Rock Eupora, Sleepy Drums
Sleepy Drums are an alternative rock band from the Lo Fi City collective of Cincinnati that channel inspiration from punk, grunge, psych and more.
Rock Eupora, the moniker for Mississippi-bred, Nashville-based artist Clayton Waller, has always been a heart-on-your-sleeve musical endeavor. From his earliest recordings, Waller has never been afraid to ask the big, searching questions of life. Catchy, hooky pop sensibilities have similarly been a consistent through-line in Rock Eupora’s catalogue. Featuring singable, fuzzed-out guitar hooks and stuck-in-your-head-all-afternoon choruses, the discography of Rock Eupora––including three full-length albums, two EPs, and a smattering of singles to date––brings to mind Blue Album-era Weezer or the high-energy, hard-charging, harmony-laden early Beatles singles.
These defining features are still present in Pick At The Scab, Rock Eupora’s latest full-length album, and yet, something feels different.
“I wanted to let the songs breathe a bit,” Waller says of his mindset while writing the material that would become the songs for Pick At The Scab. “I gravitate towards writing up-beat, high energy songs, but this time around, I decided to lean back a little and let the songs speak for themselves.”
In Pick At The Scab, the listener hears Waller opening sores––admitting personal struggles, asking existential questions, exploring new sonic territory––and exposing them to the light, reaching beyond himself with emotionally honest lyrics and ambitious musical arrangements. “Feels like I’m going out on a limb with a crack in it over and over again,” he admits on the back side of the album. Indeed, Pick At The Scab is the most adventurous Rock Eupora release to date: lush acoustic guitars pepper the album where once you might’ve heard punchy power chords; warbly organs and swirling synths peer out from behind corners; hushed four-track recordings flow seamlessly into wall-of-sound production; horn sections and orchestral string arrangements soar into the picture, joining the cast of anthemic choruses and earwormy guitar hooks that Waller has made a trademark of Rock Eupora’s sound.
To Waller, those subtle but distinctive sonic shifts are very much part of the album’s character: “Maybe the most notable difference,” he says, “is the complete lack of reverb on the album. It started as a fun creative boundary, but it ended up really becoming a defining feature of the album and driving home the thematic spirit of the lyrics. The vocals are right up front and in your face; the instruments are clear and intentional. Everything has its place and yet there’s still a beautiful roughness thanks in part to my unpretentious home recording setup, as well as a two-inch tape transfer.”
Beautiful roughness can be found in the lyrical content of the album as well, as Waller assumes a braver, more mature posture, taking the weighty questions in his previous works and making them even more personal. A lyric like “Real words hurt at first, but they will later heal/ my broken heart; ‘cause love won’t last forever” from 2016’s Soon the Sun Will Come now gives way to a declaration that stings like an open sore: “It’s been a long time since I’ve let people in this close,” he sings on Pick At The Scab’s opening track, “I Love You Because I Want To.” These are no mere philosophical platitudes; rather, Waller has looked inward and emerged with deeply personal revelations: “I felt alone for so long I didn’t even know/ that I was scared of being known.” The plainspoken honesty of the album is refreshing; Waller is not wailing in anguish, nor is he sugarcoating feelings––rather, he is acknowledging them for what they are: real, true, unavoidable parts of life.
“I have the tendency to want to fix or heal myself,” Waller says, reflecting on the inspiration behind the LP. “This album is very much me trying to ‘pick at the scab’ of my life. The motive is generally pure: I want to clear the scab away so as to speed up the healing process. We all know that picking at a scab usually results in a reopened wound and a bloody mess, further delaying the healing process. And yet we keep picking.”
A casual observer could quickly confirm Waller’s assertion that Pick At The Scab is his “saddest” album to date; all it takes is a quick perusal of the tracklist, featuring titles such as “Nothing Ever Happens,” “I Will Never Be Happy,” “Can You Feel The Weight?,” and “I Don’t Want To Feel Anything Anymore.” And, in fairness, such an observation is not wrong: Pick At The Scab strikes a more melancholic, reflective, raw pose than previous Rock Eupora recordings. The sparse, quiet, mournful “I Will Never Be Happy” feels a world away from the loud, party-ready anthems such as “Things 2 Say,” from the 2019 EP Twirlin’, a collection that shares more in common with “Blitzkrieg Bop” than the Rivers Cuomo home recordings which might make a nice companion piece to Pick At The Scab.
