War Against Sleep


When I initially listened to the musical mishmash of War Against Sleep’s Invitation to the Feast, I was impressed with the sheer range of references. After 11 courses, however, it began to get cloying and nausea rose in my gut. After being reminded of Nick Cave, UB40, Tindersticks, and Queen, I couldn’t take much more. And yet, like an ill-digested lump of steak in my stomach, something of them lingered.

I was fascinated by the singer’s croon and the name: what did their name mean? With the wars against Terror and Cliche in full swing, what was the War Against Sleep? So when I got the opportunity to interview mainman Duncan Fleming, I jumped at the chance.

With a little research, I found a website full of Kabbalistic words and a livejournal with the claim that Fleming’s motto for the year was to be “let it slide.” What did he mean by that?

“That’s about putting lots of effort into things without being bothered about the outcome. Musicians can be really ambitious, and ambitions can be really dangerous.

“I think it’s been good for me to just get along with playing music and not be worried about the outcome. It’s not natural for me. I’m more naturally uptight. But this zen attitude of ploughing the zen furrow, not worrying about press or sales. Just let other people worry about that. As long as I can trick my record label into letting me make more records, I don’t really mind.”

Won’t you lose control over things with that attitude?

“I’m talking about the practical things. I let other people worry about how we can get to concerts. I mean, the only reward for work is more work. I like just pottering about making tunes. You don’t want to jeopardize the creative flow worrying about things. Just get on with it.”

As a small band, how do you keep yourself afloat?”

“With sporadic small advances from my record label. I’ve always been skint, so I don’t give a shit. I think money is intrinsically evil and has to be exchanged for goods and services as soon as you get it. I’m not really bothered.”

One of things that is most striking about the album is how varied it is? Why is that?

“I’m playing. I do think the music should be playful. This is the first time I made an album with a band. Like: let’s be pompous, let’s be serene. But that was where my head was at at the time. I don’t mind representing where we were. There was twice as much when we came to edit it and we were like: ‘how do we make this coherent?'”

What do you yourself listen to?

“Everything from Liberace to the Seekers. From Military Brass Bands to Queen. Whatever. The things that touch you don’t necessarily have the right post-rock references. When I was 14 I was listening to Sonic Youth and Jesus and Mary Chain. Which are cool references. But I was also listening to Peggy Lee.”

What do you think that 14 year old would say about you today?

“I’d have something to say about the clothes and the short hair.”

And the name, War Against Sleep, was it that about?

The War Against Sleep isn’t about not wanting to sleep it’s about rapping people on the head and saying: “Wake Up! Wake up!”

How do you decide who’s asleep and who’s awake?

“What a peculiar question. I think we’re all in varying states of drowsiness. I don’t believe in a hierarchy of people being more enlightened than others.”

WASAfter the interview, War Against Sleep played at the Water Rats to about three people. It was an embarrassing spectacle. With reading too much into it, one feels that they haven’t the focus to really break through. Their musical combinations, though well executed and interesting, clash like the savouries and puddings on their album sleeve.

Link: War Against Sleep

Neil Scott | Autumn 2005