Meet Dahlia Sleeps, the egoless supergroup beautifully narrating your middle-of-the-night innermost thoughts like a bunch of secret-journal trespassers. Around five years ago, Lucy Hill and Luke Hester met through some mutual musician friends. They were later joined by Dahlia Sleeps‘ remaining members, Spencer Buckley and Callum Sharp. Amongst the four, a creative bond grew, leading them to yield a bittersweet, multidimensional body of work that makes every other up-and-coming band feel mediocre. Of course, without intending to. Dahlia Sleeps‘ lyricism is engaging and voluminous and is always accompanied with crystalline vocals.
Late in 2018, the quartet released a telling and atmospheric video to their new track Storm, mirroring similarities to Shura’s 2014 video for Touch, showcasing intimate reactions of couples in response to a series of difficult yet brutally honest universal emotions. With their new EP, Love, Lost, finally hitting shelves this week, Schön! speaks to the shoegazing South-Londoners about what defiance really means and why the best art emerges from hardship and struggle.
A lot of your work seems to focus on your homes and comfort spaces in London. For example, your music video for Storm being shot in a studio apartment and your forthcoming EP being recorded in your own basement. Do you find that is where your best work is created? why or why not?
Lucy: I definitely find I need a space where there is no time pressure, that feels like home, where you know you’re not going to be interrupted or get kicked out, or ramp up an enormous bill. You can’t predict when you’re going to get into a zone and you need it to be free-flowing. Luke has built quite an amazing set-up over the years — and its still growing — so we’re very fortunate to have such amazing gear to work with, in a space that is ours.
Would you say comfort and familiarity are contributing factors to your creative process?
Luke: That isn’t necessarily the case for me. I think there are elements of heightened productively on both sides, but generally, I find myself being more inspired and creatively capable in new and unfamiliar surroundings — less likely to feel stagnant with ideas!
For you all, what concepts have inspired you the most in terms of your art? Especially this past year…
Lucy: On this EP, I think the key thing for me has been to be brave in the face of vulnerability. It’s quite an exposing piece of work even down to the image on the front. Love and loss are obviously important themes but it’s also about real pure honesty. It touches on a lot of stuff from the past as well as the present — emotions that have been left unresolved.
Speaking of creative process, what can we expect from this new EP? In what way is it different to any of your previous work?
Luke: It’s honest, and there’s nothing to hide behind. It’s what we wanted to make, so we made it, simple. Nothing was over laboured, it was natural and all happened really fluidly. It’s surprisingly hard to successfully separate yourself from the world around you and just write for you, and I feel we really managed to do that on this record.
What are your favourite songs off the EP?
Luke: My favourites are Storm, and Love, Lost. To me, they are just effortless and smooth.
Lucy: The interlude track. Maybe one day we’ll make a full song from it.
This new EP is rather emotive; do you find that the best art emerges from hardship and struggle?
Luke: Haha, we are exclusively rather emotive! Short answer, sure, in its own way. Everyone has their own interpretation of this. I believe music should do something, whether that be evoking an emotion or instilling a visceral sensation or bodily feeling, and I think to do this it needs a true origin.
Lucy: Agreed. For me, if a lyric doesn’t have a purpose or a meaning then it shouldn’t be there. We write because there is something to say, whether it’s personal or universal. I think our writing is at its best when we’re tackling something that ignites strong emotions because that is when there is something to say. I guess such emotions are around more when things are difficult but I feel like hope is quite a strong theme on this record too.
In your opinion, what is the best way to define and establish defiance?
Lucy: Fearlessness is a very hard thing for humans to embrace but I think it is the root of defiance. It’s also an act of self-love and understanding. If you know who you are and how you feel and you are able to share that with someone, or in this case with everyone, even when it’s challenging, then that is one way to embrace fearlessness. To be unapologetic.
Lucy, you previously mentioned that ahead of your new music you’d been “reading a tonne of poetry in the last year or so”. What poets have you been getting into? Has poetry changed your perspective of songwriting at all?
Lucy: Nayyirah Waheed, Danez Smith, Yrsa Daley Ward, Audre Lorde, Kate Tempest… These writers know what fearlessness and defiance [are] in the face of real struggle — whether that be about race, gender, sexuality, mental health, family, love. They are fiercely themselves and unapologetically honest and that is projected throughout their work. Reading their work hasn’t just inspired me in my writing, it’s also made me braver in what I’m willing to write about.
Your lyrics deal with personal hurdles and emotions, most notably with your single Rise. Could you tell us about one particular experience from your life (so far) that have most greatly influenced you musically?
Lucy: I think this comes back to the title of the EP — Love, Lost. I can’t pinpoint one particular experience but the coming and going of people in our lives — in whatever form they existed in — is a most relatable human emotion. In terms of Rise, a specific event did spark that one. I’ve always wanted to write a song about queerness, about the way so many people view people like me, but I’ve found it difficult to do lyrically. And then I remembered something this guy said to me when I first came out — it was so aggressive and so shocking — I didn’t have the words to respond then, but now I do so I put them into a song.
Did you all grow up with music?
Lucy: I fell in love with Cat Stevens aged seven in the back of my parent’s Volvo and that was basically it from there. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell were also big constants from a young age.
Spencer: My Dad used to rock me to sleep to the Spin Doctors — and my parents brought me up on a healthy mix of everything from Zeppelin, to Erykah Badu and Earth Wind & Fire, through to Tangerine Dream and then Arcade Fire. My Mum plays sax and my Dad plays a bit of bass so there was always music in the house.
Would you say your upbringing influenced your sound at all or affect your relationship with music?
Spencer: I’d say, for me, that my guitar style is influenced by the rhythms and styles I grew up around. I’ve always loved pointillist grooves and math-style polyphony. I’d like to think there [are] a couple parts on the record that have a subtle hark to those styles.
Lucy: Yes, in terms of the lyricism of the music I grew up on. It was all quite folky, a lot of storytelling. That inspired the title track of this EP more than anything — the literalness of it.
What emotions do you hope your music conveys to the listener? What do you stand for as artists and your craft?
Luke: If I find myself connected to music I just get so lost, I can walk for hours and hours and easily just do nothing but listen and remove myself from everything else that’s going on, nothing else does it. If our music instils even a fraction of that I’d be so happy. And emotion-wise I really hope that people will interpret it in their own way and possibly find some comfort in relating to it — as long as it stirs something.
Your music has been described as “deeply emotive, swirling, atmospheric, and soothing“ as well as beautiful, boundless and bold. If you had too, how would you describe it?
Luke: Those are all very nice descriptions; if I could add ‘honest’ and ‘exposing’ to that like I’d be quite content.
Lastly, what are you most excited for 2019?
Lucy: The EP release! Being able to see it on shelves, on people’s record players, knowing that it exists out there in the flesh. I can’t believe it’s here.
Spencer: I can’t wait to grace some more stages and bring the music out into the live environment.
Dahlia Sleeps’ new EP, ‘Love, Lost’, comes out this Friday, January 18. Pre-order it here.
words. Ashley Morris