Tapping The Receiver with The New Deal’s Jamie Shields and Dan Kurtz
The New Deal’s latest record, a self-titled affair on Jive Electro pulsing
with the band's hoose-inflected livetronica, comes close to resolving
an old jamband clichMany have spoken of the pure moments that can only
come when a band is playing live. They talk of the moment of inspiration and
how a live recording captures that undiluted moment perfectly. There was
always something raw about those moments, though. And that, in part, is
their beauty. But it was always a provisional beauty, something that was
created under unreproducable circumstances and therefore protected from
The New Deal's new album, a fusion of live recordings and careful studio
work, attempts to realize those moments into something fuller, more mature.
The album doesn't always succeed but, as an experiment, it certainly makes
headway into creating something that captures both the moment of conception
and its eventual articulation. Both keyboardist Jamie Shields and bassist
Dan Kurtz spoke of the process of getting from performance to album, as well
as the way these ideas fit in with the broader picture of The New Deal.
JJ: For the big label debut, you guys did a live/studio fusion,
and I was wondering where that decision stemmed from?
JS: It kinda stemmed from the fact that we had run a studio from
day one of the New Deal. We had it 'til about early or mid-2000. We would go
in there and start playing and let the tape roll, just start jamming. The
stuff we did was good, but the good stuff was mellow. We found that we
couldn't just copy the energy that we got when we were playing live in front
of people. There's a certain feeling that goes along with it when you're
playing in front of people that you've gotta concentrate. If you're in the
studio doing that, it's like "oh, whatever, we'll let a couple of minutes
roll and it won't be so good and, who cares, and then it'll get good". You
can't really do that live. Well, you can, but we don't want to.
We were thinking about how we wanted to make the record. We wanted to do
some of the studio stuff, because we liked how we could get really clean,
nice, mellow stuff and you could focus in on that and create a flow for the
down-tempo stuff that you can't necessarily create live. For the upbeat
stuff, we wanted to do it live. Then, that decision reached another stage
when we realized that there's so much creative stuff that goes on in our
live performances that never get played again because we sort of did it and
it never turns up again. We have or 10 or 12 or whatever bits that we use,
but there's so many other things that we create on stage that get thrown to
the wind and never come up again unless we happen to listen to it and create
something from there.
So, we made a concerted effort to try to listen to our stuff. However, we
didn't want to try and recreate it in the studio. We decided to take a
16-track rig on the road and the bits that would we create on the road that
would be lost forever usually were now preserved on 16-track quality tape,
on digital tape, with quality mics and quality editing. We could actually
just take that performance and expand it, contract it, do whatever we wanted
to, in the studio. The performance was already there.
We thought about "well, then we'll go copy it", but there's no way you can
copy it. There's that energy there on the tape, that wouldn't be there in
the studio, no matter how precisely we attempted to copy it. We didn't want
to copy it, because there's that feeling of improv as it's going on. There's
that. Eighty percent of the record is live performance that we manipulated,
but the performance is from the live show. Maybe we even played over bits.
Besides overdubbing, all of us – as a band – would play over what we were
listening to from our live show. Then we took about 15% when we went to my
parents' basement and just jammed again like we did in the studio, but we
didn't have the studio anymore. Because we had the mobile rig, we could take
it wherever we wanted.
So, we took it to my parents' basement. They're very used to that. "Alright,
here he comes again. My son has a record deal, but he's still recording in
our basement…" It's kind of hard to explain. "Ah, forget it… thanks."
Which is why I thanked my parents on the record, because that must be the
500th time we've been down in that basement doing stuff. Dan [Kurtz] and I
have been playing in bands together since we were 14 or 13. He's seen his
share of the basement.
That's it. That's the mix. Sixty percent straight-up live performance.
Twenty percent recorded in my parents' basement "studio". And then 20%, or
maybe more, where we manipulated what we played live and then played over
it. The song [The] Ray Parker [Suite]: Part I is just half-a-second
of a sample of a note we played somewhere, just looped over and over and
over, and we took a performance – from maybe the same show, maybe not – to
play over that loop. We played on top of that. That's the mix.
