Baltimore's Deep Sleep are about to put out their fourth release in five years. Turn Me Off, the band's first full length, is a great old-school melodic hardcore album that shows off how much a few years can refine a band's sound. Singer and lyricist Tony Pence spoke to PunkNews' interviewer Brandon Campbell while serving customers in his record store. He says the new album is the best thing the band's done yet. In this interview he also opens up about his battle with mental illness, his penchant for dark comedies and his disdain for 10-inch vinyl.
I want to start talking about the new album, Turn Me Off. Could you tell me what recording was like and compare it to recording the first three EPs?
For this record, we actually chose to record it in our practice studio. Our practice space, I should say. And that's just a house that Derek and Mike live in. It's called Wallride Manor. We've practiced there for a really long time. Jason did the recording for us and he's been in other bands with Derek and Mike. For the other EPs we went to a studio and went to our friends and stuff like that, but for this one we actually recorded it in our practice space.
In some ways, it was much more convenient because we're most comfortable there. We spend a lot of time there. And I feel like a better representation of us came through. Again, Derek and Mike live there, so, yeah, it probably came through a little bit more natural for us. Being in someone else's studio and maybe playing on someone else's gear… This is most like us, playing in our natural environment. It worked out pretty and well and we're excited about it.
So, it's been since October since you did the recoding?
The recording process was completely ridiculous. I would like to tell you that it was just since October, but it was October of 2009 when we recorded this stuff. We recorded all of the instruments and the process was a little slow with the vocals and the mixing. So that process took a little longer than we thought. We probably had a final recording in February or March of 2010. After that it was just mixing mastering and slowly putting it all together. This time it was as a pretty slow process.
Yeah. If you're trying to make a good quality album you don't just slap it together.
There was no slapping this together. Nick, Derek and Mike really took their time with the songs. We weren't in a hurry to have it come out. We did three EPs and they came out within three or four years of each other.
We took our time writing it. We took our time recording it. And in then there wasn't any stress that it took a little longer for it to come out.
I think it comes through on the recording. I wanted to ask you how well do you think recording in your practice space came through?
Perhaps in the instruments. Personally, recording was always the hardest part about being in a band. I love playing live, but I always think recording vocals is the hardest. It's always the most stressful for me. I feel like my performance will always be the worst no matter what. But for Derek, Mike and Nick, for those guys, being able to hang out in their living room then just walk down stairs and record the songs, that probably lent something to their performance, to their playing.
Who's releasing the album?
One of the reasons we keep doing records with Alex (Grave Mistake Records) is that he just works his ass off. All the Deep Sleep singles got to where anybody who wants them could get them. He'll go through larger distributors or trade three copies to some kids through his distro in Iowa.
He runs that label out of his apartment and he just works his ass off. He's a good friend of ours. As long as there's a desire for this record he can get them there. That's one of the reasons we love him.
The album is about 14-minutes long. Your EPs aren't much shorter. Why did you guys decide to go with a 12-inch vinyl instead of a 7-inch this time?
There's no way to fit all of that on to a 7-inch and have it sound remotely good. After a certain point, every extra minute added starts to degrade in quality. And we just didn't want it to sound like shit. Also, we think 10-inch vinyl is just an idiotic decision.
It's no secret that Deep Sleep has been compared to the Descendents. You even named an album Three Things at Once, which is a play on the Descendents album Two Things at Once. Now you've had longtime Descendents guitar player Stephen Egerton master this album. How do you feel about the Descendents comparisons and what was it like working with Egerton?
The Descendents comparisons, of course there's nothing insulting about it. Between the Descendents and ALL, those are our favorite bands. Any comparison we would consider favorable. I don't think necessarily Deep Sleep sounds like the Descendents. To listen to one of our records next to a Descendents record, I don't think people would say one sounds like the other. I just think we are massively influenced by the spirit of that band.
What it comes down to is that we're insane fan boys. When we went to California we went to Alfredo's because we love ALL. We went to where the SST store used to be and got our picture taken by the sign. We went to the Anchor Grill restaurant and had our picture taken out front.
As for Stephen Egerton mastering the record, again, that's just because we're nerds. We literally just sent it off to him with a couple of notes and he sent it back to us. For us, just seeing his name on the back of our record is exciting. (laughs) And he made it sound amazing.
Back to what you were saying about being influenced by the spirit of those bands, I would agree that a direct sound-to-sound comparison with the Descendents doesn't fit.
It's really not just the Descendents. It's that 90s Cruz Records spirit, not necessarily the sound of those bands, like ALL and Big Drill Car. There's just something about those bands.
