Interview mit Don’t Sleep (Juni 2023)

Hello Dave, I hope this interview finds you well. Let’s start with a personal question: For many fans worldwide you’re a true hardcore icon. How do you feel about this perception and your status within the scene?

Dave: Thank you so much – that truly means a lot. I am so grateful to have played with some incredible
musicians over the years, and to have the best fans in the world. The people I have met over the years
who have told me such incredible stories of how a song or album or lyric shaped them or positively
impacted their life – it is the whole essence of life, and of hardcore. It is fuel for my spirit.

I started out believing that this new music, punk rock, and even newer music, hardcore, could shape me and forge me and my friends, and together we’d get stronger and make the world a better place. I still believe that. And that faith in this music is sensed and shared by some really great people around the world. I promise to keep that torch lit.

With bands like DYS and DAG NASTY you’ve helped shaping the multilateral character of hardcore. From your point of view, how has the scene and of course the music changed (or evolved) over the years?

Dave: It has remained remarkably true to its ethos and origins. There are still such incredible bands out
there who have been waving the hardcore flag for decades now, it is inspirational. It says a lot about
hardcore and melodic punk rock that you can still see bands like SICK OF IT ALL, AGNOSTIC FRONT, SHELTER, PENNYWISE, so many more, who continue to produce great music with skill and passion.

A band like DON’T SLEEP, we’re a relatively new band but our roots are in essence early hardcore. I came up in the pit, starting in 1980-81, and a few years later, so did the guys. Hardcore is in DON’T SLEEP’s DNA. We are passionate about it, we respect the legacy and we’re honoring all the great things it stands for – all while bringing a super unique new energy and karma into the songs. This fire burns bright.

What was the main idea when bringing DON’T SLEEP to life in 2017?

Garrett: We started DON’T SLEEP with the idea of really celebrating the energy and vigor of old school, melodic hardcore, but putting a fresh spin on the music so that we’re not just rehashing songs from 30 or 40 years ago. We are all big fans of Dave’s music from throughout his career, but personally, DAG NASTY’s “Can I Say“ is one of my favorite hardcore albums of all time and when I heard it for the first time it truly changed my expectation of what punk music could be!

So when we started to write music for DON’T SLEEP it was impossible not to aspire to embody some of the spirit of “Can I Say“ in the music. The nice thing is that, since “See Change“ is our fourth release (an EP, a 7“ and two full lengths), we’ve had the opportunity to expand our horizons a little and really explore different music styles that we love and that inspire us. A couple of the songs on “See Change“ are heavy and take us into lanes that we really haven’t been in before – I’m really excited about that!

“See Change“ will be released shortly. What can you tell about the writing and production process of the album?

Garrett: Most of the music is written first, with Tom’s riffs generally being the backbone of the songs. Generally we send rough demos of the music to Dave and he puts his lyrics and vocals to it. Dave wrote most of the music to “Love is the Suture,“ which came out great and is really one of my favorite songs on the record.

After a year or so of writing and demoing, we had two albums worth of material that we were excited
about, and signed a 2-record deal with Victory Records, so our plan was just to record both the albums all
at once, and then stagger their releases over about 18 months. Just prior to the release of the first record
“Turn the Tide,“ Victory sold their catalogue to Concord and Tony Brummel started a new label called
Mission Two that released “Turn the Tide.“

After a handful of releases, Mission Two went inactive, and Tony Brummel was generous enough to give us back the second album worth of material. As far as recording it, we did a lot of the tracking with Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak at a studio called Think Loud that’s close to most of DON’T SLEEP in York, Pennsylvania. The studio was owned by the 90’s grunge rock giants LIVE. Grant and Carson were meticulous and have recorded some very technical bands like AUGUST BURNS RED, but also come from a punk and hardcore background, so they understood the vibe we were going for. Grant and Carson are amazing engineers and producers and have a new studio called Atrium Audio that we highly recommend you check out!

Dave recorded most of his vocals in Richmond, Virginia at a studio called Audio Verite with our friend
Pedro Aida (who also plays in SHOTCLOCK, THE IRON ROSES and ANN BERETTA). Great studio and great guy! Also, our friend and manager Matt Holmes tracked some of the record with us in Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania and had some great input on “Love is the Suture.“ Matt has become a big time music
manager over the past few years managing some HUGE acts and we are so proud of him!

“See Change“ will be released through End Hits Records. How came the collaboration with the Berlin based label?

Garrett: We recorded a few of the songs on “Turn the Tide“ with Brian McTernan at his Salad Days studio in Baltimore. We really bonded with Brian and he’s someone who we trust and respect immensely. After we got the “See Change“ songs back from Mission Two, we were thinking about what to do with it, and had become familiar with End Hits because of Brian’s band BE WELL’s release that End Hits put out – along with the great releases that End Hits has done with SHELTER, TERROR, HOT WATER MUSIC and a lot of other bands that we like.

We were working with Brian on another recording project and the topic of End Hits came up, and I think Brian reached out to Oise about “See Change“ and before we knew it, we were signing to End Hits. Oise from End Hits has been phenomenal – he’s super passionate about our record, has fantastic ideas,
and has been really good at keeping us on task (working with a band can be like herding cats!). We are
thrilled to be working with Oise and End Hits.

