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Track By Track: Deadlights - 'Mesma'

20 April 2017 | 3:12 am | Alex Sievers

Be sure to use our track-by-track interview as a guide when you're spinning Deadlights debut record, 'Mesma' when it drops.

A couple of weeks back, I caught up with Brisbane's Deadlights while they were in Melbourne. While hanging out at a bar on Swanson Street, the quartet - consisting of frontman Dylan Davidson, bassist Sean Prior, guitarist/vocalist Tynan Reibelt and drummer Josh O'Callaghan - gave me the full rundown and wider context of their solid debut record, 'Mesma'.

So, be sure to use this track-by-track as a guide when you're spinning 'Mesma' on Friday, April 21st when it drops via Greyscale Records. (Or whenever you check out the early album stream that'll most likely happen today.)

Read the full interview below!

First off - the album title. I looked up that name and a rough Portuguese translation I found for it was “myself” or “self”. It that just coincidence? Is this record actually very personal and almost autobiographical for any of you?  

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Dylan: No, but that’s a really interesting find, actually. The title was based on Franz Anton Mesmer, the father of the hypnotism movement, but we dropped the ‘a’ in there to be different. All the songs are very related to hypnotism and we actually have a film clip coming out soon where we get hypnotised in it.

Oh, cool. I also doubted that the album’s name was an acronym for the “multiple endmember spectral mixture analysis (MESMA), which is to do with the mapping of soil attributes using Aster imagery. 

Josh: Whoa…what? [Laughs].  

Dylan: No, definitely not!

Yeah, you guys aren't some proggy, deathcore band. Also, does it bother you that Northlane just put out an album whose title is basically the same as yours? 

Dylan: Yeah… we’re kind of annoyed by it but it’s one of those freak coincidences that you can’t avoid. Our album and merch were already printed so there was nothing we could do, really. 

Yeah, weird. But oh well, let’s get stuck into the tracks. First up, ‘Order Without Order’, and with the hypnotism vibe, I feel as though this is talking about the way in which society may push you into a certain paradigm of thinking, yet you as a person feel a completely different?  

Dylan: Yeah, absolutely! ‘Order Without Order’ is realising there’s a controlling force around your life and you trying to break away from it. The line “wipe the slate before it’s too late”, it’s just about getting rid of your misconceptions of living to society’s standard.

Good, so I was kinda right. With ‘The Mad Scientist’, am I right in saying that this song was about suicide and the battle over one's own mental health; almost like a fight between Jekyll and Hyde? 

Dylan: Well, there is a line in it that goes “if I killed myself today, would my death be a sin?” but that song is all based on religion and how religion is a hypnotic thing for some people. Some people don’t realise how much of a spell their put under by it and don’t see that they’re being hypnotised by these ideas.

[Note: this interview happened a fair while prior to the recent release of 'The Mad Scientist' and the band's accompanying explanation of it. Damnit Deadlights! *Shakes fist angrily at the sky*.]

Well, shit, that makes more sense to me now that you’ve mentioned the hypnotism theme. I’ll be honest with the third song, ‘Preconceptions’ I’m a little unsure of it, other than that I got a very pessimistic vibe from it with Tynan’s line of ‘if the ropes around me started to fray’.  

Dylan: ‘Preconceptions’ is more a song about change and knowing who you are rather than trying to figure out who are you and the preconceptions that people have about you. It’s that whole Shakespeare line of “Would a rose still be a rose by any other name?”

Right! And to digress for a second, were there any preconceptions you had about me before this interview?

Sean: [Laughs] no, no.

Dylan: Nah dude, this is like our first in-person interview so we didn’t know what to expect, really.

Josh: We have done a couple radio interviews before, though. But in-person is always better.

Oh, for sure! Back on track, one of my favourite songs off the album is ‘Wavelengths’, and I just love its aggression. To me, this felt like a song about media deception and lies? Which, now that I think about it, works quite well within the album's hypnotism theme.

Dylan: Sort of. That hypnosis theme touches in on every song on the album. But ‘Wavelengths’ though, is all about the generational gap between baby boomers and people like you and us, and the different ways of thinking we have.

Like how older people paint us “millennials” in a bad light for the issues that still affected their generation and have been passed onto us?

Tynan: Yeah, exactly!

