Waking from a Deep Sleep: An interview with Mark Ehlers

Interview by Kenneth Gallant

You have to hand it to Wisconsin based musician Mark Ehlers for sticking to his guns, taking on a DIY one man band called Deep Sleep Operator. The thing about this project is how the music is culled together from bits and parts of different genres and fantastical elements. All coming together in a swirl of sci-fi concepts and bizarre live imagery, creating the mystique of DSO.

To be honest, I had not heard about DSO until Mark contacted HMS recently to review his debut disc "While the Earth Sleeps". I'm glad he did though because upon giving this an initial spin I was quickly taken aback - there's so much going on here when you consider the dense histrionics surrounding the songs and the alluring guitar riffs, effectively creating an apocalyptic soundtrack.

If the world was to truly come to an end today, I would expect to see Mark at the helm leading the charge of chaotic sounds. This is what DSO is all about and I was lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with the man.

HMS: Let's begin with the band's origins. DSO is essentially a one man DIY project, so can you tell me how this all came about?

Mark Ehlers: It really has been years in the making for sure. Just constantly writing and recording, improving and trying to learn how to basically be a good songwriter, singer, guitarist and recording engineer. Technology caught up finally, and I was able to create the audio lunacy that had been kicking around in my head.

HMS: You've stated in your bio that if Steven Spielberg had nightmares, then the end result would be DSO. Are you a big fan of Spielberg's work, or Sci-fi in general?

Mark Ehlers: For sure, I'm a fan of his. Anyone who can make a film about a shark, which in turn, causes people literally to be terrified of going in a swimming pool afterwards deserves respect. Close Encounters too had a big impact on me as a kid as well - those 5 notes coming out of the mothership towards the end was beyond epic. I got to say, I thought his more recent film Super 8 was solid too and one of my favorite aliens.

HMS: I know you are based in Wisconsin, so what is the music scene like? Is the scene accepting of DSO?

Mark Ehlers: Being around smaller cities, I'm not sure there is what I'd call a scene, but there is a love of hard rock/metal music for sure. It's funny because it never goes away, it just kind of goes underground. There are some great venues that have supported DSO in Wisconsin as well as some FM radio stations in Madison and Green Bay that have played us. Maybe there is a scene? Deep Sleep Operator is such a new entity it's hard to gauge how we fit in or don't fit in you know? Ask me again in 5 years.

HMS: Can you talk about the live aspects of the show? In particular your stage costume and presence?

Mark Ehlers: The Live show really is a natural extension of what you hear on the album. It has to be over the top, visual and entertaining. I've told people I don't want to stand on stage playing "Feed them Dirt" while shoe gazing, unless my shoes are on fire. I think there is a freedom for me to become this alter ego and go up onstage and play my heart out for sure. It's been said the true identity of a man only comes out when he wears a mask and I have to agree. People wear masks every day of their lives and they don't even know it.

"People wear masks every day of their lives and they don't even know it."

HMS: In the review I wrote for the album, I mentioned some comparisons to Alice Cooper and Dave Mustaine, so tell me how you feel about being compared to these musical legends?

Mark Ehlers: It really is the ultimate compliment! Kind of surreal for sure. I am a huge Alice fan and Megadeth too. Those guys have done it all, and are still doing it in this business is no easy task! Alice is so known for his stage theatrics, but to me his songs were his strong point, so unique and underrated! "Billion Dollar Babies" is one of the coolest songs of all time and "Cold Ethyl", man I could go on and on. I recently saw Megadeth perform a few months back and they were lethal. Chris Broderick is amazing and the show left me feeling very inspired!

HMS: The response for DSO has been overwhelmingly positive, so how do you plan upon building for the future of the band?

Mark Ehlers: A lot of things are in the works that will hopefully take Deep Sleep Operator to the next level. Hopefully bigger shows and touring opportunities will solidify. This band really belongs on the road and it's no secret that for rock bands, that's what has to happen. So we'll see if the planets align and so far so good.

HMS: HMS is a website that brings the best of metal and horror to the masses, so do you have a favorite horror movie?

Mark Ehlers: Some people might not know this film, but my favorite horror movie is "The Car" - I think it came out in 1977. This creepy looking black car terrorizes people in a small Texas town. Turns out it's the devil driving it, mowing people down left and right. Good stuff!

HMS: What inspires you musically?

Mark Ehlers: I think it's life really that inspires. The "every day" gets put into a mental blender. Every song, every film, every painting I see on the wall, every star I see as I look up into the sky at night, everything gets recorded and I think it comes back out through song. Good things and bad things equally inspire me whether I want them too or not. Such is life I guess.

HMS: This is a bit of cheesy question to end things off, but if we really had an alien invasion what would you do?

Mark Ehlers: It's not cheesy at all! People should think about this. The problem is, how do you prepare for the unknown? There's nothing worse than a bump in the night that you have no idea who, or what caused it. All you do know is the hair on the back of your neck is standing straight up. The funny thing is, I don't fear an invasion because they're already here among us, and they've been here long before we were even here. For humanity to think the Earth is ours alone is a little narcissistic and self centered don't you think?

Kenneth Gallant, HMS

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About the artist(s):

Mark Ehlers is a Wisconsin-based musician and Deep Sleep Operator is sci-fi themed heavy metal project. Ehlers writes, produces and plays all the instruments on all Deep Sleep Operator albums.

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About the author:

Kenneth Gallant is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of horrormetalsounds.com. Ken originated the webzine as a column (on another Heavy Metal webzine) that paid homage to horror films incorporating the theme, or a soundtrack, of heavy metal music. Horrormetalsounds.com embodies his passion for horror films, comics and heavy metal music.

Ken is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design. He has worked as a freelance writer since the mid 90's and, in more recent times, has written for Blistering.com, DeadRhetoric.com, The Metal Pit and Fangoria Magazine. He also works as a freelance illustrator from time to time, and has created cover and logo art for numerous Heavy Metal acts.

Ken formed Spider Gun Productions with Richard Leggatt in 2009. He has written, directed and produced four short online horror films. In addition to running horrormetalsounds.com, the pair continues to develop film concepts and music videos.