THIS wasn't supposed to happen. Some time ago (some time being as far back as 1998 when they split up) the band Sleeper moved into the past tense. After eight top 40 singles, three top 10 albums, and a track on the Trainspotting soundtrack, they were safely put away in a box marked Britpop. A quick sonic signifer for the mid-nineties, if you didn't want to go down the obvious Oasis or Blur route.

And yet more than two decades on and Sleeper are a going concern again. Frankly, no one sounds more surprised about this state of affairs than Sleeper frontwoman Louise Wener.

"It's a very surreal feeling," she admits this January morning as she sits at the home she shares with the band's drummer Andy Maclure and their two children.

"It was completely unexpected for us. We had no plans."

So why then has it come to this? What has brought a band who haven’t been a going concern since Tony Blair was a popular Prime Minister back into play?

Fear perhaps, Wener says. "It really scared me to do it. That's part of the attraction."

It was also a chance to do something positive at a time when things seemed negative, she adds. "Someone very close to me got very sick in 2017. Every so often I would get these emails saying come and do some gigs. I'd pretty much got to the stage where I'd erase them without looking, but during this period I clicked on one and I thought, 'You know what? We should do this. We should do something out of our comfort zone and something life-affirming. I just had an impulse to do it at that point in my life."

And, so, two years ago Sleeper – who these days consist of original members Wener (now in her fifties), Maclure and guitarist John Stewart, as well as Prodigy’s former bassist Kieron Pepper – returned to the stage, firstly in small gigs and then as part of the Britpop-flavoured Starshaped festival.

"That was pretty much all we'd planned to do,” Wener admits. “We did those four gigs and that was our ambition for it. And then we just thought, 'What would it be like if we started writing again?'"

And so here we are in 2019 with a new Sleeper album, The Modern Age, their first for 21 years. Wener, who has been writing novels and a very readable Britpop-era memoir in the years in between, is writing pop songs again.

"I liked getting back to that," she says this morning. "What I liked about it is how concise it is. You spend a year writing a novel, an unwieldy 300-page thing you wrestle with. Suddenly, [in a song] if you've got something to write you can express it in a very few words. The brevity was really interesting."

The Modern Age is a creditable return. Produced by Stephen Street, it sounds very Sleeperesque. A little less brittle perhaps, a little more world-weary. There are ballads on there – last track Big Black Sun is a stand-out – but on the whole it's pleasingly noisy.

"I have to say I enjoyed that very much," admits Wener. "The idea of being onstage in front of all that noise and it being super loud. You very much let go of yourself in those circumstances and I find that quite a magical thing to do."

If anything, The Modern Age is probably closer to the band's rather grungy debut album Swallow (which came out in 1995) than their Britpop pomp.

The difference between then and now is age and experience. As Wener sings on album track Dig, "We have no regrets. We only have debts."

Was that your experience, Louise? "Absolutely. I think that's the experience of a lot of people in their forties."

The new album was, if not made at home, prepped there. "Me and Andy made demo versions of the songs in our attic in between looking after the kids and going out to work.” (Maclure is a music lecturer by day.)

“It fitted into our lives in little pieces and I think that makes me sort of prouder of it. It wasn't something that had all our attention. We had to pick and choose our moments to make it happen."

That wasn't the case back in the day. "Back in the nineties that was our job. That was what we did every single day. We were in rehearsal rooms rehearsing up new songs."

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Sleeper were never quite in the Britpop premier league. That was partly because even at their best they never managed anything quite as era-defining as Live Forever, Common People or Animal Nitrate. But it also owed something that while Wener was a pleasingly mouthy front woman who knew a good quote was worth a front cover or two, she was also a woman.

One of the sobering pleasures of Wener’s memoir Just For One Day (originally titled Different for Girls) is its clear-eyed delineation of the boggling sexism of the music industry in all its varieties.

In the end Britpop was a boy's toy. It's no real surprise that it emerged in conjunction with Loaded magazine and the cult of the New Lad.

What that meant was that women who wore boots and played guitars like Wener and Elastica's Justine Frischmann were both objectified and dismissed at the same time.

"I think there was more judgement and sexism during that period than they like to imagine. The music press at the time presented itself as very ... We call it 'wokeness' now, don't we? God forbid."

The reality, she suggests, was something rather different.

That said, Wener was a young, ambitious woman who wanted pop to fill a void for herself. "I wasn't the coolest of 12-year-olds,” she writes in Just for One Day. "If I had been, I wouldn't have grown up to be a pop star."

"I've never felt cool and I don't believe in it either," she says this morning. "I think the problem was, when I was in my twenties I sort of believed in it in some sense. That was something you achieved. You achieved coolness. You had it thrust upon you at some stage. There would be some taste maker who would point at you and say, 'OK, you can come through now and you can be chosen first for the netball team.'

"But it's never about that, is it? That impulse to join the group, be accredited, seem like the cool person. That's a load of b******."

And yet, I ask, when you started appearing on magazine covers and on TV back then did that not satisfy that 12-year-old you had been? Was there never a sense that this was what you had been looking for?

"It's a really interesting question. When you're growing up you have this notion of what that world would be like. Being on TV, that's going to cure everything. I think for a lot of people who go into the entertainment industry there's a sense that that's going to imbue them with some sort of magic that will change the way you are.

"But when you get to it and you see behind the curtain you realise it's just another job.

"That's not to say we didn't have enormous fun. But those things were much less interesting than playing live or going into recording studios and making a record. That was much more interesting than being on the cover of a magazine."

These days Louise Wener is listening to a lot of Parquet Courts and BC Camplight. She loved the last Breeders record. She's just given in and bought a record player again and because she spends so much time with teenage girls she has listened to Ariana Grande. A lot.

How her kids listen to music is so different. And as a result, she says, "there's not the same sense of tribalism that there was. 'I'm Blur or Oasis. I'm this or that.' They're very casual about it. That's also democratic. You pick and choose the things you genuinely love."

What, does she feel, is Britpop's legacy? "Partly what I feel is there's too much analysis. 'What was Britpop? What did it mean? What did it represent?' It was music. You either liked those songs or you didn't. This constant exploration of the culture, of the time, maybe it doesn't warrant that level of analysis, really.

"There's a certain snobbery about it,” she adds. “And then you go out and you play the gigs and you realise that it really meant something to people. That was their music. That's what they grew up on.”

And so, once again, she is getting up onstage and as well as the new songs, she is singing Inbetweener and Sale of the Century.

What's your relationship to those singles now, Louise? "I really love them in a different way. I'm proud of them in a way that I suppose I didn't allow myself back in the day."

Why not? "I don't know. Because there was a sense of insecurity about your position within the genre, with the other bands, what you thought was your pegging. You worried too much about that sort of stuff, which, now, seems like a nonsense.

“Now I can think, 'I wrote a great tune and I love it.' And you see people singing along with it and it feels like a simple pleasure."

The Modern Age comes out next Friday. Sleeper play The Garage in Glasgow on Thursday and The Liquid Room in Edinburgh next Saturday.


“I think I loved Oasis’s outspokenness. I loved that they weren’t filtering. There was less filtering back then. Now everybody is so filtered in what they say. They are so careful because if you do say something everyone hates you on Twitter for half an hour.

“I’ve always loved that lack of filter. That’s quite endearing, I guess. But I loved Blur’s records.”