Ten years ago, Sleeping With Sirens erupted with Kellin Quinn’s piercing vocals layered over splitting riffs and breakdowns. In their seemingly overnight success, the band’s creativity, natural songwriting abilities and inexhaustible energy propelled them forward and marked them as a scene staple.
Now 10 years later, Quinn reflects on how the band came together, their first album review for With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear and how that pushed them to work harder. Quinn also recollects how the group came together to record their debut record and what they’ve learned since the release.
When With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear was released in 2010, it was a very different time. Myspace was on the way out, but it was still a really big platform for newer artists to release music. How did Sleeping With Sirens utilize that platform to release the album and connect with your audience?
That’s a great question. So basically I found Justin [Hills], our bass player, and Gabe [Barham], the previous drummer of the band, through Myspace because I grew up in two different places. I grew up in Oregon, and then I finished high school in Michigan. After I was done with high school, I moved back [to Oregon]. I got into a relationship with a girl, and we got married. And then I got divorced and ended up going back to Michigan just to clear my head and get out of the space that I was in.
During the time that I was home, I was in a local band called Closer 2 Closure. We used Myspace for all of our music release stuff. It was the biggest thing at the time. That was how all the artists were getting into releasing music. I remember coming back to Michigan and meeting up again with a high school buddy, and he was like, “Hey, I got to go to band practice. Do you want to come with me?” And I was like, “Sure.”
So I went to band practice with him, and that’s where I met Justin and Gabe because they were in the band that he was in previously. When I walked in, they were talking among themselves quietly. And I was like, “What the hell is going on?” And then Gabe goes, “Dude, are you Kellin Quinn from Closer 2 Closure?” I thought they were messing with me because of my friend from high school. I was like, “Yeah, dude. Yeah, I am.” They’re like, “No dude, for real. Like one of your songs, ‘Rhyme Or Reason,’ is me and my girlfriend’s song on Myspace.” And I thought that was hilarious because I didn’t know that my band had that reach at the time. You’ll see people going to local shows, but I had no idea that people in Michigan were listening to my shit. There wasn’t really analytics like that back then. So that blew my mind.
I don’t know if you remember people getting bands spamming your inbox with messages basically like, “Hey, I think you’d like my band,” which was really annoying. Well, me and Justin figured out how to do it. We would take time on two laptops, and we would make it personal where we would change a little bit of the statement so that it seemed like we were actually sending it to the person. We would do that for hours all night. And that’s what got Sleeping With Sirens big. We were in Florida making demos and trying to get signed. We would sit up all night sending messages and blowing up people’s inboxes.
So you were taking that extra step to become personal with your audience.
We took Justin and Gabe’s old band [page] For All We Know. We took their Myspace because it was theirs, and they already had followers. And then we just switched it over to the Sleeping With Sirens one. And then we just started going for it from there. So we had a little bit of a platform to start, but then we just started blowing it up. Then when we released “Bomb Dot Com,” it started to spiral from there.
When you were writing and recording this album, did you ever imagine that it was going to have this much of an effect on our community and scene of music?
I guess the short answer to that is no. We did two demos, and we were working with Cameron Mizell, who was the go-to guy for Rise Records back then. When I worked with him, he was almost doing a favor to this kid, Nick [Trombino], who was one of the original guitar players because he had done the Broadway album, which is Jack [Fowler]’s old band from Florida. And so they kicked out Nick. And Nick was like, “I’m gonna take this kid Kellin from Oregon because he’s got an awesome voice, and I’m going to get him in the band, and it’s basically going to rival Broadway.”
So when I went to Florida, that was the first time I got to work with Cameron. He and I hit it off really well from the get-go. And we talked about, you know, “I think you’re an amazing talent, whether it’s with these guys or not. I would love to work with you more.” So we made these two demos and sent them to Rise, and we almost signed to Tragic Hero. Then [we] ended up going with Rise because they offered us a deal, and we were initially going to do an EP, but Craig [Ericson] at Rise it was like, “I want a full-length.” So we had to write at least four or five more songs in a matter of a week-and-a-half or two weeks for that album.
What was the writing process like when you were creating something that ended up being your first major-label record?
It was interesting because we had Justin and Gabe, who were used to playing with each other, and we had Nick and Brandon [McMaster], who were used to playing with each other but had no idea about Gabe and Justin. That was my thing, like, “Hey, if I’m going to be in the band, I want these guys to be in it.” I didn’t want to go all the way to Florida and play with a bunch of people I didn’t know. So at least I had a familiar face there.
