Dahlia Sleeps on ’After It All’ EP: “Vulnerability Runs Through Everything We Do” [Interview]

Updated: May 5, 2019

Interview with Dahlia Sleeps

photos by Rob Blackham

It’s been 2 years since Dahlia Sleeps (Lucy Hill, Luke Hester, Spencer Buckley, Callum Sharp) made their debut with “Breathe”, marking them as a band to watch with 4 million plays across streaming platforms to date. Having recently revealed an emotive sophomore EP titled ‘After It All’, we had a chance to ask singer Lucy about their origins, future plans, and the meanings that make up their ethereal music.

As it turns out, the success of “Breathe” was the catalyst for the London-based band to form to begin with. “Luke and I met four years ago through some musician friends and started messing around in the studio. We had a few tracks by then and we were finishing some of the songs off in the studio with Carey Willets (writer/producer) and it was actually he who said ‘Breathe’ was the one,” she explains. “It turned out to be good advice! After we released it we needed to get a live set together and thankfully Spencer (guitar), who is an old friend of Luke’s from Oxford, and Callum (drums) joined the team.”

Blending her vocals with Luke’s production genius, Lucy found an outlet for the songs she’d been privately creating. “I have written since forever, on guitar and piano but never publicly. It was when I met Luke that it got serious. He’s been producing since he was a tiddlywink with a focus on ambient electronic instrumentals. So it was a first for both of us as he hadn’t worked with a vocalist before.” And all of the members were experienced musicians when they started out, since Luke and Spencer had been “making music together since they were kids, and both Callum and Spencer [had] been touring musicians for a long while.” If Lucy weren’t in the band? “I honestly don’t know. I’d probably jumping between all sorts of things wondering why there was a gaping hole in my life.”

Unable to use just “Dahlia”, the band added “Sleeps” to their name and established an enigmatic air about them, suiting the dream-like quality of their sound. “‘Dahlia’ was initially the name of a song I wrote. Luke has this wonderful ability to name songs with one word that seems to encapsulate its meaning without even knowing what I’ve written the song about in the first place. When we were thinking of band names I came back to this song and thought it was kind of perfect. Funnily enough an iteration of that original track has ended up on this latest EP in the form of ‘Only You’,” she says.

Their first EP ‘Breathe’ came out only last year, ‘After It All’ was just released in June, and now having dropped hints on social media that they’re close to being done with a third…it’s clear that Dahlia Sleeps haven’t wasted any time. “We spend most of each week writing in the studio. Luke spends every day in his synth cave. So it’s pretty non-stop. I suppose we just keep wanting to get better and that compulsion drives us.” When asked what their process is like, she replies that there isn’t necessarily one. “Each song has a very different birth story. Some start as poems, some start as piano ballads, some start as instrumentals, or a beat. I am always writing words so when Luke comes to me with something he’s created the song is generally already there somewhere in my notebook waiting for its melody.”

This latest EP seems especially determined, while still keeping traces of the airy elegance of their earlier songs. “I think we’ve just become a lot more comfortable exploring all musical landscapes, just creating and seeing what comes out. I wouldn’t have seen us doing a piano ballad before! Or a track like ‘Rise’. That and getting a Juno 60, DX7, Pro One, etc…we have more tools to hand these days,” she says of this evolution.

Lyrically, “it all comes back to love and loss and human relationships in the end,” Lucy describes. “With ‘Rise’ I was tackling something very new thematically with my writing in terms of its social and political impetus; in ‘Blackout’ trying to discuss loss in a more final form than I’d ever experienced was new for me.” And “Blackout”, an achingly beautiful track with stripped-back piano, has a noticeable weight to it. It’s a standout track for her - “not least because I was trying desperately to express something that honestly felt so inexpressible. It was also an important moment for me live because I suffer badly from stage fright and for a long time refused to sit behind a piano on stage and play. This song came along and forced me to challenge myself in that way.”

The EP cover displays raw human emotion in a minimalistic way, perhaps capturing the feeling of some of the songs. “The artwork [by Ruby Brown] was inspired by a self-portrait taken by photographer Ana Cuba – it showed such painful vulnerability and that vulnerability runs through everything we do. We wanted to create a run of photos for each song to illustrate that.”

What can we expect to hear in the future? “Just always more! We are finishing mixing the next EP as we speak and it’s the most honest thing we’ve created yet. I’m really excited to hand it over. We’re also playing Omeara in London on October 19 and have a couple of other support shows in London before then too.” While we wait for this next release, we’ll have a lasting collection of songs to play on repeat.

Listen to After It All

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