An Interview with Sleeping At Last
Recently we had the privilege to interview Ryan O’Neal, the mind behind Sleeping At Last. Formed in 1999, Sleeping At Last released several records in the mid-2000s as a group before being converted into a solo vehicle for O’Neal’s music. At present his output largely takes the form of EPs, continuations of his ambitious Atlas project, which Ryan discusses below. Along with the rest of Sleeping At Last’s discography, Atlas: Year 1 and Year 2, compilations of singles and EPs released under the umbrella of the Atlas project, can be purchased or heard online.
We have noticed how many of Atlas' songs deal with deeply interpersonal matters which seem to underscore the size and scale of the project. We wonder if this could be a perspective on the smallness or intimacy of the known universe or "Atlas,” perhaps a word on the enormity or importance of relationships, or both. Do you have any comment? What does the Atlas project signify for you?
As a whole, the project is a series of songs written about the known universe, and the specks of life within it. Obviously, that’s a large subject to cover, so my way of navigating such massive themes is to hold a magnifying glass up to what I know. So each song holds the larger theme in one hand (as a sort of guide or template) and in the other, there’s my small and limited, but personal experience. So, though I creatively love writing under the huge themes of Atlas, in the end, these are all pages out of my own journal. The themes are my creative guide.
Do you ever see the Atlas project being completed?
Atlas: Year Three will definitely come next and after that, I’m still deciding what it will look like! I absolutely love writing under the Atlas themes--it’s so much fun to research each one and interpret things like the senses into music, so I could see myself continuing on as long as it’s inspired. But I am also telling a specific story throughout the project, which does have an ending in mind. So, it’s just a matter of me deciding what will come before then.
Have you given any thought to what you would want to do after Atlas?
I have quite a few other ideas that would be a lot of fun to pursue, but nothing concrete just yet. Who knows, I may even make a regular full-length album again at some point.
If you do not object to our calling your later work in Sleeping At Last mostly solo, could you speak about how having, presumably, complete creative control has altered your creative process?
No objections here! Sleeping At Last has always been my songs and my writing. I’m a pretty solitary writer, so it was a very natural progression when my brother, Chad and my friend, Dan went on to pursue other things several years ago. Even more than being a solo though, being an independent musician has played a bigger role in allowing me to create exactly what I want to create. Projects like my “Yearbook” or “Atlas” would probably not get a lot of support from a record label. So, my independence has been incredibly inspiring to be able to take some risks and creatively stretch myself as much as I want.
Did this change in lineup constitute a natural change in direction or was the shift from album based output to largely EP output merely coincidental?
I’d say it was coincidental. It began with my project, “Yearbook” which was writing/releasing three new songs every month for one year. Those 36 songs were a result of me wanting to write WAY more than I had before, because it’s the thing I love most about music. As the project went along, it became obvious that the format of releasing a lot of music, rather than an occasional album, was really healthy creatively and ended up being a very successful model for reaching a wider audience and further engaging the listeners more frequently.
Are there any writers or musical artists that have inspired you, shaped or affected your artistic output?
Growing up, it was Radiohead and Sunny Day Real Estate that had the most impact on me. Radiohead taught me that exploration in music can be beautiful and fascinating and Sunny Day Real Estate taught me that emotional songs, sung by a male singer singing in a higher range could be cool! Nick Drake, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Nat King Cole, Joanna Newsom and Bjork have all had a huge hand in inspiring the heck out of me over the years too.
Is there anything that you have been listening to and absorbing lately that you particularly enjoy?
I write so much that I’ve had a hard time carving out time to listen to music! It's silly, so I’ve been working hard at making room to listen a lot more lately. As a result, I’ve created a Spotify playlist called “Music I Love Right Now” and that’s been a fun practice for discovering new stuff I love and adding it to the playlist as I come across it. Keeps me remembering to listen.