Q&A w/Matt Page of Dream the Electric Sleep
We were stoked to see that the Lexington, Kentucky-based prog rock band Dream the Electric Sleep had recently uploaded a three-part series on their debut record Lost and Gone Forever to YouTube. Singer-guitarist Matt Page (above) talks in-depth about the music and coal mining love story behind each of the fourteen songs on the concept record.
So, as excited as we were to revisit the songs with Page, and as much as we love the record, we thought it appropriate to catch up with Page over email to see what’s up with the band these days, and where they’re going after Lost and Gone Forever...
WVRockscene: The reviews are in for Lost and Gone Forever, and the phrase “critically acclaimed” comes to mind, with praise from outlets like The Big Takeover, how great is it for the debut album to have been so warmly received?
Matt Page: I never really thought it would have been so highly praised... it was a shock... I think when we were writing the album, listening to demos, and throughout the recording process, we kept saying to each other “I think this might be something special,” but most of the time I think we would fall back on “maybe we’re just too close to it.” The first couple of great reviews we thought, “well at least there are a few people that really get it,” but then they just kept coming. That’s when I think we knew the album had legs.
I honestly think the album has something in there that we had not planned, something that can’t be accounted for, beyond our abilities. It’s like the album is actually smarter than all of us in the band, and is actually still teaching us. I am not sure if any of that makes sense, but it certainly feels like part of the success of the album came from some place we all don’t really understand... the culmination of all these random things coalescing into one piece of work... it was so much fun to be a part of!
WVRockscene: You’ve had a few shows over the summer, how have those gone? Won over many new DTES fans live and in person? What kind of shortcuts do you have to make just playing live, trying to give people the scope of the record in its totality just playing a few songs? I mean you don’t exactly have time to play the entire record beginning to end, right?
Page: Honestly, the live shows have been the hardest part. This work needs to be thought of like theatre, and you can’t do theatre in a bar with a 40 minute set. We have learned a lot about what we want the live shows to do, and at this point, we know the theatrical nature of it, and thus the narrative will never really come through. We have to hope that the few songs we play intrigue a few listeners enough to want to dig into the content. I think in some ways, we have to expand our notion of a band. To conceive of what we are trying to do as fitting in the confines of a band is a limiting way for us to go about doing this, and we are constantly questioning what the scope of this project is. We have made a few fans from live shows, but the vast majority of our success is coming from our online presence, and mostly from Europe.
WVRockscene: You’ve recently been reworking a few songs into acoustic songs, what songs have you been working on, is it a direction you think the band will take up more moving forward and what is up with a DTES EP with an “unreleased” track coming out any time soon?
Page: I told [bassist] Chris [Tackett] and [drummer] Joey [Waters] that I wanted to take these songs into non-rock venues to try and find more people who might be interested in the content of the album. I thought some acoustic versions would be appropriate. When we wrote these songs, I always approached them as songs that could be simplified, so this was my chance to actually test my theory. I decided to take “The Joneses,” “Hold Steady Hands,” and “Roots and Fear,” and rework them for this purpose, and then decided it would be fun to record them and offer them as a companion EP.
As for the unreleased track, it was the only song we decided not to include on the album. It was actually the last song on the album, and was meant to be a sort of moral-tale ending. At this point on the album, it ends with Clementine holding Jack’s body after he is pulled from the mine. The unreleased track would be sung in a narrator’s voice so to speak. The song didn’t get included for a couple reasons, first was that it was agreed that it was more powerful and poignant to end with Clementine and Jack, second, it would have forced the album to be a double album, which we decided we didn’t want, and third, it is the most stylistically different in that it is actually our version of a bluegrass tune.
It will be perfect on an acoustic EP, and is cool to know everyone will hear the alternate ending to the album now. This should be released in the next 4-6 weeks.
WVRockscene: You haven’t even been a band very long; what’s changed as far as chemistry or approach to songwriting? More comfortable as a unit?
Page: Trevor [Wilmott], our guitar player recently left the band. He lives three hours away, and is working on his undergraduate degree. It was just too hard for him to fully engage the project. We miss his input dearly, and he really wanted to stay with us, but it was just too much for him, and he was never able to be here for writing and rehearsals. After he mixed and mastered the album, which he did brilliantly, he had to step down. So now we are a three-piece.
As far as writing goes, I can already tell our chemistry is stronger and tighter. Chris and Joey and I are all very different stylistically, but at the same time, we are very open to allowing disparate sounds to come together and challenge our sense of self and vision. I might come in with something that sounds like Elton John, Joey will throw in some thunderous Bonham beat, and Chris might throw in the a percussive rhythm. In my head, that’s not what I had in mind, but that’s why I play with these guys... because I want the surprise and the challenge, and in the end it always sounds fresh to my ears... it’s like I know I would be bored if just wrote it the way I heard it, and what’s even better is that Chris and Joey feel the same way... We are all chomping at the bit to get back to writing, and in fact already have some new material that sounds really interesting…
WVRockscene: So Chris and Joey approached you with the idea about doing this three-part mini-doc on the songs and the concept behind the album, right? Who filmed it, where, and what was your initial response to the idea?
