Jan. 12 2011 10:38 AM

The members of Sleep Lady just want to have fun

From left: Kristy Hayden, Mike Hayden, Francis Winfield, Mario Quintero, Sarah Quintero
Photo by Lawrence Jay Rizzuto
For years, music brought Mike Hayden little more than bitterness and broken friendships. Last year, he finally reached his breaking point. He was done with bands: The politics, the emotions, the ego clashes.

So he bought a Pro Tools rig, holed up in his house and spent months toiling over an ambitious solo project in between rounds of Nintendo DS.

“I was kind of cooped up, but it was self-imposed,” the 32-year-old guitarist says. “I don’t really want to be around musicians,” he remembers thinking. “I just want to play music because I enjoy playing music.”

But last March, something fortuitous happened. Hayden was tracking drum parts with his friend Jim Benuska at Black Box Recording Studios in Golden Hill one night when their friend Sarah Quintero rolled in her bass amp and jumped in. Not long after that, they were getting sloshed at Aero Bar when Quintero’s husband, Mario (who owns Black Box), volunteered to play guitar. Then, Hayden and his wife Kristy went out and bought a keyboard for her to play.

Within months, the pieces fell into place: They picked a name (a reference to a woman on a sleep-therapy tape that Hayden listens to), recorded a couple demos, set up a MySpace page and stumbled into debut gigs where they headlined Soda Bar and The Casbah.

And so it was that the man who’d forsaken bands was in a band once again.

Sleep Lady’s music is ponderous, complex and cinematic, bringing to mind the epic post-rock of Pelican, the instrumental metal quartet from Chicago—Mike, Kristy and Sarah’s home city. On their 2010 debut, Fighting for the Year, the band traverses ominous buildups, beatific interludes and huge riffs. With its soaring keyboards and crushing bass, the 12minute, mostly instrumental, piece “A Palooka’s Errand” brings to mind a skydiver rushing toward Earth, only to have his parachute malfunction.

But their music isn’t all doom and gloom—and a rehearsal at Black Box is anything but serious. In between songs, they sip from bottles of Dos Equis and joke about the volleyball scene in Top Gun.

When they sit down on the floor for an interview, they look like a big, happy family: The Haydens; The Quinteros; Francis Winfield, who replaced Benuska on drums after he moved to Nashville; and Melvin, Mario’s extraordinarily tiny Chihuahua, who draws laughs when he licks some beer from a bottle, barfs on the floor and then eats his own barf.

“Puke and rally, buddy,” Mike says. “Puke and rally.”

During the laid-back, far-ranging interview (we talk about everything from barbecues to ridiculously long band names), Sleep Lady comes across like a therapeutic experience—a way to wash off the bad feelings associated with the word “band.” Nobody declares what the band is and isn’t supposed to sound like (“If we wrote it,” Kristy says, “it sounds like us”). Nobody dominates the conversation. They’re playing for each other.

“I don’t think we’re shooting to blow people away,” Mario says. “Obviously, it’s nice if people like it and are blown away, but we almost like blowing ourselves away. It’s like a skateboarding thing, if you bust a crazy trick and land it. If there’s nobody around to see it, that sucks. But when you have your band there, it’s like, Damn, did you see that!? Nobody else in the audience cares if you did anything cool, but your band does.”

As it happens, though, Sleep Lady is certainly capable of blowing people away. As they rehearse, they mostly gaze at their instruments, looking up only when they hit a snag. In a take on one of their new songs, a 10-minute instrumental titled “These Fucking Worms,” layers of dreamy guitar slowly gather and swell until the band suddenly falls into a massive bass groove overlaid with a pretty keyboard and moaning twin guitars. From there, Sarah’s distorted bass leads them into a mammoth doom-metal groove that compels me to write this in my notebook: Fuck!

Sometimes, conflict can help give a band its vigor. Greg Ginn reportedly alienated pretty much every member of Black Flag, one of the most influential hardcore bands of all time. Refused broke up shortly after the release of their 1998 landmark The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts.

But Sleep Lady is over conflict. They’re just having fun.

“We definitely have really good chemistry, and we’re all very willing to try everyone’s ideas and work stuff out to where it’s comfortable with everybody,” Sarah says. “And it’s fun. It’s always fun.”

Of course, Sleep Lady is a new band. They haven’t gone on tour. Rehearsals aren’t always easy. But Mike doesn’t seem worried. He’s too busy enjoying himself.

“It’s seriously been the easiest and most enjoyable music experience that I’ve ever had,” he says.

“It’s downright silly,” Kristy adds.

Sleep Lady play with T.S. Brooks, Immovable Objects and Roswell That Ends Well at Soda Bar on Saturday, Jan. 15. sleeplady.bandcamp.com