New Jersey native Dave Debiak talks about birth, life, pain and death in his songs and characters. His band Sleep Station write about subjects that might seem tough to tackle, but they do it with rare insight and understanding. Debiak infuses his own experiences with those of his subject matter. Raw, emotional and certainly heartfelt, Sleep Station's music dwells in a place they can surely call their own.
Livewire's Karen Bondowski hooked-up with Dave after their recent performance at Mad Planet in Milwaukee.
Livewire: How did Sleep Station form?
Dave: It's pretty much just me and I've been getting musicians to play with me for a long time. I think it was more like just getting people to play with me. Jason is my brother and he's been playing with me for a couple of years now. Brad's been playing guitar for a few years. Rich, our drummer, just started on our last tour and Evan is filling in since our last bass player left after our last tour. So it's always revolving musicians.
Livewire: Where did the name come from?
Dave: I was reading a fictional book. I can't remember the name, but it was about a space journey and a sleep station is a bedroom that's in outer space and I was really fascinated by the terminology that was being used in the book. By making something simple as like a bedroom sound like a sleep station. And I thought oh wow, sleep station, it's a bedroom in outer space and that's really awesome.
Livewire: Is that where you'd like to take your music to?
Dave: A bedroom in outer space? (laughs) Yeah, that'd be nice. Quiet..
Livewire: Where did your inspiration come from to write such albums like Von Cosel and After the War?
Dave: The inspiration? Well for Von Cosel, my brother came to me with the whole thing. He was like, "Dude, I want you to write this!" And I was like I don't think I can. I don't think it's possible. And then I started to write it and then realized everything I had wrote was terrible and totally cliche and then I really started to get into his head and tried to write again. Obviously I formed my own take on it. And that was that. And for After the War, I just picked up the guitar one day and started writing. I have been really fascinated by the time period for a long time and my grandfather, who was a veteran, was commenting on my music one day and was like, "You need to do more harmonies!!" Cause he like comes from this generation that was totally different and I was like, "I'll do that!" And I went home and wrote something with harmonies and it just so happened that maybe after I had been talking to him, World War II was in my head. So I just kept going from there.
Livewire: Your cover art looks really awesome.
Dave: Thanks. My brother does it. Both of my brothers do all my cover work and they do great work. Isn't that an awesome picture? We went to flea markets and bough suitcases of these pictures that people were just selling for like $5-$10 and we collected a ton of pictures that people were just giving away. There are a couple of them in there that are actually family members of mine. There's my grandmother, a picture of my wife's uncle in there. There's one more, I just can't remember off the top of my head. They're pretty spooky to look at. They're awesome!
Livewire: How do you feel about the war in Iraq?
Dave: I think war is probably the single most disgusting thing that mankind has ever put itself through. But, whether its necessary or not, you've got so many opinions about it that it's not even funny. But, I don't think I can see a reason for it. Ever. I've gotten a lot of emails from people who are serving in Iraq and they're like extremely happy to get the record and they feel like they have such a connection with some of the songs and it really makes them feel. I really respect them a great deal, and I think if they can bring peace to our world like that, I think it's phenomenal. I really respect everything that they do and what they do for their country. I respect them a big deal. But war.. (shakes head)
Livewire: How personal are the themes in your album?
Dave: I'm in every song. They're extremely personal. I definitely think that every song is a reflection of me. There's something inside of me that can relate to whatever it is I'm writing about and if I didn't think I had that connection, the song would go right in the garbage after I was done writing it.
Livewire: You refer to Jesus, Heaven, crosses quite often in your lyrics, what are your personal religious beliefs?
Dave: I'd like to think spiritual. I was raised Roman Catholic and spent a lot of time around the church and I have a very large family who have their different beliefs around it. Crosses.. I can't think of that right off the top of my head right now, where is that reference?
Livewire: Sacred Heart. "Take this cross that I bear."
Dave: That's the character, you know? That's coming from his perspective. He's angry with God because of everything that happened with him losing his wife and that's kind of his way of saying, what are you doing to me? But as far as my own personal beliefs? I don't know. I'm sort of in the limbo stages of all that right now. (chuckles)
Livewire: Is writing a concept album a lot more difficult then writing a normal one?