Everyone was really chill, but it was a lot of different ideas being mashed together to a point of where I’d get the music, and I’d be like, “Guys, we need to have a verse and a chorus because this shit is just crazy guitar licks everywhere.” I remember writing the actual track “With Ears To See, And Eyes To Hear.” There were a lot of crazy things going on. So to make it rhythmic like I do, it’s almost like hip-hop in a way, I had to figure out how to write it because I was used to writing to acoustic-style music. So it was a lot different. But it was fun, and it was a challenge.
Like you asked, did I think it was gonna be as big as it was? Well, no, I didn’t, so it wasn’t scary. It was just fun and a challenge. I wasn’t thinking about an outcome. Obviously, I would love to be in a band and to be on tour. But I wasn’t thinking that we were gonna be a big deal.
So when was the first moment that you realized, “Holy shit, this is actually blowing up.”
A huge part of it was because I grew up listening to Drive-Thru Records and Tooth & Nail. And I would find all of my info on music through AltPress. I had a subscription, and I would check out all of the new bands coming up. You guys had this thing where you put, “If you like this band, you’re going to love this band.”
Back then, I would be able to find out when my favorite bands were releasing albums because there wasn’t really a known source. It was almost like, “OK, I know that Finch are going to release a new album to be announced, but it’s technically going to try to come out around this time or date.” I knew that I could base my findings on that. So when our band had our first album review for With Ears To See And With Eyes To Hear, it was in AltPress. It wasn’t a great review. [Laughs.] I remember it being a pretty shitty review, but it was still exciting to be in the magazine and have it being something that I picked up and read my whole life.
Whoever wrote that, shame on them. [Laughs.] I bet 10 years later, they’re kicking themselves now.
Yeah, I don’t remember who it was, but it was pretty funny. [Laughs.] If anything, it drove us to work harder. It was weird coming up where there were a lot of bands that sounded similar to us because that’s how we started With Ears To See. We listened to bands that were currently doing it. And then also Nick coming from a band like Broadway, who were touring with all the other bands around the Rise era. It was just a Rise era. So I think With Ears To See definitely put us on the map, but I think Let’s Cheers To This, our second album, was what really set us apart from other bands that sounded similar.
When you were on the verge of releasing the album, how were you feeling? How did you think fans were going to react to it?
It was one of those things where I had no expectations because it was our first record. I didn’t know if fucking five people would buy it or what. For us, it was like, “Hey, we’re going to Hot Topic [to] buy the album.” And we went to a few Hot Topics, and we just bought all of them out so that no one could buy them. But we thought in our heads that at least we sold 50. We just bought 50 CDs with our own money. Back then, you had Myspace, but it was really about playing shows, and it was about being on tours with bands like We Came As Romans, who were bigger than us and playing for their fans.
When Matt [Good] was singing for [From First To Last], they took us out on tour and taught us touring etiquette. We could see that our band were doing something because there were more kids coming to shows wearing our shirts. That was the only way we could really see it, whereas now bands get the fast satisfaction of like, “Oh shit, we got this many views on this song today.” They know that people are listening to it. But I think something that they’re realizing [is] that you still have to be able to provide a service at a show and show up and fucking kill it. Just because someone listens to you online doesn’t mean that they’re going to spend money on a ticket.
Obviously, with the way streaming is, you can listen to it on Spotify. But unless you’re buying the album or buying a ticket to a show, you’re not investing in an artist.
That’s one thing that’s great about our fanbase—we have such a welcoming fanbase. So when we bring bands on tour, I’ve seen this time and time again [where] they’re like, “Dude, your fans are such a pleasure to play for.” Our fanbase is the type that trust us and who we bring out on tour. They’ll listen to the band, and they’ll know all of the words. So when the band come out and play, they’ll be singing the words. And the bands that are on tour are almost confused. They’ll be like, “Holy shit, dude, we’re stomping this tour.” We have a really awesome, loving fanbase that’s going to support who we want to bring out.
Sleeping With Sirens fans are some of the absolute best fans I’ve ever interacted with. Your fans are the type of fans that if somebody falls down, everyone is right there to pick them up.
It’s great. It’s been a joy to win over kids. We’ve had the privilege to tour [with] bands like Good Charlotte. There are kids going to see Good Charlotte because they grew up listening to Good Charlotte. And here’s Sleeping With Sirens, who they may have never heard before. Maybe they’ve heard of us, but they’re like, “I don’t know if I fuck with that band. I don’t know if I like vocals, or I don’t know if I like the way they sound.” But by the end of it, they’re singing along, and they’re stoked, and then you’ll start seeing them come into your tour. I have a couple of people that specifically told me, “I didn’t listen to you before Good Charlotte, but you guys won me over.” So that’s amazing.
