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Sleeping Jesus: Growing from a one-man band, Nick Elstad gets ready to break out

courtesy Sleeping Jesus
courtesy Sleeping Jesus

by Michael Flicek

November 10, 2016

Recently, I had a chance to meet up and chat with Jesus — before his pilgrimage to Canada — over a cup of coffee at a favorite stop in downtown Winona.

This was one of my first encounters with Nick Elstad, founder and frontman of Sleeping Jesus, the sunny indie band who will perform tonight at Minneapolis’s 7th St. Entry and Nov. 12 at Winnipeg’s Le Garage as part of this year’s Local Music Exchange.

“There were a lot of really talented and established musicians on the ballot, so I wasn’t expecting to win or anything,” said Elstad, as he paused to take a sip. “When I found out we had been chosen, I was completely taken aback.”

The soft-spoken, longhaired musician submitted “California at Dawn,” off of his debut EP, Perennial, and scored one of the top spots in contest next to co-finalists ZULUZULUU along with Manitoba's Lanikai and Micah Erenberg.

The perfect mix of unlikely love, a New York internship that nearly happened, a fleeting youth, and a capstone class project at Winona State University led to the creation of Sleeping Jesus — and to Elstad’s success.

“Sleeping Jesus has been the fun project of working on demos and getting them up to par,” said Elstad, whose love for music and songwriting date back even further than his days as a percussionist in high school. “The idea was to learn the hard way and go through the steps of writing lyrics, creating instrumentals, recording them, and booking yourself; doing it all alone.”

That’s right. If you listen to the songs on Perennial, you’ll not only hear a self-sufficient Elstad singing, but you’ll also hear him rocking the drums, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and synths — everything. Well, just about everything.

Elstad’s girlfriend Leah, who he credits as the inspiration behind Perennial, can be heard adding complementary harmonies and background vocals to the already vintage-sounding track. She has recently started accompanying Elstad during live performances.

Making the project even more personal, Elstad bounced back and forth between his studio apartment in downtown Winona and his parents’ home in Nelson, Wisc., in the summer and fall of 2015 to record the EP. When it came time to choose artwork for the cover of Perennial, Elstad went with a design of flowers sticking out of the top of a vase — a nod to an anniversary present.

Elstad said he showed his professor one of the songs and the professor enthusiastically spread word around the music department, producing buzz and interest from inquiring musicians on campus who were looking to perform gigs in the area. Shortly after word had gotten out, Elstad found his eventual bandmates.

Since last spring, Elstad, Ross Nixon, Tyler Steinley, and Chris Wehr have jammed alongside and shared the stage with a number of impressive musicians. A little over a month ago, they took part in this year’s Caravan Du Nord, performing with LOTT and Haley Bonar. “Performing with LOTT and Haley Bonar was so inspiring,” said Elstad. “They’re super down-to-earth and such talented performers.”

As for what the future holds for Sleeping Jesus, Elstad said he would “love” to continue to tour, spreading his sound across the country to as many audiences as possible. Additionally, Elstad has been writing new material in hopes of completing his first full-length album by 2017. But for right now, the group are eager to gear up for their shows in Minneapolis and Canada.

“I want to thank the Cities for welcoming us with open arms,” said Elstad. “I’m excited for the nine-hour car ride to Canada — it’ll be my first time out of the country.”

Writer Michael Flicek, a Wabasha native, is a student at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.