In a world where social media governs the young generation and mental health issues continue to spread like wildfire, it's more important than ever before for the arts to offer more than just an hour's escape from reality. While governments go to war over borders, the younger population are being left by the wayside. The masses need a voice to champion their own.
Enter Dream State, Wales' newest purveyors of post-hardcore ready and raring to take the world by storm as the people's band. Melding pummelling post-hardcore with slabs of stadium-sized choruses and swirling synths, Dream State share their stories of struggling with addiction and mental health in the modern age. With the backing of big-boy label UNFD – home to the likes of Beartooth and Frank Iero – and a slew of critically acclaimed EPs, best British breakthrough awards and high-profile support slots, they're finally taking the next step with their debut album, 'Primrose Path'.
'Primrose Path' is the result of a year of blood, sweat and tears. Born out of a band broken before they'd already begun, their desire to be both defiant and honest kept their heads above water, their pens on paper, and their music flowing. Their debut album is aptly named as the writing and recording of it truly took them down a primrose path of their own.
"On an emotional level, we felt a little bit lost," sighs vocalist CJ Gilpin, reflecting on the recording process in a rare moment of peace. "We put ourselves in a box to begin with, we felt so stressed out with trying to fight, and nothing was flowing naturally. I think we were afraid that it needed to sound like the EP's [2015's 'Consequences' and 2018's 'Recovery'] and that it needed to sound like this or like this, and we ended up putting loads of walls up around us."
With an EP to promote, a calendar-splitting diary of shows to play and mounting label pressure drove the band crazy, pushing them into a creative crypt.
"We felt the pressure pretty hard going into Christmas 2018 because it's such a big part of our career," adds co-vocalist and guitarist Rhys Wilcox. "It's arguably the most make-or-break moment for a band, the process of releasing their debut album and we felt like there just wasn't enough hours in the day to execute it."
Juggling the expectations of a label and a fanbase with the realities of the real world was a testing time for the band. The pressures of simply affording to live were creeping up on them, and they needed to hit the ground running while making ends meet.
"We were flat out with work at the same time," reflects Rhys. "A lot of people might not be aware, but bands of our size are still scrambling to make ends meet. There were so many time constraints, we were just trying to get our demos written as quickly as possible. We went into our tour with Amity Affliction in October last year, and it was constantly at the back of our minds that we needed to actually write our debut album, and we were all over the place personally, but we had some things coming together."
CJ adds: "The second we remembered why we're musicians in the first place, which is to constantly explore and to branch out and to evolve and change, was the second we took those walls down and lifted some of the pressure off of ourselves.
"We realised that it didn't need to be anything, that there didn't need to be any limits to the sound, that we should just write what feels good and natural, and that's when it all started to come together. The second we took the pressure on, it started happening."
When they rediscovered the reasons, they were making music together in the first place, the quartet took themselves to Newcastle Under Lyme where they locked themselves away inside The Silk Mill Recording Studios. They tapped into the wisdom of SikTh guitarist and renowned producer Dan Weller (Enter Shikari, Bury Tomorrow) and didn't come out until they'd walked the Primrose Path and brought the album to fruition.
"We did so many late nights, getting back to where we were staying in the early hours of the morning," remembers Rhys. "I think one night I was in the vocal booth doing harmonies for about five or six hours on the trot that by the time we left, it was broad daylight."
"Dan is on the same wavelength as us, and he gave me so much more confidence in my ability to write my melodies and my lyrics," adds CJ admiringly. "He loved every song we wrote and having that input, and that validation gave us the confidence to push the album into more adventurous directions. Some of the stuff on the album is spoken word, and honest and candid, and I would reach out and say it's not good enough, and he would wipe that fear away by saying it's great, and don't be afraid of your own ability, be as honest and as adventurous with it as you can. The whole process has been beneficial to us as individuals."
Being honest is a quality that comes naturally to the band. Since their formation in 2014, they've developed a fanbase that's more of a family, built by the foundations of an honest relationship both onstage and off. It's this notion of honesty that flows through the album's veins, filling it with a raw emotion few bands muster years into their careers, let alone on their debut album.
"When a song starts writing, I know there's something I've got to address and get onto paper, especially when I go to the darkest points in my life. I believe in being truthful and open and honest, there's so much strength in that. We want to vanquish the stigma of fear and mental health issues."
