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- Posted on Oct 17th 2011 3:40PM by Theo Bark
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An early recording caught the ear of Cage the Elephant producer Jay Joyce, who invited the trio -- which is currently a sextet -- to Nashville for a week to record what would become their debut album, 'Celabrasion.' The band's overnight success led Kandel, now 18, to take a leave of absence from high school and hit the road with the boys. They spent the better part of 2011 rocking crowds and making a name across the country before their record hit stores Sept. 27.
After watching Sleeper Agent play a spirited set in our L.A. studio, we sat down with the two singers and talked about their road to success.
Tell us a bit about the beginnings of the band.
Tony Smith: Justin and I started in 2008 under a radically different lineup, and that kind of fell by the wayside. Justin wanted to keep going under the name Sleeper Agent, and so I thought it would be cool to have a girl bass player, kind of in the vein of Smashing Pumpkins or Sonic Youth.
Alex Kandel: But I can't play bass.
Smith: I tried for an hour to teach her bass, and it didn't work out.
Kandel: Really small hands. Can we demonstrate? [Compares her hands with Tony's]
Smith: You actually opened for the original lineup years ago, when you were 14.
Kandel: I was 15.
Smith: Fifteen? And we didn't really talk to her until she was, like, 16 years old.
Kandel: About to turn 17.
Smith: She posted a song on MySpace that I thought was pretty interesting, and I was like, "Do you want to do folk music?" and she was like, "No." [Both laugh] And I was like, "Do you want to do a rock band?" and she was like, "Yes." So me and Justin and her got together and wrote, I don't know, 10 songs in a matter of a week or something like that.
Smith: We played our first show soon after and then it really just skyrocketed from there. We did a record in two days.
Kandel: And then that record got attention and lead us to being on a label and making our actual record.
Watch and Download Sleeper Agent's Full Interface Set
Alex, what was going through your head when you were like, "OK, I'm going to skip my senior year of high school and go out on tour?"
Kandel: Actually, my plan was to finish high school online. Things happened crazy fast in the midst of that, and the online program I was in was made more for someone who was home all day and had time to put into it. But I was in New York City doing this. I'm actually about to finish high school now, thankfully, but there was a lot of thought into it, because education is really important to me ... But you have this one window, and this is something that I'm really passionate about, and I wanted to do it. I couldn't imagine not doing it and living with that. It was total instinct.
Smith: Yeah, the first time I met her, I asked her what she wanted to do in the future. She was so young, and she was like, "I'm going to go to Kent State." I was like, "Well, you can't be in a band with me."
Kandel: I think I got a little bit addicted to it after that first show, and all I wanted to do was improve. I couldn't imagine not being in that world anymore.
I would guess you have some pretty understanding parents, for them to be like, "My teenage daughter is going on tour ..."
Kandel: Yeah, it took a lot of ...
Smith: Finessing. I would say all of our families are more excited than us, mostly. Where we're from, this doesn't happen too often. Being from Kentucky, there's like us and a couple other bands who've done something similar, and so everybody gets really pumped.
I watched some of the tour videos -- you guys have a lot of pranks going on.
Kandel: Yeah, I would say a little bit. They're not really planned out. It can be as simple as, like, on April Fool's, I was coming out of the shower, and they had set up a bucket of water to fall on me.
Smith: She actually got really mad about this.
Kandel: I did get really mad! Well, they filmed it, and I just had a towel on, so I didn't let them post it. Just little stuff like that; it's no different than the pranks we pulled on each other when we lived in the band house.
Smith: Oh yeah. We came home from New York one time and Jordan, our driver -- I was a huge 'Terminator' fan when I was a kid; it was like one of my childhood icons -- had painted this masterpiece of the Terminator completely naked, holding his member and unleashing a cloud of cats.
Kandel: You don't have to go into it. It was very graphic!
Smith: They had hyped it up like, "Dude, they got you a great surprise, man."
Kandel: He was so excited.
Smith: I go in my room and it's like 12"x12", well-painted -- I was like, "That was my great surprise?" And, you know, we had people coming over, like parents.
Kandel: We would have to try to keep them away from Tony's room so they wouldn't think ...
Smith: I don't know what they thought, or what message I was trying to convey with that one [both laugh].
So the album, which you've been playing for a year, is finally out. You must be pretty excited.
Kandel: I'm really excited. There were moments where it didn't even feel like this record was going to be made, way early on.
Smith: I don't even want to start talking about record two. Nobody wants to talk about that with me.
Kandel: Not yet [laughing]. I mean, I'll talk to you about it all you want. Yeah, record two is a far way off.
Smith: In terms of excitement, I think [we'd like] just to gradually keep climbing and growing and becoming the best band you can be, because when we started out, we were just ratty kids with really terrible equipment.
Kandel: Now we're ratty kids with somewhat terrible equipment that get to play the country.
Smith: I think we're a lot more confident now. I think she kind of hid behind her mic stand the first show.
Kandel: Oh yeah, the first show, what I was wearing was so ridiculous [laughs].
Smith: Imagine a teenage girl who's like, "I'm going to be in a rock band now."
Kandel: I was 17! I was nervous, too!
Smith: She wore this, like, Lolita dress.
Kandel: It wasn't a dress! It was a skirt.
Smith: Whatever [laughs]. And this leather jacket and, like, stockings. I was like, "Dude, you're 17! You can't go up on stage like that in front of all these old, drunk men."
Kandel: Well, I also never dress like that anyway. I felt really unnatural, so I learned that wearing my jeans and flannel was OK. But that show was really funny. I used to get really embarrassed by it, but now I just think it's kind of funny.