Dave: No. Not at all.
Livewire: Is it easier?
Dave: It's not. It's the same. Cause when you think about it, everyone sits down and writes a song about something. Whether it's about your girlfriend leaving you or you know.. We were just on tour with Limbeck and they write a lot of their songs about their experiences on the road. Every song that everyone sits down to write is about something, so I don't think it's any different at all.
Livewire: What theme would you never dare to tackle?
Dave: Besides Von Cosel, I've never had anything that was predetermined on what I was actually going to do. I don't know what I'm going to write about until I just sit down one day and start writing. I can't say there's nothing I wouldn't write about, but I don't know if the inspiration will ever come to me to write about something.
Livewire: What kind of stuff are you working on now?
Dave: I'm actually doing more like a dancy, kind of rock theme record. Nothing particularly conceptional about it at all. A lot of the songs are about specific things but, there's no like beginning or end. None of the records really are.
Livewire: What's your favorite conceptional album made that you ever heard?
Dave: I don't even know.. I wouldn't even be able to rattle.. Sgt. Peppers?
Dave: Tommy is great. I saw that on Broadway actually. It was awesome.
Livewire: Is After the War an anti-war album?
Dave: No, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is specifically about WWII and everything in it is from the perspective of someone whose served in it or been involved with it on some level. It has absolutely nothing to do with anti-war for today or anything like that. But you couldn't help but be moved by the events that are taking place and I've seen a lot of war in my short life. A lot of traumatic events and maybe there's some of that in the back of my head that inspires you a little bit but it has nothing to do with the situations that are going on right now. Well I've noticed that if people can sort of relate more on a emotional level to a soldier or what a family is going through, a traumatic period of time like that, it makes you think of war in a different light. It's so often we watch on television these things, like this is what happened and you're very removed from it. It doesn't really put you in it. You're not at home where you have to receive that phone call. People don't think of it on that level. That's why it's so easy for it to happen. WWII was a war that was worth fighting and maybe that's what's so intriguing to me is that the people that were involved in that period of time didn't think twice about going. They just went cause it was just the right thing to do. And I think that's the last noble war that we have been involved in. The service of the people who have fought in post wars since then, have been noble, but not all of them have been worth dying for. But that's been going on since the beginning of time. Cavemen used to just club each other to death. I think that the entire country that we live in is made up of secret societies and I think that it's a fricken shame that nobody's brought up or badgered our presidential candidates about Skull and Bones. I think I've seen every question possible thrown at them, but how ironic it's never brought up. What an unbelievably, powerful group it is and our president and our next president is going to be a member of Skull and Bones and nobody talks about it, nobody brings it up, nobody asks what the secrets are and why you have to keep it a secret. What are you hiding? And that scares the crap out of me. I don't think there's any need for it in a Democratic society.
Livewire: What's the best thing about going on tour?
Dave: Playing the shows.
Livewire: Do you have a good connection with your fans?
Dave: Sometimes. Sometimes we'll play a show and everyone will look at us like we have three heads. (smiles) It's not the right crowd that night and they look at you like what the hell are these guys doing, who are they? Sometimes their response is just absolutely tremendous but I'm not really too in tune with that. I'm more or less paying attention to what we're doing. I'm just trying to get into the music when we're playing. That's the best part of touring, just being on stage and playing.
Livewire: And the worst?
Dave: Technical difficulties. That's it. Nothing's worse then that. I can deal with the van breaking down, I can deal with just about anything, but you're on stage and your amp goes, you break a string or something stupid happens. It ruins the vibe for you when you're up there. I hate that the most. About every three shows something goes wrong inevitably and you just deal with it.
Livewire: What was your childhood like?
Dave: (laughs) You have asked me about my religious beliefs, my position on the war in Iraq and now about my childhood?!! (laughs) Well, I got raised with two brothers and I think the bond that we share with each other is probably the most unbelievable thing to have in my life and I think my mom did the best job that she could. Older now and looking back at it, I stopped putting the perfect label on them and realize that they did the best they could. I know they loved me and that's all that matters. We're closer now then we have ever been. It was interesting. I was ADA and a poor student so I had all that to deal with, but my mom always knew that I was musically talented and gifted in that area and she never cared what I did in school. She got me piano lessons when I was a little kid. She said if you save up the money and buy a guitar, I'll get you lessons and she nurtured that and it means a lot to me. I'll make sure to do that with my own son.