Page: I was totally into the idea when they approached me. I just want people to have whatever it takes to get lost in the narrative, and if these videos help some people do that, I am very happy. Content is king. That’s my motto right now. The music has to be good, but the content is king for us. Music that carries narrative like this is more difficult than film, so having supplements like these videos makes it easier I think to find your footing.
It was filmed in an old farmhouse my wife and I are renovating. It was built in 1790, and in part, was the imaginary place where the album took place. I know no one would know that, but it’s just another way to tie my life into the narrative of the album. I shot it with my wife’s help, who is also an artist, and then gave the footage to Chris to edit.
WVRockscene: In each part you talk in depth about arranging the songs, the split concepts of Clementine and Jack’s personal perspective on life with coal mining, displaying a very real depth and maturity in the songwriting, telling what is still a timeless story of these people’s lives, placing it in an Appalachian culture. Throughout you seem at ease talking about all this, all the themes inside a very real, cyclical concept record. When and/or if you’ve been told how special this record is by people who may or may not have friends or family members who work in the mines, how does that affect you and how important is it to know that you’ve touched people with the story of Clementine and Jack on Lost and Gone Forever?
Page: I have been told by some family members who were coal miners that this album really captured something for them, and we have had people from all over write us and tell us how moved they were, and some said they even cried... I was pretty floored by that. To really move someone that much is unreal. Again, it’s been so gratifying hearing from so many people about the way the album has affected them. I guess the album was real for me, and it becomes real for others. That’s what I wanted though, to share in these emotions with other people. I want there to be a give and take with our listeners. I am writing this music in hopes that it adds to your emotional life, and in return, that process adds to my emotional life, to be heard and understood by strangers from all over the world... it’s life affirming.
WVRockscene: There are no shortage of bands that make a great record and may not reach that same level with subsequent recordings. Aside from any changes or directions the DTES sound may take (acoustic, etc.) do you continue to see your inspiration coming from or being rooted in Appalachia? So much of what makes Lost and Gone Forever a great record is the dual narrative, coal mining love story embedded inside it. Do you feel pressure to make another concept record or just what themes might fans expect the next DTES record to explore, if you even know yet? You had so much personally involved with this, with the passing of your grandparents, we can almost expect something different, right?
Page: Different for sure. I am not going to try and top this, or repeat it. I will leave Appalachia for a while conceptually, and focus in on other content sources. Lost and Gone is a project that I am very proud of. After writing music and making art for over 20 years, it’s the first project that I can say surpassed my creative expectations. I had a professor tell me once, a good piece of art is always smarter than its creator… it has a life of its own. As I said earlier, this work is definitely smarter than me, and has its own life to live without me now. As for what’s next, or what to look forward to... I can tell you this, from this band/project, you can always expect an in-depth record. I am really interested in seeing how music might work for a vehicle for history, myth, narrative, and social investigations.
Our music will always be about exploring content in depth. I want to know about the world that I live in, and one way to investigate and engage the world is through art. Art helps us reflect and better understand where we are coming from, and where we are going... it’s a conversation meant to be engaged, and I plan on using music to engage it. I think that’s part of what makes Lost and Gone interesting, it engages the world and its histories and myths in a interesting way, so regardless of what the content for the next album is, you can be assured it will be immersed in questions about the world around us, and hopefully offer new ways of thinking about it through music.
WVRockscene: Regardless of whether or not DTES even ever makes another record, Lost and Gone Forever really can stand alone as a very real achievement. How proud are you of what you, Trevor, Chris and Joey accomplished with just one record?
Page: I can say that it has been a great honor working with Chris, Joey, and Trevor. They are talented and creative beyond words. That has been gratifying enough, but to have had our creative collisions produce something like Lost and Gone means that for the rest of my life I have a work that I can be proud of. I think it’s pretty clear that to produce an album like this is not going to sky rocket one to fame and fortune, and with that being said, its should be clear that we are not letting those distractions get in the way of our vision.
We put out a record we all believed in for no other reason than to satisfy our creative and emotional desires. Of course one always hopes those ambitions are met by some friendly ears who also understand those desires. I know there is a small contingent of people in the world that want to share in music that engages content in a thought provoking way, and we plan on continuing that effort well into the future.
Related -- CD Review: Lost and Gone Forever; Drama, tragedy, love, life and death: Dream the Electric Sleep brings new concept record to V Club Saturday (Huntington Herald-Dispatch article)
photo: Ashley Watson
Posted by WVRockscene!