In an ongoing effort to highlight Ithaca’s thriving alternative music scene, we wake up local Ithaca musicians at their homes (or touring artists on the couches they’re crashing on) and have them play their music for us. From The Ithaca Voice and Ithaca Underground, it’s the Bedhead Sessions.
ITHACA—This May, British fans of alternative pop and indie rock will get a chance to discover Slumbers for the first time. But those familiar with the Ithaca Underground scene may already be ardent supporters of the Rochester band.
When I interviewed Slumbers bassist Claire McClusky at her on-campus apartment at Ithaca College, she had a very clear memory of how she got acquainted with the local all-ages DIY music scene: “I went to an Eskimeaux show at the Chanticleer. I didn’t know what Ithaca Underground was until I went to that show, and it was the best night of my life. I didn’t know who Eskimeaux was either, and now they’re my favorite band and Ithaca Underground’s my favorite thing.”
McClusky grew up in Rochester before enrolling at Ithaca College as an arts student at the Roy H. Park School of Communications in 2014, and the differences between the two cities’ music scenes seem obvious. “The Rochester music scene is bigger because it’s a bigger city,” she says. “I’ll go to a show there and not see any of the same people that I saw at the last show. In Ithaca, I’ll always see some of the same faces.”
McClusky herself has become one of the Ithaca DIY scene’s familiar faces. After attending that Eskimeaux show in 2015, she began volunteering to Ithaca Underground as a photographer and videographer, as well as a poster artist. But many know her best as one of the three core members of the up-and-coming indie rock band Slumbers.
Slumbers at Tweehouse in Ithaca, NY. From left to right: Emma Willer, Sabrina Nichols, Claire McClusky. Photo by Benjamin Torrey
Sabrina Nichols and Emma Willer started forming what would become Slumbers in Rochester shortly after graduating high school. McClusky explains feeling left out with self-deprecating deadpan: “I was jealous, so I decided to learn the bass—because I heard every band wants a bassist, and they’ll take what they can get.”
In the last couple years as a band, Slumbers has grown from a trio of friends teaching one another the songs they were each writing separately, to a genuine touring and recording band, now with drummer Stephen Ferm.
Francesca Hodge, McClusky’s friend and roommate (also a visual artist and an IU volunteer), designates herself as Slumbers’ “number one fan” and remembers their earliest shows.
“I first saw them live in my friend’s apartment on IC campus and it was very informal,” Hodge recalls. “They had a mirror that they painted ‘Slumbers’ on, and they projected a movie—I think it was The Bling Ring—behind them with a little projector. They all seemed kind of nervous. But when I last saw them… they’ve just improved so much. They’re so comfortable with interacting with the crowd and stuff now.”
When they released their debut EP Come Over last November, Slumbers even began cultivating a small but enthusiastic global audience.
“Someone posted a picture online of their cassette at a store in Japan,” Hodge says, “and their Spotify says most listeners are from London. It’s so crazy. They’re international, baby!”
Well-promoted by Sports Day Records (a Texas-based label with origins in the UK), it’s not hard to recognize why Come Over resonates with people. The album—beautifully produced—was recorded in a single week down in Nashville, Tennessee in a small room without air conditioning. Sweet, soft double-tracked vocal harmonies are laid overtop driving drum beats, memorable guitar riffs, and bright synthesizer melodies.
It seems most people become Slumbers fans, however, after hearing their own lives reflected back at them in the band’s lyrics. My first exposure to the band was the song “Battles”, a languid inner-monologue from someone unable to figure out why they’re unhappy: Why am I in a constant battle with my mind? Why am I lonely?
Another example, “Stay Hidden”, is written from the perspective of someone whose social anxieties keep them in bed, saddled with a Fear of Missing Out. I personally fell in love with Slumbers after hearing the song’s powerfully simple, pleading coda: Anxiety takes over me / I want to leave
In my conversation with Hodge, she said she describes them to friends as “sleepy rock” music. “It’s relaxed. And it’s very relatable. They talk about depression and anxiety and actual issues that I’ve had to deal with, but it’s really comforting music to listen to.”
Currently on a break while McClusky studies art in Amsterdam, Slumbers will start touring again this May, in Europe, the US, and Canada (dates below).
McClusky is looking forward to touring the UK with Slumbers, but she also can’t wait to return to Ithaca.
“I’m excited because I wouldn’t be able to travel to as many places if it weren’t for Slumbers having shows there. But I’m really excited to live in Ithaca again. I feel like I have a new appreciation for it since being away… I’m excited to see the people in Ithaca and feel a sense of community. And to have roommates.”
Slumbers Summer Tour
- May 25 – Brighton, UK (venue TBA)
- May 26 – London, UK at Shacklewell Arms
- May 27 – Margate, UK at Tom Thumb Basement
- June 1 – Amsterdam, Netherlands at Fort Fluff
- July 8 – Brooklyn, NY at Alphaville
- July 10 – Providence, RI at AS220
- July 15 – Montreal, Quebec at Psychic City
- July 18 – Toronto, Ontario at Smiling Buddha
- July 19 – Buffalo, NY at Dreamland
- July 22 – Ithaca, NY at The Cat House
The lead image for this article was illustrated by Francesca Hodge, “number one Slumbers fan”.