As pop music becomes increasingly plagued by style-over-substance composition, more people are turning to traditional songwriting styles in search of depth. In recent years, Americana has become a full-fledged phenomenon, with bands like The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons breaking out into the mainstream.
Don’t be surprised if Atlanta’s Sleepy Turtles soon find themselves mentioned in the same breath. The quintet—led by Dylan Higgins and rounded out by Mike VanKlaveren, Marcus Trail, Will Brooks Parker and Tim Friesen—treads similar sonic pathways, incorporating influences ranging from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, with lushly layered vocal harmonies over dynamic compositions that would seem to come from a much more experienced band.
The group’s origins can be traced to Awakening, Book One of The Emblem & The Lantern, a book of stories Higgins made up for his children. The central themes deal with light treading through darkness and are rooted in his religious beliefs. “I have a deep-rooted faith in Jesus, whom I believe to be the light of the world. I believe, as does the rest of band, in carrying that light into the dark by sharing Christ with those who are in need of all-encompassing, unfailing love.”
As with Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, Higgins’ book had several songs written into the story, so he invited his musician friends to help bring them to life. Thus, Sleepy Turtles was born.
Real vs. synthetic
The band’s blend of folk, bluegrass and gospel was inspired in part by Higgins’ folksinger father, and in part by a childhood in the church. Dylan Taylor Higgins was named after his parents’ favorite musicians, Bob Dylan and James Taylor, and you can hear the influence of acts like Simon & Garfunkel in Sleepy Turtles’ lushly layered vocal harmonies.
“When listening to modern pop music,” he explains, “I have a hard time distinguishing between what’s real and what’s synthetic, and many of the lyrics are impersonal and/or shallow. Folk music is the antithesis of industry standards, being rustic in form and often deep in lyrical content. It seems to be a refreshing alternative for a growing number of people.”
The same could be said for Sleepy Turtles, which is gradually building up a following the old fashioned way—by recording great songs and playing live shows. The quintet has thus far released two EPs, the latest on indie upstart Autumn+Colour Records, which works with artists in a unique community-minded partnership. And though the recently released Summer, Hither is steadily building buzz, the band has no plans to record a full-length album anytime soon.
Keeping ’em wanting more
“There’s been some discussion of doing an album, but for now we’re content with releasing EPs. In fact,” Higgins reveals, “we’re already in pre-production for the next one. It’s very rare these days that I find a full-length album that I can listen to from beginning to end without skipping a track or two. Plus, it’s nice to be able to drop the price point of a release, and only offer the best of the best.”
That approach definitely works in Sleepy Turtles’ favor on Summer, Hither, which moves from the Byrds-influenced title track and the bluegrass-tinged gospel of “Morning Song” to the worshipful “Nature’s Hymn” without ever bludgeoning you with their beliefs. Instead, their music feels like a pastoral reflection on, and celebration of, faith, with just enough ambiguity to leave even the staunchest agnostic craving more.
For Higgins, there’s clearly beauty in simplicity, even when it comes to his dreams for the band. “Our goal is to be better known in our genre,” he says earnestly. “Right now we’re focusing on promoting Summer, Hither by playing shows in Atlanta and all over the southeast. We really enjoy the creative process that emerges in the studio, so in the near future our focus will turn toward recording the next EP. It’s already shaping up to be our best offering yet, lyrically, vocally and instrumentally.”
Taking the slow and steady approach to stardom may be anachronistic for a band in this era of overnight success. But in the case of Sleepy Turtles, it may just be the key to ultimately winning the race.