Livewire: What bands move you today?
Dave: I've been listening to a lot of Del Shannon lately. I think there's a great whimsical like feel to the songs. They're happy and trail along but there's also this sadness to his voice and his music that when you listen to it, you just get it. I think you can hear that in Brian Wilson's music. Every time I hear the song "Good Vibrations" and like "Help Me Rhonda," I'm like.. sad! I know that sounds silly cause there like these really whimsical songs but I don't know. I'm picking up on something else and I don't know what it is. I like music that does that to me. I think Neutral Milk Hotel, Wilco, Richard Buckner, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith.. It's guys like that who really touch a chord. Johnny Cash!! That's the most.. Ok, this is it. (smiles and laughs) The most moved I've ever been by a record in years was Johnny Cash's, American Recordings. Those are probably the most moving records I've ever listened to. I just think they're unbelievable records! I think those last few records are his finest work. I can't imagine.. I don't think anyone's went out on like that who had their life cut short by a tragic event. He did those records and he was blind, old and in a wheelchair! And you know that when you're listening to them. It's gut wrenching, it's beautiful. Some of the most intimate recordings. As like for someone who also produces and things of that nature, I've really been intrigued with the fidelity of these recordings. They're so lush, huge and capture every second of those songs and his emotion that he has in them, just right there on tape. They nailed it.
Livewire: If someone were to give you $5 million dollars to quit music, would you do it?
Dave: (silence, staring straight ahead)
Livewire: Now.. You could play for yourself only, but you could never perform in front of people ever again.
Dave: I'd definitely do it. I don't think I ever want to perform in front of people again. (laughs)
Livewire: You got your $5Mil, you can play for yourself and you can start your film career.
Dave: I have no interest in playing live anymore.
Livewire: Why's that?
Dave: I uhh... Just don't. I'm really like a hermit. I like to stay home. The only enjoyable experience I get out of touring is I get to meet people and talk to them and then have the half hour to an hour that we get on stage. Other then that, I'm just burnt by the whole thing.
Livewire: Now that's just performing live.. What if your music couldn't be heard?
Dave: Yeah, I don't think I would take it. I wouldn't take the $5Mil. I wouldn't take it. I wouldn't take it if it like forced me to do anything. There are very few things I would do. I don't need money. I'm not a fan of it and I don't have any of it. I've been living very comfortably in my own head in my own way for.. well, my whole life. (laughs) And I think it would only cause problems. Doesn't it always do that? You always see someone win the lottery and then 2 years later they're crazy or something? I just don't know what I would do with it. If you wanted to give me $5 million dollars, I'd probably open up my own label and have a recording studio and record all the time but as far as not doing it anymore, I don't think it would be worth it. (laughs)
Livewire: What's your favorite song you have written and why?
Dave: My favorite song? I don't have one in particular. I think they all mean something very special and are important to me. I don't have a particularly favorite. It's usually the latest one I wrote. And then the next song I write, I'm happy about that.
Livewire: How old were you when you first started playing the guitar?
Dave: 13 or 14, something like that. I just wanted it. I just wanted to play that thing so badly and I would just lock myself in a room and play it for hours. I brought it everywhere! There was actually a cover of me on a local newspaper one time when I was 15 years old of me and my buddy. We would take our acoustic guitars everywhere we went, and we're sitting down by the river playing and this guy just pulls over and asks, "Can I take a picture of you for the newspaper?" and we're like, "yeah!" It was the first time I was ever on the cover of something and I laugh at it now cause.. I took it everywhere. If there was a family party, the guitar came with me. If I went to.. anywhere - the guitar never left my side cause I wanted to play it constantly. I was obsessed. I never wanted to be without it.
More Sleep Station
Concert Review - Milwaukee, WI 2004
CD Review - After the War
Photo by Phil Bonyata