“I think part of why this EP exists is the comfort of sharing a governing fear,” Alexia Antoniou says of A Sleeping Place, the forthcoming project she’ll be releasing as half of Gawain and the Green Knight, a folk duo with her partner, Mike O’Malley. “What of ourselves is left behind and for how long? Do the things we leave behind really tell our stories, the important stories? I think, by the fact of our shared mortality, we have so, so much in common, which is what these songs seek to explore.”
Inspired by the etymology of the Greek word for cemetery, which simply means “a sleeping place,” the duo created an album that sits comfortably in the deep, sometimes dark, parts of the subconscious, arranged in such a way that you remember why life can be so joyful in the first place, its tempo anything but sad. “I think of this EP as a meditation on mortality vs. immortality,” Alexia says. “When I walk through a cemetery, I often find myself thinking about how little is conveyed on the headstones about the people buried there. How little can be captured about who they are, and how the same will one day be true of all the people I know and adore. How their quirks and expressions and opinions and specificity will slip away as those who knew them pass on themselves. So that sadness was definitely a guiding feeling for this collection of music, but not just sadness! For me, there’s a counter-acting joy that comes from trying to imagine these ghosts more fully, more human. It’s not the same thing as letting these ghosts speak for themselves, share themselves, but it’s absolutely meant as a loving tribute.”
“The Dressmaker,” one of the album’s most energetic offerings — it’s their first “stomp-and holler” song — is the story of a woman in the 1800s, beginning at the moment she realizes her husband is leaving her, and later finds her building a life for herself and her daughters. “I wanted to elevate the narrator's frustration to proper, righteous anger in spots, which accounts for the occasional rowdiness,” Mike mentions of the arrangement. “Toward the end is an arpeggio happening at three different speeds in four different registers, shared by the piano, clarinet, and flute. They lace together like so many threads, echoing the lyrics. I'd hoped to express the triumph of the narrator's self-salvation through the repetitive act of sewing.”
The dressmaker’s story might be too small to make it into a history book and too abstract to make it onto a headstone, but provides a reflection on the quiet triumphs that make up a life, a theme found weaving throughout A Sleeping Place.
“Dionysus” is partly inspired by mythology and partly inspired by present-day anxiety. “It was a struggle to create this year,” Alexia mentions in regards to the song’s inspiration. “Every time I sat down to write, it felt like my brain was getting up and walking out of the room, like we were in a fight. It turns out that, in order to create anything, you have to be okay with sitting with your thoughts, feeling your feelings, neither of which felt particularly great to do. Distraction was all I wanted, which made me wonder, ‘Who else might have felt that way? What distractions would they have sought?’”
“Bridget” was inspired by a walk through New York, the band’s hometown. Its twinkling piano brings to mind the way the sun might flicker over top of the East River, or the first glint of light on a skyscraper when spring finally emerges. The song takes place in the same city a hundred years or so prior, and takes the form of a letter home across the seas from a girl anxious not to worry the family she’s left behind.
“As someone who immigrated at a young age, from Greece to America in my case, writing this song made me wonder how my experiences overlapped with others throughout time,” Alexia says. “But on a less particular level, it’s really just a song about missing and about how you navigate the day to day when part of your heart feels like it’s somewhere else.”
“This was one of my favorites to arrange,” Mike says. “I wanted it to be a mournful little drawer of fading memories from the narrator's overseas past, so the piano's just a tinkling, one-handed thing, like a younger sibling practicing a song.”
“In My Dreams, A Perfect Chair” offers a deep dive on insecurities, centering around a woodworker’s apprentice who feels inadequate because they can’t make anything good enough, or, as Mike puts it, “A song about a person making themselves sad about how much they suck at making a chair.” The album’s drummer, Derek Swink, created woodshop-inspired sounds, mimicking sandpaper and hammers. Mike even pounded on the top of the piano to get extra woody noises.
“It’s a song about not being able to write songs! Everyone has one, and now I do, too,” Alexia notes wryly.
“Birds & Wine” takes inspiration from another character from Greek mythology, this time Aphrodite. “There’s something I really like about taking the abstract and divine, a god, and distilling them into these concrete images- sea foam, honey comb, myrtle, the smell of the person you’re attracted to,” Alexia says. “Michael Sachs, who plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute on the album, was a delight to work with even from afar — he made ‘Birds & Wine’ sound like that Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus.”
“Fingers” is pretty overtly a page from Alexia’s life, without stand-in characters or pretense, inspired by a whispered conversation between her and Mike in an airplane aisle after reading Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles. “Sparseness and reverb seemed to be the order of things,” Mike says of the arrangement. “A little Rhodes piano here, a little bowed bass there. I wanted to ride the line of all-the-way-in-love and all-the-way-scared."
“It’s a love song for my soon-to-be husband, simple as that,” Alexia says.
“I think of this EP as a love letter, full of desperate affection, to anyone who has ever been alive and been scared to die,” Alexia mentions in relation to the EP as a whole. “Death is loud, but it doesn’t mean you were never heard.”