Sleepercar frontman Jim Ward waits patiently for the train to come.
courtesy Must Be Santa

A hearty, Texas-sized sound

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Imagine sitting down on a cool night in desert terrain, a breeze blowing softly and the stars shining in full force throughout the dark sky. Now pop in Sleepercar's first offering, West Texas, and get the same feeling via musical means.

The band, the newest project from former At The Drive In and current Sparta member Jim Ward, has set itself up for alt-country acclaim, offering hearty harmonies and down-home guitar riffs. While somewhat of a departure from Ward's previous musical work, he says that Sleepercar's sound was a natural fit, given his upbringing.

"I think it just sort of came from being at home," he says. "It is expansive and big and Southwest America, which is still a little bit of a frontier. We live on a border and it's quite a bit different than the rest of the world. I think it kind of reflects where I wrote it."

Ward compiled the album's 11 tracks over seven years of writing, including through the split-up of ATDI and the creation of Sparta. After making some demos of a few of the tracks, Ward gathered an ensemble together--including Ward's father, Jeff--to formally record the beginnings of West Texas.

"He's always been the kind of dad who comes down to the shows during the sound check and says everything sounds great," Ward says. "Some kids grow up building cars with their dad or playing baseball, but for me, music's always been our common thread no matter what point in life we're at. The opportunity to actually make music together was sort of a father/son bonding experience."

While Ward is no stranger to the band life, he says Sleepercar gave him the opportunity to experience and create music in a more directly-influential way, noting Sparta is more of a collective in terms of writing. But he cautions that, though the project was much more directly steered by him, he doesn't see his role as domineering compared to his past musical endeavours and involvement.

"When people say 'side project,' it sounds more like an ego thing to me and I don't want to get into that territory," he says. "It's probably not the way people imply it but I take it that way, so I try to stray away from that."

It is quite apparent that the band is far more than something on the side for its members. Sleepercar is coming into its own, enriching Ward's original ideas and adding to the skeleton foundation he laid out.

"The thing I love about this band is that the songs will always change a little bit every night," he adds. "A lot of the parts were written and played by me over the years but handing off the piano to someone who is 50 times better at piano is great because it takes my elementary skills and makes it sound better."

That fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality and versatility has ended up benefiting the band, especially in unexpected circumstances.

"We added a guy right before that, so his first show with us was on The Tonight Show," Ward says. "It was a surprise, so there wasn't much preparation that went into it. We drove to L.A. and the song that we had rehearsed for the Tonight Show had changed so we went to the rehearsal space and practiced until midnight. But, I kind of like the fact that this band can do that and not have to rehearse a whole lot because there's a certain amount of spontaneity."

Sleepercar will continue to carve out its niche in American music as long as the tunes keep flowing. With Ward at the helm, it is clear that there are more audio breezy nights to come.

Sleepercar plays the Jack Singer Concert Hall with City and Colour on May 25. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.