JJ: You also recorded a couple of songs that had turned up on
previous EPs, and the first album. I was wondering how you came to the
decision to include that material again?
JS: Some of the stuff that was on other EPs – which would include
Back To The Middle and Then and Now – are studio pieces.
Everybody knows the live versions of those songs. (Sings the riffs.)
We thought "let's do it completely different in the studio. We know how we
do it live. Everybody knows how we do it live. They don't need to hear it
like that on the record. Let's try to do a different version of it by going
into my parent's basement, again, and jamming the song for an hour each time
and then manipulating it and seeing what we can do. Then and Now,
which is the last song on the record, has stuff we could never do live. It
has me playing glasses.
JS: I don't know if you're familiar with the tune, but the tune
opens up with this kind of drone, and it goes on for the whole song and
that's me playing wineglasses on the window sill in the tiny back room of my
JJ: I’ve gotta listen to that one on headphones.
JS: Exactly. Actually, when I was screwing around with the sound
after I played it, I cranked the volume up and it wasn't loud enough for me
to do anything with it, but you could hear the birds outside, 'cause I was
on the windowsill and it was June. It would've been very Kruder and
Dorfmeister of me if I was able to include the birds chirping, but I
There's stuff like that, and there's horns on Glide and weirdness on
Back To The Middle that we couldn't do live. We didn't want this to
be a translation of a live show. We have three EPs that are all translations
of live shows with 20 minute songs on them. We can do that. We know we can
do it. For this, we wanted to try and take an approach where you can put the
record on and you would maybe not have to have seen the band before.
Before this record came out, a large percentage of the people that had seen
us live already had a CD — they saw us, liked us, and bought the CD. People
can relate: "this is great because they're a trio" or "this is great because
there's no sampling" or "this is great because this is live". We didn't want
to have any of those caveats, just "this is great" or whatever you think of
it, without having to think "it's only live" or whatever. We tried to take
that approach. Those three songs, we picked them because we wanted to pick
the three songs we could change the most from live to record. We don't play
'em like we do on the record, it's for the record.
JJ: Has doing those versions changed your approach at all?
JS: They're kinda separate entities. We approach the studio and
the stage as mutually exclusive. Onstage, we do what we do and we try to do
it without the aid of samplers and sequencers, etc.. We didn't use any
samplers and sequencers on the record but, had it created something that
made the album better – sure – we would've. We looped music all over the
place on that thing, because we wanted it to be a good record. We didn't
want to stand on principle.
We didn't rely on the looping or anything, but there are bits where we
decided "it would sound cool if we looped this thing". In the distorted bass
section of Deep Sun, near the end of the song (sings it), we
just looped it because it has a cool effect. It sounds looped. (Sings it
again.) That's a studio approach, where we'd never say "y'know, loop
that onstage. Just have it in the pedal something". That's not what it's
about, because there's that energy. For the record, we felt it was cooler to
have it like that.
JJ: So, now that you've got all these documents, two albums and
two EPs, what progression do you see through them?
JS: Well, it's on a number of levels. I'll start with the albums,
and then tell you how our approach is progressing. The albums have
progressed in the sense that there's not as much downtempo stuff anymore.
We've solidified our sound a little bit. We play a bunch of different
styles, but we sort of focus in on the different types of house music.
Whereas, on the first record, it wasn't so much like that. It was a little
more in a funk kinda vein at times. And that's all excellent, and that's all
cool, but now we've honed in on a more specific style of music. That is a
result, I think, of the progression of the number of people that come to our
shows. The first record had six people in front of it. It was our first
When we play the kinds of shows where there are less people there, I enjoy
them. It really frees us up to do what we want — not that we're not doing
what we want when we're playing now. There is a little bit of a
restriction when you've got 1200 people there and they're there because they
wanna dance and they wanna hear the music, but they also wanna hear
Receiver and hear certain bits that we make. We're happy to play
them. We created them, and it's only two minutes of the show. We'll play it
and then we'll move on. In the early part, we didn't have any of those. We
didn't have anything to rely on. Not that we rely on them [now], but we
didn't have anything that we could use as those type of songs. Things were a
lot freer. I don't think there was as much flow. I think that there's a
better flow now than there was then.
