Skyler Brimmeier creates wonderfully strange music as Sleep Movies, conjuring soundscapes that balance wide-eyed whimsy and foreboding darkness. His latest album, Melt Transmission (Crafted Sounds), plunges listeners into a futuristic netherworld filled with disorienting textures and humanoid melancholy. Brimmeier was kind enough to answer some questions for an album write-up in The Pittsburgher (awesome site, check it out!); the entire Q+A can be found below.
Who is Sleep Movies? How would you describe yourself as an artist?
To me (Skyler Brimmeier), Sleep Movies is just another way of saying “dreams”.
When the phrase popped into my head I took an instant liking to it, It sounded like something a child who never heard the word “dreams” before would sayto describe their dreams to another person. I really dug the simplicity of it & so figured it would make a good moniker name for my musical dreams. I would say it’s parallel to how I feel as an artist too, like a child on a rather strange journey attempting to express things i don’t have the words for.
How did the Sleep Movies project get its start?
So before Sleep Movies, I knew hardly anything about writing & recording music. My friends, brother & I would get together in different combinations and jam almost every day just for the fun of it & over time we started recording things we liked on an outdated Tascam 8-Track my Dad’s friend let me borrow. As I started getting more familiar with my instruments & the recording process, I thought it would be fun to see what I could make just by myself with an 8-Track, keyboard, guitar, & some effects pedals. Around the start of 2017 I decided I would write an EP & just put it out there, partially to challenge myself & get over my insecurities surrounding my voice and lack of musical knowledge. I felt like it didn’t matter how good or bad my first few songs would be, i just needed to get some kind of ball rolling and shake some feelings out of me. People started reaching out to me with kindness after it released & being that I wasn’t in a band at the time I figured i’d just keep doing it because it was fun & kind of healing.
Who are some of your influences, musical or otherwise?
So like Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness was the first album I fell in love with as a kid. The variety of sounds on that album in tandem with the magical album artwork, even the little illustrations in the lyric pamphlet, it all just blew my mind and broadened my perspective on what music could be. In high school I fell in love with Animal Collective, MGMT & Sunset Rubdown, all who had the same effect on me. I was getting stoned from sounds. I started thinking about music differently, as being this magical, synesthetic thing & so when I started exploring making music on my own all that i knew going into it was thatI wanted to really be an explorer about it. Skateboarding has also had a big impact on my taste in music, and some of my favorite bands I first heard of through watching skateboarding videos. Lately i’ve been listening to lots of 80’s goth music & spending a ton of time in the woods, two things that have been really helping me moving forward creatively.
Is there a theme or concept behind Melt Transmission? If so, could you elaborate on it?
There’s not a definite concept to the album but there are def some themes that were present in my life throughout it’s making that I’ll elaborate on. My frustration with the ever-ballooning chaotic state of the world was at a full-time peak & so likewise my feelings of hopelessness of anything getting better. To me it just seemed like reality was heading full speed into some purgatorial void. you know, the same sterile, corporate, I-barely-feel-alive, super-consumerist, hyperreal bullshit that like Radiohead & a thousand other writers & artists were warning us about. Authenticity just felt absent, both in my perception of the world & in my own expression, so I def feel like a yearning for aliveness & the need to cut through layer on top of layer of façade took on an urgency for me while recording. You know how people & movies talk about how AI might eventually become conscious and terminate the human species one day? well what’s been on my mind pretty heavily the past few years is how disturbingly similar to AI we are becoming. This was something I observed in my own behavior and spooked me big time. It’s very chilling to suddenly observe with clarity how automated & algorithmic you really are in some instances, and when you experience that chasm for yourself, things can get really scary fast because things rapidly start losing their meaning.
I mean, I totally dig science, but all the buzz about transhumanism and colonizing other planets and virtual reality and automation and Tiktok and sex robots.. It’s like this big interlinked psychosis. It’s like, what kind of bleak homogenous reality are we racing towards? are we consciously or unconsciously distracting ourselves from the discomfort of the reality that we are terrified of what is really going on in the world? The idea of some kid a hundred years from now growing up on a space station, writing futuristic bedroom pop in their little isolated cubical space station room, looking out their window at the void..What kind of feelings & melodies are coming to them? That kind of imagery was very present with me at night (my writing hours) and so I wanted some of that post-Earth dread to come through in my expression on this album. I also know that I wanted the last few songs on the album to feel underwhelming in comparison to the first half, kind of like coming down and taking a breather, easing into relaxation after being bombarded with chaos.