In addition, the physical version of “See Change“ contains the first two EPs of DON’T SLEEP. How came the idea for this highly appreciated bonus?

Garrett: The vinyl release will just be of “See Change,“ but there will also be a CD release that contains the self-titled 12“ that was originally on Unity Worldwide and the 7“ that was on Reaper. I’m not sure about the Reaper 7“, but the self-titled 12“ has been out of print for a few years, so we wanted to make sure the
songs were available in physical format, so the CD release seemed like a great idea.

The lyrics on “See Change“ are dealing with personal issues, but also cover political aspects (and the essence of hardcore in “Generation“). How would you define the overall tonality of “See Change“?

Dave: I think in the end, life’s essence is in exploring and growing. Connecting with the universe, and
with other spirits around you. It’s about connection to the Now, not living in the past (dwelling on either
good or bad experiences) or projecting too much into the future (ruining your present because of an
imagined future, good or bad).

For me, hardcore shaped me. I don’t mean physically, all the tattoos and all the workouts and all that, but rather, it helped shape my character. Protect and love your brothers and sisters in hardcore as family. Believe in yourself and in each other. Get back up when you fall. I think a lot of the DON’T SLEEP lyrics deal with those kind of universal truths.

I’m so happy you mentioned “Generations”, which is one of my favorite songs – it has some lovely lyrics, including: “Peace is what we need – peace, and unity / We believed since ‘81, everyone could be as one.”

Recent years have shown increasing tendencies of social division in many western countries; with political populism being one driving factor. Dave, as a musician and political scientist: Do you see a certain necessity for independent music artists to stand for political ideals (e. g. the unity appraoch of hardcore)? Or is the overall problem rooting much deeper since many people seem to only communicate inside their own social bubble?

Dave: I think each artist has to be true to themselves. For me, I’m focused on the bigger picture, and don’t have a team. I have moved into the liberal side of things as I’ve gotten older, but, day to day, I’m focused on taking care of my friends and family, and growing and challenging myself, and being present in the Now.

To borrow the phrase from the great Stevie Wonder: It’s all about „Songs in the Key of Life“ – that includes treating all people with dignity and respect, learning from each other, and being committed to love and individual freedom. Love beats hate. Wouldn’t it be great if more people chose love? It’s the most powerful elixir in the world. Drink deep. 

DON’T SLEEP’s debut record, “Turn the Tide“, was released during the Corona crisis. How has the release and therefore the impact of the record been affected by the pandemic?

Garrett: Yeah, that was such a scary and challenging time for so many people. Just from the perspective of musicians, it was a time when no one really knew what the future of their band or projects would look like. Bands were doing live streamed performances and that helped fill the void of live music a little, but it could never replace the actual live experience. 

“Turn the Tide“ was released in September 2020 – we discussed delaying the release of the record until a later time when we could go out and tour and promote it, but there had already been several delays of the release because of the sale of Victory and we were anxious to share the record with the world.  

Also, at that point no one of course knew how long live shows and tours would be put on hiatus (or where the future of humanity was headed), so we had no idea how long we’d be delaying the release if we waited for things to loosen up as far as travel and touring would go. In the end, I personally don’t regret putting out the release in the heart of the quarantine. Perhaps people were focusing more on discovering new music and culture at the time as they were stuck at home, so maybe more people found DON’T SLEEP than would have after the quarantine. Who knows?

The underground club and music scene has suffered immensely during Corona and many venues had to close. In the aftermath, do you see general impacts on cultural diversity?

Garrett: Man, that’s a great question. Definitely a lot of venues closed, but I figured that once people started going out to see live music again, a lot of those venues would re-open, or new ones would sprout up, and I think, to a certain degree, that has happened. One exception in our area is the Chameleon Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which had hosted so many legendary shows since the late 80’s or early 90’s, and sadly has closed its doors for good.  

I think, on a different level, I worry more about people becoming sedentary during the quarantine – sitting at home and watching Netflix on their giant televisions instead of going to shows, ordering food for carry out or delivery instead of going to restaurants in person, texting with their friends instead of hanging out in person, etc. I think society has become a lot more antisocial since Covid and I’m afraid it’s going to have a long term chilling effect on culture.  But I hope I’m wrong!

Dave: The DON’T SLEEP song “Harrisburg Graves” deals with this idea, in part. “Like a laser in my mind / I remember all those times / All the places we used to go / Now this is the ghost town.” Garrett’s worries are spot on. 

Do you have concrete plans to visit Europe for a tour with DON’T SLEEP?

Garrett: We have some plans in the works and hope to be in Europe very soon! We all love Europe and have had a goal of touring Europe since the day the band started.  Europe, we’ll see you in the pit!

Dave: My brothers and sisters in Europe, love you so much. Can’t wait to burn bright together. 

What comes next for DON’T SLEEP?

Garrett: Continuing to write music, hopefully touring in the US, Europe and beyond very soon, and enjoying the creative process and the special friendships that we have with each other. 

Any concluding words you’d like to add?

Garrett: Thanks so much Thomas for the great questions, and please check out “See Change“ on End Hits Records!

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