“This is a weird time,” Alex Paquet tells me as we sit down over coffee to talk about his musical project, Field Sleeper. “I’m not usually this bright of a person. There was a very long time – a good year and a half – where I was ultra-sensorially attentive and very, very calm. And it’s still all bursting out right now.”
I feel lucky to have caught Paquet during this period of his life. Throughout our interview, his thoughts, interests, and experiences really do seem like they are bursting out; though I try to wrap up the interview after 50 minutes, we keep talking long after, trading favorite contemporary artists, theory, and installations. We laugh over a picture I took at the Columbus Museum of Art, at an exhibit that Paquet found particularly moving. The photo is of a tag, written on by a museum passer-by, which reads: “I don’t often view creative professional men as creative types, so it’s nice to see a stern man softly.” Paquet says that he often feels stern-er than most, but when I apologize for keeping him so long, he reassures me that he’s happy to have made a new friend, which doesn’t feel stern at all. We part ways in the rain; Paquet catches the bus to get to a nail appointment, and I take a damp walk to the library, Field Sleeper’s upcoming record streaming through my ear buds.
That record, Better Grid, which is slated for release on Scioto Records on March 16, walks the line between stern and soft exceptionally well. A blend of pop, rock, drone, and even jazz-inspired elements, the album highlights Paquet’s gift for musical arrangement. And as compared to previous musical projects, Paquet tells me, Better Grid was “a lot more purposeful, and I was trying to use as few voices as possible in each. I’d also played the songs a lot more – the songs have a lot more personal attachment to me.” In order to give the album a feeling of “performance,” Paquet tracked each component as though he was giving a recital, playing all of the guitar parts at once, and then the vocals, and then the synths, and so on. “I was really inspired by jazz recordings,” he says. “It seemed like there were less tricks – it seemed so clear.” The level of clarity which Paquet perceives in jazz–which he also calls musical efficiency–was integral to the making of Better Grid. Paquet tells me that he focused on giving each component enough space for the audience to fully engage. “A big question that I had to ask a lot,” Paquet says, “is, if this is here, what isn’t someone paying attention to?”
Though Paquet approached the record with intent to strip songs down, handling each sound and “voice” with care, the actual recording process he tells me, “happened by feeling; it wasn’t by design.” Paquet was first approached about recording by Groove U, a music-career specialization program in Columbus, in the fall of 2016. That, Paquet tells me, got him thinking about recording a full album. He recorded the first five songs of what would become Better Grid in February of 2016, during a period of his life where, he tells me, he just wanted to get some songs down to learn more about them. Then, after an East Coast tour in June, Paquet came back to Better Grid, recording four more songs for the project (one song, out of the nine recorded, never made it on the album). “Maybe what the recording can represent is trying to learn what’s really going on with the set of songs,” Paquet says. He calls the period of time spent on Better Grid the “cognitive height” of Field Sleeper. It encompasses “a lot of tours,” he says, “and a lot of time spent making music and thinking about making music.”
After Paquet was done with his recording, the album was mixed by Mike Shiflet, a noise musician and avant-gardist who Paquet calls “the big time.” Shiflet “had a really big impact,” Paquet says, “on how the thing sounds. There are some tracks, like on ‘Shed,’ where the vocals are panned really hard to one side and the guitar is on the opposite – that was all him.”
Now that all of the recording and mixing is over, Paquet says that listening to Better Grid “can honestly calm me down sometimes.” Still, Paquet is conscious of how he wants the project to evolve onstage. “When I was recording it,” he says, “I think I took too much life out of it… Now, I’m trying to think