As it turns out, I think that "This Is Live", the first show, has a
fantastic flow to it. That was tabula rasa, that was a complete empty
page that we stepped onto and just went. It could never be the same because
[by the time of] the second show, we could listen to the first show and say
"those bits were cool, let's try those again". Already, there's a
premeditated flow just in the ideas that you have. With the first show,
there were no premeditated ideas. We'd never played a show together, so we
didn't have anything to rely on. That, to me, was the most natural flow
The progression from there is that the flow gets better, but there are more
breaks in it. There's a show that I have, our first show at BerkFest – actually our second show at BerkFest, but out first time being at BerkFest – 8/15/99. In the set, we play one song, and then we play a six minute song.
But we play a 50 minute tune and that's great flow as well. That just goes
because we didn't have as many premeditated ideas.
We have a bunch of ideas. We only use half of them a night. There are six or
seven left. Maybe we stop, we play three or four tunes in the first set,
three or four tunes in the second, and there are stops in each one. That's a
break. Within each song, if it's 20 minutes long, there are probably one or
two breaks where we go somewhere else in there. We're getting good at
mastering those breaks, making it smooth. We didn't used to have those
breaks. That's a big difference.
JJ: If you were to listen to a random five minutes recorded on a
show from this tour, what would be different about a random five minutes
JS: I think there's a lot less playing. That's absolutely what I
find. I'm trying to play half as many notes as I used to play because I
realized that I can just stop playing for a while and everything's cool. I
don't always have to always be playing. I'm trying to play less and let
those guys do their thing. And when I come back in with maybe one chord or
two chords, or a little bit of something, I'm not overbearing all the time.
I was for a long time. I'm trying to stay away from that, as is everybody
else. Dan has never had that problem. He's always playing because he kind of
always has to play. He's always amazing me at how good bass player he is.
He's a pretty patient player as well. He'll lay back and just wait to see
what's going on from there.
JJ: Basically, your first performance yielded a good chunk of
JS: Yeah, I know. (Laughs.) Strange, huh?
JJ: I was gonna ask what the songwriting process has been like
since then. Does it all still come out of improv?
JS: Yeah, we've never rehearsed. It comes out of our shows. It'll
come out of "that thing is good, let's do it again tomorrow and let's try to
develop it from there". That's how it was. [The] Ray Parker [Suite]: part
II on the record. That was never played before that. It was my birthday
in Ithaca, New York and the song we played became a song. It was actually
written on the spot, right there. We didn't add anything to it. That's
pretty much a live performance of that song. We never played it again on
that tour, and then we listened to it and we're like "that's wicked. Let's
continue playing that." Had we not listened to it again, it never would've
I know of about five or six shows from the first part of this tour that I'm
going to go home and listen to because there's some great music there that
we'll end up creating tunes out of.
JJ: What’s the process of relearning something from a tape?
JS: Good question. Depends who you ask. If you ask me, I listen
to it… If I had my way, I'd bring the CD in, and try to get a general gist
of what it was. If it's Dan, he asks me what it was and I tell him. If it's
Darren… Darren doesn't really want to hear it again. He'll hear it from us
and he'll just try to create a good pocket. To me, it's a little different.
He can change his bit every night on a specific piece we might be working
on. I can't, really, because I'm probably carrying the melody and trying to
work it out.
Usually, the way it works is that I'll listen to it and I'll try to remember
it in my head, because I can kind of pitch it out in my head, and then go to
them and try to work it out. And then not tell them and just bring it up in
the middle of the set. That way, it's not like "when is that song going to
come?", it's more like "here it is and what are we gonna do with it?"
