An Interview with Arms and Sleepers

Arms and Sleepers

By Veronica Kirk

Arms and Sleepers is a trip-hop duo formed in 2006 by members Max Lewisand and Mirza Ramic. The duo is back with a gripping and soulful LP, “Swim Team”, after a 3 year hiatus. Black on the Canvas had the opportunity to chat with the duo about life, music, and their recent LP.


How did the name Arms and Sleepers come about? It is quite an intriguing name. 

Mirza Ramic: The words “Arms” and “Sleepers” were taken from a previous music project of ours. We were going to use these two words to name two sides of a new album, but after that project folded, we took the two words and combined them as our new name. As for the meaning, it means different things to Max (the other half of Arms and Sleepers) and me, and it can mean anything to anyone. What it represents for me specifically was perfectly summed up in a recent feature by Bit Candy: “It represents the ever-present violence fetish of the powerful (“arms”) and the shameful apathy of those who quietly ignore it (“the sleepers”).

Swim Team is your first record in over three years. Why was there such a length in between the two records?

Mirza Ramic: After the release of The Organ Hearts, our full-length record from 2011, Max and I started pursuing our Master’s degrees full-time. This took up quite a bit of our time, and our brief hiatus in 2012 was a direct result of this. Though we eventually decided to return to music, it took some time to get back into the rhythm of writing new music and putting together a full-length album. The process of completing Swim Team was lengthy but we are quite happy with the end result.

Swim Team strays away from the sound of your earlier releases. What was the motivation behind the change of musical direction?

Mirza Ramic: We wanted to explore new directions musically, and continue on our path of never making the same album twice. We’ve always been quite self-critical so we were consciously trying to improve as song-writers. I think that motivation led to the change of musical direction because we became acutely aware of our strengths and weaknesses as musicians. The sound on Swim Team was a result of us focusing on what we know best and what accurately reflected us as human beings and musicians at the time of writing and recording new music.

Your sound is very sonically hypnotizing and dreamy. What goes into creating the instrumental elements of the tracks?

Mirza Ramic: Generally speaking, a lot of failure. Every time we sit down to work on music, it feels like we can’t do a single thing right. Eventually, after hours and  days of musical sadness, something exciting will pop up. I’m not sure how this process goes for other musicians, but for us, it takes a lot of effort (and tears) to create something we are happy with. More specifically, we tend to dedicate a lot of time to matching the right sounds together. While writing a section of a song might happen quickly at times, adding layers of different sounds that make sense for us is a lengthy and draining process. Lots of trial and error, and lots of obsessing over the smallest of details that probably nobody ever notices anyway. When we finish an album, we always tell ourselves that we’ll never ever do this again. And then for some reason we do…

What artists would you call as influences, especially while creating the new track for Swim Team?

Mirza Ramic: There are way too many influences to list here, but specifically while working on Swim Team, we paid a lot of attention to the music in the TV show Miami Vice and we listened to a bunch of J Dilla, Caribou, and Atmosphere.

Being a music group in the prominent musical city of Boston, how would you describe the local current scene?

Mirza Ramic: We haven’t really been involved in the Boston music scene for some time, so I’m afraid we’re not very qualified to comment on that. Starting in 2010, we began focusing much more on promoting our music and touring in Europe, which took our attention away from Boston. (As a side note, an interesting article on why so many American bands prefer to tour in Europe over the US:  Having said that, we’ve continued to stay in touch with long-time friends who used to be an integral part of the Boston music scene and who are doing some amazing things at the moment (like tour managing Bonobo). But in terms of things happening right now, we’re quite out of touch. 

After the release of Swim, what else do you have planned for 2015?

Mirza Ramic: 2015 looks to be a busy year – we’re continuing to promote Swim Team and will likely be releasing more new music. I will also continue touring heavily while Max focuses on some new remixes.

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