I hung out with Ben, who writes all of the songs for Armor for Sleep at both of the shows they played in CA, with The Bled, Static Lullaby, and Time In Malta, and he was a really cool guy. We talked about the album and he went in depth about the ideas behind Armor for Sleep, and their new album “Dream To Make Believe”.
Wark: What does Armor for Sleep mean, and what is your philosophy/concept behind the band ?
Ben: Well, I guess the band started at a point where I was really isolated from the rest of the world, where you know I didn’t really have many friends the summer that I started writing the songs for the band, and I was kind of stuck inside my own head, and I just wanted to make a band that would give me an outlet to talk about how I was feeling at the time. I guess the philosophy and the name for Armor for Sleep are connected because the name is about sleep and being alone, and wanting protection from isolation, and I think that’s what the philosophy of it is. It’s very much about what goes on inside your own head when you’re feeling alone. The records in my life that have meant the most to me have been records that I could hear in a car full of people, instead of my telling the rest of the car, like “Wow, I can really relate to this”. It’s more of a connection where I can say inside my head when I’m listening to a band, you know Wow, I can really relate to what this guy is talking about. I just think that personal connection is really important and that’s what the philosophy of Armor for Sleep is.
Wark: I read that you stayed in your room for an entire summer and was completely secluded when you wrote this album, with just an acoustic guitar. Was this out of depression, or just for a creative outlet?
Ben: For me the songs that I write tend to be on the sadder side, but I kind of view songs as like my life is like a camera and when I write, the songs tend to be a certain kind of portrayal of my life. Whenever I’m writing songs I get in a certain mood where I get stuck inside my own head, and I wanna write about being alone, and that tends to be what comes out when I write. When I’m feeling that the most, that’s when I write the most. It’s always been an outlet for those feelings for me.
Wark: What is the concept for the album artwork?
Ben: I think the album definitely has a theme of being alone and kind of feeling empty and wishing that other people would be in the picture that aren’t there in my life. The album artwork is a lot of empty rooms, empty chairs, you know a nighttime picture of a chair by itself. It’s kind of like the reality of life sometimes, there aren’t people in the picture that you wish were there. “Dream To Make Believe”, that song and the name Armor for Sleep is about realizing that a lot of our lives are spent alone and all we have is our own consciousness to get us through things.
Wark: I can totally relate to that. That’s amazing. I know everyone can relate to feeling alone, and dealing with situations with death and other things like that. Like our slogan “Music Mends Broken Hearts” you know? I never really thought of your artwork that way, I just thought it was pictures of empty chairs.
Ben: That’s just one way of looking at it, I think what’s more important about the artwork is that the images set a mood for the songs on the album, and I hope other people can see the consistency in the mood of the different artwork.
Wark: Well I can see it.
Ben: (Laughs) Thank you!
Wark: Lets move on to playing shows. How has it been playing shows with bands like Thursday and Taking Back Sunday, without even having an album in stores? Has it been overwhelming?
Ben: Yeah, it’s definitely been crazy. I think we’ve all had to get used to playing for a lot of people. You know, obviously we’re just four goofballs from New Jersey. Getting up and playing for like 800 people is nerve-racking you know? And especially because I know, we’re not as intense of a band as those other bands and like it’s always hard for a band first coming out, you know like first impressions are really hard when you’re in a band and we’re just really happy when we play in front of people and they’re receptive. I mean, I still get really nervous when I play, and I know the rest of the guys do too, and we never take it for granted. It’s so amazing, and we’re so blessed to be able to play with such great bands, especially Taking Back Sunday, and Thursday.
Wark: What’s the crowd response been like opening for heavier bands like The Bled, Time in Malta, and A Static Lullaby?
Ben: Um, it’s been awesome, I know that we’re kind of the oddballs on this tour because we’re not as heavy as the other bands, but people are still receptive, you know? And, I think that’s really awesome that people give us a chance and are that open-minded. It really gives us a lot faith in people that listen to music, and I’m happy about that.
Wark: I think you guys fit in very well on this tour.
Ben: Yeah, well we get scared. We get scared when we play with any band, we always wonder what people are gonna think. I mean especially on this tour, its been especially scary, but it’s been going well. The Bled are awesome, A Static Lullaby are awesome, and Time In Malta have been awesome, you know and it’s definitely a respect that exists amongst us. All four of us play different styles of music.