But it is part of Rock Eupora’s DNA to contain such multitudes and even contradictions, for to dwell on the sense of sorrow and isolation that runs throughout Pick At The Scab would be to diminish the album’s breadth and humanity. “I'm somewhat of an optimist and am often tempted to inject a redemptive arc into my songs,” Waller says. “But for PATS, I wanted to be as honest as possible and just let the songs be what they are––not try to force a happy ending, not try to convince anyone of anything. That’s not to say there’s not an underlying hope. For example, the trajectory of the album suggests that healing begins when we stop trying to force it. Instead of trying to change myself or obsess over imperfections, I’ve learned to accept the messiness that surrounds me and love my beautiful, broken self––right where I am.”
This delicate balance also speaks to the very personal album’s effect on its listener. On one hand, Pick At The Scab belongs solely to its creator––Waller wrote all the songs and arrangements and recorded and mixed the album himself, mostly during the nearly-two-year stretch of the global pandemic when Rock Eupora was forced off the road and Waller was left to turn inward: “As unfortunate as this pandemic has been, slowing down ended up being a lifesaver. I was able to really dig through some stuff that I’d been running from for a long time. The last couple of years ended up being a much-needed time of introspection that brought a lot of insight and clarity to my life, which I think spilled over into the album.”
And yet, even while the listener understands that Pick At The Scab is uniquely a product of Clayton Waller’s mind and heart, the album cannot help but be universally human and celebratory in its reach and scope. The album is the first in Rock Eupora’s discography to include other musicians besides Waller himself, and in the “real world,” Rock Eupora is a collective, a touring rock band bringing loud, live, exuberant joy to the songs Waller is sharing with his audience each night on the road. It’s a collaborative celebration described best in Pick At The Scab’s closing track, the aptly named “Ode To My Friends”: “I get so caught up in my life I forget that the source of my delight isn’t from within.”
Rock Eupora began when Waller was a senior in college. Each subsequent release has seen a broadening of scope and range, and Pick At The Scab is the logical successor to that tradition. Alongside every familiar influence––The Shins, Band of Horses, The Beach Boys––is a new friend, a Baby Huey, a Steely Dan, an Elizabeth Cotten, and, yes, even a Beyonce. Put simply, on Pick At The Scab, Rock Eupora is arriving at a destination: Waller, now thirty, has chosen to feel everything, instead of fighting to suppress or ignore the unpleasant or unknown. In so doing, in “feeling all of myself,” Waller has painted a rich, multivariate self-portrait. Through experimentation with new songs and sounds, confronting painful personal issues head-on, striving to find the balance between despair and joy, silliness and seriousness, heartbreak and love, the personal and the universal, Pick At The Scab delivers a full-bodied expression of what it means to live and to feel alive, an experience meant to be felt in a music venue together with others just as much as it can be heard between one’s own ears. At risk of falling into silver-lining-along-every-cloud cliches, it is best to let Waller himself describe the experience of Pick At The Scab: “There is no gladness apart from sadness.”
Sleepy Drums brings together a close knit group of friends who have collaborated for years. This project hones in on the creative focus of J. Stout, the founder of Lo Fi City, a Cincinnati based DIY record label; and channels inspirations ranging from punk, grunge, psych and more.
Beginning as a solo side project, J. Stout crafted the first Sleepy Drums album "Spooky" in 2012. This album served as an experimental outlet, with ranging genre styles. In 2015, J. Stout decided to switch the focus from free form experimentation to garage punk and lo fi indie rock, somewhat in the vein of fellow Ohio rockers Guided By Voices. Once again, he recorded and performed the next Sleepy Drums EP "Lucy" on his own, self-releasing it on Lo Fi City Recordings.
Once both Dinosaurs & Thunder and Little Trees (J. Stout's other bands at the time) began to dissolve, Sleepy Drums emerged to the forefront of creative focus. Calling on long time friends Michael J Hamilton (Revenge Pinata, Flux Capacitors) and Christopher Berning, Stout finally turned the project from a solo endeavor to a full fledged-band, releasing "Cosmic Imagination pt. 1" in late 2015. Joshua Bradbury, known for his bass work in Dinosaurs & Thunder, was added to the lineup in 2016, assuming the rhythm guitar position.
"Cosmic Imagination pt. 2" was released on August 5, 2018 and expanded their experimentalism while also honing in on their now trademark sound.
They entered the studio with Todd Uttley to begin recording their next album in 2019, but the pandemic thwarted it's progress, eventually forcing the album to be completed remotely.
In the meantime of finishing this album, Sleepy Drums released a series of singles, many from the sessions with Todd, that solidified their new sound with much more clarity of vision.
"Cosmic Scraps," a collection of previously unreleased demos and b-sides was released exclusively to Bandcamp on August 24, 2022.