Jim Ward of Sleepercar seems to like things just fine this side of the 49th parallel

Sleepercar's Un-American Escape Plan

To those familiar with Jim Ward's history - guitarist for post-hardcore ensemble At the Drive-In, frontman for alt-metal combo Sparta - his new band, Sleepercar might come as a surprise. No longer surrounded by Marshall stacks, Ward is now armed with an acoustic guitar singing country-infused tunes accompanied by very un-rock instruments like lap steel. It's almost as if the young man from West Texas has finally made his peace with where he comes from.

"I had been listening to the Old 97's for a couple of years," he tells me over the phone, "and I sort of started just finding my way into that world. And it took a long time (seven years) before it went any further." He actually started writing tunes for this band while he was still touring with At the Drive-In.

"I wanted it to be honest," says Ward. "That was my main thing. I didn't want it sound like I was nicking somebody else's sound."

The new record, West Texas, has a very relaxed, down home feel to it. It's an intimate listen that sounds like you're eavesdropping on a friendly jam session in someone's living room. I ask Ward if making the record with family members, most notably his father, helped in achieving this effect.

"Initially, we just went out to the desert to this studio outside El Paso and started recording these demos and I needed someone to play bass," recalls Ward, "and my dad had just taken up the bass again after not playing serious music for a long time, so I said, 'You should come along.' I never built a car with my dad, I never played baseball - we had different interests than probably most fathers and sons - so making a record together was really a good way to have this nice bond."

Currently touring with Alexisonfire guitarist Dallas Green's acoustic side project City and Colour, I ask what it is about playing in loud bands that sends musicians like Ward and Green running to the studio with their acoustic guitars.

"I think it's just the urge to balance out your life," reflects Ward. "We were on tour together in Australia, and he was doing City and Colour ... and I was playing solo on the acoustic stage at this festival and then he would go and do Alexisonfire later in the afternoon on the big stage, and I thought, 'what an awesome day for him.' You get to have that balance every day. I was a little bit jealous, actually."

As I dig deeper into his ties to the Canadian music scene, Ward starts telling me things I'm totally unprepared for. "The Canadian rock scene reminds me a lot of the Australian rock scene," he says, "where it's a little bit more open-minded than the States even though we're right next door. I think there's just that more accepting attitude. I've always felt really welcome. My wife's family lives in Calgary. I can imagine actually, at some point, living there."

When I jokingly advise that Calgary's a little on the nippy side compared to El Paso, Ward tells me "Vancouver'd probably be a little more up my alley. We [Sparta] made a record there in January-February one year and it was awesome. I loved it, I would totally move there in a second, especially if McCain wins [he's a devout Obama supporter]. I guarantee I'll be there."

Sleepercar play Toronto's Massey Hall with City and Colour and Black Lungs Friday June 6 and Saturday June 7

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Photo of Sleepercar from their MySpace page (see above)

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