Dylan: Right! It’s how they’re so set in their ways and how people like us and the older generations that run this country are both in two different schools of thought; we’re on two different wavelengths. The last line of the song is “If there’s a finger to raise, it’s our up-bringers to blame. If there’s a finger to be raised, then let it be the middle one.” Says it all, really.

Edgy! Now, ‘Everything All At Once’ has lyrics like ‘Death is consuming me’, ‘I’ve seen the best and the worst/because I’ve figured out that everything is my fault’, and ‘everything all at once at the wrong times’. As such, this seemed to be about a pretty tumultuous time in your life that most certainly deals with death, no?

Dylan: Oh, that song’s one of the weirder ones lyrically. That song is about someone who can see both their future and their past at the same time. So, with the person in the song, they think whether they should lead a successful life when they know exactly when they’re going to die? The person doesn’t know what to do because they know everything that’ll happen.

Tynan: Really fourth, fifth dimension shit.

Dylan: It’s like how in Donnie Darko when he can see into his future. It’s that existential dread when you know you’re going to die and what you do with your life from there.

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Really good film too! Also, is that topic - that kind of existential dread and that “heady” way of thinking – something that you guys feel and deal with in your own lives outside of Deadlights?

Dylan: Well… I watch a lot of the Twilight zone, so…

All: [laughs].

Dylan: Well, each episode was about something different. So I try and write each song with a different topic in mind and that one was just me thinking what would it be like to know how you die and what was going to happen tomorrow.

Fair enough! And Dylan, you write all of the band's  lyrics, yes?

Dylan: Yeah, that’s all me.

So how do the rest of you guys feel about Dylan’s lyrics and song ideas when things go a bit out there like on 'Everything All At Once'?

Tynan: That’s actually my favourite song in terms of the meaning and the lyrics. It’s definitely the coolest one.

Josh: Yeah, those lyrics are sick. Like, “Eat a bag of seeds before I die, in hopes that a tree grows from my spine”. It’s very far out and outlandish song, but I really like it!

Dylan: You know, we've never really sat down and pondered all of the lyrics together. It’s just something that I do by myself. Sometimes I’ll bring lyrics to Tynan and he’ll say, “Dude, please make it simpler to sing and take out a few words” so I go and take it back a notch.

Tynan: Yes, I’m much more on how the lyrics sound as well, like syllables and what not. We do butt head sometimes on this stuff but that’s a good thing I think!

Sean: Yeah, and we all have our own parts to play and worry about [laughs].

Well, I think that that’s more the rule than the exception – bands don’t really sit down together and go over lyrical detail. Dylan, does that then make you feel more responsible for your lyrics and what you say in them?

Dylan: Absolutely! As I said, we've never said as a group that we should touch on this subject. It’s more that we have a song that needs lyrics, and I might have three or so batches of lyrics that I can choose from, and I’ll think which one suits that song’s colour the best.

Tynan: He does come up with some crazy ideas. What was it, Dylan - you had a song about someone eating his or her own head or eating their skin?

Dylan: [laughs] no, it was about someone shedding our own skin and living as a sole muscular exterior.

[Very quietly to myself] what the fuck…?

Sean: Yeah, just wild shit!

Dylan: It was a little manipulation about the idea of racism.

We’re all the same underneath our skin pigmy. Anyway, another one of my favourites was ‘Attitude & Longitude’, and I found it similar to ‘Order Without Order’ as it deals with our thoughts on the external world (‘Attitude’) and then the literal world (‘Longitude’). Am I on the money at all there?

Dylan: Yes! It’s a take on the way we treat the world and how people think about the world too. People often view the world as being so fucked up, but when really, it’s the world just simply being the world. And it’s more about your own thoughts and how you perceive it. That’s what that song is about.

Josh: Some things you can never change but your attitude can be changed first, and that’s what really matters.

Sean: Yeah, it always starts with the mind. When you adjust your mind, everything else around will change. 

Cool! That actually really reminds of the message from the new Vices album too. Honestly, there’s not a huge amount to be spoken about the first single ‘Invisible Hands’ – dealing with depression and helping or trying to help someone going through a dark time and all that.  

Dylan: Yeah, and whether they won’t admit it to themselves or other people, they won’t accept your help when they’re struggling. So it’s about forcing yourself to there for them. It was about a friend who was going through some shit and my outside perspective was I’m here even if you need to yell at me.

“Lash out at me if it makes you feel better.”

