Sat outside Tyne Bar on a sunny February afternoon, it’s not just the weather that stands out. Dan Frend is sat dressed in black from head to toe complete with a pair of sunglasses and he looks every bit the rockstar sat amongst the teens who’ve no doubt skipped out of college early upon seeing the sun come out. You can’t blame them and with songs like ‘Orange English Sun’, Dan’s no stranger to it himself.
Whilst he may have done some growing up in Deep.Sleep, it’s clear that there’s still a lot to come. There’s no denying Dan’s come a long way already from supporting The Futureheads and playing to rooms with only his parents in them to being Cramlington playground’s premier boyband all the way through to finally opening up to the raw emotion it took to write ‘Drive’.
With his dad being a DJ there was no escaping a musical education , you could say he was destined to be in a band, his formative years saw him dancing along to the icons of the 90s and 00s in his bedroom: “My dad used to tape all the Michael Jackson music videos and I used to like to sit in my bedroom with this box telly with them all on VHS and just try to imitate it.”
“When I was in first school I used to have this band called The Be Secret Boys and I thought that was cool as fuck, that was like peak creativity for me I think.” he laughs as tells the explains the way music seemingly followed him around from an early age.
Following the unlikely demise of The Be Secret Boys came the current band which went by the names like Youth Collective before becoming Deep.Sleep as the band is today. It all began, as the best bands do these days, as a bedroom project.
“It was a really cool outlet and at the time it was one of those things where I was like ‘I’m gonna get loads of girls from this’, ‘this is going to be amazing, my high school credibility is going to rocket’ and it didn’t.”
“I’m still making songs in my mam’s house, in my bedroom which I grew up in but I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years.” he reassures and looking at the way that ‘Drive’ has come along you can see the progression. Being able create such an honest piece of art is something that comes with time though Dan explains: “Now that I’ve got the people around me where I can create in an environment where I’m not only comfortable doing so but that I’m really happy doing so as well I think it speaks volumes in our works I think as a band we’ve sort of grown up.”
To be able to create such a bold narrative and vivid picture in his lyrics comes in no small thanks to the music that shaped him: “the first album I ever listened to front to back was The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free, and that blew my mind the way that music has this narrative.”
“I think when I grew up I learned to appreciate artists like Michael Jackson a lot more for the lyrical content you, and songs like ‘The Earth Song’ that I never really thought too much about until I started thinking about the deeper meaning and the deeper narrative behind it.”
Going back to the roots of Deep.Sleep was what was required to pull together a song like ‘Drive’, originally it was an emotional release and following a bad breakup, ‘Drive’ started life as a diary entry before it ever made it to the lyrics stage.
“I had a lot of things going on in my head that I didn’t necessarily understand and I found that tracking them from pen to paper was my sort of way of understanding it and my way of getting to grips with what’s going on. I’ve never been so outwardly emotional. The most important thing I learned how to do is cry.”
“It was the first time that I’d written a song where the lyrics didn’t come until the very end, until I knew what I wanted to speak about and it’s not that I really tried to put a song out about quite a lot of sensitive subjects that aren’t talked about in a lot of mainstream media like mental health and like drugs and alcohol.”
“Even that line that’s like ‘the problem in girls treating boys like mugs and vice versa’ I wanted to write it in such a way that it didn’t just talk about stereotypes within that conversation but there are times when girls can be dicks too.” he briefly looks up from the table to ask “do you know what I mean?” It’s clear this is more than just a song for the back catalogue, it’s the first time in the half an hour we’ve been talking that he hasn’t been laughing and a having a bit of craic.
“I’ve always been really really into a lot of 80s films and you know like 16 Candles and Sleepless in Seattle and things like that and a lot of John Hughes’ work in general, and the soundtrack in those movies play such a massive role in a narrative sense and it really drives the scene.”
Listening to Deep.Sleep it clicks knowing that the likes of John Hughes’ classics have been in mind the whole time. It’s that youthful rebellion that follows around the likes of ‘1994’ and ‘Soho’ particularly. This feels like a coming of age band, telling an honest depiction of teenage life. Even the story of ‘1994’ is befitting of a John Hughes film.
“The whole thing behind ‘1994’, I think it’s funny. Erm, so it was about this older girl that I was seeing and because she was in the year above me at school. I assumed she was from 1994, it wasn’t until after we’d recorded it and it was ready for release that we were out and I saw her ID and she was from 1993 and I was like “Oh right, that holds no meaning now” but at the same time it does, it’s gone from being that song about the older girl to the song about how naive you are when you’re younger and you just assume things.
