Feature Image Photo by LA Watson
Matt Page is the lead singer/guitarist of Kentucky progressive/indie rock band Dream The Electric Sleep. His band has finished recording and production of their follow-up to “Heretics.” I had the chance to sit down with Matt via Skype and discuss his band, his influences, personal life, and future plans.
Note: The interview is edited for time and length constraints. I have posted a link to the full transcript at the bottom of the page.
You mention you live out in the country compared to where you rehearse. Do you find inspiration being separated from everything?
I’m sort of an introvert, so I like space and private time. I live on a farm in Kentucky, and I have a studio out there, an art studio and a music studio that I do all my demoing in. It’s good to have a cleared space, where there’s not a lot of stuff happening. So for me as a creative person, I thrive in that kind of space where I can sort of push everything out of the way, and just focus in on what’s at hand, which is usually trying to compose something or write lyrics, or record a demo of some kind. I moved into the country maybe four years ago? I spend three years fixing up an old house from the 1790’s with my wife…
(laughs) Yeah, I live in a really old stone house. It’s like 18 inch solid stone, and it’s on a 200 acre farm that’s been in her family for like 100 years. So when I say I live out in the country, my closest neighbors are a mile away. (laughs)
That’s really cool though.
Yeah, it is really cool. Fortunately for me, I do like teaching, so I’m coming into Lexington three or four days a week, which is the big city near where I live. So I get plenty of outside contact, and then I go home to this really peaceful place with my cats, and the country. It’s great. It’s the best of both worlds as far as I can tell.
What are you currently listening to? Have you discovered an album or band recently?
Man, people ask me this all the time. I just bought the new Ghost album, which I like. I think we get labeled as a progressive rock band, which I think we have elements of that, but then we have elements that aren’t progressive rock. So this new Ghost album, to me, is kind of that way. There’s these moments when it sounds like Phil Collins/Genesis or something (laughs). Then it goes into some really weird metal riff. I like what those guys are doing. I think it’s interesting in terms of just the way they’re riding the line between spoof and comedy. Today, I just popped in “Pet Sounds,” which is like this iconic album that I’ve never really listened to. So, I’m really bad at listening to music, like I put blinders on, and I’m afraid of getting too much influence or something. So in terms of me music-like, literally in the last few weeks that’s what I’ve listened to. I’m not the right person in asking what I listen to. But then like Joey the drummer, he plays the heaviest of heavy doom and sludge with another band. I get to listen to crazy heavy stuff, then our bass player Chris, he’s the founding member of a band called Hyatari, and they’re sort of doom/shoegaze kind of thing. So we’re all over the place.
Do they ever contribute their style of music to Dream the Electric Sleep?
Yeah, I think “Heretics” which is the last album we did, was a real effort on all of our parts. Joey, the drummer, will come in with like a drum beat, and either Chris will start playing something over it, or I’ll start playing something over it. I might write something; I tend to be the folky songwriter of the group. Like I love Elton John and that kind of sh*t. So I’ll write some songwriter, folky thing, and I’ll be like “Guys, can we make this really heavy?” Then they’ll turn that into something. We are all very generous people with each other, and I want this to be their project as much as they want it to be mine. I always tell them that if I have to write all of my music on my own, it would be really boring. It would be predictable, it would sound exactly like I hear in my head, which isn’t challenging enough. So they take what I do, and they make it more challenging.
When you’re not writing music, what do you do in your free time? Obviously you teach.
Yeah. I mean… I mow the yard. (laughs)
There’s probably a lot of yard to mow out there.
There is. I mow like five acres every week, so I got a lot of mowing to do. I do love art. My wife’s an artist. We talk a lot about art and critical thinking about aesthetics, philosophy, and art theory, and different cultural movements. I’m really fascinated by critical inquiry. I want to know a lot about the world. It’s like the more you know about the world, the more you know you don’t know. I love film, so I watch a lot of movies. I’m just interesting in storytelling, and all of its forms. Whether through painting or video, that’s sort of my passion I guess. So I fill all of my time with that kind of stuff.
What’s some of your favorite movies?
My gosh, I love horror movies, which I don’t know if that’s a cop-out. (laughs) But I love horror movies. Recently I just watched that Netflix show “Bloodline.”
Oh, I love that show.
