On July 6th, we interviewed Alex Kandel lead singer from the Bowling Green, Kentucky-based band Sleeper Agent. Dubbed “a band to watch” by Rolling Stone Magazine, Sleeper Agent continues to gain momentum and acquires new fans with every show played. Keep reading to learn about how Alex feels about fame, representing Kentucky, and recording a solo album.
GetOutLouisville.com: Tell me a little about yourself and how you made your way into music?
Alex Kandel: I grew up in North East Ohio, and I think I was 5 years old when my mom first had me in some type of music lesson. The first was piano, while she could afford it; my mom was going to college at the same time. As I got older it switched from piano to guitar and then also flute because I was in band. While I was in Ohio, I lived right down the street from the music store, so I was always in there bugging them. I would talk to everyone there and I’ve always just been attracted to it (music). Then my freshmen year of high school I moved to Kentucky and I didn’t really have any friends, because I had just moved a whole state and everyone already knew each other. They all went to school with each other from kindergarten to high school, so I was just out-of-place for a little while. That summer before school started, when I really didn’t have any friends I just had my acoustic guitar and spent a lot time with that. I decided rather than perusing sports or even concert band in high school, I was just going to try and write on my own and find people to play with me. I did, I found a couple kids close to my age that were also doing what I was doing and I started playing with them.
GOL.com: How did you become a part of Sleeper Agent?
AK: I was about 15 or 16 when I started working at coffee shops and became their booking agent for bands that would come in. So I met a lot of people through that. Bowling Green is a really small, but very tight-knit music scene. So once you know a few people, you start to know everyone that’s in music there. I didn’t really meet them through that, but eventually a band I booked opened up for them and they found out about me that way. My agent kind of looked the other way, because they were a lot older than me. Then I posted a song I had recorded on my Facebook and Tony who I was friends with through my bookings, heard it and wanted to do an acoustic project with me. I told him no because I wanted to be in a band, and things kind of went on from there.
GOL.com: I see that your online store has shirts that say “Making KY Proud”, how much of an influence does being from KY have on the band and their sounds?
AK: A lot actually, where we live in Bowling Green is so close to Nashville and Louisville so we’re lucky enough to have this community of musicians in Bowling Green. We play out a lot since those two cities are so close, but you’re not playing to the same people if you don’t want to. It allowed us to get all the kinks out in Bowling Green and be able to showcase it in bigger cities easily. Plus everyone just likes to count you out when you go to other places around the world. People have this weird ideal about Kentucky, and it’s always nice to surprise them.
GOL.com: Do you feel any extra pressure to represent for the state of Kentucky?
AK: No, I don’t necessary feel any pressure. I already know that we have so much love in Kentucky for what we do. There’s no pressure because we’ll always keep doing what we do. When we go places, there will be kids who say they either want to go to school in New York or Bowling Green. We’re like what, how are those your two options (both laugh)? It’s because they want to pursue music and they’ve heard a lot of their favorite bands come out of Kentucky so they think there’s this huge music scene here. It’s just interesting to have an impact on kids.
GOL.com: You’re nominated for Rolling Stone’s ”Women Who Rock Reader’s Choice”, how important is fame and recognition to you?
AK: Personally, not very much. The reason I would do things like that is Rolling Stone have been huge supporters of us so when they asked me to do it, it was like of course. They have helped me and the band out so much, they were there since the beginning. Also the only thing that it’s going to do is just get more people to discover our band. That’s all I care about, is just more people listening to us and hopefully connecting with the music. It’s all about growing this project into something more and there’s no such thing as making it, you’ll always want to do bigger and better things. I’m just really excited about this next recorded we are working on and I think the more people that are waiting on it, the better it will be.
GOL.com: Since you have been in the band Sleeper Agent tell me about some surreal moments you have had, maybe playing somewhere or meeting someone?
AK: There have been a bunch, but I’ll name two. We met the Strokes and it was really surreal for me because they were one of the first bands that I got into. So to be sitting on a couch next to Julian (Casablancas) chatting, was the most bizarre thing. Our friends Cage (The Elephant) were touring with the Foo Fighters, and while we were on tour we went through a city they were in on our day off. So we just stopped by to say hi and while I was talking to Matt (Shultz), Dave (Grohl) walked up and starting talking to Matt; I didn’t even say a word I just stood there. That was really a surreal moment, because I immediately called my dad. To be able to call my dad and tell him that story and even him getting choked up was awesome.
GOL.com: You are the only female in a band with all guys, and you have toured with Fun and Ben Kweller what have those experiences been like?
AK: Both of those were intertwined. We’d do a few weeks with Fun and then a few with Ben, and so on. Both tours were night and day in their differences, but to have a chance to work and befriend two groups of musicians who are some of the hardest working and talented people I’ve ever played with was not something I took for granted.
GOL.com: You have performed at venues all over the country including music festivals: Coachella, SXSW and will be at Forecastle (2012). Which do you prefer, music festivals with 30,000 fans or small clubs/bars with a few hundred people?
AK: You know, festivals are always a great way for people to discover you when you’re just starting out like us. But, when you play a small club where everyone is there for you and they know your record there is no greater feeling in the world. I’ll never forget the last show in Atlanta we did. I couldn’t hear myself in the monitor over everyone singing along. It’s a very bewildering and humbling thing.
GOL.com: Do you have any individual things in the works? Maybe recording, movies, etc.
AK: For a while I feel like I kind of lost my own individual interests because for 2 years or so I’ve been putting everything into Sleeper Agent. I’ll continue to do that, but if I don’t learn to take a few moments of each day for myself I think I might go crazy. So there is a long list of things I’ve been wanting to do including a short film with a friend of mine, attempting to learn some violin, and of course some personal songwriting.
GOL.com: Describe the band’s sound for someone that has never heard it before?
AK: We like to play fast poppy rock songs. So we do.
Interviewed by J.Mack