“Ultimately ‘1994’ is such an important part of our set because ‘1994’ was the first Deep.Sleep song that we’d ever written and it was the first thing we’d really really believed in as a band and with enough belief to move forward with it and have it out there.”
It’s that ever-changing nature that seems to fascinate Dan, the way a song can hit different points depending upon where the listener is in life and it’s something he hopes to see in Deep.Sleep though he understands it’s not something that can be forced and “if it’s right it’ll happen.”
“‘Drive’ that stems from a song called ‘A Real Hero’ by College and Electric Youth and it’s in that scene in the movie and it’s really important and they’re driving the bass line sort of tracks the whole pace of the scene. I’d sort of tracked our song to the bass line of Drive to be instrumental for a while.”
The new single has proven to be a change of pace though: “I’ve always said I only write for us because, you know ultimately we never started it to get big or to do anything like that” he says, adding that “more recently the way we’ve started to write and create, we do realise that we do have a little bit of a following now and we’ve always been a band for our nearest and dearest so why not encompass the people who pay to see us. The people who buy t-shirts, why shouldn’t they be our nearest and dearest as well?”
He asks me if I remember the days of putting your favourite lyrics in the MSN status bar. What ensues is a traumatic flashback to having the likes of ‘Iris’ by The Goo Goo Dolls or ‘In The End’ by Linkin Park with little (8)s in it, just to prove how much you know about music, plastered all over your page because you were truly emo.
“I want to be that band, I want edits of our lyrics. Like not in a narcissistic way, I want it to mean something to somebody as much as it means something to me.” Whilst the idea of being that MSN band is a bit funny, it’s a legitimately very sweet moment in the interview, he’s taken off his sunglasses and I can tell he means every word. “I’m still trying to figure that out” he adds.
When writing about numbing his brain with THC and about the breakdown of bad relationships, the question must be asked, do your parents not worry? “It is hard and a lot of it does come down it like I’m not a bit more worried of what my mam and dad are going to think of me as opposed to like someone from Kent is going to think of me when they hear the song.”
At the same time though Dan points out that being in the public eye has changed drastically in recent years and everything will be unpacked, so what’s the point in running from what’s already happening? “A big rockstar can’t just go out in joggers and a t-shirt anymore without the press being like “oh what’s wrong with him?” and I think that happens on a smaller scale as well”.
He explains the fear he had in that by releasing ‘Drive’ some may say Deep.Sleep are capitalising upon the current push to break the stigma with mental health. Everyone will be ready to talk at some point and he only hopes that songs like ‘Drive’ can be a part in that narrative. Opening up is a big part of the reasoning behind the single being released Dan explains because he wants everyone to know it’s not necessarily that he wants to be the voice of reason for it “I just want people to know that it’s okay to have a voice about it at all.”
Later on when we’re talking about the decade of music coming to a close and looking back over that and the 00s the idea of having a voice comes up again, in the unlikely form of the Backstreet Boys, who Dan reckons were important in giving a voice to people who didn’t necessarily feel like they may have had one. Bands like The 1975 and Catfish and the Bottlemen naturally come up when talking about how music looks this decade.
“It’s hard to name anyone without sounding a little bit cliche about it” he laughs, it’s clear from the way that Dan’s talking that he loves music as a whole and has a wide knowledge of what he likes. “Music is always going to stand the test of time and it’s always going to do so well and so important to everyone who chooses to take it all in. It’s been massive.”
“I’m not too sure as to what to say about it at first because there are so many things that’ve happened in each decade. You’ve got the 70s and 80s with the likes of Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and Prince, all of that. The 90s where you had the upkeep of like Britpop so Oasis and Stone Roses and then you’ve got the 00s that was so much indie and so much important indie.”
“I think that Newcastle, in the current day is beginning to show the promise of what Manchester was like in the 90s and the early 00s. It’s a really important place to be and everyone’s got their eye on it at the minute so I think that this decade moving forward is going to be so important for the North I think. I hope.”
We end on his favourite albums and he tells me about how The 1975’s debut shaped a period of time for him whilst The Streets were equally as important. It’ll be the second time in an hour that’s he’s talked about Mike Skinner which is surprising because there’s no obvious influence from The Streets in Deep.Sleep. “It was the perfect farewell,” he says, laughing about how The Streets are back again as I’m packing up “No one’s ever really gone forever though, are they?”
Listen to Deep.Sleep right here.