PRAY FOR SLEEP Scream Back at the World
Columbus, Ohio natives Pray for Sleep have made it their mission to make an impact with everything that they do. They have put their faith into action by being involved with several major programs in the Central Ohio area, including one of their own, that reaches out to students of all ages. The recent release of their debut album, “Behind Our Eyes”, has them well positioned to further their mission.
I had an opportunity to speak with vocalist Grant DeCrane about the band, their mission and the challenges of staying connected during a public health crisis. (Note: this interview was conducted before the events in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the resulting nationwide protests.)
Congratulations on the release of “Behind Our Eyes”, which is your first full length album, correct? Yeah, we had a five song EP before this, but this is the first full length album that we’ve done.
You guys got off to a fast start, earning a spot at what was then called Rock on the Range, a major metal and hard rock festival. What did that opportunity do for you guys as a band?
It definitely did a lot. It was definitely a solid kick start to our career as a band. It actually ended up being the third live show that we had ever played. Going from playing a competition in a bar for maybe 50 people, to playing on an opening stage at Rock on the Range, on a Sunday afternoon, was a jolt for us for sure, but it was a ton of fun. We got to meet a lot of really cool musicians and fellow artists, which was awesome. We also made a lot of really good connections in the industry and got to get in contact with people who could give some good advice to a young band. It’s really good to still have those connections two years later.
That’s great that it happened so quickly for you, too. You guys are clearly a band that is on a mission. Is the mindset that you have as a band something that developed once you were together, or was the band built around the idea of making the kind of impacts that you are making?
At the formation of the band we sat down and we had a lot of conversations about what we wanted the band to be about, and right from the beginning, we didn’t want to just be a group of teenage kids playing music just for fun. We wanted to have a mission and we wanted to have an impact on the community around us and the people that we got to perform for and the people that listened to our music. So, it was something that really came about right at the formation of the band. It was something that we had in mind since it started, and even before the band started. We, as a group, just wanted to have that kind of impact.
You have created a program for school assemblies called “Scream Back”. Tell us a little bit about that program.
As a band we have a mental and behavioral health awareness focus. We spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to think of something we could do that would be more impactful than just sharing statistics at shows, and the kind of things that we could do as a band. We did a lot of research and planning and talking and ended up coming to the agreement that high school students were the demographic that we wanted to reach the most, because they’re statistically the most impacted by mental and behavioral health conditions. We decided that the best way for us to do that was to find a creative way to get into schools, so we came up with the weird idea to take a full rock concert into schools. We put on a full production for the students. We bring in lights, and a sound crew and all that crazy stuff, and give them a chance to experience a live performance and use that to get their attention and have some fun with the students, but making sure we take the time to have a message portion of the program. We talk about our personal stories. Each of the band members shares what they’ve dealt with as far as behavioral and mental health conditions and the things that they did to get better, and who they talked to and the resources that we used. Just sharing a message of hope with the kids and letting them know that they’re not alone, and if they’re struggling, we provide them with resources that we have through the Nationwide Children’s Hospital “On Our Sleeves” campaign and working with the counselors at the school.
The program that you take into the schools, “Scream Back” is also the title of one of the songs on the album. Was the song tailored around the program or vice versa, or was it just that the title fit what you were doing with the program? The song came around first and the title came about as we were discussing topics for songs that we wanted to write, and that song is kind of our “hope” anthem. The purpose behind it is to say that we are writing and talking about all of these difficult things that people are dealing with, and that song says that no matter what we’re going through, we’re not going to just sit there and suffer in silence. We’re going to take action. We’re going to stand up and scream back at the things that are causing us pain or the conditions that we’re dealing with. So, it’s kind of a rally call almost. The title just fit both of them very well, and the goal of what we wanted the program to be and what the song is about work together really well.
What is the focus of the “On Our Sleeves” program? “On Our Sleeves” is a youth focused mental and behavioral health awareness program that is run by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in partnership with Big Lots, and it is entirely focused on mental health and the youth of the community. It’s for at-risk young people that are dealing with depression, anxiety or any mental or behavioral health conditions. They do outreaches and provide a lot of resources specifically for young people dealing with those conditions.
With schools being shut down and crowds being limited due to the public health situation right now, are you still finding ways to connect?
Yeah, we’re doing our best, just like everybody else, to kind of stay connected through social media and streaming platforms and different things like that. We have the opportunity to participate in a digital rally that is replacing the “We Are the Majority” rally run by the Prevention Action Alliance, so that’s one thing that we’re doing to stay in contact with the student body around the city. It’s a digital anti-drug and alcohol rally where they are going to have different speakers. We recorded a performance that they are going to stream and a couple of different message pieces. We’re finding a couple of different unique ways. We’re looking into how to stream a concert or something similar, just to stay in contact with fans and keep in engaged with the community around us and the people that support us.