I thought that was fantastic. Just the character development, the ambiguity of the characters. I’m not interested in making things simple. I’m not interested in trying to solve a problem with one answer. I’m interested in stories that are complicated; so “Bloodline” was a complicated story in that you… for instance Danny, you wanted Danny to succeed and be loved, but he was also doing awful things to his family. So that tension really motivates me. So I try to incorporate some of that complexity into the songs that we do, and the album concepts, because that’s what I’m interested in. I’m interested in complex issues and questions, not right or wrong, but the grey area that exists where we have to navigate things.
Is there anywhere you’d recommend in Kentucky or Lexington to check out?
Man, if you’re in Kentucky, I always recommend bourbon tours or distillery tours, because that’s what we’re known for. Bourbon and horseracing.
Sounds like a good time. (laughs)
Exactly. Any distillery tour, that’s what I recommend. Lexington and Louisville both in the last decade have focused on creating a better art scene. So we have contemporary art galleries and centers in both areas. I always get this sense that Kentucky’s sort of a funny, mythical land that nobody quite understands. (laughs) So we have this weird cache with the rest of the country. It’s like “What do you weird people in Kentucky do? Do you just drink bourbon and watch horses all day?” And partly that’s true… I’m sorry, we also have basketball. I work with the school with the obsessive University of Kentucky basketball fans.
So, I got some questions about the band. How did Dream the Electric Sleep start? Did you all know each other before the band started? Were you friends or acquaintances?
Yep, so Joey and I, the drummer and I, are third cousins. And we started playing together almost 20 years ago. So he’s been my only drummer. (laughs).
That doesn’t happen a lot, having a consistent drummer.
You’re right. We’re both really loyal people, and I think Joey is tremendously talented. When we started playing together at 15 years old, it was like “this is the guy I want on my team.” And I think he feels the same about me, so we both just have this connection now. We formed in 2009, so Chris (bassist) has been in the band for about 7 years. So when we get together and play, within an hour it’s a mind meld. We write a song, and it’s like “that was pretty good for not knowing what the hell we were doing when we got together.” I feel really fortunate that I have been able to play with Joey for as long as I have. I love working for this band.
How did you guys come up with the name “Dream the Electric Sleep”? If I were to guess, it kind of sounds like a song title.
This is funny too. There’s a book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
That was my second guess. (laughs)
Everyone thinks we stole it from that, but the funny thing is that was nowhere on the radar. We actually started with writing lists of words, and would start putting words together. Just about every band name is taken. Seriously, coming up with a new band name? Everything we came up with we thought “nobody’s going to have this band name.” Then you type it into Google and there’ll be some band from California or somewhere. And we’re like “damn it!” We had our list, and Chris was like “What about Dream of Electric Sleep?” And I said, “Alright, what if we change just “of” to “the”?” So we have a lot of “E” in the name. “Dream the Electric Sleep.” It’s weird and kind of 70’s psychedelic. There was no magic trick, really that’s how it happened. (laughs) But we all liked it, so that was a plus.
I’ve been in Kentucky in the past, but it’s been so long I’ve never really experienced the music scene around there. What is the music scene like out there, and has it influenced your sound?
Um, back in the 90’s, there was a music scene here, but since then it’s been a little rough. We haven’t had a lot of venues to play in, and I think it’s just a national trend that people aren’t going out to see live music as much in clubs. There’s not a lot of venues, so we’ve kind of felt isolated I think. And so unfortunately, I’d have to say that our music scene hasn’t been great for us because you tend to do better here if you’re like alt-country, or maybe some something dancey and poppy. But as far as rock and roll, prog rock for sure, there’s not a lot of it. Instead of us focusing our resources and energy on just building a local following, we just skipped all that, and we started trying to reach people in other places. Specifically, we thought the progressive rock community might like what we’re doing. So we reached out into that community, in Europe and the United States, with different blogs and magazines, and tried to build more of an international fan base, as opposed to starting local. It was like we were in wrong geographic location for the music we were playing. So we had to figure out ways of reaching people that were far away from us. In Germany we were able to play a festival there because we actually have people who really like us there, that are willing to come and see us. So, that’s a long way of saying it’s been hard here in Kentucky to make it as a band in our genre. We would love to see it happen, but it hasn’t happened yet.
You said you guys have been around for 7 years. What are some of the highs and lows you’ve experienced individually or as a band over that lapse of time?
