Allen Tate, a Brooklyn-based vocalist and songwriter, first received acclaim as the lead singer of San Fermin, the indie rock band led by composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone. (The two became friends as teenagers at a Berklee College of Music summer program.) Ludwig-Leone wrote about half of San Fermin’s songs for Tate’s voice, which contrasted with the band’s female vocalists to thrilling effect. Strong reviews greeted the group’s two albums, with Tate’s distinctive baritone voice described as “sterling,” “gorgeous,” and “golden” by the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR. As the front man of San Fermin, Tate has performed sold-out shows across the world and has shared the stage with the Arctic Monkeys, The National, St. Vincent, The Head and the Heart, and alt-j.
Tate began composing Sleepwalker in the fall of 2014 during a 3-week stay in Copenhagen, where San Fermin had performed to an enthusiastic reception. “I didn’t know a soul and didn’t really interact with anyone,” he says. “All of these songs have something to do with feeling alone—physically alone, or feeling estranged, or alone like it’s all up to you.” Tate completed the writing over the following year while on the road with San Fermin. Tate says he and Ludwig-Leone, who produced the record, tried to convey the sense of a “menacing bath: warm and enveloping, but with an element of anxiety.”
The first work ever released under his own name, Tate says it was important to him to get the words right. “I’m a self-taught musician, so musical complexity has never really been one of my aims, but moments when the right words are delivered over the right sounds are what draw me to music,” he says. The result is melancholic wordplay and minimalist sounds that mirror Tate’s feelings of isolation at the time. “I wanted to translate my experience of feeling optimistic and doubtful at the same time, both into the sounds and the lyrics,” he says. “Writing the hook for ‘Don’t Choke,’ (You’re gonna be great — don’t choke!) was almost cathartic.”
Words and sounds chosen carefully, Tate went into the studio with Ludwig-Leone and San Fermin bandmates Michael Hanf (drums) and Tyler McDiarmid (guitar) and recorded Sleepwalker during breaks in the San Fermin tour schedule. The album was mixed by Matty Green (TV on the Radio, Yeasayer, Wild Belle), who put the final touches on the sound. “Matty and I basically melded minds — I would send him mix references that ranged from The Smashing Pumpkins to The Roots and he was always able to pick up on what I meant.” Just nine tracks and 30 minutes in length, Sleepwalker does not attempt to offer grandiose statements. Instead, it shares honest observations of the many ways that we often are and often feel alone.