There’s an energetic wisdom possessing every word of “Refine Me,” a new single and video from Harrisburg, Penn./Washington D.C. post-hardcore quintet Don’t Sleep. When the group’s frontman Dave Smalley sings, “You can wound but you can never kill me/You want me in a prison/Of your misconception/But I’ll keep breaking free/From your deception,” self-empowerment becomes the message and the means to rise above.
“Refine Me” is more a personal mantra than it is a political rant—part-Sun Tzu, part-Black Flag in its ruminations on gaining strength through facing adversity in life head on. Or as Smalley states: “It is important to be forged and refined by the flames of adversity. Let your enemies make you stronger.”
Smalley’s anthemic whooaaas and guttural voice project a lifetime of experience in hardcore—he sang with the brawny “Boston Crew” outfit DYS, in Washington D.C. He did a stint leading guitarist Brian Baker’s post-Minor Threat group Dag Nasty, and in Los Angeles he fronted the post-Descendents outfit ALL. He also sings with the recently rekindled L.A. hardcore staple Down By Law. Smalley’s presence alone embodies American hardcore’s melodic DNA. In “Refine Me,” his words are imbued with everlasting depth, resilience, and an openness that allows anyone within earshot to connect the dots and find their own meaning.
“One of the label guys suggested these words are important in today’s environment of folks struggling to ensure every person is treated with dignity and respect,” Smalley says. “I wrote the lyrics last year, and it’s really about personal struggle and overcoming that terrible feeling of betrayal, and coming out stronger on the other side. But if it applies to today, and can give someone hope to come through this current moment looking to be stronger and forged by today’s heat, I’m all for it,” he adds. “The best lyrics are the timeless ones, where the words impact the listener as a human being, but also can be applied to our human family as a whole, and apply to the world. Hopefully this song counts.”
In 2017, Don’t Sleep came out of the gate strong with the arrival of a self-titled EP (Unity Worldwide), followed a year later by the Bring The Light 7-inch (Reaper Records). The group hit the ground running with a string of Warped Tour dates, sharing stages with legacy harcore acts such as Sick Of It All, Madball, and Hare Krishna juggernaut Shelter. But after piquing so many ears the group has remained somewhat in the shadows. Of course, in 2018 Smalley was busy putting together Down By Law’s latest album All In (Kung Fu Records). He also released Join The Outsiders (Little Rocket), the debut album from a new group he fronts with Spanish and Argentinian musicians dubbed Dave Smalley & the Bandoleros.
For Don’t Sleep, however, the downtime has been anything but idle. “Refine Me” heralds the September 4 arrival of the group’s debut full-length, Turn The Tide (Mission Two Entertainment). Smalley, alongside bass player Garrett Rothman, drummer Jim Bedorf, and guitarists Tom McGrath and Tony Bavaria have crafted a sound that expands beyond the tropes of classic hardcore with a balance of muscular riffs and angular rhythms over Smalley’s lyrical ruminations.
It’s a fresh take for a group that’s well aware of its hardcore roots, but isn’t willing to stay in one place for too long, or dwell on the past—literally and figuratively speaking. When the group hits its stride here, the music takes shape amid a powerful yet understated blend of visceral hooks and sophisticated instincts—the sound of five players going all in.
A laundry list of producers and engineers contributed to the album including Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland (August Burns Red), Walter Schreifels (Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Youth of Today), Matt Holmes, and Battery singer Brian McTernan. The result is a sound that Smalley says was “a catharsis and a challenge” fleshing out. “It’s one I hope will have the same kind of impact for people that classic albums had for me when I was coming up.”
“Refine Me” offers just a glimpse at this new melodic identity the group has honed with Turn The Tide, promising a purgative and empowering blast of songs that are hellbent on a brighter future.
Turn The Tide is out September 4 via Mission Two Entertainment.
Turn The Tide tracklist
1. “Don’t Sleep”
2. “No Other Way”
4. “True North”
5. “Abandoned Us”
7. “We Remain”
8. “Walking In Sinai”
9. “Refine Me”
11. “The Wreckage”