AROUND THREE MINUTES into “Melt,” a cacophonous wall of noise recedes to a wiry, wobbly verse. Kyle Bates’ woozy vocals float on bending melodies and hazy rhythmic progressions. The opening track from Drowse’s debut LP, Soon Asleep, sounds like you’re on drugs, which is precisely the effect Bates was going for. But not in the way you might be thinking: Bates’ musical documentation of his medication regimen following a 2011 suicide attempt drives the majority of the Drowse catalog.
It’s dark stuff, to be certain, but Bates wasn’t interested in romanticizing the darkness. Soon Asleep acts both as therapy and as an awareness multimedia project, with a comic having been released with Bates’ earlier three-song EP, Songs to Sleep On, and a 40-page memoir to be packaged with Soon Asleep.
“It’s a huge bummer to have to tell someone when you get really close to them, ‘Look, I tried to kill myself and had this mental breakdown,” says the Portland musician, who also plays in the band Sloths. “It was a weight off my chest to publicly get that out there. I wanted to have that represented in the way I want it represented before people heard about it.”
Bates’ songs rush with swirls of narcotic hallucinations, opening up with hazy synths and guitars that sound like they’re being heard over warped vinyl. “A lot of the sound is very bendy and washed out,” explains Bates, who’s also part of the Oligopolist Records collective, though the album is being released by Portland cassette label Apneic Void. “I was trying to represent different drug effects that I felt. Klonopin basically knocks you out. To me, sonically that feels like white noise, or like a black metal guitar riff. With the woozy sounds I was trying to represent getting sick from taking serotonin meds. I took Zoloft and was sick for three days throwing up. I wanted to translate that feeling into a guitar effect.”
For the Soon Asleep release show, Bates has assembled a band to flesh things out. He’ll also be releasing full-band versions of tracks from both albums later this year.
“For me,” says Bates, “the process involves taking a really negative experience and translating it into something creative.”