We came up in a time [with] With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear where it mattered how you sounded live and it mattered the kind of show you played and it mattered the presence that you had. And that’s something that we have to learn from countless tours. And we’ve done it for so long. We’ve been a band for 10 years. I think that’s the difference between now and then. It’s the hustle and playing shows and being hungry but still going up and giving your all, even if you feel tired or [don’t] want to do it or you’re not in the mood.
Even I can recall when you first played Peabody’s in Cleveland.
I remember there was a really small room to the side, and then there was a bigger room. I think the first time we ever played there was on the All Stars tour. And I remember we got to play the big room. But I remember playing the small room at Peabody’s with We Came As Romans and just how big of a deal it was for our band to headline. That venue was crazy for us around that time.
Speaking of We Came As Romans, you had worked with Dave Stephens on “Captain Tyin Knots Vs. Mr. Walkway (No Way).” What was it like working with him on that track? You got to work with him, and then you went on tour with them.
It was a really cool experience. He’s such a sweetheart. He’s always been a really nice guy. So to get the parts back from him and Aaron Marsh [Copeland], both who were featured on that album, was just a really cool experience. I remember asking a couple of different people. I think before Aaron Marsh did the part on “Let Love Bleed Red,” I asked Anthony Green, who declined at the time. And I thought of Aaron Marsh because I’ve been a huge Copeland fan forever. So I asked him to be a part of it. He said yes.
Just being able to work with people within the community—Dave being one of the champion screamers at the time, having one of the biggest records and being a part of it and lending his voice—was great. Having someone like Aaron Marsh, who I idolized enough to name my daughter after their band, be a part of the song was just a really cool experience. And it was definitely a first for me.
How did you get Aaron Marsh to be a part of the album?
I don’t remember how I got his contact, to be honest. I don’t know if I had him on Myspace or if I got an email from someone that knew him. But I do remember him being very cool and asking to hear the song. We didn’t really have anything to reference other than the demos on our Myspace.
I think he thought that it was going to be another Underoath type thing because he did a feature on Underoath‘s album They’re Only Chasing Safety. So when I sent him “Let Love Bleed Red,” he was surprised. He was like, “This is not what I expected.” And I remember being so stoked on his part. That was one of the times in my life where I gave a song to somebody and they brought it back, and it was even better than what I could have imagined.
I can’t believe the album is turning 10. How does it feel being onstage and being able to sing these incredible songs? 10 years later, they still resonate so much with your audience that everyone in the crowd is screaming those lyrics back at you?
It’s amazing. I think that there have been times where Jack’s like, “I don’t want to play ‘James Dean’ anymore.” And I’m like, “Dude, we can’t though.” There’s this energy in the room when we play “James Dean” that just erupts. It’s not even just girls in the crowd. It’s the guys, too.
And I’ll never forget when we played Xtreme Wheels in New York. We were on tour with Emmure. It was a weird tour for us. And I’m like, “Dude, how are we gonna do a tour with Emmure? The people that go to those shows kick the shit out of each other.”
I’ll never forget watching the pit for Emmure and watching this dude literally just hit people in the face. And then we played “James Dean,” and he was in the front row almost crying and singing every fucking word. There’s something about that song. It doesn’t matter if you’re an angry kid who wants to listen to metal or hardcore. Music has a weird way of bringing those moments out. Something I love about our band is we were heavy enough to be able to cross that boundary.
How do you think the band and you personally have grown in the last 10 years?
We’ve been a band for so long that we’ve seen the heightening and the escalation. We got to go from playing the small venue at Peabody’s to headlining the big one to playing multiple Warped Tours and having kids show up and pack out the crowd for that. And then we’ve also seen our band in the middle and decline and go back to some of the smaller rooms that we playing in when we first started.
I remember having that realization that just because you get to a certain point doesn’t mean that you can stop working and putting in as much effort as possible. And so that’s another thing I’ve learned: Cherish the moments you’ve got.
Looking back, is there anything you would’ve done differently on the album?
You know, no. I think that our band finally realized how to put together a good collection of songs in my mind.
I’m doing a podcast later where I’m talking about five records that saved my life. And there are people that say that our band saved their lives. I wanted to talk about the five albums that bring back memories like that for me. And I was talking about the self-titled Third Eye Blind record, which is not even in the same genre. But I listened to that record from start to finish. I think it’s perfect. I think every song is amazing on that album.
And so for me, I think With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear was just like, “Well, do we have 10 songs yet?” kind of a record. So I guess the only thing I would change if I could is to know and be mindful that these songs are going to last longer than what you expect, and they’re gonna be living 10 years from now.