Gosh. I mean obviously we played the two festivals that we had a blast. The Rites of Spring Festival, which is a progressive rock festival. That was a highlight for us, it was just an amazing experience. Playing the Loreley Amphitheater in Germany was fantastic. That was just a phenomenal experience. The most important thing for me, the highlights of my day are when an individual writes me and they say “I love what you’re doing. I get it. I love the album.” That blows me away every time. This is going to come out wrong, but I can’t fathom somebody liking my music that much. (laughs) Like, to get those emails is so humbling and flattering. Those are the highlights for me, just one on one contact with people who are passionate about music. That’s really what I care about, like doing these festivals. It’s just a way for me to go meet those people that really care. I’d say those are two big moments for us. Obviously, the most recent working with Nick Raskulinecz was a highlight for us, because we are so familiar with his albums, and who he’s worked with, and to be able to work with him was phenomenal.
Also speaking of another high, you were nominated for the Limelight Award at the Progressive Rock Music Awards, which is ironic because it is based in England. That just shows that reaching internationally has worked for you.
Somehow, it has worked. (laughs) You know, that is a highlight. I remember at one point I thought “Man, it would be really cool if we got nominated for a prog award of some kind.” Then it happened, and it was like “Wow, how did that happen? That’s great!” Of course, the people over at Prog Magazine and Classic Rock, from our first album on they’ve been really supportive. We’ve had some difficulty getting that same responsiveness in the US. It’s so weird to think that there’s different markets everywhere in the world. Like, different people like different things, and want different things, and it could be drastically different. So, that’s been a really lesson for us.
Yeah, I’ve noticed if I talk with my friends about progressive rock, they’re like “What bands are those?” But when I talk with other people who are into it, it’s like Canada, England, Germany, Mexico, all over the place. It’s a very unique genre in that it’s everywhere and it’s not at the same time. (laughs)
Exactly, exactly. I haven’t been able to wrap my head around it yet. Like I said, the progressive rock community, which is broad, they’re the whole reason we’ve gotten as far as we’ve gotten. I think maybe there’s something about people who like progressive rock that have a certain demand for music. They expect certain things from music, like they really want a lot from their music. They want to be challenged in some ways. To me, it seems like a group of large dispersed group of people that are just extraordinarily passionate about music in general. Prog people seemed to be really focused (laughs), which is great. I love that focus. They actually listen to the lyrics and have questions about that.
I have a couple questions about the new album, but I wanted to follow up about “Heretics.” I wanted to plug that album first, just because everything I’ve seen about the album has been positive. I was just wondering how that album in particular has affected your band?
When we put out “Lost And Gone Forever” (that was our first album), it made some little waves. We had no idea what would happen with “Heretics.” Again, because of that album and because of the critical success of it, by and large, I was shocked that we had as many reviews as it did, and supporters that really liked the album. But that album was basically responsible for us being where we are. It’s not because we toured, it’s not because we put out some crazy music video, a viral video. We put out an album, and people shared it, and talked about it. We made an album and it was like everyone else in the world who liked it made it walk, gave it legs. I just didn’t know it could be this way (laughs).
Your last album follows a concept loosely based on famous historical women and their experience. Does your next album you’re currently working on follow any sort of concept or story?
It does. I probably shouldn’t go too far into that, but it does have a theme to it. Like I said earlier, I’m really interested in long form narrative. I think secretly I wish I was some kind of film director. What stories do I want to tell? What stories do I think are important, even if they’re historically based? History still sort of exists now, with the waves still going out. So my vision for “Heretics” was the 1920’s. I still felt like the themes of the album could be applied to themes now. I’m stuck with that same idea because I felt like I wanted to do it at least one more time. I don’t know what we’ll do after this next album, what I’ll feel like doing. It is themed, and it is conceptual in that way.
Do you find the writing process more difficult or is it easier having a concept in mind when you’re writing an album?
For me, it’s easier. I can write a song that’s just about one moment, but I’m always left with a certain nagging feeling, like whatever happened there to lead on. So it just makes sense to me. I guess I’ll always have some kind of narrative theme. It’s hard in a 4-6 minute song to say everything you want to about somebody or something. At least it’s hard for me. Maybe really skilled songwriters can do that, but it helps me.
What inspired you to write your upcoming album?
I always look for sources. So everything I write about it comes from somewhere else. So “Heretics” was about one woman, but that one woman is an amalgamation of all of these women who struggled to get the right to vote. I was looking at artists that I liked a lot, like Faith Wilding. So I quote her at the end of the album. So the same goes for this album. I’m really interested in retelling stories. Narratives take on new perspective and we can learn new things from stories that we’ve told over and over again. I want to write narratives that are both related to our past but can also move us forward in some ways. I think that’s more interesting to me.