'Primrose Path', book-ended by the moving, towering five-minute opuses 'Made Up Smile' and 'I Feel It Too' is jam-packed to the rafters with songs sung straight from the heart about the very real and very recent struggles the band have experienced. For CJ, writing this album meant staring at herself at the mirror and confronting her demons head-on.
"It was scary, especially when writing 'I Feel It Too', I was afraid of putting it out, I'm scared, because it's so honest but there's times where I listen to it and I know it's important and it's part of my journey, and it's not easy to put this out but I'm willing to do it for the sake of others learning and understanding that you can go through a lot of pain and suffering and still come out the other end happy.
"When I put out music like that, I need our fans to know that my pain is no different from anyone else's, no one's pain is different from anyone else's, everybody feels that weight in their chest and that feeling of hurt no matter what's going on in their lives. It's about not letting it completely swallow you and crush you and if anything, use it as a tool."
For CJ, Rhys and the Dream State family, the process of writing and recording Primrose Path has been a cathartic learning curve, where their perspectives were flipped upside down. Through the personal growth came battles through pain, with CJ going as far as battling addiction behind the scenes while on tour. It's left a mark on her both personally and professionally, changing her outlook on life.
"There's no such thing as peace, that's one thing I've learnt, it's the biggest truth. It's the yin-yang balance of life, there's no light without dark, no dark without light. I want people to know that whatever they're going through, no matter how difficult it is, order always follows chaos. We were on tour with Amity Affliction while writing the album, and I was drinking a lot on that tour, pushing myself into a really dark corner and I found light at the end of the tunnel by recognising new demons in myself and confronting them."
It's an outlook Rhys shares, particularly when it comes to their relationship with their fans and the way in which it influences their every move. Without the honesty their fans unload on them night after night, the honesty they provide in their music simply wouldn't exist and vice versa.
"That connection with our fans runs deep, we wouldn't be where we are now without them, and we recognise that everyone in this story, are human beings and we just need to look out for each other. That's what's at the core of it, sharing our experiences so people know they're not alone, especially in the way the world is right now for young people.
"It can be extremely difficult for young people on a personal level. As humans, we're sharing more of our lives than we ever have before with social media, but we're sharing less of what really matters. If our music can be a conduit for the kind of interaction that matters, then it's something really amazing, something we strive for as a band."
Each of the ten tracks that comprise 'Primrose Path''s tracklisting are stories written from the heart based on battles with the mind. From dealing with addiction and suffering with mental health issues to juggling the pressures of spending quality family time and preparing yourself for the journey of a lifetime; Primrose Path takes the listener on a journey through feelings not dissimilar to their own. The lyrical content compliments the musical direction.
'Out Of The Blue' is one of the album's faster cuts, seeing the band kicking and screaming out of the start-gate with passion. It was made exactly as it sounds, through nothing but sheer blood, sweat and tears, as CJ explains: "I was screaming down the microphone at two in the morning, I felt like death and it definitely conveys, my voice is giving up I'm going that hard. Rhys took the majority of the writing with this one and he was getting so stressed with the writing, literally screaming 'I can't write anything, it's stressing me out!' and then he just went 'fuck it, fuck it. I'm just going to write something, I'm going to say how I feel' and it came right out of the blue."
A key cog in the Dream State machine is the songwriting dynamics shared between CJ and Rhys. Both radically different in their writing styles and influences, the pair push each other to the brink of their breaking points, inspiring wildly different shades of the band's sound. Although not a stranger to a Dream State track, Rhys takes lead vocals for the first time on the haunting, anthemic 'Chapters'. As the dark sheep of the pack, it's unsurprisingly the song that almost got cut but thankfully was saved.
"Well for ages I couldn't write anything for 'Ha!' – which is the demo name for 'Chapters', that's how inventive we are – and it wouldn't resonate with me at all, I couldn't find anything for it at all," explains CJ. "I was talking to Rhys one night, and it was the day I was finishing off 'Open Windows', and everyone was coming at me that day with their problems. I just had a breakdown and wrote it all down. Rhys opened up to me that day about some issues he was going through and things that were making him feel rubbish, and I was like, 'do you want to put that into a song?' I told him I thought 'Chapters' was for him."
