Roc On! Series
Rochester is no stranger to good music: the Flower City, home of the International Jazz Festival and the Eastman School of Music, has produced several prominent singers, songwriters and bands within the last few decades. Among the greats that hail from the area are opera singer and soprano Renee Fleming, Foreigner’s lead singer Lou Gramm, punk rock band Such Gold, Grammy award winning jazz composer and musician Chuck Mangione and indie rock band Joywave.
Each of these acts have garnered enough attention to take them from Rochester and put them in the global spotlight, with Fleming performing at London’s famed Royal Opera House and Such Gold playing alongside major pop-punk acts Four Year Strong and The Story So Far. While these are the easily recognizable names that have achieved international acclaim, there are dozens of other lesser-known individuals and groups in the Rochester area deserving of recognition for the talents they contribute to the city’s music culture.
For a band whose members spend the majority of the year apart, dispersed around the country at various universities, Slumbers has done quite well for themselves. On their first break from college, Sabrina Nichols, third-year 3D Digital Design student at RIT and native of Penfield, NY, and her childhood friends, Claire McClusky (Ithaca College, New York) and Emma Willer (Belmont University, Tennessee), began playing and writing music together. Stephen Ferm, another RIT student, joined the lineup last June, learning the entire Slumbers discography the day before a show. In the few short years since their formation, Slumbers has progressed from four individuals playing instruments and writing songs in secret, to playing shows all along the east coast and getting 15,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
Slumbers has progressed from four individuals playing instruments and writing songs in secret, to playing shows all along the east coast and getting 15,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
Because only Nichols and Ferm attend the same college, Slumbers can only get together over school breaks and summers to put on shows, but that isn’t to say they aren’t active in their time apart. While away at school, each of the members practice: Nichols on guitar, McClusky on bass, Willer on guitar, synth and keyboards and Ferm on the drums. Additionally, all three girls contribute to the vocals on Slumbers’ tracks; Nichols jokes, “We all sing ... except our drummer, we don’t let him sing.”
Nichols, McClusky and Willer also write songs while they’re at school. A very collaborative songwriting process, they show each other what they’ve written and get feedback on new music when they’re able to get together. “We have a lot of original songs because there’s three of us writing stuff,” Nichols says. “[We’re] always writing stuff ... we have so many songs we’ve never played still because we don’t have time.”
Humble, Honest and Creative
From the beginning, Slumbers has been playing original music, even before they put out their “Come Over” EP. Drawing inspiration from Sufjan Stevens, Frankie Cosmos, Adult Mom, Avi Buffalo and even Odd Future, Nichols describes Slumbers’ sound as simple and quiet and their songs as honest. Nichols notes that Slumbers has been called creative, but is hesitant to agree — her humble personality mirroring the quiet, reserved sound of the band.
The band’s understated style is even showcased in the venues they play at. “We don’t like to play house parties where everyone’s really drunk because they don’t listen,” Nichols says, sounding reminiscent of the dilemma many singer-songwriters and acoustic acts face when trying to play to unruly crowds. Instead, Slumbers enjoys playing basement shows because, as Nichols surmises, “I guess we’re shy.” One unique experience for Slumbers was when people started moshing during their set, an action usually reserved for hardcore shows. “It was like, but we don’t play that music ... it was awesome,” Nichols laughs.
Music in Rochester
Being from Rochester, while not all currently located here, Slumbers has become familiar with many of the names and faces of the local music scene. They’ve played dozens of shows in the area with both local and touring bands. “Most of the people know each other ... if you’re new you can just hop on a show,” Nichols explains. She acknowledges Tim Avery, who books for the Bug Jar and other local venues, for his support of small local acts. In the recent months, Nichols has enjoyed seeing the community come together around music and grow more accepting. Alongside other local groups, Nichols played a solo set in February as a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) fundraiser, but numerous other benefit shows have taken place in support of everything from Rochester’s refugee and homeless populations to the Roc4Tim show last fall in support of Avery, who was fighting cancer.
Looking to the Future
It takes a lot of work to be in a band and the members of Slumbers have the additional challenge of being college students. Constant emails fly around between members, Theo Lloyd-Hughes of Sports Day Records and venues and organizations which often require the reading of lengthy agreements. “[That’s] a hassle ... but the music part is always just fun and relaxing; that’s always what I want to do for fun when I have free time."
"The music part is always just fun and relaxing; that’s always what I want to do for fun when I have free time."
Despite the efforts required to be in a band and succeed as a band, the constant desire Nichols feels to write and play music is reason alone to make her want to do it for a living. With all the members of Slumbers being art or design majors, Nichols says she’d love if each of them could create their art on the side and “have music be the main thing.”
The hardest part of going to colleges so far away from each other is that Slumbers always wants to play shows, but only can when everyone is on school breaks. This summer, the band plans to stay busy with a tour of Europe after McClusky finishes her study abroad in Amsterdam, and then a northeast U.S. and Canada tour in July. Additionally, Slumbers will be recording new music either in Ithaca or at a cottage on Canandaigua Lake.
When asked if she thinks Slumbers has "made it," Nichols says, “[It] kinda still doesn’t feel real ... I was just thinking about that today. ‘When is this gonna be a real band?’ ... We’ve been having shows and people have been singing all the words and it’s so weird, but it’s really cool, too ... yeah, I think we’re a real band.”
- Sabrina Nichols, guitar/vocals
- Claire McClusky, bass/vocals
- Claire Willer, synth and keyboard/guitar/vocals
- Stephen Ferm, drums