Wark: Okay, what are the lyrics about in the song “Dream To Make Believe” when you say “I hope dreams come when I die…”
Ben: Um, it’s just me talking about somebody that I know who will never be in my life again for whatever reasons and I was just kind of thinking of what it would be like if when I died, instead of nothingness I lived in a world of dreams, and I could just dream about the person forever, and actually hang out with them even though I know I won’t be able to do it in real life. It’s like a sad fantasy.
Wark: More examples of metaphors, in your song “Frost and Front Steps” are those lyrics a literal meaning or is a metaphor for something deeper?
Ben: Well, I think with the name Armor for Sleep, and with the album “Dream To Make Believe” and with every song, I like it when everything has more than just one meaning, and you can look at it more than one way. To me, that’s when I’ll decide to keep a lyric that I wrote, when you can take it for face value, and at the same time it also means something kind of behind the curtains. I think with the song “Frost and Front Steps” you can take it for face value, but I’m at a party or I’m at this place and someone is kind of abandoning me inside, and I have to go outside and deal with the fact that I’m being ignored, and you can take that at face value, but also I think the fact that I’m outside in the cold can be representative of feeling alone, and feeling abandoned you know, and yeah it can definitely be a metaphor.
Wark: What do you want your album and the lyrics to get across to fans that read more into it?
Ben: I just hope that it speaks to people, you know? I really do. I hope it honestly speaks to people, and people can kind of feel faith that you know…that somebody else, and maybe other people that relate to the record feel alone, and that it’s okay to feel alone, you know? And I hope that people relate to that. As I’ve said I’ve always related to music that has somebody talking about what it’s like to feel isolated and abandoned, because there’s something special about somebody opening up like that, and I’m not saying I consciously tried to do that. That’s just what comes out and I never thought anyone really would be able to relate to it, I didn’t start the band to try and become a big popular band or anything, but people just started saying that they could relate, and it felt good to hear someone else talking about it, and I would like it if people could keep feeling that way. It’s cool to know that I could create something that could make people feel like music has made me feel.
Wark: I know before Equal Vision there were a bunch of major labels after you, what was that like?
Ben: There were a bunch of major labels that wanted to scoop us out and we kind of did the whole dinner with major labels, and yeah it was pretty cool, but at the same time we realized it wasn’t what we really wanted to do, and I think Equal Vision is a great label, we’ve always loved the bands that they’ve put out, and the way they run their label, and we’re not ready for a major label thing, that’s not what we want, we just want to keep doing things “DIY”. You know? We’ve always grown up in the “DIY” punk scene, and I’m really happy with EVR.
Wark: Okay now, on a less serious note, what are your influences for playing music?
Ben: When I was in like 2nd and 3rd grade I had older sisters, and they kind of got me into MTV, and I remember listening to Madonna cassettes, and then in 4th grade I started listening to Metallica and I was wearing Metallica T-shirts, then I got into Nirvana a lot, I was always heavily into music. I started playing drums when I was in 6th grade. I guess recently what influenced me in this band was bands like Radiohead, The Smiths, The Pixies, I think basically any band who has sad songs, I life. I’ve always been drawn to bands who have sadder songs.
Wark: Some one asked me to ask how you classify your music genre?
Ben: I’m not really sure, that’s a hard question. I honestly, without sounding pretentious don’t know what style of music we play. I guess its kind of mellowish melodic rock. We were at Skate and Surf fest and Buddy from Senses Fail and I were doing an interview kind of together, and someone asked Buddy to classify our music and he said he would classify us as “sleep core”. I thought that was funny, but I don’t know if that’s true.
Wark: I’m good for that one. That rules. So what bands have you been listening to lately?
Ben: The new Brand New album is awesome!
Wark: Yeah you should tour with them.
Ben: Yeah, we just played with them in Albany, and it was an awesome show, and we would love to tour with them, so Jesse needs to give me a phone call! (Laughs) … I don’t know, the new Mars Volta record is insane! I was in Recover’s van and they played it for me, and I haven’t felt that way about hearing a record since the first time I heard At The Drive-In. Its out of control. We’ve been listening to a lot of Recover, I think they are one of the best bands ever. Their new demos are pretty awesome, and I can’t wait for them to actually record their new album because I think it is going to be the biggest thing since sliced bread. The Bled is awesome, they won’t let me have their CD because they aren’t allowed to, but their new record is awesome! Um, Saosin, I think are awesome, we like a lot of Coheed and Cambria, and I can’t wait for their new album.
