Josh Dibb and the Story of Sleep Cycle

Deakin from Animal Collective tells me about his first solo album and the long years of labor that it took to create it.

Josh Dibb and the Story of Sleep Cycle

When I called Josh Dibb, otherwise known as Animal Collective’s Deakin, he was at Baltimore’s The Compound, the former forklift factory that now houses artist from various disciplines, including — on this occasion — Josh Dibb. Going into the interview I knew that Josh’s recently released solo album was something special, containing a heartfelt honesty that doesn’t come along often; I also knew Sleep Cycle had been a long-time work in progress, so I led off by asking about the multi-year process. And that one question wound up yielding the entire story of the album, as well as a broader exploration of how an artist’s confrontation with him or herself can be unfettered by pretension and ego.

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Josh begins in medias res with his recording session at The Rare Book Room. “The actual recording process was not actually that much time. I spent 5 days in the studio with Nicolas [Vernhes] recording two tracks. And I spent a month on my own finishing it. The process that took so long was really an internal emotional and psychological grappling with my tendency toward a dark view of what I was trying to work on. It was really a matter of sitting down and forcing myself to commit to a process, which was something I avoided for a really long time.”

The Rare Book room studio session took place in March 2015, but in order to contextualize the emotional process involved, Josh flashes all the way back to his beginnings as a musician: “I’ve been struggling to work on my own music since I was a kid. I started writing songs when I was 12 or 13, and that’s around the time Noah and I started playing together. In high school Noah and I were Collaborating or Dave and I were collaborating, or me Noah, Dave and Brian [Josh’s Animal Collective bandmates], and I increasingly used their brilliance as a way to sublimate myself to them. Once we started legitimately being a band in 2000, I had hours and hours of partially realized ideas that I hadn’t followed through with. Taking a break from the band in 2007, my intention was to start working on my own stuff.”

The solo songs he began to work on in 2007 required a further nudge to be brought to life. That initial impetus came in the form of being invited to play solo in Mali for Festival au Désert: “The opportunity to go to Mali was a kind of cliff diving moment. The opportunity came up 6 weeks before I was supposed to leave, and I didn’t have a set, I didn’t have songs I wanted to do, but I felt like it was a moment in time where if I was going to continue to be a musician, I had to do it. That was an initial step: getting something together that I was willing to play in front of people, and honestly it was kind of brutal most of the time.”

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During this time, Josh was also on a hiatus from Animal Collective, which allowed him to take a more personal command of the music he wanted to make. “Taking such a long break from the band, I gained an appreciation of the intentionality of approach. Before that I felt like I wasn’t in control of the waves — to use a surfing analogy — I was just being whipped along, and I would come up with ideas that sounded great on the records but they didn’t feel completely under my control.”

However, the musical evolution he went through during his sabbatical still required the counterpoint of his artistic growth on the next Animal Collective album: “Working on Centipede Hz, I really wanted to work on the creative muscles that really embrace the idea of a very intentional kind of work. I had written a song for Centipede Hz called ‘Wide Eyed,’ and I think working on that song in the context of the band was a big moment for me. For a really long time I thought my voice was a liability, but in the studio when I was recording vocals the engineer Ben Allen almost berated me that my voice was actually really good, I just had to use it like it’s good instead of using it like I hate it, and that really changed my mentality about it.”

Finishing work on Centipede Hz brings us to where Josh begins the story, with the recording session at Rare Book Room engineered by Nicolas Vernhes. Booking studio time was a key move because, as Josh puts it, “I put myself in a situation where I was like ‘I have to conquer this.’ At the Rare Book Room it was not just sitting by myself in my studio being musician, recording engineer, and coach. I didn’t have to do all of it. It allowed me to step out my head, and also step into my head in the places that needed attention.”

Josh came out of the Rare Book Room session with recording of “Good House” and “Footy.” People were psyched about the songs, but he still felt some gnawing hesitations. At that point Josh recounts, “I went to a really close friend of mine, and in a tough love moment he told me ‘You really need to set a date and decide that whenever that dates hits that’s when it is.’ He was calling me out on waffling between this version of a song vs. that version of a song, whether it’s going to be an EP or 10 songs. If it meant I got to that date and it was just the two tracks I recorded at Rare Book Room, then that’s what it would be, but I couldn’t just keep prolonging it. Having someone frame it in that way gave me an extra sense of responsibility that was really necessary, and it was definitely another cliff diving moment.”

Heeding the advice, Josh made the first day of 2016 his final cut-off point and finally came to a place where he was at peace with the album being finished. “I had a moment where it was finally finished where I step away from thinking I could tweak when I laid on my floor and listened to it for the first time after accepting that this is what it is and there were elements of it that were very surprising for me. I think that’s natural for creative endeavours, the point where you can step back and see what it is after being so focused on the details.”

Once it was finished, the actual album release wound up exceeding Josh’s expectations: “My plan was that I would release this quietly and maybe a couple of people would hear it, but I didn’t think it would have much of an impact. I saw it as the precursor for me to work on new stuff. I was really surprised by the positive reaction to it and how much I actually like it after spending so much time hating it.”

The plan was to do more solo work from the beginning, and Josh is excited to begin: “I definitely want to do another solo album. I don’t know what the timing will be. I’ve spent so many years carrying the weight of these songs, so I’m really looking forward to a blank slate and starting something new.”

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