A different approach that we've taken recently with a lot of our older songs
is that we draw out the beginning a lot more before we go into it. That
helps develop a different approach to the song as the whole.
JJ: This is sort of an abstraction of a previous question, and it
might just yield the same answer as the previous question, but: the songs
grow out of the improv, which means that your songwriting is going to change
with your improv. I was wondering what about those chunks are different —
like the difference between Back To The Middle and Ray Parker,
JS: The way The New Deal approaches it songs… If you drew 'em
out on a flow chart or a mathematical diagram, it would be pretty easy to
notice that we take a line that we like and then we play it forever.
JJ: Use the term "minimalist", please.
JS: Right, exactly. Steve Reich, Philip Glass, the esoteric to
repetitive music. I could never stop listening to Steve Reich. It's some of
my favorite music: beat it on the head and you can't help but like it.
We've ended up branching out in the way that we approach our songwriting in
terms of improv'ing. One of those is that we're attempting to have more than
one line repeated over and over. Might that be a continuous melody, yes,
over four phrases as opposed to one phrase repeated four times. An example
of that is Technobeam, which is on the record. There are, like, eight
different parts to that song, and there's six different melodic things that
we do. None of them are the same. That has a high element of improv to it,
Take a song like Exciting New Direction, just played once and then
never played again 'til we heard the tape. The approach right now is to try
to do something with less notes in it, even less than that, to see how
minimalistic we can actually get in creating a melody that people will
recognize as being a piece of music. It could be just one note, but nobody
would recognize as a piece of music. The other thing is the exact opposite,
to try to create a melody that is long and flowing.
JJ: You guys started off being self-managed. Gradually, you've
taken on outside help. I was wondering what led to that?
JS: We were reluctant to give up running The New Deal. Then, we
gave up running of The New Deal. Now, we're sharing the running The New
Deal. We're taking a lot of stuff back, because we want to be heavily
involved in the direction of The New Deal. We just weren't happy. It wasn't
the label's fault. Things get farmed out when you hand it off to somebody
else. They farm it out to somebody else because they're doing their
overseeing it and somebody else is taking care of it. Our answer is that
we're willing to do legwork. Oversee it, farm it back to us. We want to be
the people doing the legwork. We need to be very hands-on with promotions,
we need to be very hands-on with design, for web, for musical direction, for
all of those things.
We accept the headache of doing it. We had the headache and we farmed it off
to other people, but we still had the headache. It wasn't getting done how
we wanted it to get done. We took back a portion of it. They oversee it, we
oversee it, but we do a lot of the work. We tell them we're happy to drum up
some more publicity, because we're right in the eye of the storm. You don't
have to get the publicist to make friends with the person, we're already
friends with the person. Just have me call and I'll report back to you and
I'll tell you what's happened. It's a tricky situation to get flowing in a
smooth way, but we're trying.
JJ: What kind of stuff do you end up doing yourselves?
JS: We run our merchandise. We run out site. We run the email
list. We participate in the HQ. We share press work with our management and
our label. We do all our ads. We do everything, mostly.
JJ: Who designed the spaceman logo?
JS: Which one, the new one?
JJ: The original one… well, I wanted to ask about the evolution
JS: The very first one: Darren and I were just looking for logos
one time, and we were talking on the phone and we were both on the web. And
he was, like, "go to this site", so I went to the site. We didn't know what
we wanted. We got to this website that had an mp3 of the Russian astronaut
that got lost in space – that died in space – in 1962 or whatever and the
Russians didn't announce it for 15 years. He couldn't get back to Earth.
They had an mp3 of his goodbye and his final heartbeat.
JJ: Oh no!
JS: We were like "whoa, this is heavy. This is just bad." We were
perusing this site, and they showed his uniform, and he had the grooviest
space helmet ever! We're like "that's pretty cool! Why don't we get
our friend to draw us a space helmet and see what it looks like?" So, we
phone him up and he looks at the picture. That design is done with marker.
One marker. Done. That was it. "That's incredible!" To us, it summed up the
band. It kind of had a spacey feel to it, it's kind of at the forefront of
this style of music that we were doing.
