It’s a warm, spring morning in Merced and a man stands with his guitar alone in a tunnel awaiting my arrival. He calls himself the Seven Year Sleep, a curious name for a solo act. Even more curious is the tunnel itself, his chosen location for our interview and where he is set to perform a song for our Soundcheck209 series.
The tunnel is a throughway for pedestrians and bicyclists near R Street, illuminated with scattered light that spills through grates and decorated with unremarkable graffiti scrawled along its walls. It’s an unassuming location, much like the Seven Year Sleep himself, but as he begins to look around and explain its significance, I soon realize that I’m standing inside an important link to his past where his sound and a sense of community among the local scene was developed nearly a decade ago.
What now looks like an insignificant tube of concrete was once host to a collection of artists from Merced who managed to transform the site into a home for expression, complete with chalk art and mood lighting as the backdrop for original music. This do-it-yourself attitude is the same attitude that radiates from the Seven Year Sleep himself when he talks about his craft.
Standing with his guitar, he is compelled to strum and play with its strings as time passes. When he’s alone, he says, that compulsion extends to writing lyrics and singing. He explains that he has no choice but to play, describing his relationship with music almost as a thing of fate. He has no qualms admitting to taking bits and pieces of what he likes from other artists to create an amalgamation of styles that thread through his many songs and with a listen to his discography it’s easy to hear a spectrum of influences across multiple genres.
For all intents and purposes the Seven Year Sleep is a one man band, carrying the banner of a past iteration while carving out a new path for himself. His brand of Alt R&B was spotlighted with the release of his 10-song LP “The Grand Romantic” in 2020, but his willingness to explore and experiment with his sound is front and center with the release of recent singles like “Curse of Skin” and “Pumpkin Head”, the latter of which is performed exclusively in Spanish.
In an uncertain and sometimes dark world, the future looks bright for the Seven Year Sleep.
Q: Seven Year Sleep started as a three-piece band but now it’s just you. Can you describe the difference in the creative process working with a band as opposed to being a solo act?
SYS: Being in a band and being a solo act, they have this weird landscape of the creative process. Alone, I really don’t have to double check with anyone. I can express exactly what I want to express and when I make my mind up on something, there it is, I have no one else to argue with. And that’s cool because I can really control the creative flow.
In a band you have this real iron sharpens iron situation, so I was constantly growing and constantly learning from my other bandmates…I really do miss the wit sharpening wit, skill refining skill. I like the outside influence. I feel like it adds a much richer experience.
Q: A lot of musicians have different reasons for playing and performing. Some want to make it big and make a career out of it. Some people just do it for the artistic expression and an outlet for their emotions. Which category do you fall in?
SYS: I do what I do because I kinda feel like I have to. Or I’m supposed to. Life is incredibly strange and has been strange for me. It’s always been weird. I don’t stay in places for too long. I can’t rely on too many things to stay the same and remain constant, but music has always been there. Even when I ran from it or at times when I didn’t know I was relying on it as heavily as I was. It’s the one thing I can’t let go of even when I tried to.
Q: Where are we right now? What is the significance of this tunnel in Merced?
SYS: We’re in this tunnel that my brother and I coined the tunnel of light. It’s real important to the birth of Seven Year Sleep because this is where we’d put on our shows…We created our own space and our own momentum. We invited a lot of other artists and had other musicians play. We shared a lot of time with them.
Q: Before Covid, when things were open, where were some of the places in the 209 where you performed your music?
SYS: I was running through Modesto pretty regularly – their restaurant scene and some of their bars. Out here in Merced, I put on a lot of my own shows. We’d pop up here (at the Tunnel of Light) or I’d hit up the MAC (Merced Multicultural Arts Center). At Lens 360, we had an open mic there for a while and that was cool and a dope place. Coffee Bandits, I was always there. I hadn’t gotten a chance to play a proper set at The Partisan but I wanted to, I wanted to and I was working for it.
Q: You have songs on Spotify and you’re active on your social media, always posting performances from home in intimate sessions. Can you talk about the songs and projects you’ve already put out and ones you might have on the horizon?
SYS: “The Grand Romantic” was the first full project I did by myself since everyone left, but even before that there were a few singles I did…As far as music that I have coming up, I have a bunch of projects I’m working on and a bunch of songs I’m working on. One of the songs I’m most excited to get out there and to start working on and making available is “Fool”. Then I have “Good Wine and Misery,” a short EP I’m working on. It’s like eight folky, storytelling songs. I get on these kicks and I write so much. I wish the music I have available was an accurate representation of the music I have ready to play and get out there. But this tunnel was my favorite place to play.
Follow the Seven Year Sleep on Instagram @seven.year.sleep and find his upcoming projects on Spotify and Soundcloud. You can listen to his performance of “Fool” at Studio209.TV