Long distance relationships are rarely ideal, except for Nate Flaks and Noah Longworth McGuire of the indie synth pop duo, Sleeping Lion.
Today, Flaks and McGuire both live and record in Boston, but the duo has written some of their best work while McGuire lived in Rome and Flaks in New York. Skype made their writing process possible—Flaks sent over voice memos, lyrics, and piano melodies while McGuire produced the tracks.
“The more remote we are and divisional we are with our writing, the more cohesive it ends up being,” Flaks explained, “We tried to write the song ‘You Made Me’ in the same room, and we got really frustrated because Noah didn’t like me breathing down his neck while he was producing, and I didn’t like cowriting lyrics.”
McGuire and Flaks met in Boston when they were freshmen at Berklee College of Music where Flaks studied Electronic Production and Design and McGuire studies Music Production and Engineering. They started making music in the spring of 2015, but their early collaborations were far from the electronic dream pop they create today. They originally started working together in Flaks’ folk band, The First Law, but changed directions after receiving some unexpected advice from the pop musician, Halsey.
“I met Halsey in Cambridge kind of accidentally before she exploded, and she gave me really good advice about breaking into pop music industry,” Flaks said. “She said to get involved with blogs. I was trying to apply that to folk music, and I was thinking that maybe that wasn’t the most commercially viable.”
So Flaks and McGuire gave up folk for pop. “I heard Noah down the hall making a beat, and I was like, ‘Hey we’re in the wrong band,’ so we changed,” he explained. Today, the duo creates mellow electronic music that Flaks described as “brooding, heartfelt vibes with layers of vocals and synths.”
Sleeping Lion also strives for personal narrative in their music. “Any time you write a song you have to say, ‘Is this just a song or is this personal?’ and I very strongly believe there’s no such thing as just a song,” Flaks said.
Their latest song, “Stop It,” which will be released April 10, is extremely narrative-driven. Flaks described it as a “break up in real time.” Flaks cowrote the song with his writing partner and ex-girlfriend, Abby Carey, while they were breaking up as a way of coping with and processing their relationship.
“You’re hearing not just our negotiations for who is to blame and our feelings about it, but also things that were happening at the time. We sampled construction that was going on outside our building during arguments and rough mornings. We have samples from our final writing session together because this was the last song we wrote together. You’re hearing this break up but also this cyclical relationship,” he said.
The song was naturally very sentimental for Flaks, but that doesn’t mean McGuire didn’t have considerable influence over the feel of the song. “Noah creates these soundscapes that are so emotional, so from a writing standpoint I give it the heart, but Noah really gives it the soul,” Flaks said.
At the beginning of the song, McGuire sampled a woman’s voice as she confronts her doomed relationship—“Ok, how do we do this now? Do we stop it?” she asks—and you can hear the quiver of emotion in her voice, even through McGuire’s electronic distortions.
In addition to focusing on narrative, Flaks and McGuire are also inspired by film scores. Flaks, who originally wanted to pursue film production, started a film project in high school called Sleeping Lion Films. The name was inspired by his first film that featured his friend Leone (lion in Italian) sleeping at his desk.
When Flaks and McGuire gave new life to Sleeping Lion, they had an idea that it “would be used potentially as an outlet for licensing music for television and film,” Flaks said, “You can definitely hear the film influence in our music.”
McGuire and Flaks are currently both in Boston working on new singles and remixes for other artists including Zealyn and SONDAR. They have an upcoming show in Boston at Hennessy’s Hooley House on May 11.