'Chapters' is Dream State at their most daring and their most experimental. It's also a side of their music that has the potential to evolve into a beast of its own. It's also the one song Rhys can't gauge what the reaction will be like. "I just remember sitting down and pouring my heart into those lyrics. It's the song that could be the most conflicting for our fans because the vocals are predominantly mine. I don't think people will expect it, and I'm worried that it doesn't sound like Dream State enough – it definitely does, it's 100 per cent us, it's just not what you've heard from us before."
"There could be people out there who can relate really hard to Rhys, and the things he goes through and feels" adds CJ. "He's lyrically very different to me; I'm very to the point and cutthroat, I don't dress it up whereas Rhys is a lot more metaphorical and thoughtful. I want people to see the other side of the dream state. It was meant to be, it was never for me; it was for Rhys."
Finding themselves was at the heart of the recording process for Primrose Path. It was as transcendental for the band as it was existential. Breaking through the barriers of negativity their mental health put around them, Dream State found hope and embraced it. On 'Are You Ready To Live', CJ found her true self.
"It was to remind myself that no matter what's going on in our lives, it's just one big ride. It's not something to be taken too seriously, and you'll find you live more once you realise that, like take pain and suffering as experiences and jumpy parts of the ride, but it's still a ride. It's like saying, are you ready for it? It's going to be wild, it's going to be full of colours, it's going to be crazy, and it's going to be painful, but it's all part of it, it'll be the ride of your life, this life, the ride of life, the song of life, everything. That bit for me is the breaking point of accepting it, and that's where music breaks down into something else, and I felt like I was dancing, spinning around in a garden surrendering to it all."
Having experienced this epiphany for herself, CJ has made it her mission and her duty to share her experiences and open her audience's mind, not as a musician but as a human being.
"The world can be beautiful when you completely resolve everything within yourself, no fear and no regrets. I want to teach people that I've had dark phases, but there's always light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how dark things get, I don't want to die, I don't want to give up, I still want to live and learn, whatever we're here for is an experience, and everything happens for a reason.
"When you listen to some music out there, these kids are watching it, and they're highly influenced by these artists; they become gods to them, and they worship, and they follow, and they do things. I want to make sure we reach out to the people walking on the edge, the people beating themselves up too much, and pull something good out of them.
"I had this awakening at a very early age where I was like 'I'm alone'. We're all really alone, even when we have friends and family; it's still just ourselves at the end of the day. Kids these days, with social media and the pressures put on the younger generation, they need to remember that times can look so bleak, and that we're so influenced by fear and the things we see on the news, but that it's okay. It's just a reminder for people to look within."
Looking within was a difficult task for CJ, but one she's ultimately made peace with. Through reaching deep inside her own mind, she's discovered a deep connection to pain, and how pleasure can come from it.
"I'm so grateful for pain. I tell everyone to be grateful for it because for me it's been nothing but my muse. One of my favourite lyrics from Hellions, in the song 'X (Mwah)', they sing 'a poet will find no use for peace', and it's so true. I've faced so many battles in my life that now I just know it'll make a great song. I'm not worried, I'm going to take it all in and be strong and ride through it, even though there are the days I completely break down and want to give up. The voice that's always got my back is always stronger than any other."
Through making friends with pain and acknowledging peace, Dream State have taken the first steps down their own Primrose Path. By distilling that journey into their songs, they've created one of the most important albums of the decades. Dream State sing the songs and preach the perils of a generation who need a voice. For them, their experiences and their journey are lessons to be learnt by all.
"I think everyone is on the primrose path in their own way, whether it's over-indulging in technology or addiction to drugs and alcohol; everybody seeks pleasure, and even though there are negative health benefits. We must learn the worst part of ourselves in order to change, and that's what the whole album means to me. The only way that I can change is to know these parts of myself and to be introduced to them, we're not perfect. It's understanding that we're not perfect, nothing's perfect. It's a journey for the self, and understanding the self, and knowing it's okay even when bad things happen or when you do things that don't resonate with your true self, or they go wrong and you do them anyway. It's about learning about yourself."
Taken from the November issue of Dork. Dream State's debut album 'Primrose Path' is out 18th October.
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