Dylan: Exactly!

With quoting Friedrich Nietzsche in the press release for the song  - “We are here for you, because in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche ‘It is invisible hands that torment and bend us the worst’” - are there any other philosopher or author influences on this record? Save for old mate Mesmer.  

Dylan: Yeah, apart from Mesmer, Terrance McKenna has a lot to do with ‘The Translator’ as he talks about the ego a lot. I read somewhere that if you think that people shouldn’t watch TV but then look down at people that watch TV, that’s just as bad. It’s all ego, man. Like, this whole album is about society telling you to live a certain way but then why is me telling you to live a different way any better? It’s this hard bargain of wanting to break out of norms, but what if you’re happy with those norms? It’s difficult...

Interesting, and yeah, it can be tricky as you don’t ever want to come off hypocritical. Taking a side step for a second, who was the elderly gentlemen in the film clip?

Dylan: Oh, that’s actually my dad!

I thought so! Does your father and other family members like the music that Deadlights make?

Dylan: Yeah, my whole family is really supportive of us and our music. I wanted him in the clip as he’s got the right look for the video as we had all of these old movie reels and the old projector. So we couldn’t have one of us doing it, it wouldn’t have the same effect. Josh’s dad is in the clip we’re about to release too!

Getting the whole family involved, I see. So are Tynan and Simon getting their family in any clips?

Tynan: Well, my little brother’s in the new one too.

So basically, this whole band’s projects are all very incestuous.

Sean: [Laughs] Oh man, it’s just whoever ticks the box for our videos.

As for ‘Backwash’, lyrics such as ‘Now everything I hear is ending to my ears/has the world lost its voice/filter out the noise’ and ‘Where did your ideas go?’, is that maybe about the homogenous nature of certain beliefs and the importance of thinking for yourself?

Dylan: Nope. This song is my favourite lyrically and it’s about the lack of originality that’s been coming out of music for the past five or so years. As it’s all just backwash; everyone just writes a remix of each other. People just go ‘Oh, I like that song, I’m going to write my own version of it.’ That’s not the way to write the music.

But.. what happens when you guys get compared musically to Belle Haven, Underoath, and Circa Survive, and when people compare Tynan’s singing to that found in The Amity Affliction’s and other generic as fuck metalcore/post-hardcore bands? Because that lack of originality you speak of may also be seen by many within your own music.

Tynan: Well, as for me, I do think that I have a similar voice to Ahren, but I’m doing something different with that style. I like to think that I’ve branched out more than guys like him.

Dylan: I also think we have a lot more vocal harmonies that colour the songs better than other post-hardcore bands would.

So do you label yourselves as post-hardcore or metalcore?

Dylan: I just say that we’re alternative or ‘weird post-hardcore’, and if we’re going to release a song like ‘The Translator’, then we’ll release a song like ‘The Translator’.

Tynan: We also wouldn’t write a part for a song just because we liked that same part in another band’s song; we’d write whatever was coming out naturally.

Fair enough! With ‘Know Hope’, please tell me you are aware that that’s a Colour Morale song and album title, yes?

Sean: [Laughs] shit.

Tynan: Oh, man!

Dylan: Well, no actually, we came out first. Because our song dropped in April 2013, and this version on the album is a re-recording of it. It was only like a month apart and it had been already recorded. [The Colour Morale album actually came out in March of 2013.]

Josh: Dude, the crazy thing is that we just came up with that as a play on word from “No Hopers”. And it suddenly became this big thing. Like, I was walking through the city and Supre had shirts everywhere with ‘Know Hope’ on them. It was really weird and coincidental.

Dylan: Yeah, it became this big saying all of a sudden with a big fandom around it. We had that happen, the Northlane album title thing recently, and even with one of our old logo designs. We got it all done up and then the next day, the Circa Survive singer got that design tattooed on him so we didn’t use it.

Josh: Keep in mind that with Circa Survive, I have a lot of their song lyrics tattooed on me and they’re one of my favourite bands ever. So to have that happen was like we were being watched by them or the universe or something.

Dylan: Once you’ve got an idea, you have to jump on it, otherwise, someone else may also have that idea and snap it up first.

Definitely! Those very weird coincidences aside, does that song deal with the same theme of The Color Morale’s work – of being honest, fighting through depression and being a role model in a way to others?

