In 2009 Josh Dibb raised nearly $26,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to fund a trip to Mali to play a music festival. The musician who performs as Deakin and is a founding member of indie-rock royalty Animal Collective told his supporters playing the fest would sufficiently inspire him to create his debut solo album. Seven years later, Deakin is finally making good on his promise: "Sleep Cycle", a pastoral, winding aural kaleidoscope of a six-track album, was released last week. (Well, to be fair, it’s not technically an album; it’s only released on cassette and digital formats.)
“This was not a thing where I recorded these songs in 2010 and have just been suffering over the mixes,” he says. “It was more of an internal thing with needing to learn to come to terms with making a commitment to a decision.”
Deakin views the unorthodox, long-gestating process leading to "Sleep Cycle" as reflective of his creative personality; more importantly, it served as the inspiration behind the project’s title. “It’s as much a feeling as it is a clear concept,” the heady thinker says of the album’s title. Much as one slips into and out of consciousness in almost fluid fashion, the 38-year-old says, so does his creativity. But, he adds, “it’s sort of a loose thing in some ways and in some ways was a set of words that made sense to me in a slightly more amorphous ways. But I think it’s touching on these cycles I go through.”
A self-admitted perfectionist — “When I think about the idea of a finished product I can imagine in my head 100 different ways” — Deakin spends much time thinking about his well-being and the concept of self-preservation. He says his directly correlates to the amount and quality of sleep he receives. It was hardly difficult then to get him talking on the topic of his own sleep cycle, why being a musician isn’t typically conducive to healthy living, and his ongoing battle with intense anxiety.
This record was in some ways originally conceived at the end of my last hiatus from Animal Collective, which spanned 2007-2009. The initial ideas for these songs were for this trip I took to Mali to play Festival of the Desert which was part of this whole Kickstarter campaign I did. I think at the time I assumed I’d be coming back and finishing that thing up within the course of that year, of 2010, and then it dragged on to the next year. And then [the 2012 Animal Collective album] "Centipede Hz" started happening and that felt like this new thing.
But I still held onto this feeling of responsibility for the solo album, to myself to do this record as well as to the people that supported the idea of that campaign. I didn’t really expect that I’d end up in a situation where I was finishing it in the same context of being on a break from the band. That was something that did kind of catch me off guard and is something I’ve had to grapple with and has added to the self-contemplation.
The lifestyle of being a musician — going out to shows and going on tour and traveling around the world — and having been someone who was living in New York for a long time is not conducive to having healthy circadian rhythms at all.
I really value sleep. I always have. When I was younger, not in a depressive way, but I was one of those people where if I could sleep until two in the afternoon and have nothing to do I would do it. It was an enjoyable activity.
I’ve never really had a really regular sleep cycle to be honest. It’s something I would really love to have but I think it’s a combination of the lifestyle choices I’ve made and just the reality and requirements of that.
I think it was my early-to-mid thirties. Like 33 or 34. I can’t do that anymore now. My body will not stay asleep even if I’ve gone to bed super-late. It’s rare that my eyes won’t start opening by seven, eight, maybe nine AM. I might push it and keep myself in bed until 10 if I have nothing to do.
I definitely have a lot of ongoing anxiety that I deal with. I’ve deal with that in different ways.
I’ve gotten in a really bad habit, maybe starting in 2010 or 11, where I fall asleep listening to the radio or podcasts. I’ve definitely gotten to the point where I use it as a crutch to get myself there to fall asleep.
I’m very intimate with breath work and breathing. Since I was a baby my mother’s been a breath work practitioner and teacher. I’ve grown up around that stuff. And I’ve done a lot of meditation. The periods of my life where I’ve been more diligent about keeping up healthy practices I find that my sleep is better, my health is better, my dreams are generally better.
My dreams have really suffered as years have gone on. I had a very, very vivid and active and often lucid dream life up through my mid-to-late twenties. And I think that really started to shatter a little bit in a way that I miss. Maybe some of that is due to aging. I don’t really know. But it’s hard for me not to connect that a little bit with my going to sleep listening to a podcast or just having a lot of anxiety.
My dreams have changed pretty significantly starting six or seven years ago. Up until the end of the aughts I definitely had a fairly regular dream life that I paid attention to a lot. I definitely was in the habit of writing down dreams that I felt were impactful or inspiring. The combination of my experiences with some of my anxiety and bouts with feeling more bummed than maybe is totally appropriate, all that stuff — and having an irregular lifestyle in terms of sleep schedule and becoming someone that uses podcast or watching Netflix as a crutch — affected it.
I went and did one of those 10-day Vipassana retreats and that was incredible. It was very identifiable what the changes in my sleep habits were, how rested I actually felt and how conscious my dreams were during that period of time.
I spend far too much time looking at a screen. I think that has a big impact in disrupting our brain’s capacity to get into states of rest. The blue light coming off of screens, I didn’t have that until 2010 or 2011 when I got my first iPhone. Prior to that I would never be in bed staring at a screen. That wasn’t a normal thing. Now sadly it takes a lot of effort and self-control on my part to make the decision to keep my phone in another room when I go to bed.
I went through a phase where I got hardcore to almost a ridiculous degree at getting rid of all artificial lighting after the sun went down. It was hard to keep up and not really manageable to do but I even got gas lamps for my room. I would get in the habit of turning my computer off at eight o’clock at night. I might have kept my computer nearby if I was communicating with somebody but I’m not going to stare at it. Otherwise all the lighting in my room would come from candles and gas lamps. And I remember my dreams absolutely came back in a fairly significant way. My sleep quality was much, much better.