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The band did, after all, paint a heartbreaking portrait with last year's homage to an astronaut's panicked isolation on "Hang in there Charlie" and then once again on the recent Von Cosel EP (which was based entirely on a real life 1930's doctor/TB patient love triangle), so what better setting for human drama than a war, or better yet, World War II. Front man Dave Debiak elucidates, "The first concept record I wrote came as an afterthought. I actually intended to make a movie yet had no means to produce it. I could never have come up with a budget to t shoot, so I thought I would at the very least, write a score for the film. Since then, I have been thinking of things in a more cinematic mode.
"I will hide this way while bombs drop everyday just close my eyes and wait to die. Forget everything it twists my swollen dreams around my heart it goes. I cling to my pride. They can take our lives, but my soul is your and mine and I love you Caroline."
--- Caroline, London 1940
Fueled as much by contemporary sonic-fetishists, The Kings of Convenience and Flaming Lips as perhaps Robyn Hitchcock and an early Spectator work ethic - Debiak, along with drummer/percussionist, Daniel Goodwin, bassist Ryan Ball and guitarist/arranger Brad Paxton, recorded much of "After the War" at their collective home studio, Electric Fence, in New Jersey - leaving the audiophiles room to fully explore, tweak and expand upon the album's original sketches. Debiak adds, "We actually recorded a good portion of the record on vintage 1940's equipment, ribbon and mushroom microphones and a few old amps. We wanted to integrate as much from the era as possible in to this recording. It was amazing that this stuff still worked as well as it did and, in a lot of ways, the end result sounds better than most of what we have access to today."
Regardless of subject matter or sonic subtext in the long run, it's Debiak's role as narrator that truly captivates - his absolute empathy for the individuals he has created, coupled with the band's sonic blast of 70's AM Gold is completely hypnotic. "After the War" lands lush and mournful, a poignant farewell, it contrasts perfectly against the band's sanguine song-craft. The record unfolds as a seemingly never-ending parade of characters weave in and out of the songs and tales of hope and longing collide with utter humanity - all the while, amplified by the backdrop of conflict and strife. Debiak expands, "As the record is written you have the thread of one soldier's story as the central focus, but intermittently throughout the record you have songs that might have nothing to do with that character per se. Rather, they function more as a montage, a compliment of viewpoints to the solder's singular experience within the war." The record's various vignettes are complimented with pockets of found sounds filling out the mix, further blurring and distinction between song and story. As Debiak purges these delicate and soaring tales from his psyche, he is giving voice to a world that, thankfully, isn't wholly his - but ultimately, as open ended as the listener dare dream - a beautiful concept indeed.
If you're looking for Sleep Station front man Dave Debiak, I can tell you where to find him. He's most likely in his laundry room surrounded by paper plates with lyrics scrawled all over them. He's infamous for handing his label two full length albums when they ask for only one and tragically, he has enough material left over to record 10 more.
When looking for a word to describe the final outcome, only one comes to mind; empathy. Dave creates fictional scenarios and then looks deep into the characters hearts, often times growing obsessed with them. The bands latest album, Hang in There Charlie, is no exception. The story goes as follows; In the early 1970's the US sent two astronauts to assist an already orbiting staff in the repair of an experimental new space station. What they discover upon their arrival is a horrific example of scientific negligence and they are abandoned by ground control for their protest and left to die. The record delicately explains their entire story: the bloodshed during the arduous training process, the horrors they witness, and the heartbreaking departure in which one of them gets to return home...and the other must stay behind and die a slow death in the lonesome expanse.
Dave spent nearly six months in the studio fine tuning the album and whittled a possible 40 songs down to trim 14.
When Sleep Station isn't in the studio, they're on tour. Dave considers his greatest blessing to be the admiration and kinship he has with the band that's formed around him. Brad Paxton, Jason Debiak, Josh Nichols and Vahak Janbazian have become a tight, hard working, family-oriented band that is well known for establishing friendships with their peers almost immediately.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVE DEBIAK
SLEEP STATION is one Dave Debiak, a gifted pop songwriter who pens concept albums at a breakneck pace. Dave took a few seconds out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for LAS.
So, what exactly is sleep station? Is it you, is it a band, what?
Sleep Station is a bedroom in outer space.
Is writing a concept album difficult compared to a regular album? It would seem to be obviously more involved, on the level of detail, than a regular album.
I would say easier, because once I get an idea stuck in my head I become obsessed with it. Once that happens I just start writing, and I usually hit a wall between 14 and 18 songs. Personal songs that aren't intended to follow a certain theme will come to me here and there and they are all very different from one another if I put them all on one album it would sound like a mix tape, not very cohesive.
What comes first, the concept or the music?
Probably the concept.
How do you generally come up with subject matter for your concepts?
It usually comes to me when I sleep or I am just playing my guitar, the idea of Von Cosel was given to me by my brother and then I started to investigate it pretty heavily, then it got all weird.
What sort of mental imagery comes to mind when you're writing/recording the songs?
It is very cinematic. I can usually relate it to something in my life or some event. When I wrote Hang In There Charlie I kept picturing these astronaut toys my father had when he was a boy. He used to photograph them obsessively. I can remember the toys from when I was a child, I used to play with them around the same time my grandfather died. I thought a lot about those toys when I was writing Hang In There Charlie.
I've read that your time in the laundry room borders on monastic. What is it that keeps you in there, the Downy fresh scent, the sound of the tumbler?
Probably the solidarity. My apartment is very neat and well kept but the laundry room is a very messy, dark room and no one bothers you when your in there.
What's with Charlie Thompson, who is linked on your website? Is that the Charlie who's hanging in there?
I don't know.
What prompted you to write an album about anhedonia?
It needed to be told.
What is on the horizon for Sleep Station? Any unexplored concepts that we can expect to evolve into albums soon?
I've been working tirelessly on an album about World War 2. The album is from the perspective of all different people that where effected by the war.
Your songs deal heavily with the human psyche and its reaction to extreme internal and external environmental conditions. We all experience a microcosm of everything inside our own minds, but are your songs based in the hypothetical or do you have any experience with isolation, et cetera?
I have experienced isolated times in my life, sure. I think there is apart of me that feels that way all the time. I know there are a few songs on the next record that deal with the relationships of people as they struggle through the turmoil of war. I wanted to make it more personal. Some songs are from a mother to her son or a soldier talking to God, so I think the feeling is a little different, but then again probably not.
Will there ever be a physical pressing of Von Cosel?
Part of me hopes that everything will go back to vinyl... I've spent the majority of my life listening to music that way. So I guess as long as they still press records, or simply something tangible that I can hold, I will be happy.