Dreaming Dead’s Schall, Caffel talk progression that led to ‘Midnightmares’

Not every band grows in leaps and bounds, and not every group should be expected to do that. Some run in place and just do fine, while others have more ambition than that. Dreaming Dead fall into the category of artists who probably never will stop growing and progressing.

From their start as Manslaughter to their transformation into Dreaming Dead, the shape-shifting already was evident.  Their debut album “Within One” was released in 2009 on Ibex Moon, and from the moment it dropped heads were turned their way, ears tuned to their unique carnage. Now, three years later, the band – vocalist/guitarist Elizabeth Schall, drummer Mike Caffel, bassist Juan Ramirez – are back with a self-released follow-up “Midnightmares.”

The changes from first to second record are astonishing and impressive. No longer can this band simply be labeled as mere death metal, as they do so much more along with that. The songwriting and musicianship are razor sharp, and it’s easy to hear how they’ve grown as players and as a unit. As for Schall, her vocal work has expanded along with her always-consistent guitar-playing skills, which are gaining her accolades among the metal community. Caffel and Schall were kind enough to answer some questions we had about the new album and the band. Check out below what they had to say, and when you’re done, but their album “Midnightmares” at the link at the end. You won’t be sorry, and you also won’t be able to tear yourself away from the multi-headed beast.

Meat Mead Metal: You’re getting ready to release “Midnightmares.” Originally, this was to be a Halloween release. What happened?

Mike Caffel: We recorded the album independently, and were therefore under no obligation to get it to a label at a specified time.  So we got pretty picky about how it sounded.  We took a lot of time to mix and master the album, and I think the final product reflects our efforts.  We also took a lot of time to get the tracklisting of the album just right, along with the placement of some mood-setting samples.

MMM: You’ve chosen to release this record independently. Did any labels talk to the band about putting out the album?

MC: Not really.  We talked to labels a bit and labels talked to us, but nothing came of it.  It’s surprising to me, really.  We’re not the best band ever, but I think we have a lot going for us.  I mean, Juan and I are totally hot!

MMM: What are the advantages and disadvantages to going to DIY route with releasing “Midnightmares”?

MC: Advantages include having the final say about the final product — whether it be the mix, the artwork, or the tracklisting — and being able to pursue our own artistic vision fully without outside pressures.  The album is all us, unfiltered.  The disadvantages are that we won’t get a label pushing the album and providing us with distribution, and that we won’t be as likely to get on tours since labels typically do package tours with their own bands.  Another disadvantage is that we paid for the entire recording out of our own pockets.

MMM: Musically, the sound definitely has expanded. You can hear more musical influences on the record, and I’d say that while it’s death metal, there are shades of gray. Do you agree? What led to the expanded sound?

MC: The progression towards our current sound has been very natural and unforced.  Juan, Liz, and I wrote a lot more together on this album, and we even put a lot of parts together just jamming in the studio.  I’m really pleased with the track “Into the Depths,” and that was a song that we wrote on the fly. I kind of like the term gray metal, but I’ve hesitated to use it because it just isn’t dark enough.  I like the term Bethlehem uses to describe their music: dark metal.  I also think part of the evolution of our sound has been due to us getting more comfortable in our own shoes.

MMM: Vocally, Elizabeth, you show even more range on the album. The growls are there, but it sounds like you’re more confident. Your voice sounds stronger — not that it wasn’t strong before. Is that a product of time and touring? Something else?

Elizabeth Schall: It’s actually something I’ve been working on for quite some time. Adding more range and actually pitching my screams to a specific note helps with variety and overall color. I pushed for it more on this album than “Within One” and expect to go even further on the next album.

MMM: Lyrically, what did you draw upon for the album? Are the songs personal? Observational? Philosophical? Combination?

MC: I feel like our primary focus with the lyrics was to achieve a particular tone: the sometimes absurd and fleeting imagery of dreams, and the juxtaposition between terrifying nightmares and the serenity of sleep.  There is an ebb and flow to the album musically as well, between super brutal and very mellow.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call “Midnightmares” a concept album, but there are definitely strands that exist throughout the entire work.

MMM: Two cuts I wanted to ask about — “In Memoriam” and “Departure.” Both are very interesting tracks. The songs are a little cleaner, a little more delicate. Very emotional. What inspired those songs?

MC: “Departure” is a song that I wrote as a reprise of the first track on the album.  If you pay attention, the final guitar melody in “Departure” is the same as the melody in “Wake.”  “Departure” ended up being a really mellow track, and pretty different from our typical tunes, but I think it worked out really nicely as a way to finish up the album. I’m really proud of how the first and last track stand as bookends to the album.

Liz brought “In Memoriam” to the table, and we really ended up making a cool instrumental out of it.  It has a cool bridge that builds slowly to a big climax.  I think a few of the riffs sound like Tool, so I hope our more brutal fans will be patient.

MMM: Elizabeth, you’ve been recognized for your prowess as a guitar player, you have your own model of guitar. You’re sort of a guitar hero. Did you ever think you’d attain that status? Is it cool that not only does the band get attention, but you do as well for your playing?

ES: Wow, thanks! I actually never looked at myself as being a guitar hero or thought I was at any status. There’s so much talent out there, that I’m not quite sure I actually stand out much, but I’m super stoked with my own guitar model, for sure! It’s something I’ve been talking about with Fernandes Guitars for some time as well. Regular-sized guitars are just too big for me so they totally hooked me up and made one of their Revolver models to size. It’s a beauty and plays wonderfully! On the other hand, attention is always a nice thing for anyone. What I mainly think is most important is to feel pride in your work and person, and that’s exactly how I feel right now.

MMM: On a side note: Elizabeth, you played with the Iron Maidens. Is that still going? Are you a big Maiden fan?

ES: I was an official member back in 2006, then left to form Manslaughter with Mike, which is now Dreaming Dead. I’ve filled in for a few South American and So Cal dates in the past year, but that isn’t really going on right now, but that’s just about it. Maiden is a big influence to a lot of folks, for sure. It was never one of my favorites, but after learning 40+ songs I definitely became somewhat of a fan of their music and song structure.

MMM: Will Dreaming Dead be doing full touring for the new record, or will you keep it regional for now? What do you hope the band accomplishes with this album?

ES: We have a small West Coast tour set for July in the works right now, but I think for the most part we’re gonna keep things local, although I wouldn’t mind getting on a sweet ass tour or fest in the U.S. or anywhere else. We’ll see what lies in store for the future for us. For the time being we’ll continue writing and rockin’ out as hard as we can!

For more on the band, go here: http://dreamingdead.com/

To buy “Midnightmares,” go here: http://dreamingdead.com/dd/index.php?option=com_wrapper&view=wrapper&Itemid=4

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