The mindset and mission of the band come through loud and clear on the songs from “Behind Our Eyes”. The lyrics of the songs are pretty intense. Do these songs fit together as one concept, or does each one tell its own story? I think there’s a little bit of both as far as the content goes. We wrote and recorded all ten songs at the same time with the purpose of them being a cohesive piece, but they were also written as individual songs. We wanted the album as a whole to feel cohesive and put together as one collected work, but I think a lot of the songs do have enough of a unique aspect to them that they stand on their own. So, I think there’s a little bit of both.
This is all pretty deep subject matter. Lyrically speaking, all of the songs are thought provoking, but two of them, “Ask Us” and “Dear Death”, in particular, stand out to me. With so many of your songs dealing with this subject matter, is it difficult to relay the emotions of these songs live? I would think that it could be draining to relay these thoughts on a consistent basis. Is that hard to do? Personally, I don’t think it’s that difficult. Most of the time, as far as live performances go, we try to tailor the feeling of the music around the lyrics to fit with the lyrics as much as we can. We want the music as a whole to be emotional and thought provoking, and in a live setting we try to let the lyrics speak for themselves. We definitely see a response, especially from people who have listened to the music ahead of time or are familiar with the music. There’s definitely a response to those songs specifically when we perform them live.
Musically, you guys use a lot of really interesting progressions and changes in your songs. The songs “Namiety”, “Blood is Not Blue” and “You Can’t Make Me” jumped out at me for these reasons. From your view, how would you describe your music? I think the music is pretty varied. We tried to pull from as many sources of inspiration as we could. The music that we were listening to at the time was all over the place, and we tried to pull aspects from outside genres and things that are completely different from what we do, using whatever we were listening to or had experienced as unique elements, into our music. I know the chorus of “You Can’t Make Me” has a very unusual rhythm and almost boppiness for a rock/metal band, so that was like one of the elements that something we were listening to was more of a pop genre and we were like “Oh, we could do something with that jumpy rhythm!”. It’s really hard when people ask “What kind of music do you play?” (laughs). Who knows, man? (laughs). It’s definitely rock and metal-centric but we also try to pull in as many unique things as we can so that people listening will be like “Oh, that was interesting!”
I did say that! (laughs). You just answered my next question, which was about the diversity, and the album really did surprise me with “Off Track”, because it was such a strong song but it was quite a change-up from the song that ends just before it on the album. The song that it followed, “Pretty Boy Swing Dance” is my personal favorite song on the album. What is the story behind that song?
That song ended up being the last one that we wrote in the process of writing the album. Going in we decided that we wanted to have a variety of songs, and that’s how we ended up with songs like “Off Track” and “Stars and Flowers”. We wanted to have a range of songs so that anyone who went through and listened to the album would be able to pick out at least one song and be able to say “Yeah, I can enjoy that song”, whether they like rock and metal or not. We got to the end of the writing process and we didn’t think any of the songs were heavy enough, and we wanted to write a really heavy song. So, Hayden, our guitarist, sat down with our producer and they busted out the tracking for the guitar in maybe two hours. I heard it and I was like, “Yeah, I don’t want to sing for this one. I’m just going to scream the whole time.” That one was very interesting. That’s definitely one of the most fun songs to play live.
If I had to guess, I believe that one will be a track that our readers will gravitate to. I wanted to ask about the band name. How did you come up with “Pray for Sleep”?
With our focus on mental and behavioral health, and the struggles surrounding those kinds of conditions, we were discussing possible names and we landed on this one. When you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, insomnia and all of the things attached to that, sometimes all you can really do is pray for sleep. It just referenced the state of mind of many of the things that we talk about.
You guys put a lot of thought into everything that you do, and I have to bring up the white mask. I saw it in one of your videos and in the merchandise section of your website. Tell us about the white mask and what it represents.
The idea behind the mask came along with the song “Ask Us” which talks briefly about “blank faces”, and also with the title of the album, “Behind Our Eyes”. A lot of times with mental and behavioral health conditions, when people feel alone in what they are dealing with, we often put on a mask and hide behind a façade of what we can pretend to be. In a live setting, Hayden and Reno will start with the mask on. Beforehand, we write or draw on the mask things that they dealt with in the past or what they are dealing with at the moment. They’ll take off the masks and throw them in the crowd. The idea is, instead of hiding the things that we’re dealing with, is to be open with them and take off the mask. It’s a crucial first step and it was an artistic way of encouraging that.
It’s a great idea and visually it has quite an impact. It’s great to see so much thought going into everything that you’re doing. These things can make a big difference in a lot of ways. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. Before we wrap this up, do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share?
I just encourage people in this strange and unusual time of forced isolation to make sure that you’re staying healthy and in contact with the people around you and the people that you care about. I know that there have been recommendations to reach out to five people a day just to check in on them and have a conversation. It’s definitely a trying time. Stay safe, stay healthy and thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with me. I really appreciate it and your interest in the band and what we’re doing.