The release of the September EP concludes the ambitious Yearbook project (October 2010-September 2011), defined most simply as “3 brand-new songs, every month, for 1 year.” Yearbook originated from songwriter Ryan O’Neal’s desire to devote himself more comprehensively to his creative process. The subscription model offered by Yearbook introduced a revolutionary approach to the modern listener’s voracious appetite. The project invited the listener to follow O’Neal’s progress on his year-long musical journey as he promised them three new songs each month. Listeners agreed, and 36 songs later, with the release of September, he has delivered.
How does one follow up on such an ambitious accomplishment as Yearbook? The latest news in the world of Sleeping At Last is the prominent song placement of Turning Page in one of 2011′s biggest box-office feature films, Breaking Dawn – Part 1, the fourth of five movies in the wildly successful Twilight Saga. Turning Page, a song written exclusively for the film and featured on its official soundtrack, won Sleeping At Last two key placements in the film, first as the musical backdrop to the iconic wedding scene and second as a narrative element in the equally-anticipated honeymoon scene. The Yearbook project achieved success on many levels for Sleeping At Last, and O’Neal’s prolific songwriting has also led to multiple TV placements, including ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, as well as FOX’s 2012 season of So You Think You Can Dance and in the season finale of Bones, all emphasizing the cinematic nature of his music.
The Yearbook project demonstrates O’Neal’s willingness to reimagine his craft, which is another critical element of Sleeping At Last’s remarkable independent success and longevity. As Ryan describes the project’s origins, “Inspiration for the project stemmed from a simple question: What is my favorite aspect of being a songwriter? The answer was hidden in the question – writing songs. ‘Yearbook’ has created an opportunity to devote myself to the craft of writing songs from a more close and personal place than ever before.” O’Neal embraced this challenge and pushed himself diligently in his writing process in order to achieve his goal. The unique subscription structure of Yearbook further illustrates O’Neal’s gift for reinvention in his art.
The project continued to innovate by expanding its broad themes through artwork and guest collaboration as well. Each month, a custom watercolor cover depicts a different event in nature, from a lunar-inspired migration of “Box Jellyfish” off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii (October EP), to nature’s most beautiful light show, the Aurora Borealis, as seen from a small town in Iceland (February EP). A continued partnership with painter Geoff Benzing allowed O’Neal to translate his inspiration from nature to cover artwork as he pursued his commitment to the curation of new art as well as music. Multi-instrumentalist O’Neal performed most of the parts for Yearbook‘s 36 tracks himself, from the core melodies of piano, acoustic/electric guitars and ukulele to banjo, melodica and even an occasional violin part, and too many more to list. His exploits into the world of collaboration also demonstrated O’Neal’s commitment to variety in the project. Featured guests on Yearbook include Singer/Songwriters Jon Foreman (Switchfoot), Katie Herzig, David Hodges, and Stacey DuPree-King (Eisley) as well as multi-instrumentalists Dan Perdue (former member of Sleeping At Last), Ryan Francesconi (Joanna Newsom) and Paul Von Mertens (Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Wilco), along with many, many more. These “signatures” on the project contribute even more personal variety to a project that explores many different musical directions. And all throughout, a listener gains the sense that he or she is privy to a process so personal and immediate that it feels like reading an intimate journal.
Ryan O’Neal’s journey has taken many turns over the past twelve years under the moniker of Sleeping At Last. What began in 1999 as a Chicago-based teenage garage band has organically transitioned to original songwriter O’Neal as a solo artist continuing the gorgeous thread of work that has amazed and captivated listeners over all these years. Near its inception, Sleeping At Last’s amateur debut album, Capture, was noticed by Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, who helped expose the music to the major-label world. Soon after, the band signed to Interscope Records and released Ghosts (2003), their first official full-length album. Two independently-released full-length records followed: Keep No Score (2006) and Storyboards (2009). In between the writing and recording of albums, the band has established a reputation for a pitch-perfect live show, successfully headlining several U.S. tours and sharing the stage with such artists as Switchfoot, Yellowcard, Something Corporate, Billy Corgan’s Zwan, Alanis Morrisette, Lifehouse, and Phantom Planet, just to name a few. The creative process has always been protected, as the band self-produced each record, working with respected mixers such as John Goodmanson and Alan Moulder. On Storyboards, the song Clockwork featured an orchestral arrangement composed by the legendary Van Dyke Parks, which was a veritable dream come true for O’Neal. All along, their grassroots following has continued to build strength and demonstrates fierce loyalty to the music that has progressed alongside their own lives for all these years.
Sleeping At Last has long been a beacon shining brightly on behalf of independent artists. In the ever-changing climate of the music industry, the quest for a successful independent career seems evermore difficult to attain. O’Neal pursues this challenge relentlessly through his commitment to musical integrity in his songwriting, and in this way nurtures a unique and personal relationship with his listeners. He has remained true to the things that brought him to music in the first place: his love of melody and the power of words. His music and lyrics emerge from a place that is honest and raw, asking every question that occurs and promising no fast, sure answers, but somehow always offering hope as the consistent, overarching theme.
Photos © 2009 by: David Strauss