After leaving St. Louis, once-local favorite Sleepy Kitty looks back with new album
But Brubeck’s continued recovery from the vocal surgery that had sidelined her, and the couple’s move to Brooklyn in 2019, slowed completion of their long-awaited third album. They were further held back by supply chain problems that left them waiting an extra year for vinyl to press the new record.
“Blessing/Curse” is now out. The duo recorded most of the album in St. Louis. It features the group’s signature swirl of crunching guitar, room-shaking drums and easy-gliding melodies that tend to slide into the brain and bounce around for a while.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Jeremy D. Goodwin spoke with Brubeck and Sult about the launch of Sleepy Kitty’s next era.
Jeremy D. Goodwin: Why did you think it was time to leave St. Louis?
Paige Brubeck: We reflected on the past decade and were just thinking, if we were ever going to move to New York, that might be the time to do it. We had that moment where, like, things are good right now, but I also don’t know what we would do next — at this moment, in this space, in this way. So let’s pause and take a picture. Let’s kind of tie this up in a nice little bow.
We wish St. Louis well, and we feel the well-wishes from St. Louis.
Goodwin: When did you record the album?
Brubeck: We had been kind of recording before my vocal surgery, and after and kind of all through the last few years.
We had a slow return back to playing out because of the pandemic. But once we began to realize that it was going to take a while and we would just hunker down and make stuff at home, we figured, let’s finally finish this record we’ve been working on for years.
Evan Sult: It was an ongoing process that we were still in the middle of, until the pandemic kind of us informed us that it was, in fact, a body of work. As soon as the pandemic hit, we realized it was just going to be a chapter break, whether we wanted it to or not.
And once we started looking at our music it actually revealed itself — as so often happens when you’re writing music, or a book or lyrics or an article or so many things – it revealed its complexity and its completeness. Once we figured out the track order it started to really feel like it had the narrative completeness that we hadn’t yet seen in it, which was so fantastic to discover.
Goodwin: Now that it’s done and it’s out there, how do you feel about the album?
Sult: There’s a liveliness to the songs and kind of a directness to the songs that isn’t any more simple, but it’s speaking more forcefully, in some ways that I really feel related to where we are now.
I’m also a big fan of the guitar parts on this album. There are some fantastic guitar solos and just some really great playing and some really great flavors on the album.
Brubeck: We really just kind of made exactly what we wanted to make this time and really did not worry about how we’d play the songs live. Some of these were songs we had done in the typical Sleepy Kitty fashion of Evan and me playing all of the instrumental tracks. But with a large portion of this record, we had a collaborator, Benjamin Sure, playing with us, and we brought him in really early in the process.
Musically. I think this is some of the best work I've ever done in Sleepy Kitty. Some of it was very, very intense — as you know as well as anybody, from doing the piece on our comeback after the vocal surgery. A lot of these vocal parts are some of the most challenging things I’ve sung on our recordings. And figuring out how to build a live set that is actually do-able can be tricky.
Goodwin: Do you feel like you have your voice back?
Brubeck: I really do. And I feel so lucky about that, and so thankful that I was able to get that surgery and that my health insurance covered it. And I’m so thankful that Evan helped me psychologically get through the whole thing and was very patient.
But I do feel an ease singing again, like it’s just an extension of my being again.
Goodwin: The album closes with “September,” a song Paige recorded by herself at your old Cherokee Street space. You’re singing about “why I had to go,” and fans will be tempted to hear that song as addressing your departure from St. Louis. Is that fair?
Brubeck: For a long time I didn’t want to put it on the record. But I was speaking from the heart at a certain time. And there were some professional frustrations. But I will say that we didn’t leave until a long time after I recorded that. We didn’t leave St. Louis with middle fingers up, the way I’ve seen other people leave St. Louis, and sometimes maybe rightfully so.
We’ve had so much support, and a lot of actual luck and a lot of people helping us out in St. Louis. And we are so thankful for that.
Sult: We did not leave St. Louis angry and we didn’t leave unhappy. It wasn’t like that.
This album is extremely wound up in St. Louis. We’re talking as people who live in St. Louis, loving our city and having our frustrations there, too. It’s a complex relationship.
I hear this album and I feel very aware of things that I think of as part of a golden era of St. Louis music scene — who was playing around town and where we were playing around town and who you would run into at shows — all of the things where it really felt like a giant family.