“5 friends playing hardcore and trying to make a positive impact on the world” is a great self-description from a band that is sure to be gaining more traction with the release of their new EP “Bring The Light”. The star power here comes from Dave Smalley who is an icon in the hardcore punk scene having been in bands like Dag Nasty, All, Down By Law and DYS. Not to be overshadowed here are the remaining 4 members who have collaborated with Dave to write some amazingly catchy melodic hardcore punk. With Dave residing in Virginia and the rest of Don’t Sleep in Harrisburg, PA this was not the most likely of unions but judging from their early work they have figured it all out in a short period of time. On top of the new 3 song EP on Reaper Records is a rare/sold out/vinyl only release that came out in Europe and hopefully will be making its way to digital formats in the near future. In Effect got on the horn for a 3 way phone call on Super Bowl Sunday… February 4th, 2018 to find out as much as we could from one of our favorite new found bands. Don’t Sleep is: Dave Smalley – vocals, Garrett Rothman – bass, Tony Bavaria – guitar, Tom McGrath – guitar and Jim Bedorf – drums.
IE: It is now 12:20pm on a Sunday afternoon. Where are you guys located right now and what do you think you would be doing if this interview wasn’t taking place?
Dave: I am in Harrisburg, PA at Garrett’s pad and it is snowing outside. I am from Virginia and I am very unhappy. I have to drive back in this weather and I am sacrificing everything in the name of rock. Normally at this time I would be playing with my daughter or having fun with my fiancée. Driving home in the snow is not as good as that.
Garrett: Let’s see. I am at my place here with Dave, it is snowing, and normally right now I would take my kids skiing at our local little ski mountain but I am sacrificing fresh powder in the name of Rock ‘n Roll.
Tony: I am in my house and I probably would be hanging out with my kid, it is actually my son’s nap time soon. Once we are off this phone call, that’s what I will be doing.
PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER
IE: You guys played a show last night in Lancaster, PA which was the record release show for your new EP and also a fund raiser to build a local skate park. Can you tell us more about that and how the show went?
Tony: The Reading Skate Park Association has been hosting a bunch of shows and other events to help raise money to build a new concrete skate park outside of Lancaster. They asked us to play and skate boarding and punk rock have always been something that go hand in hand. A lot of us used to skate so we were definitely on board with wanting to help out however we could.
Garrett: Chuck Treece from McRad and Underdog has been really instrumental in organizing a bunch of these benefits and getting these skate parks built. It was cool that he also played last night. He is a really great guy and musician.
Dave: It was awesome to see Chuck. Skating back in the day… there was a certain element and people who are younger might wonder how skateboarding and punk rock got connected. First off is the obvious thing that skateboarders listened to punk rock a lot of times while they were skating. I remember playing at a festival where Tony Hawk was skating while Down By Law played… he was skating in the background. There is this integral connection. The cool thing for me about supporting a skate park is in the old days you pretty much had street skating where you skate with your friends in the street or you would try to find empty pools to skate if you could find them. In other words there weren’t a lot of places to go and you had to find your own way and a lot of people, especially back then were anti-skating. There was this whole element of rebellion and youth that went hand in hand with skating. To actually to be able to support a skate park being built so kids can actually do a lot of stuff and try out some sweet moves and do stuff in an environment that is designed for it. I think that is really cool. We didn’t really have that back in the 80’s.
Garrett: The first wave or generation of skaters are parents now and they have kids who are skater age and I think a lot of these organizations have parents that want their kids to have better opportunities than they did when they were kids. Last night, the show had a lot of people in their 40’s and even some in their 50’s, and there were also some teenage kids there. It is pretty cool to see that… people being able to pass it on to their kids, like the next generation.
IE: The skating thing and talk of the next generation is not too far off from the music. All 3 of you said you had kids. You see more and more people bringing their children to shows, you see them with their ear protection headphones on and it is just a more common sight these days.
