Brian Batz, or Sleep Party People, grew up on Bornholm, a picturesque but isolated Danish island with less than 40,000 inhabitants. So his first tour of China in 2015 was pretty shocking.
“It was mind-blowing to visit cities I've never heard of before with populations of tens of millions,” he says. “That’s insane when you come from a small country.”
The lonesome beauty of Batz’ childhood home plays a major role in the development of Sleep Party People’s wistful, brooding dreampop.
“Since it's so isolated from the rest of Denmark, it can be quite boring to live there as a child,” he says. “Especially during the winter, when the weather really gets harsh, you’re forced to stay inside a lot. That meant I used all my spare time making music with friends and listening to records. I could really find comfort and headroom in music.”
The other major influence on Batz’s aesthetic is director David Lynch’s dark-yet-playful surrealism. “When I first laid eyes on Twin Peaks, I was totally mesmerized,” Batz says. “You are never in a safe zone while watching a David Lynch movie. As soon as you feel comfortable, he changes the settings and everything suddenly becomes dark and creepy. I love doing that with music, too.”
The famously weird director would undoubtedly approve of Batz’s trademark concert attire – a white mask with bunny ears – though it comes off more sinister than playful when paired with a hooded black sweatshirt and worn by all members of his touring band onstage. Despite the plural name, Sleep Party People is Batz’s solo act, which has a live band just for touring. Each time a new member joins for the tour, Batz gives them their own bunny mask, which they can personalize as they see fit.
The input of Batz’s touring members normally ends there, but while recording his fourth album, Lingering, Batz worked with a drummer and choral vocalist for the first time. The result is a feeling of dynamism not present on his previous records.
“I didn’t want to repeat myself and to write the same album twice, so it felt very natural to invite the guys inside the studio,” he says. “I need to evolve as an artist, or else I can’t keep doing what I’m doing.”
Despite the collaborative efforts this time around, Batz’s lyrics on Lingering have an especially personal theme, focused on his long-term struggle with anxiety. “I’m not afraid [to show] my melancholic side, and I think it’s unreasonable not to include it in my music and creative process,” he says. “It’s a part of who I am as a person and musician. I’ve always dealt with anxiety and the only way I can do that is to talk about it or use it in a creative way.”
Lingering grapples with these themes through a variety of weightless dreampop melodies, droning shoegaze and trip-hop with Batz’s distorted falsetto vocals.
Poised to return to China for a six-city tour this month, Batz remembers both the highlights and trials of his previous visit. He recalls some tour hijinks that include the sound engineer losing his passport in Wuhan and conversing with livehouse staff via translating apps (“We were lost in translation and a rock band in despair”). But what stands out most when he thinks back is the response from crowds at the shows.
“The audiences were amazing [in China]. Very polite and dedicated,” Batz says. “There’s nothing worse than playing a concert in front of a very talkative audience, but that’s not the case here. They truly listened to the music.”