Wark: I think Saosin is going to be huge!
Ben: Yeah, I got to meet them last night, they are really nice guys. Um… I like Codeseven a lot, I like “The Rescue” that’s a good CD. Engine Down, we’ve been listening to Engine Down a lot.
Wark: Yeah! I just recently got “Demure” and it’s so good!
Ben: Yeah, how good is it? Seriously. I’ve been so behind, we played with them at the Plea For Peace tour, and Geoff Rickly (Thursday front man) was like buy “Demure”, and so I bought it, and it was like my favorite album. It’s got such a cool feeling to it.
Wark: Yeah, it rules too cause Brian McTernan did it. He does a lot of amazing stuff like Piebald, Cave In, Recover, Thrice, and The Movielife. Have you heard their Denali, their side project?
Ben: Yeah, that is really good too! That’s the singer’s sister. She has a beautiful voice.
Wark: Yeah, awesome. I’ve been listening to The Bled, Scarlet, Everytime I Die, and Norma Jean. I like a lot of heavier stuff.
Ben: Have you heard Soilwork?
Wark: Yeah, “Natural Born Chaos” rules!
Ben: Yeah, I like the “Chain Heart Machine” a lot. Actually the name of that record is from a movie called Dark City. Which is one of my favorite movies.
Wark: Yeah, Dark City is one of my favorites too!
Ben: It’s an awesome, awesome movie.
Wark: Yeah, it is very sleep-core!
Ben: (Haha) Yeah, I was definitely way into that movie when I started the band. I think that talking about things that have double meanings is awesome. That whole movie to me, is just a metaphor, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Everything about that movie is amazing.
Wark: Yeah, for sure. I’ve got another question, do you read?
Ben: Yeah I read. I actually brought a couple of books on tour. I actually worked a publishing company two summers ago called Globe Atlantic in the city, and one of my jobs was to file their library where they keep a lot of books where their publicists can take for referencing purposes. So Id be back there, and I could take home as many books as I wanted over the summer and they’d print a lot of Beat Poetry like Jack Karowack, and Alan Gindzburg, and stuff like that. I was already into that stuff, but I got to read a lot more of it, and I love those poets.
Wark: Did that inspire your lyrics at all?
Ben: Yeah definitely. I started writing a lot of poetry before I wrote lyrics. I think for me lyrics, like usually when I write a song I’ll get ideas out of my book of poetry that I write. Then, for a song you have to have lyrics fit the melody and so I will usually take an idea that I had a poem for and I will put that into verse form, and so a lot of the poetry I write is inspired by people like Karowack, and Gindzburg. I read a lot of science fiction too, cause my Dad has a lot of science fiction, cause he’s like a crazy smart guy. He went to MIT for theoretical physics, so he’s got a huge library of books of authors lie Arthur C. Clark, Carl Saegan. I’ve always loved Science-Fiction, and I didn’t find out until like a few years ago that it was looked down upon and that people thought it was geeky. But where I grew up it was cool. It’s weird. I actually brought a book on tour called Rama 2, by Arthur C. Clark, which is about a space ship that passes by earth that has no life forms in it, so a team of scientists goes up to it to like figure out the space ship and why it’s there.
Wark: Do any of them get killed?
Ben: Yeah, unfortunately.
Wark: Bummer, it sounds like a good story.
Ben: Yeah it is!
Wark: Okay cool, well moving on… Favorite movies ?
Ben: Well, Dark City! I’m glad I remembered that because I was talking to you about movies yesterday, and that’s definitely, probably my favorite movie of all time.
Wark: Yeah I wanna buy it, I’ve seen it like 3 times. Magnolia is another movie I loved.
Ben: Yeah, I love Magnolia too, Good Call! Another movie I really liked is Gattica, but Magnolia too, I mean it has nothing do with Science Fiction, except for maybe the end part. Yeah that movie is so moving and it’s just a giant build up and it’s genius.
(Talking about our favorite parts of Magnolia, on and on…)
(Brett from Static Lullaby interrupts by walking by and saying “Fucking Jon Wark”, and laughing.)
Wark: Another movie I love it Meet The Parents.
