[This first appeared in Spark Mag, July 2016]
David Combs and Erica Freas have been close for years. They’ve bonded through their myriad musical projects, including their respective punk bands – Erica sings and plays guitar in RVIVR, while Combs does the same in The Max Levine Ensemble – and their extensive work as solo artists. They’ve toured together, performed together, written together.
Then, they tried dreaming together.
Fascinated by the prospect of writing songs while deep inside a particularly lucid dream, Freas and Combs embarked on a mental mining expedition through their individual and – they hoped – collective unconsciouses in the hopes of emerging into waking life with new, sleep-composed songs in hand. They didn’t quite get there, but their months-long efforts did net them a new band and a preposterously good pop punk record.
The Moon Shines On The Shit, the debut album from SOMNIA – in which Freas and Combs play alongside fellow RVIVR guitarist and vocalist Mattie Joe Canino and drummer Josef Bellucci – employs big, hooky pop-punk songs to chronicle two artists’ quest to plumb the depths of their dream states, and make those dreaming lives connect on the other side. Somnia is the Latin word for dreams and visions, and each song on the record seems to weave between this hazy, dream state and our tangible, conscious lives. “Double Life,” the album’s opening track, is an admittance that this dumb waking world so often leaves us grasping for something more, reaching for the the extended possibilities of the sleep realm and the “astral plane.” The record pivots from the hopeful to the dark, perhaps dwelling on death too much, as we all do. “Death blows in like a cold breeze, wrapped in the cloak of night, it occupies my mind,” Combs sings on “Death Blows.” That’s the reality of probing one’s deepest dreams for the stuff of songs: the light and the dark all come out, and you can’t really choose which one you get.
For Combs and Freas, such psychic questioning unfolds as mastercraft. Freas has written songs based on dreams before – the subject matter of “Spider Song,” which she’s recorded both solo and with RVIVR, came to her in her sleep. But together with Combs, The Moon Shines On The Shit documents a mental journey few songwriters have embarked upon. The resulting songs are fascinating and urgent – both as ways to delve deeper into one’s own consciousness, and to escape what’s often a trash pile of a waking world.
Combs and Freas talked to us about SOMNIA, writing about dreams, making a living as a DIY artist and the fight to deliver their music while fending off search engine algorithms and corporate music power.