So, what drew you to punk rock and what is keeping you active in it?
br> The thing that drew me to punk rock was being a complete outsider weirdo. As a kid I did not get along with anyone. People did not like me in school. I was this fat unpopular weirdo. I don't know if too much has changed really. (laughs) In school, finding punk rock was an absolute life saver. I did not relate well to other people and I related even less when I was in high school. I would hide in the back of the room and read a book and try to avoid everybody. Those feelings never really subsided.
I just turned 38, which is almost dead in punk-rock years. I don't feel any different. I still have a very, very, very difficult time relating to other people. I feel socially awkward. Punk rock can really help people with those things. That's why when I was a kid I leaned towards things like the Descendents. It was easier for me to relate to those types of bands. But even the rest of the band, like Mike and Derek run a record label called Wallride and I run a record store. Punk rock is basically my life. I'm almost 40 years old. There's no getting out of it at this point. It's as relevant to me as it ever was.
Punk lyrics have this history dealing with personal issues, just read anything Henry Rollins wrote for Black Flag. Deep Sleep's lyrics seem to be following in that punk rock tradition. Your lyrics are largely introspective and tend to deal with things like how destructive boredom can be, heartache from breaking up and even insomnia and mental instability. Are your lyrics a kind of catharsis for you? What inspires you to write about such intimate subjects?
They say write about what you know and the two things I know about are being mentally ill and being fucked-up relationships. (laughs) They are the most interesting things to write about. I don't feel like writing about anything else, really.
Are you saying you're actually diagnosed with a mentally instability or are you using crazy in the colloquial sense?
My problems have been reflected back at me by the people I'm close to. For a long time I lived alone. I was crazy. I just didn't realize. I just seemed normal to me. But then people get closer to you and then your craziness reflects back you off of them. Let's say I had a girlfriend and she moved in with me. Before she lived with me I didn't notice. Your problems start to affect the people who are close to you.
I am seriously bipolar. I swing really hard from a depressed state to a manic state. It's not so much when I am depressed but when I am in my manic state that I talk really fast and I'm ultra-hyper that people get really annoyed with me. I just fixate on things. That stuff comes out in the lyrics. It ekes out. And that's not even the beginning of the crazy things that go on in my brain.
I think by you writing about these things and being honest, some kid who feels the same way might find some solace in that. Do you think about those things?
I think my favorite punk songs were songs that anyone can relate to. I'm not always great at writing that stuff, but the idea is to make my ideas relevant to more people. For example, the singer of one of my favorite bands, The Parasites, wrote all of his songs in a gender neutral way. I thought that was amazing that anyone could relate, guy or girl, gay or straight. I fell in love with the idea that you could write a song that was personal to you, but do it in a way that makes potentially relatable to many more people.
Your album artwork has a common theme involving high-contrast black and white photos of people in what looks to be uncomfortable situations. Also, pardon my ignorance, but the album covers look like they could have been used for promos for 1950s dramas. Could you talk about that?
All the Deep Sleep record covers are each from a film. In order, the first one is North by Northwest, an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The second one is The Apartment, one of my favorite movies; it's a Billy Wilder movie. Third one is a Rock Hudson movie called Seconds. The new one from a movie called Blow up, a 1960's movie.
The theme, if there is one, is that they're all from movies that I love very much. And, like you said, it is somewhat uncomfortable situations.
Are you drawn to tense situations or artwork depicting stuff like that?
My taste in films is wide. I'm a film buff, that's why the covers of our records are stills from films. I'm drawn to all kinds of movies from slapstick comedy to drama. Those films, especially The Apartment and North by Northwest juxtapose drama and comedy very well. If you're trying to compare stills of films to the band, those are the ones that compare the most.
Well, I think between the artwork, the music and the lyrics you have a Deep Sleep theme going on.
Yeah, the high-contrast and the film stills, that is totally on purpose and supposed to portray and aesthetic. And our T-shirts, every shirt we've ever made kind of falls into that as well. I can't say we'll stick with it forever, but I'm really happy with how it's gone so far.
If you look at other bands like Fucked Up or Crass, they have an aesthetic that works over basically their entire catalog. Our records don't look like theirs, but I do admire that you can look at any Crass record and know that it's a Crass record.
What's next in line? Are you guys writing new songs or going to be touring to promote Turn Me Off?
We are continually writing. There will be more records coming in the future. Although we're waiting for this one to be out for a while before we get too crazy.
As for touring, we do as much as we can. Except for me with the record store, everybody else has very straight day jobs so, we don't have a lot of time to tour. We are going to Europe in June, so that should be pretty cool. At the moment, that's all we have planned.
Thanks for your time, Tony.
Yeah, thank you so much, man. I really appreciate you doing this.