Garrett: I have a 15 year old daughter and she ruled the pit last night. She wore a Burn shirt, and her hands were X’d up, she has Vans with “STRAIGHT EDGE REVENGE” written on the side of them. That was pretty cool to see. I saw her bashing people in the pit (laughing).
IE: A real proud father moment?
Garrett: It is a little distracting when you are playing and you look down from the stage and you see your daughter like smashing into people and getting knocked down. A weird experience, but pretty awesome.
IE: As we mentioned last night’s show was the record release show for your new EP "Bring The Light" on Reaper Records. For people who have not heard the name Don’t Sleep as of yet what can they expect?
Dave: I suppose you can get 5 different answers from the 5 different musicians in the band but for me, I just love the burning energy. Don’t Sleep is a really great hardcore band and what is refreshing to me is… there are a lot of great hardcore bands out there right now but it almost feels like there is a renaissance and Don’t Sleep is part of that. You had your first wave of hardcore in the early 80’s, and then it kind of morphed, and there weren’t as many hardcore bands, New York had its wave right after Boston and DC had their wave and it never went away… there were always great bands like Agnostic Front and Sick Of It All, bands that were really keeping the torch lit. I feel like Don’t Sleep is part of a new vanguard maybe with bands like Praise and a lot of other bands. It is a new era for hardcore and I am really happy with it.
Garrett: I think it is not about reinventing the wheel but at the same time trying to bring back what we all enjoy about hardcore and having a lot of fun with it.
IE: Before this EP came out there was a limited vinyl only release in Europe. I think I saw that only 500 of them were pressed. What can you tell us about that release and why was it only put out in Europe?
Tony: Basically we ended up talking with Sven from Unity Worldwide and he was interested in putting out the record. It made sense. It was before we had gotten any real feedback from any U.S. labels. He was really interested in doing it, he is a great guy, knows a lot of people in the scene, ran a venue over in Germany for a long time so it just kind of seemed that he got where we were coming from and we were on the same wave length with him. We didn’t want to put everything out digitally yet. There is a lot of love and a lot of collectors who really are into vinyl, and we are really into vinyl and it just made sense to have our first release sort of this collectible vinyl thing. There was a time when you would buy records and you would kind of have to hunt for it a little and not everything was as accessible as it is now though digital mediums. I think there is a renaissance of that collecting happening again within hardcore and punk and where the band is coming from is from this old school mentality and we thought if we could bring some of that back with just our first release we thought it might be kind of cool. We kept it limited, released it in Europe, and over here we had maybe 100 copies of it, all on different colors. People seemed to respond well to that. People were hunting it down to try and get it on all different colors of vinyl. Now were bringing some of those songs here with additional songs for this U.S. release and now were doing more of a full kind of release where it will be on i-Tunes and Spotify and all that kind of stuff as well.
IE: From texting back and forth with Tony leading up to this interview it came to my attention that this band started from a simple email or direct message on social media from the Harrisburg members of this band to Dave Smalley down in Virginia. Can you tell us more about how things came together and how things got their start?
Garrett: Tony and I are also in a band called Very Americans which is an indie rock, guitar oriented band. All the guys in the band come from a hardcore background, love hardcore, and have played in hardcore bands. We were putting together a show in Harrisburg where we all live… except for Dave… I was friends with Dave on Facebook and I say friends while using my fingers to make quotations. Anyway, I saw that he was looking to do some acoustic solo shows so I sent him a message saying that I am in this band in Harrisburg and we are all fans of your bands from over the years and would you like to come up here to Harrisburg and play with us. To my surprise he wrote back and said he would love that. The thing about Dave is… he is very accessible, super modest, super friendly and just someone that is easy to connect with. In the weeks leading up to the show we were messaging back and forth about what songs he was going to play and he sent me a set list and told me that some Dag Nasty songs he wasn’t going to play because you need a full band. I told him that we all know your songs and love your music and we would be honored to play some songs with you. I was surprised when he said yes and then I thought that these songs are way too sacred to so many people for us to screw up so we better nail this. We played maybe 3 Dag Nasty songs with him that night as a whole band and it just clicked and people really went off to it. After that we just started to get some requests from promoters on the East Coast who heard about it or saw clips of it online. So we started to do shows here and there. Our other band, Very Americans would open up the shows and then Dave would do some songs solo and then at the end we would finish as a whole band. We did that for probably 2 years or so and then we just got the idea that hey, it is really fun to play these Down By Law songs, and Dag Nasty songs, and DYS, they’re great but we should try to write some songs on our own. We wrote several songs and sent the music to Dave and luckily he liked it a lot and started putting lyrics and vocals to them and before you know it Don’t Sleep was born.
