IN the 1990s Sleeper had three top ten albums, becoming one of the foremost bands in the Britpop movement. Frontwoman Louise Wener was something of a cultural icon for her charismatic stage presence, outspoken media persona and distinctive fashion sense. Now, almost 20 years after splitting up, the band are playing a comeback gig in Brighton with fellow 90s group My Life Story.

The city is home to Wener and husband Andy Maclure, Sleeper’s drummer who works at BIMM Brighton. Singer and author Wener tells EDWIN GILSON about coping with fame, Cool Britannia and why now was the right time to return.

Sleeper reformed to play a mini tour with other Britpop bands earlier this year. How long did it take to get back into the swing of things?

Longer than I thought. I thought we would be able to snap back into it immediately but it took a while. I hadn’t played guitar in years and years but the muscle memory from the older times came back. The most fun thing is just being in a rehearsal room where it is super loud. I realised that I love being in front of an amp more than anything else.

You’ve written about life in the 1990s in the novel Just For One Day: Adventures in Britpop. Did you think much about the band in the two decades you were away?

A lot happened. We had young kids and life was so busy. Recently there was a little window where it felt like things were calm enough to consider doing it again. This gig [Britpop tour] came up and I had a spur of the moment thought of ‘why not, let’s go and do that’. I thought it would be life-affirming. We’d been asked to do various things over the years but I don’t think anyone was super keen. The offer just happened at a time when everyone was ready to say yes. That was kind of a surprise to all of us, because we all thought that somebody wouldn’t want to do it.

Had you noticed renewed interest in Sleeper recently? Are you expecting younger fans to come to the gig?

I really don’t know whether that will happen. We haven’t got massive expectations. Back in the 1990s sometimes bands used to say that there were only in it for themselves and often that was a complete lie. But these days that’s true. It’s all about whether it’s enjoyable for ourselves.

Is it bizarre to revisit the person you were when the songs were written?

We tend to put life into compartments – like ‘that was then and this is now’. It’s nice to make that connection with another time in your life, though. All the things you’ve put to the back of your memory come flooding back.

Did you have any reservations about playing the Britpop tour earlier this year? Were you wary of it seeming like a nostalgia act?

Not at all. People are very judgemental about nostalgia and I’m not sure why that is. If you make your whole life from nostalgia that would be a bit wearing but otherwise I don’t see the fuss. I didn’t give a damn about the Britpop tag either – everyone gets put into a genre of some kind.

Did you think the Britpop tag was a bit simplistic then?

I don’t think it was simplistic, actually. There was quite a generic feel to a lot of Britpop bands. It was guitar rock and pop and it was uplifting. It was a reaction against grunge which was inward-looking and naval-gazing. It’s disingenuous to say there wasn’t a cohesiveness to Britpop and I can’t imagine why you would spend your time complaining about it.

Was the so-called “Cool Britannia” phase palpable at the time or is it more of a retrospective thing?

I think it’s a mixture of the two. There was a Vanity Fair cover with Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit on the front, declaring that Britain was cool again or whatever. Interestingly that cover didn’t ever appear in America. I think we had a sense of ourselves that was out of proportion with how the rest of the world saw us.

You personally received a lot of media attention in the 1990s. Did you feel uncomfortable with that or did you settle into it?

It’s strange not to have control about things that are written about you. I found it a bit difficult because it’s hard to not to go into the public arena and be caricatured in some way or the other. That’s what makes good copy [for journalists]. On the flip side I think I was savvy enough to make use of that for the band’s own good. I was a bit older – bands like Ash were still in their teens. I had a bit more experience and there was a part of me that enjoyed it. You’re under scrutiny but that’s part of the job description.

What are the differences you discern between the state of the music industry in the 1990s and now?

I think it’s very different now and it’s hard to make a living. But interestingly bands are learning to be very good business people too. In our day there was a tendency to be removed from business and in some ways kids understand that side of it much more now. But on the other hand record labels aren’t throwing around big money.

In another interview you said you wanted to pull the plug on Sleeper before it was pulled by somebody else. Did you never think you could turn the fortunes of the band around?

We knew how it was going and how quickly it can fall apart. When the midweek charts with our latest single came out, we already knew that it would mean the record company would withdraw funding. We knew that was going to happen and we didn’t want to be scratching around. My feeling was that for your own peace of mind and mental health you have to do something else. Things can get so intense and I was worn out by that band existence. The nerves can fray quite quickly and if things aren’t going well it can be difficult to sustain yourself.

That “something else” was, in part, writing [Wener has published three books]. How did you get into that?

I just found myself writing in that sense instead of writing songs. What I loved about that was the autonomy. You didn’t have to speak to ten different people before doing something. That felt like quite a luxury.

Are there any plans for new Sleeper material?

We’ve got lots of material. I wouldn’t want to put something out for the sake of it because I don’t think that would end well. But we’d like to write more, for sure.

The Haunt, Brighton, 
tomorrow, 7pm, For more information visit