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Sleepingdog - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 19 / 4 / 2009

Sleepingdog - Interview


Sleepingdog is the ambient project of Dutch-born musician Chantal Acda. She talks to John Clarkson about Sleepingdog's recently released second solo album, 'Polar Life', and her self-imposed need for solitude and isolation

Sleepingdog is the project of lullaby-voiced Dutch-born singer and musician Chantal Acda. It takes its name in tribute to Acda’s pet dog, which slept at her feet as she recorded Sleepingdog’s 2006 debut album, ‘Naked in a Clean Bed’ , in the basement of her home. The enigmatic front cover of ‘Polar Life’, Sleepingdog’s second and latest album, shows the silhouettes of two polar bears wrapped together, possibly in an embrace and possibly in battle. “I like animals better than people,” admits Acda, who , now based in Hoegarden in Belgium, works as a horse healer She is sitting in a busy bar in Edinburgh, talking to Pennyblackmusic, a few hours before she is due on stage at the city’s Art College on what will be the last night of her second UK tour. “I have a lack of trust of people. To me most people are fairly manipulative and that makes them inhibited and also sometimes weak. I am always concerned when it comes to people about what they are really thinking and how I as a result I should act. When I am in the stable with the horses, it is completely different. There is no inhibition with them. It feels very pure and I feel very at home with them.” In conversation, Acda, who sings in English, is chatty and easy to talk to. Often very funny with a wild cackle of a laugh, she is immensely likeable. There is little indication of any social reclusiveness. Yet her bleak perspective on humanity and wariness of others does not come as a total surprise. A minimalistic and ambient collection of shimmering piano lines, plucked guitars and banjos and softly ebbing strings and drones, ‘Polar Life’, which was released on Zed Records in Belgium and Gizeh Records in Britain, reveals in its lyrics a deep uneasiness with the bustle and chaos of twenty first century life and a love for both solitude and nature. “In the beginning with Sleepingdog I didn't want to release anything,” says Acda, who previously fronted Chanta, a rock band, which toured with Lambchop and released an album, ‘La Satie’, in 2003. “I just wanted to make something completely pure in which I didn’t have to think about other people and completely for myself and which was really intimate. I liked the songs I had made though”, she laughs. “And so I started playing them for my boyfriend and he was like, ‘You should do something with those’, and so I ended up just releasing them anyway.” “When I recorded with Chanta I had to think a lot about what the other musicians wanted and everything had to be perfect,” she adds. “With Sleepingdog everything I have done on both albums I did in one take. I didn't want to change it even if it wasn't perfect.” “It was for me a different approach of working. I wanted something really pure. When I sing it is always the first take that it is the best by far, even if I sing a song ten times, and so I stuck to that with both of these recordings.” “There are two reasons why I called it ‘Polar Life,’“ she explains, discussing the title of the album. “I have bi-polar syndrome. It is only in a very light form, but my moods go up and down a lot. When I wrote the album I had really come to accept that about myself and that is the way I am. I called it polar as well because I get a lot of inspiration from Iceland. I have been there a lot of times and most of the songs on the album were originally written when I was there.” One of the pivotal songs on the album, ‘The Sun Sinks in the Sea’, a sparse, fragilely beautiful testimony to the landscape, takes its inspiration from ‘Nu Hverfur Sol I Haf’, a poem by the poet and former bishop of Iceland, Sigurbjorn Einarsson, who died in August of last year at the age of 97. “That poem and that song are really important to me,” Acda explains. “During one of my trips to Iceland, I was working with horses in the middle of the country. There were just horses there and no people. I was alone for a long time and I didn't hear my own voice for weeks. It was really strange to be out of contact with people, and in the beginning it was difficult and hard emotionally, but then I felt so quiet and full of hope that everything calmed down inside me. It was an incredible experience and that poem and song gives me that same feeling.” ‘Polar Life’ closes with a cover of Sophia’s wistful lament, ‘If Only’. While Robin Proper-Sheppard’s original composition was lush in tone and thick set with strings instrumentation, Acda’s version in contrast is an echoing and stark piano ballad. “I wanted to put my own feeling and stamp on it. Otherwise there would have been no point in doing it,” says Acda. “Normally I am not really into love songs and they don’t mean anything to me, but I saw Robin Proper-Sheppard play that song a couple of times and I immediately completely understood what he was singing about. We have nearly all been there. You feel something for someone, but it is impossible to be with that person which is really sad.” While Acda recorded ‘Naked in a Clean Bed’ entirely at home, it was then mixed by her friend Adam Wiltzie from the American ambient group Stars of the Lid, who is married to a Belgian woman and who lives nearby. For the second album, Wiltzie provided electronic strings and backing vocals. Wiltzie has now joined Sleepingdog permanently, although because of his touring commitments with Stars of the Lid it is for recording purposes only and Acda will continue to play concerts as she has always done either alone or with guest musicians. The pair are now working on a third Sleepingdog album, which will come out towards the end of the year again on both Zed and Gizeh Records. “With Adam I have found someone for the first time in my life that I feel totally comfortable singing and writing with,” Acda says. “It is working really well. I am enjoying the collaboration.” “We have recorded a lot of the new album already,” she finishes. “I have been recording a lot of it at home, but a lot in Adam’s house. It will involve a lot more orchestrations and in its sound be a lot more perfect. It is still though going to be a home recording. “ From humble and isolated beginnings, Sleepingdog, while remaining essentially minimalist, has now expanded into something more and become a group project. Chantal Acda may by choice be a loner, but she is far off abandoning her relationship with the rest of the world yet.

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Sleepingdog - Interview

Sleepingdog - Interview

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With Our Heads in the Clouds and Our Hearts in the Fields (2011)
Fragile-voiced, but musically unstructured and dull third album from experimental duo, Sleepingdog
Polar Life (2009)

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