INTERVIEW: Dahlia Sleeps

One of the more interesting bands out there at the moment are London four-piece Dahlia Sleeps. Their brand of smoky electronic pop also brings with it a sense of maturity and weight; this has never been more evident than on new track Rise (below), which tackles homophobia and abuse in a remarkable way. We caught up with the band to find out more…

Hello Dahlia Sleeps. How are you, where are you, and what are you up to this week?
: Hello PressPlayOK – we’re doing very well thank you! Like most weeks we are all squashed in our little basement studio in London writing new material. Except on Friday when we are released into the outside world to rehearse in another light deprived room three miles down the road.
Lucy: This week we’re mainly focussing on Rise’s release as well as learning new material for our headline show at The Lexington in London on March 15.

Who is Dahlia and where/why does she sleep? More importantly, what does she dream of?
Lucy: Haha, Dahlia was actually originally the name of one of our songs that we’re going to be releasing next year.
Spencer: The ‘Sleeps’ part was added because an established band already had the name – so in effect we put the name ‘Dahlia’ to rest.

How did you guys first come together and start making music?
Spencer: Luke and I met at a festival when I was 14 – I bought him food and he got me beer. I think I was 16 or 17 when he was teaching me how to make music with software. He introduced me to Burial and Four-Tet at the same time, which was life changing.
Luke: Me and Lucy met through some friends a few years ago, we both had pre-existing projects and wanted to try something new. My background was in producing morose instrumentals that have, on more than one occasion, apparently been used as sleep aids (information courtesy of the YouTube comments section). Some people use whale song, others use my music… Lucy came from a singer-songwriter background. We really glued together well, we loved each other’s sound and both had components the other was missing.
Lucy: It came out of nowhere and felt a bit like finding my writing soulmate. After we released Breathe we wanted to build our live sound and that’s when Spencer and Cal came on board.

Congratulations on new song Rise – it’s about a subject that’s very close to our hearts as well. Is it quite hard being open about these things in the studio?
Lucy: Honestly… I’m pretty hard to shut up when it comes to these things. I knew it was something I needed to write about at some point. Revisiting painful memories is never easy but it is cleansing and empowering. Rise is only my story though, and it’s been a comparatively smooth one. Though I would never undermine it I also have privileges that afford me protection from the worst forms of homophobia. Protection that a lot of queer people don’t have. What is hard to swallow is that we’re living in a world where a trans woman of colour has a life expectancy of 35. Where mental health issues, homelessness, suicide rates, all of it, hugely peak in the LGBTQI+ community. So for now we need to keep talking, we need to stay angry, even if it’s difficult to open up about.

Was there any instance of homophobia that particularly stood out to inspire this song?
: Yes, there was; the first time it happened to me. It’s not necessarily the most severe or aggressive experience I’ve had but it was the one that had the biggest impact because I was only just finding my feet. This guy was picking up fag ends of a conversation I was having with a friend, I think I was actually coming out to her, and he interrupted to ask me what had happened to me to make me ‘turn out that way’, he told me I must have been abused. I just wasn’t ready for it. When these moments happen now it makes me incredibly angry of course, but I know how to deal with it better.

How do you even begin to transform this kind of pain into art? Usually when you’re confronted by bullies people tell you to ignore it and move on – was that (and pressure to hide sexuality) ever an option for the sake of your music?
: Absolutely not. But then that’s easy for me to say. There have been enough out queer musicians and artists now to stop it being scary for me. It’s never come up that I should hide it. I am absolutely unapologetically queer and since that experience when I was 18 that’s how I’ve lived. I would never change or hide who I am because someone else was being a dick about it, luckily I’ve never had to.

What advice would you give to either anyone who is suffering from that kind of abuse, or that kind of pressure whether in the industry or outside it?
: In terms of pressure to stay in the closet I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that because everyone’s experience is so individual and so personal. We all have different reasons, different dangers. But for anyone struggling for whatever reason – find your community. There is so much love, acceptance and support waiting.

It’s a great song for a politically charged environment – can we expect more of this worldly tone from Dahlia Sleeps?
Lucy: For sure – for me there aren’t any boundaries in terms of what we write about. Who knows what will fire up the pen next.
Luke: This really depends on whether Lucy gets a new girlfriend, and how well it goes.

Slightly more fun topics now: how does the writing process work between you?
Luke: We work a few different ways. Most of the time I will have a piece produced for Lucy to top line, or Lucy will write something on the piano for me to build. Sometimes we have a magic moment where it all comes at once. We’ve started taking ideas into the rehearsal studio now too.
Spencer: Bringing bare boned instrumentals into more of a live environment allows a very natural interaction between us as instrumentalists that can be really hard to get from studio writing.
Cal: As a drummer, it’s amazing to be constantly challenged by intricate, well syncopated beats, and writing and discovering new beats with new sounds around a kit is very rewarding.

How do you deal with disagreements, if there are any?
Lucy: We’re a pretty emotionally in tune bunch so we’re super open with each other about where we’re at. That definitely helps. Mainly though we’re so passionate about what we’re doing – it’s everything – and being on the same page with that means we don’t run into issues.
Luke: Musically? Sometimes good, sometimes not so good! Like anybody really! It’s a democracy. We generally have a system where we try any suggestion, and see how it sounds even if we do predict it won’t be good. Only one way to find out!

You guys have come a long way in a very short space of time. What’s been the best part about it all, and how would you say you’ve changed (both personally and as a band) in that period?
Spencer: The best parts have got to be the intimacy that creating music can bring to a friendship, and then the rush of taking that music out onto a stage and playing it loud, and immersing yourself in it.
Cal: That point in the rehearsal studio when it all just sits is like nothing else, it’s so nice to be a part of a project so willing to showcase vulnerability and passion in playing. I’ve learned a bunch as a drummer, too. When I first sat down at an SPD, my mate said ‘forget everything anyone has ever taught you about drumming’. That was solid advice.
Lucy: I don’t really recognise parts of myself compared to who I was before we started the band. My priorities, my approach, my way of dealing with difficult moments. Everything has changed. When Luke and I first started writing we discovered we are super fucking different people – I’m efficient to a fault, Luke is much more free flow. For me, learning to chill the hell out has been life changing.

What are you guys listening to at the moment?
Luke: Quite bizarrely an awful lot of Placebo, especially the album ‘Without You I’m Nothing’. Can’t seem to stop listening to it… I means, I think it’s so good, all be it quite a regression musically and emotionally.
Spencer: I’m really loving Little Cub’s debut album at the moment, and I think people should keep a look out for Hudson Scott too.
Lucy: Dillon – she’s so wonderfully raw. I saw her show at The Barbican with Deep Throat Choir earlier this year and it was one of the most mesmerising things I’ve seen.
Cal: I’m all over the new Novo Amor record right now, he’s put something out that’s really special to me. I’ve also recently discovered the early works of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) on YouTube. There’s a record titled ‘Hazeltons’ by him – under the name J.D. Vernon that is stealing my soul.

Finally, the question we ask everyone: what’s your favourite Beyonce song?
Lucy: I literally cannot answer that question.
Luke: From a production standpoint Crazy in Love. failing that the Entirety of lemonade as a whole package
Spencer: Anything by Destiny’s Child. Although the video to ‘Running’ with Naughty Boy actually got me quite emotional.

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INTERVIEW: Dahlia Sleeps
INTERVIEW: Dahlia Sleeps