Dylan: Nah. See, we had a very judgmental friend, who back when we were all 18 and getting into drinking and such, would be so against it as we would want to go out. He just simply wouldn’t be our friend over it.

‘The Translator’ is the one song that really sticks out of the track listing for its pacing and sole focus on singing. This seemed almost self-aware in the sense that you guys acknowledge the creation of art and your music and making one’s thoughts tangible. Is that correct?

Dylan: Yeah, spot on. That song is about writing songs, pretty much. It’s all about energy translating through my body into something I can see and analyse. It can be quite hard to sit down and think about how you feel, but if you write it down, you can really say, “Do I really think that way or is it just a random thought that I’ve had?”. That’s what songwriting is for me.

Tynan: It’s funny. I’m pretty sure that that song was the last song we wrote for the album too – a song about trying to write songs.

Dylan: It’s for other people, if someone wants to understand my thoughts, I can show them this. It’s a very interesting process, to write lyrics.

So with writing that song last, did that then affect the other 11 songs that you had in a lyrical sense?

Dylan: No, not really. We just needed to find another song to include on the album. Marshy [Andy Marsh, producer] said that we should have a soft song, like Underoath’s ‘Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape’ or ‘Too Bright To See, Too Loud To Hear’, and I thought about how much I loved to listen to those songs too, so we gave it a go.

Josh: Marshy also made us all listen to A Perfect Circle song as well.

Dylan: Yeah, he showed us ‘The Noose‘ and then he put is in a room and said, "Don’t come out until you’ve got a song written".

Josh: It was a wild couple of hours, but we did it.

Is that how Andy worked for you guys during your time working with him for ‘Mesma’?  

Tynan: We had the songs all ready to go, but we wrote two in the studio, which we’re done on the second day.

Dylan: And there were also two songs that didn’t make the album either.

Tynan: Which were written ages ago, one of them even being one of our earliest written songs. They’re just sitting on a hard drive somewhere now. 

Maybe save for the next album! With the 11th track, ‘Suadade’ - that term means “missingness”, so is there a friend, family member or partner that you’re missing or lamenting in this song? Because if I had to pick, it felt like it was dealing with an estranged parent...

Dylan: Oh, it's interesting you say that because that’s the only song that’s about a girl. It’s about this girl who slept with all of my friends, even though she told me that she liked me and was interested in me. So, there are the lyrics like “You were ahead of the curve from the start” and “doing the rounds again”. Every album needs at least one heartbreak song, I think.

Oh, right. Forget what I said then [laughs]. 

Dylan: But dude, it’s so interesting to hear what other people think of these songs and how people can take their own meanings from the,

Josh: And it would be pretty cool, if as you said, someone related to that song in terms of their father or their mother.

For sure, and the best part of that song is that for you, it’s about a girl for Dylan, but someone else it may be an old friend or a family member or estranged parent. Also, does that individual know about Deadlights?

Dylan: Yeah… and they can fucking listen to that song all they want.

[Laughs] saucy! Finally, we have ‘The Shapeshifter’. I found this talking about the kind of person who at the subtle or obvious request of others - again fitting that hypnosis theme - jumps from one idea or trending issue to the next?

Dylan: Yeah, it’s a summary of control. Like, “I don’t believe in mind control, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’m involved”. It’s a touch on whether or not there is this controlling order out there guiding the world, that’s really got some overlying hand above everything. Kind of like a puppet master.

So with the song title, is this in any way acting like a third part of the ‘The Mad Scientist’ and ‘The Translator’? Or is that just a coincidence with the track naming?  

Dylan: Yeah, it was actually ‘The Shapeshifter’ and ‘The Mad Scientist’ that go hand-in-hand together. ‘The Shapeshifter’ is about the control in general and ‘The Mad Scientist’ is about a figure like a priest using religion as a control tool. ‘The Translator’ was more of an after-thought, and I guess it’s not that intrinsically linked to the others. But I think they are the three most standout parts of Deadlights; ‘The Mad Scientist’ is the heavier and eerie sound, ‘The Shapeshifter’ is our usual post-hardcore sound, and ‘The Translator’ is our solely clean, soft song. If you want a good, comprehensive look at Deadlights, listen to those three songs.

Tynan: But also please listen to all of it! [Laughs].

'Mesma' is out Friday, April 21st via Greyscale Records, and it's quite good! Read our review of 'Mesma' here