each other.
For the EP, you recorded with Seth Henderson, who’s done work with bands like Real Friends and Knuckle Puck, as well as State Champs’ vocalist Derek DiScanio. What was it like having their help and input, and what did they add to the direction?
Seth Henderson is a genius. I’ve worked with Seth on every song I’ve ever recorded. Back in the day when I was growing up, Chicago was a force to be reckoned with (though it still is in a lot of ways) – every band was incredible. The real reason I wanted to be in a band was from going to local shows. I used to be in a band called The Stereo, which I was in love with, and a lot of people in the scene at the time were recording with Seth Henderson. The music sounded great, but there was a reason that people went to Seth Henderson. When I was in a band that was ready to record, I told the guys that we should save up money to do an EP with him, and we had the greatest experience with him that we’d ever had. And now, five years later, we’re best friends and we had grown together. He had such an ear for melody and the small little changes that make a song sparkle, in a way. He and I just kind of clicked on that creative level, and we were always on the same page.
With Derek, it goes without saying that he’s phenomenally talented as both a vocalist and a songwriter. All of us are huge fans of State Champs, and they’re one of my favorite bands around right now. I think everything that they’re doing is clicking perfectly. That band rules. Derek had worked with Seth previously when they recorded the (new) Rarity record. It was one of those things where we had a connection with him and I really wanted to work with him. As someone that was doing a lot of things that I wanted to do, we decided to get together and make it work. So, Johnny reached out to see if he’d be interested, and it didn’t take much after we sent him the demos. What happened after was magic – he came in the first day and had huge ideas for our songs. Everything he’d brought to the table was gold, and it brought the EP to a whole new level.
Being a band from Chicago, what stands out to you about Chicago’s music scene?
The biggest thing for me is the support. Everyone here is so unwaveringly supportive of everyone else, which is incredible. I’ve been in bands for upwards of ten years, as well as actually playing regularly in bands for six years, and everywhere I’ve gone, I always try to pay attention to local scenes because, honestly, I grew up kind of spoiled living in Chicago – a place where everybody was friends and liked to play shows together. If you were playing a show, everybody came out to your show. I would go on tours and didn’t see that other places, which was strange to me, because that’s how I always thought it worked everywhere else. It’s that, and there’s so much talent here. There are so many great bands coming up right now that nobody has probably even heard yet, who are still playing basement shows to their friends. It’s always been that way.
When we lost Mojo’s in the local scene a few years ago, one of the big music venues that everybody loved, it was the reason a lot of people knew about bands because everyone would just hang out there. Thanks to bands like Real Friends and Knuckle Puck though, I’d like to think we’re the next wave in that, we’re starting to bring attention back to our scene and kind of make it known that the reason this scene works is because we support each other, all go to shows and love each other. We’re all here to just do shit we love because this is all we know how to do.
From being in bands for ten years now and professionally for the last six of them, what have you learned from doing this for so long?
Hmm, that’s a good one. I would probably say, from playing music for so long and going from being awful to doing what I’m doing now, I think the biggest thing for me was learning to take criticism correctly. Being in a band at a young age, you do it because you look up to people, and seeing friends and people you don’t even know do something that you wish you could be doing. But, at a young age, as well as when you’re just starting out, you quickly find out that you’re not really good at anything. Back then, I liked Fall Out Boy and I wanted to just play something that sounded like “Sugar, We’re Going Down” seven times, and I’m probably going to cover it too.
Growing up, and it kind of goes back to growing up in the Chicago scene too, what drove me to be better was playing shows with my friends, and playing shows with those bands that I looked up to. And I was always asking people, “What did you think?” and something that I always took from that was that you always have to honest with yourself in a way. If you start off your band thinking, “Yo, we’re the shit,” you’re never going to get anywhere. With me, when I started playing in music, I didn’t want to sing – I wanted to play drums or guitar. For a while because of that, I never took singing very seriously. Out of everyone though, I was the better singer, so I took the role and wasn’t very happy about it. But now, here I am, and I fucking love what I do more than anything.
Sleep On It’s new EP “Lost Along the Way” can be found on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify and Bandcamp, and will be announcing their final show of the year very soon, and final show before beginning to write their debut full-length record.