Career Club gleefully deconstructs pop conventions

Jan 2, 2019 at 1:00 am
Leah Barnett and Mark Sleeman of Career Club.
Leah Barnett and Mark Sleeman of Career Club. Noah Elliott Morrison

It may come as some surprise that an experimental pop duo that calls itself Career Club supports your decision to call off work for no reason. No, really. Just call off. Fuck it. In fact, they even have a song about just how OK it is.

"It's totally fine," Leah Barnett says. "Do it. Take care of yourself."

"We know everybody has this day job that they're, like, exhausted by and we all need to feel like we're not stuck," Mark Sleeman says. "We make fun of the repetitive things that you inevitably have to do in these day jobs. It's kind of ridiculous what you have to write in an email over and over."

"The language that people have to use seems like a joke," Barnett adds. "So, we poke fun at it. Let's commiserate together."

Sleeman, an accounts coordinator by trade, and Barnett, an education parapro by day, formed the pop duo with a shared love of improvisation and resisting convention. Oh, and also for the loop pedal — something they say is an example of life influencing art, as it mimics the repetition of day-to-day life.

"A lot of what we do is very fluid," Barnett says. "We loop a lot of things so whatever happens on stage, as soon as it's looped that's what we go with. There it is. And here we go."

"It's all done on stage," Sleeman says. "And honestly, we wouldn't know how else to do it."

When together, Sleeman and Barnett finish each other's sentences, refer to their "songs" as "tunes," and generally carry on with a collective gentle demeanor that is a cross between Mary Poppins and Mister Rogers — with a hint of Britney Spears from the "Joy of Pepsi" commercial. As Career Club, the band's multi-layered sound is towering, playful, and improvisational. They have, in their words, an estimated total of eight songs, including a handful of covers.

The two met while attending Berkley High School, where they would forge a musical partnership during their senior year which evolved from casual jam sessions into a shared, passionate pursuit. Over the course of 10 years, they graduated, moved to California to work on their own projects, and recently moved back to Michigan — always moving in tandem with one another.

"We've just always played together," Sleeman says. "When we moved back we really, really wanted to take this seriously. So, we just started putting things together — voice memo after voice memo after voice memo."

"We really came into our own, together," Barnett says. "There's a lot of built-in trust."

"Yeah," Sleeman says. "We're both sensitive creatures. I feel like I can sense when something is off with Leah and vice versa."

They are also very particular, which is why they do everything themselves. They say their writing sessions are loose, and Sleeman — the singer whose high register could make Fun's Nate Ruess blush — pens most of the lyrics, while Barnett usually tackles composition. When it comes to instrumentation, they swap positions, each playing guitar, and keys, and often Barnett can be found behind the drum set.

"We like catchy melodies and we love pop music," Barnett says. "We also love the idea of experimental music as well, so we try to combine the two and package it so people can eat it up because we like to eat it up, too."

From our 2019 Bands to Watch issue.