Ben: Meet the Parents is great! I love Ben Stiller. There is no actor that’s better at making people feel bad for him. He’s great, I love that guy.
Wark: Anyways, anymore movies besides Dark City, and Gattica?
Ben: Yeah I like 12 Monkeys a lot. Not a lot of people liked that movie, but I liked it a lot. I think it is a great portrayal of the future. I like movies that have time travel in it a lot. There’s a movie called “Millenium” about an airplane that’s like sucked into the future and they have to go back to the past and change things. I love how movies deal with time paradoxes and I wonder what it would be like if people could actually travel between the past and the future.
Wark: I know we talked about bands, but do you have a top five favorite albums?
Ben: (Thinking) My favorite album of all time is probably “OK Computer” by Radiohead. It’s awesome, and genius. Probably number two for me would be “Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd, cause that is just a classic that can never be bad. I think a third would be “The Shape Of Punk To Come” by Refused. I think that it the best hardcore album ever recorded, next to Minor Threat’s “Discography”, but yeah that album is genius!
Wark: Yeah it is, have you heard “Songs to Fan he Flames of Discontent” ?
Ben: Yeah, I have heard it. It’s awesome. The first track “Rather Be Dead” is awesome.
Wark: Yeah seriously it rules. Okay, I have another question. Did you get voice lessons, or are you naturally an awesome singer?
Ben: Haha, Thanks man. I don’t think that I’m an awesome singer, you know what I mean? But that’s very nice of you to say, but no I didn’t take any vocal lessons. I mean the first time I went in to record I really had no idea what was even gonna come out, cause I only sang songs in my room.
Wark: Well, whatever it was it worked, cause it sounds awesome on the album.
Ben: Thanks a lot man.
Wark: Yeah and it’s coming out on Tuesday.
Ben: Yeah, even though this is our first album in stores we’ve had mp3’s floating around on the internet forever, so I don’t think this will be the first music people will have from us. Which is good.
Wark: So you had recorded before the album came out?
Ben: Yeah we had seven songs. One two song demo, a three song demo, and two songs we recorded for comps. We went in to record the full length back in May, then we went to re-recorded it in August.
Wark: Yeah, well awesome. This was a pretty long interview, maybe like 45 minutes or something. Ben: (Laughing) It could be about 5 hours, I’m not sure.
Wark: Haha, I know…I have a couple more questions from the fans from the site. Is the new release going to be put out on Vinyl?
Ben: Hopefully, I would like that, Yeah.
Wark: What happened to the song “Pointless Forever”. Will it be a B-Side or on a Compilation?
Ben: We write a lot of songs and that was one song we demoed and we just didn’t feel like it was good for the album. We wanted to focus on the other songs more in the studio then that one.
Wark: A girl said to “Ask him about his haircut”…
Ben: (Laughing) Well, my lack of a haircut is more like it. Well I’m a ¼ Japanese, So I have like Asian hair, it’s all natural.
Wark: “Being Your Walls” is about friends that stay in and sit on the computer all day. Are your songs mostly about yourself or other people?
Ben: It’s a combination I think. A lot of what makes up myself is how I relate to other people, you know? So, Both. I think it’s more about how I deal with other people and how I deal with the world.
Wark: Why the change on some songs, but not on others like “Frost and Front Steps” ?
Ben: Well, I don’t know we just, it’s kind of like song writing is kind of like painting, you know you have to when the painting is done. You could paint something forever, but I mean there’s a certain point where you just feel like it’s finished, but there were some songs that we weren’t completely satisfied with and others we felt like they were at that point.
Wark: Well, that’s about it , anything you’d like to add?
Ben: Yeah I’d like to thank AbsolutePunk.net , because it’s a really cool webpage, and I know that we go to it whenever we sign online to check it out to check out the news posts. (His Girlfriend calls him, and he says he’ll call her back…). So you guys, Equal Vision Records, Kathi at the Syndicate, Diane at Flower Booking, and Gabe (Midtown), our manager. That’s it. And Thank you Jon, Thank you very much dude!
Wark: Thanks man, WARK HARD. PLAY HARD.
Ben: (Laughs) Yes, WARK HARD. PLAY HARD.
Wark: Yeah, it is my thing, The Bled made it up, and I like it.
great great interview. armor for sleep is an amazing band. ben seems like a really nice dude. i love how he can explain himself so well, it sums up exactly why this band means so much to me. great stuff.