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Dream State Empire Interview

Spiralling into Success: A Candid Encounter with Dream State Empire

This week, we sat with the members of Dream State Empire, a band that’s been carving a unique path through New Zealand’s underground and surfacing with their award-winning live performances and air-played hits. As they gear up for the release of their latest single, “Spirals,” on April 12th, our conversation took us through the labyrinth of their recent successes, the creative fervour behind their upcoming track, and the ambitious horizons they aim to reach.

Dream State Empire, thank you for the opportunity to sit down with you and discuss your upcoming single, Spirals which will reach the airwaves on April 12th. Which lyrical themes does this single explore and what inspired its creation?

The lyrics were written to be an abstract depiction of a panic attack. It’s chaotic, introspective and a little nonsensical. The ambiguity is on purpose, to reflect the warped perception that comes with them.

It’s not a story-based song, it’s an attempt to describe the mindset of someone experiencing a panic attack. The focus isn’t so much on the ‘fear’ aspect, but the sense of disorganized thought and inability to interpret reality clearly – this is what is intended by the word spiral.

The song is basically a frenzied attempt to regain mental control during a panic attack. The ending is defeat, the acceptance of madness – something while not true of a panic attack, certainly feels like it during the experience if not contained.

Has your songwriting style and your sound evolved for this single?

Our band started with the intention to jam around some blues but has warped into an entirely different beast over time that is much heavier and peppered with funk. This single has arisen from this formula and features some verse grooves, big choruses, and a hectic breakdown.

During the songwriting process, we consciously tried to create a song with enough energy to wake bar punters up and get them to the stage as a set opener. Spirals fits that criteria, and dislodged one of our long-time favorites it is set to become the tune we love to blast open shows with.

What does your collective creative process look like?

We have a pretty open/collaborative approach to writing. Usually, someone brings a tasty riff or two to share at Sunday practice, or sometimes the bones of a complete song. From there, we bounce around ideas until we’re all happy with how the different sections and instruments mesh together.

This system works great when everything gels, but we also have a whole stable of cool riffs that we haven’t managed to quite find the right puzzle pieces to yet. Hopefully, one day soon they’ll blossom into proper songs.

You’ve had your fair share of successes in recent years, including playing at RnV, and winning BOTB, has this added more fuel to the DSE fire?

We’ve been blazing through the Wellington circuit of four or five bars for several years now, so hitting big milestones like winning BOTB has definitely added fuel to our fire! Mainly it’s been a great way to network with other bands and score some invites to play outside of the local scene and see what the rest of the country has to offer.

Getting to record this single at the legendary Lab Studios in Auckland was also a big highlight. Olly is a production wizard and has recorded a huge number of Kiwi heavyweights, ranging from Blindspott to Dave Dobbyn.

How did you secure the win at the Battle of the Bands competition?

It was actually our third year entering BOTB, so part of the win may have come down to dogged persistence. By the finals, we were feeling pretty comfy on that stage and also got to play to a home crowd of rowdy mates in Wellington, rather than making the punishing drive up to Auckland.

We also noticed energy waning in the crowd during a few of our slower songs during the earlier rounds, so ended up axing those tunes in favor of putting our foot down for 25 minutes and blasting out what was probably our highest tempo set to date.

How did it feel to make your national radio debut?

It was exciting and a bit surreal to hear our tune on the airways for the first time on The Rock. It was a big surprise, considering we hadn’t even debuted on student radio before that point. We were pretty chuffed by their enthusiasm and had a few phone calls from relatives working in Australia letting us know they were digging it too.

We’d love to hear your take on the New Zealand music scene and your experiences with it.

The New Zealand music scene is bursting with talent. We’re mates with a ton of multi-instrumentalist maestros who can play just about anything and play in 5 plus bands each, looking to crack into the scene.

We have friends who have transitioned to roots/reggae style bands who have rapidly gained a big following and hit the festival circuit. These bands have been king in NZ for a long time but there are also healthy underground scenes for just about every genre from metal to industrial techno.

While you don’t get to play the big stages too often (think sticky-floored dive bars over open-air stages), the rock scene is super friendly and supportive and manages to sustain itself by putting on multi-band gigs. Hire/ soundy costs are usually covered by 15 bucks on the door, so it’s definitely a passion project, rather than a money maker. Most bars at least treat the thirsty band members to a free jug of skippers.

What’s next for Dream State Empire?

Our first goal is to get this single released, then with a bit of luck, ride the momentum to open some venue doors in other parts of the country. We’re also super hyped for our next gig, Porirua Rocks! This will feature some crushing bands including Shepherds Reign and All I Seek, with a backdrop of pro wrestling and a huge selection of the regions’ best craft breweries. We’re always down for a big gig, so feel free to hit us up if you like what you hear.

Stream Spirals on all major platforms, including Spotify, from April 12th.

Stay up to date with all new releases from Dream State Empire on Facebook.

Interview by Amelia Vandergast