“I’ve been a vivid and frequent dreamer my whole life,” says Chessa Rich. “I feel that my dreams are a) the portal to my truest well of creativity and image-making and b) sometimes the most fun part of my day.”
However, sleeping and dreaming do not always peacefully coexist. Or at least not for the North Carolina-based Chessa Rich, who wrote the shadowy and aquatic Deeper Sleeper about the years she spent living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder that dramatically influenced her relationship to sleep, productivity, dreaming and creativity.
“Each song on this record reflects a different aspect of my relationship with sleeping and dreaming,” said Rich. “Some were born in frustration and anger at a body that won’t do what I want it to do, others sound more like giving up, and one is a literal retelling of a dream I had.”
Recorded at Milan Hill in March 2021, Deeper Sleeper is the narrative of finally waking up. It showcases her informed rule-breaking songwriting steeped in a past not only of musical collaboration and performance, but of a gentle persistence to discover oneself amidst a vibrant landscape of others. The nine tracks divulge—in Rich’s distinctly seasoned sound—the heartfelt importance of having mindfulness of those closest to you. Across the LP’s sonic landscapes, Rich finds herself in various states of consciousness. Sleeping but unable to wake up, awake but wanting to be asleep, dreaming but not aware of the pieces that form the whole.
“All my dreams leave me with a specific, unique feeling, but they rarely have linear narratives that I can follow to lead me to a nice tied-up moral or lesson,” said Rich. “I have to sit with them and let them accompany me throughout my day, letting my brain’s images be what they are. Pieces of the songs on Deeper Sleeper have been floating around with me like dreams for a while, and like dreams, I had to patiently sit with them to let them become what they needed to be.”
The opening track “Paper Heart” instantly drops us into both her infectious sonic textures and empathetic lyrics. “I want to put myself in your space / Be there so I know you well,” she sings, her voice clear-cutting straight to the heart. In “Julia,” Rich apologizes to an imagined mentor for needing to strip herself down to a blank slate, devoid of expectation. “The things I need are very simple now,” Rich sings, her presence with herself quietly magnified. The waking becomes further amplified in “Wanderer,” and is paired with the truth that exploration is the continued prize of life. “I learned how to just skate by,” Rich sings. “And that if you die in your dreams you don’t die in real life / I’ve died so many times / Maybe I was wiser then, but I’m still a wanderer.”
An affinity with Fiona Apple and Big Thief emerges on “Wanderer,” before arriving at the burgeoning textures of “River,” which ruminates in the sonic palate of Wye Oak and Loma. The indie rock semblances hold weight, as even the title Deeper Sleeper follows from a lineage of cardinal records that lent substance to Rich’s arrival at her own percolated mélange of buoyant indie pop: Talkie Walkie (Air), Wowee Zowee (Pavement) and Nilsson Schmilsson (Harry Nilsson). “I’ve been recalling more things / My lifetime is in the palm of my hand / Like a stone shaped by persistent waves of a changing shoreline,” she sings on the record’s last track, “Mary,” as if a testament to Rich’s own trajectory as a musician taking her own weather-worn shape.
“When we recorded these tunes at Milan Hill in March 2021, my number one goal was to stay present to the evolution of each song and where we took it as a band,” said Rich about the recording process. “Having four of my best friends there in the band created this beautiful atmosphere of trust where we could follow our collective intuitions and not force anything that didn’t feel right. Shane Leonard, who recorded, produced and mixed the record, was an absolute pro at pushing us to new places while always staying open to my instincts as the songwriter.”
Rich swallowed sound at an early age, solidifying music as her internal compass. After a post-college job in Spain, she returned to North Carolina to hone the keyboard, flute and vocals that would form the bedrock of her equally jagged and ethereal style. Tracing her lines of influence from her parents’ community jazz band to the moment she encountered Radiohead in her youth, Rich has emerged as a versatile songwriter and collaborator, recording and performing with Hiss Golden Messenger and Tift Merritt, as well as putting out a 2018 EP produced by Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso.
In the years following, she began writing songs on every piano she encountered: a Steinway at Wildacres Retreat in Little Switzerland, the baby grand in her parents’ living room, her grandparents’ cherished spinet, a Yamaha in the country and her modest Currier upright that she transported from one offbeat rental house to another. In between teaching music in her home studio and perfecting her craft, she eventually coalesced these songs into the tracks that form Deeper Sleeper.
“Putting this body of work out on Sleepy Cat Records, a label run by close friends who champion really inspiring and exciting music, feels like a great way to honor the friendship and trust that went into these recordings,” Rich states.
All songs on Deeper Sleeper are written by Rich, recorded by Saman Khoujinian and Leonard, and produced and mixed by Leonard.