IE: Now Dave, when you got this message from Garrett, someone you knew only from Facebook apparently what was going through your head? Did you really think that this was going to lead to something this productive? I would guess that you are probably getting lots of messages via social media and Garrett’s obviously got your attention.
Dave: That’s a great question. I always try to remember how I felt back in my younger days. I think it is important in life, whatever you do. Whenever I get a request from someone to check out their stuff I always try to. I remember in the DYS days in 1981 or whatever it was hard to get people to listen to you. I always try to be supportive and listen to what people are sending me and realizing that they spent time and put a lot of their heart and energy into whatever they are doing. 8 times out of 10 it may not be your cup of tea but that doesn’t mean that it is not good. I always try to take the time to listen. I know that is a bit of a long winded explanation but I think there is a bit of philosophy and empathy that should go with this question. I listened to the link that Garrett sent me of Very Americans and I really loved that band. I still do. I am really into power pop as you know from All and other things. This was kind of English sounding… their singer is from England. As soon as I heard the music from them I knew it was going to click with me. I took it seriously right from the beginning because of the caliber of the stuff that Garrett had sent.
PHOTO BY: CHRIS BAVARIA
IE: I want to follow up on that last question and spin it around to Garrett and ask what were you thinking when you reached out to Dave? Were you expecting a reply back?
Garrett: I didn’t know what to think. Someone gave me the “Can I Say” album on cassette in 1986 when I was 15 and was immediately blown away by that record and it changed my perspective on music. It was the first time I ever heard like harmonies and melody in hardcore. I almost didn’t know that you were allowed to do that. With the thousands of bands that I have seen over the years I never saw any of Dave’s bands play live. I had no idea what to expect but I didn’t think I would hear back from him right away. I would never have expected that he would be such a modest guy and not jaded at all. I don’t think any of us thought that it was going to turn into anything more than just playing some shows here and there for fun, just playing songs from our youth that we loved. It has been a real pleasant run and to turn this into an excellent band. The response has been great as well with people coming out of the woodwork saying it is so refreshing to hear this kind of hardcore music being played again.
PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER
IE: To date Don’t Sleep has only played a handful of shows which I believe is still in the single digits. What is the breakdown like in your set list with Don’t Sleep original songs and stuff that Dave has sang on in previous bands?
Garrett: We have been doing like 5 or 6 Don’t Sleep songs and probably like 5 to 8 Dag Nasty, Down By Law, DYS songs. For us, those songs are really fun to play. I can’t speak for Dave, he may be tired of them. The crowds haven’t really seen Dave sing those songs with a full band in a long time or they may never have had that chance and I think people respond really well to that. I can see us to continue to play some of those older songs for quite a while and working in more Don’t Sleep stuff as we release more records and people become a little more familiar with our songs.