You announced that you recorded with Nick Raskulinecz. He’s known for working with bands like Rush, The Foo Fighters, and Mastodon. How do you feel his participation on this upcoming album will affect the band’s sound and direction compared to prior albums?
When we demoed these songs for this album, when we sat down and finally got them all done, we listened to them and thought “we’re really proud of these songs” and thought “gosh, can we as a band actually pull this off? Can we be as objective as we can be with these? Are we going to be able to give these songs the treatment they need?” That’s when we started looking for producers. Nick was like a pie in the sky. We’re not a big band, and like you said he did the last Rush album. We’re no Rush (laughs). So we said “let’s just send it off to him, some demos and see if he likes them.” And he did! Producers wear many different hats; he’s like a coach, but is somebody who can listen to what you’re doing and say “as a listener, that doesn’t make as much sense to me. Why did you do that there?” It’s somebody to ask you questions and say “what if you did it this way?” When you’re writing music, you’re just so close to it. You stop hearing it anymore. Things you think are good may not actually be good because you’re used to hearing it. Sometimes comfort sounds good, but comfort doesn’t mean it’s actually good. (laughs) So somebody like Nick can come in and say “Yeah, you’re right. That is good. But this part needs work.” Then just work us through the process of how we make the best album we can make. Working with Nick, we were able to just focus on performances. We didn’t have to worry about, like “Was this the right sound?” You end up trusting somebody like Nick because he has the reputation. So you say “Nick knows what he’s doing. Let’s focus on capturing the best of what we can do.” That’s what Nick brought to the table, and that’s why we thought we needed somebody like Nick on the project. It’s to take what we thought were good songs and make them better.
That must be an honor to have someone of that high caliber to be working on this album.
It was, and we learned a lot about ourselves, what we were capable of. He’s an immensely positive influence. Like, he’s encouraging, and he’s smart, and he wants to make the best damn album he can make. That’s the kind of person I want to work with. Somebody who’s going to push me to my limits, but not make me feel like sh*t. (laughs) And that’s what he did! He pushed me to my limits, but made me feel like I was able to do it. I can’t wait to hear it.
Are you taking any different approaches toward the writing or recording process on this album compared to other albums?
When we produced our albums, we had to worry about recording techniques. All those questions dilute your ability to focus on other creative aspects. So with Nick on board, we were able to say, “Here Nick, you do all this stuff that we used to do. Let us just focus on the performances and capture the spirit of what we need to capture.” So just from that point of view, it was completely different. Also in terms of writing, because after you heard the demos, we decided to rewrite some parts based on his feedback. We’ve never had somebody listen to our demos, then tell us what they think, then actually offer suggestions.
Is there any information you’d like to share about the album? I know it might be too early, but I was wondering if you had a release date in mind, or if you have any plans after the album is released?
At this point, our plan is to release it sometime in the spring of 2016. Part of this process within the next 6-8 months is: do we want to release it, or does somebody else want to release it? And then once we decide that, coming up basically with the PR campaign. How do we reach people? How do we let the people who like us know that we’re releasing something new? And how do we reach new people? We’ve spent too much time and energy to just see it released and not go anywhere. We want to see it have life beyond the studio walls.
You don’t have to say, but do you have an album title in mind?
I do, but I can’t say anything. (laughs) I have explicit orders not to say anything
I figured so. I only have one last question. Do you have any advice for any aspiring musicians out there?
Oh, I have so much advice. (laughs) Only because we’ve made so many mistakes of our own. The music business is different now. The thing that I found really beneficial, and this will sound funny and maybe a little bit callous, but I think a lot of young bands record an album and then have no money to advertise. But that’s the kind of thing that costs money, and a lot of young bands spend all of their money on the recording process, or they just don’t have any extra left over. I think for any young band I would say if you believe in what you’ve got, you might want to try buying advertising on a website. Even if it’s just $100 to have a banner on that website, that’s great. And the other thing I like about it is you’re actually helping other young bloggers or websites or magazines. You need to reach people and then somebody might care. It’s reciprocal. That would be my advice to young bands. At least make sure you have something saved for promotion, and then target your promotion. So find out who’s doing it, who’s got the blogs, and support those people. To me, that’s part of the new model music. It’s building networks, a lot of DIY for publications and websites.
A special thanks to Matt for taking the time to chat with me! It was great talking with you.
You can read the full transcript here.