Your music sounds incredibly alien and degraded, but at the same time contains an emotive, human undercurrent. How do you fuse these two elements?
Sounds like my internal state lol. I haven’t made music with a DAW or MIDI instruments up to this point, nor do I know too much about mixing & mastering, so i def think being a rookie in that department helped to contribute to the degraded, scrappy sound. I feel like I still have so much to learn about music & production so I try not to be overly concerned with imperfections, i just do my best to get things to sound as close to how I want them and leave them be. Personally I really enjoy hearing rawness & nuances in other albums, it’s a cozy thing to me. With this release I decided to keep my loops & melodies unquantized for that reason, I think that alone lends a very human element to the overall feel of the album. Being that live music came to a complete stop halfway through writing this album, I wanted to keep some raw elements in there that felt “rushed” or “live”. As for the alien vibe, I’m a huge fan of 80’s horror movies and the synth sounds associated with them. I think that comes through. Synths in general are a very cosmic, alien-like instrument to me and so I try to use them in that fashion.
How do you get your synth sounds? They’re super textured and evocative.
Most of the synth sounds on the record are actually just my guitar being ran through an EHX Synth 9 & some modulation pedals! For example, the spacey & wubby chords on “Am I Abyss?”, “Phosphenes”, & “Cosmology” are electric guitar. For the crazy arpeggiated synth sounds on “Scanner” & “Miley’s Iris”, I used a basic MIDI keyboard and some free synth vst’s I found online. 9/10 times, there’s a flanger at the end of the effects chain. I feel like a little bit of slow flanging really helps to add some movement & texture to otherwise stagnant sounding synths/guitars.
What is your creative process like? Take us inside the studio/bedroom/bathroom/wherever you record.
It all goes down in my bedroom. If you were to walk into my room the first thing you’d notice is that my walls are painted an obnoxious green. Sometimes I move my dresser out of the way and use my walls as a green screen. It’s annoying but it works. I have a laptop & a MIDI keyboard sitting on a writing desk with my pedalboard on the floor below. Next to that stands my guitar & bass. That’s basically it. The majority of my songs start out as a single looped idea, like a simple riff or a few chords, and from there i just keep piling it on & see how big/far i can make/take things. Vocals are always last for me. I can only write vocals stream-of-consciousness style. Anytime I’ve tried to write lyrics or vocal melodies before the music it just doesn’t work out. My whole creative process is basically just me stumbling around making a huge mess & then doing what i can to tidy up afterwards. I try to keep it fun & as physical as possible. It just doesn’t feel right if I think about things too much.
Are there any other Pittsburgh artists who inspire you or whose music you enjoy?
Absolutely! Visually, I really love the work of Darrin Milliner (socialliving.us). I’ve known Darrin for a long time now & his work has consistently blown my mind since we were in high school. It’s very psychedelic & communicative. I think there’s a great sense of cosmic humor in his work while it simultaneously addresses the very real & dark aspects of the modern human condition. Darrin also designed the album art for Melt Transmission, which I was & am still very psyched about. As for Pittsburgh music, some of my current & all-time favorites are Gaadge, It It, Lys Scott, Plato Black, Barlow, String Machine, Rue, Swampwalk, Sciencevision, Buscrates, Jack Stauber, Short Fictions, Pinstripe Sunny, and the legendary Mac Miller. I could probably go on longer but those are the heavy hitters for me.
Is there anything I forgot to ask that you’d like people to know about you or your music?
The future looks very cottagecore for me, both personally & musically. I spend a lot of time in the woods learning about plants & fungi. It feels like a truly valuable thing to spend my time doing & it keeps me sane and youthful on the inside. However, I just bought an electric drum kit & am stoked to get better at drumming. I recently had a dream that I was playing in this like weird black metal jazz band & since then i’ve been contemplating going that route too with my music. I’ll probably go both routes.