Dave: There is a difference in opinion with some old-school guys on whether or not you should still do your older stuff. Ian from Minor Threat does not want to go and play Minor Threat songs, right? It is pretty obvious. He hasn’t done that since the band broke up and I think that is ok because he has his own reasons for not wanting to. For me I feel a little differently in that when I write a song or sing a song that that song now belongs to all the fans. So if you like a song on “Can I Say” or you like a song on DYS “Brotherhood”, or you like a song on “PunkRockAcademyFightSong” those songs aren’t mine anymore… they’re yours. I wrote them and gave them to you lovingly and as a gift. I want them to be enjoyed. I don’t want a song to never be played again. I love performing the old ones live and making them come back to life again and recreating the emotions that people who loved those songs have. If I got see say Adam And The Ants in their current era, apparently it is amazing too… I would want him to play stuff from “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”. I’d want to hear “Dog Eat Dog” and “You’re So Physical”, and those kids of early Adam And The Ants songs because those are part of my story now. And with that same philosophy “Can I Say” is part of people’s story. If I saw… I don’t know… I am just making this up… say a Black Flag reunion and they didn’t do anything from the first few albums I would be pretty bummed. As Don’t Sleep grows I am sure we are going to do more and more Don’t Sleep and probably have less and less room in the set for Down By Law or Dag Nasty stuff but in my mind I hope that we always do at least a few because that is part of the joy.
PHOTO BY: ANNE SPINA
IE: Dave, you have one of the most recognizable voices within the hardcore punk genre and I don’t think I am going out on a limb one bit when I say you are one of the best to ever do it. Who did you look up to as a kid that made you want to become a singer?
Dave: It may be disappointing to my fans to know that I grew up singing in church choirs and also the fact that I got into it from watching musicals. “Singing In The Rain”, “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers”, “Guys And Dolls” with Frank Sinatra, and all these great early musicals. Even “The Sound Of Music”. I think all that shaped my sense for melody. My dad also really liked classical music. My dad had this really unique ability. We would listen to WGMS on the radio in Arlington Virginia where I grew up and he would be whistling along to either Beethoven or Mozart and not just for a couple of seconds. He would whistle the whole thing. He would know entire symphonies so I grew up listening to classical music for hours and hours especially when we would go on long drives. I learned a lot about melody from sources that were non-traditional just growing up listening to music. And then of course in 7th grade like most kids my age I started to listen to things like Alice Cooper and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Zeppelin, KISS and stuff like that. I think my whole world really exploded when I discovered The Who, particularly “Quadrophenia” which was not just only my pulse beat but my heart and soul. I would say that The Who were the most influential for me.
PHOTO BY: SCOTT FOSTER
IE: Your style seems to just flow almost effortlessly. Have you ever had any kind of professional training to help you along?
Dave: Not necessarily in taking lessons but I was always lucky in that I had adults that helped me learn to sing. When I was in 5th and 6th grade I had a great elementary school teacher who loved for us to put on musical productions, Mrs. Zolbe, at Jamestown Elementary. In 7th and 8th and 9th grade and all through high school I was in musicals and all of the musical directors that I had had varying degrees of professional training in their backgrounds which they were relaying to all of the kids in the productions. I really picked up on that. I think the biggest thing for me was learning how to breathe right. That is the biggest problem for singers who don’t have the background. You breathe from your diaphragm, not from your throat and chest. That sounds weird and stupid and minor but it actually is the biggest thing to help me maintain my voice throughout the years. To keep myself in training I still lie down on my back and put a book on my belly, below my belly button, or right around my belly button. I just watch the book while I am breathing and that book should be the thing that is going up and down. Not your chest. You just train yourself to get used to breathing that way and then you are pushing from your diaphragm which is how your body is biologically designed to do it.
IE: As you get older do you feel like you can still do all the same things vocally that you were able to do in your younger years?
Dave: I think so, yeah. There is some stuff maybe I can’t but I would say I could do 90% of the stuff that I could do in say 1986 or whatever and I will take that, ‘ya know? Right now I feel like I may be experienced enough now to do stuff that I couldn’t do then. Almost like a reverse of your question. I am a much better singer now than I was then if that makes sense.
IE: Maybe how like an aging athlete may not be able to do all the same things he was able to do at the start of his career but his knowledge of the game from over the years makes him all around a better player? With today being Super Bowl Sunday Tom Brady comes to mind.
Dave: Yes, great analogy and I like that you brought Tom Brady into it.
Tony: Are you saying that Dave Smalley is the Tom Brady of hardcore?
PHOTO BY: ANNE SPINA
IE: Where did the name Don’t Sleep come from and is there any special meaning behind it?
Garrett: Tom, our other guitarist got really transfixed on saying don’t sleep on stuff for a while. Like don’t sleep on that bass line, everyone needs to practice, don’t sleep on that sriracha (all laughing)… so when we were thinking of possible band names it was at a time where he had been saying that a lot and it was also in my head and thinking about it I thought it was just a good analogy for life. Kind of like don’t sleep on life, let’s get moving, let’s do stuff and if you are thinking from that old-school PMA perspective there is a connection there. How can you keep innovating? How can you keep doing stuff and making a difference? Making a change? Don’t rest on your laurels and I think that is where we are coming from. It also helps with Dave’s tradition of being in bands that start with the letter D.
IE: As mentioned earlier today is Super Bowl Sunday with the Philadelphia Eagles playing the New England Patriots. Considering the makeup of this band with its ties to Pennsylvania and Dave with his Boston ties what do you guys expect from today’s game? Predictions maybe or does sports suck?
Garrett: Can you call us back in like 10 hours and we will give you all your answers. We are in Pennsylvania and there are obviously a ton of Eagles fans out here so just to get along with my neighbors I have to pull for them to win. The last band I played in before Very Americans was with this guy who used to play fullback for the Eagles and it makes me feel like I have to pull for them a little more too. I think the Eagles are going to pull it off, an upset in the making.
PHOTO BY: RICH ZOELLER
IE: Who was the ex-player that you were in the band with?
Garrett: His name is John Ritchie.
IE: Wasn’t he the guy who always had a bloody forehead when he played?
Garrett: Yes, the bloody forehead. He called them his horns (laughing). His helmet would never fit him right and when he would blast a linebacker he would bleed all over the place. We went to high school together and he has been playing in bands since high school. He likes mostly grunge type stuff but because he played for the Raiders before the Eagles… he is good friends with Metallica and Green Day… they are all huge Raiders fans. He used to hang out with them when he lived in Oakland and play music with them. It was fun to be in a band with him but he has moved on to bigger and better things in his life.
IE: Tony, your thoughts on today?
Tony: I don’t know. I am just gonna say no comment. I have issues on both sides.
IE: Dave, take us out here.
Dave: I want to preface this by saying I don’t watch football as much as I used to anymore. It has gotten pretty boring to me over the years and I have grown in my love for baseball which just has this rhythm that I love. It is so peaceful yet intense. The athletes I think are a little more modest. I got a little sick of the chest pumping after a routine tackle. I started to not watch it as much and then the whole kneeling thing was not my thing, I understand it but I just didn’t like being distracted by it. All of this stuff kind of piled up. Having said all of that I will definitely say that I will be routing for the New England Patriots to win. Proud legacy, great town, and potentially the last opportunity to see one of the NFL’s greatest tandems of coach and quarterback. I will be driving in this snow as I mentioned at the start of this interview… no thanks to my bandmates… and I will be listening to it on the radio. I would like to see in all sports… to just see the guys play the freaking game, shut up, we don’t care about thumping your chest after a routine play, whatever it is, right? When I play my son in Madden football, my son always kills me in Madden. One guy will get like a 20 yard run or catch and let’s say you are on defense and your defensive player… after letting up a 20 yard gain will do like a little dance. You just let up a 20 yard play… you don’t get to do a dance! That type of attitude has even been incorporated into Madden and it just drives me crazy! That’s one of the reasons why I like baseball, it’s less about self and more about the spirit of the thing and I really enjoy that part of baseball.
At this point in the interview the conversation turned to baseball and Dave's love for the Boston Red Sox as well as his admiration for the Los Angeles Dodgers since he lived there for a while as well as the Phillies.
Find out more about Don't Sleep by checking out their social media pages below.
WATCH: Dave Smalley with the members of Don't Sleep at The Theatre Of Living Arts in Philadelphia, PA.
June 25th, 2016. VIDEO by: Hate5Six.com Click HERE to watch.