Fast-forward two years to Philadelphia when we were there in mid-May [this
year]. These guys showed up, I didn't even know them, and they're like "what
do you think of this?" "Who are you?" Then I looked at. (Excited
voice.) "Whoa! This is the greatest thing I've ever seen!" It was their
attempt, their updating of our space helmet. They designed a space helmet
which was a completely modernized version of what we had. It was a perfect
progression. Then they proceeded to design the rest of our album art.
Everything you see on the record is what they brought us. There's the cover,
the profile shot, and one that's on the inside. They designed the website.
They did some other stuff, some flyer stuff. They're just a couple of fans.
The first one I saw was the profile shot and I was like "whaaaaaaat?"
JJ: A general directional question. Where do you see yourself
headed? Are you going to continue with the house stuff? Do you see a limit
JS: I don't see a limit to that at all. If you can write
melodies, and create chord progressions. If it has a dance beat, it doesn't
matter, it can still be a memorable song. My aim, 'cause I don't really
listen to dance music at all, is to just write the types of songs that
people remember and they can sing. It's funny when, at the end of the night
and there's nobody else around except for the bartender and the cleaning
staff, and they've never heard of us before, but you hear them going
(sings Glide). They don't know why they're singing, but they heard it
and they remembered it. I'd like to do more of that. It doesn't matter what
rhythm it is.
JJ: The way you really should do it is just record a whole bunch
of shows of straight improv and see what the bartenders are singing at the
end of the night. Make those your songs.
JJ: How many shows did you record?
DK: I think the number 60 is somewhere near what we did.
JJ: How did you pick out the stuff you wanted to turn into songs?DK: In a couple of instances, I'd walk off-stage and go "that thing we played about 20 minutes ago, that's gonna be a song". I'd write that down. That, for example, because the same song Ray Parker, that was recorded in Ithaca. Then, Exciting New Direction was actually just a Moog solo over a really exciting vibe, and that was in Atlanta. I was like "that was great, we have to use that".
At the same time as we were multi-tracking them, we would burn CDs of two
mixes of the shows and then disperse them through all and have a little
meeting. "This part, I like it, a minute-thirty-five; then we'd go reference
the multi-track tapes and go from there.
JJ: Are you still conscious of that even though you're not
working on another album? Are you still conscious of little bits you can
turn into songs?
DK: In the last week-and-a-half, I'm beginning to lament that we
didn't bring this recording rig to every show we play. It's a wide sweep.
It's a drag. You have to do so much taping on the off chance that something
really cool and different is gonna come out. Typically, we don't remember a
lot of the little nuggets. On the record, it's maybe three minutes long, but
it was 30 seconds long from this recording from Montreal. That's the kind of
thing that only happens once and disappears, and I guess that's why people
tape the shows because the one time it occurs is something different. If the
rig were just a tiny bit smaller, it'd be so easy to do. It'd be great.
JJ: Well, technology is developing.
DK: Yeah, I suppose. I suppose.
JJ: It's definitely great to be able to take a 10 second chunk
and manipulate it.
DK: Or even just to remember it so we can play it again. I don't
know if we're gonna make another record like this. I don't think the next
record will be so live intensive, just because in making this record, we did
some stuff sitting in Jamie's basement and made songs out of that. Some of
the more successful tunes on the record were written that way. But that only
came as a result of having spent hundreds, thousands, of hours on learning
what The New Deal can sound like when it's pre-meditated. In that case, by
chopping stuff and making decisions.
JJ: What was the process like for the stuff you did record in the
DK: Well, "in the studio" just means in Jamie’s basement.
JJ: Right, right. The "studio".
DK: It was a critical decision which was "we need more stuff and
we're tired of running through the tapes. Let's go to Jamie's house and just
record three hooks that we know and we wanna put on the record as opposed to
finding them on the tape". When we first recorded, when I listen back, some
of the more interesting stuff was the jams that we did around the hooks. In
fact, one of the songs that's on the record was just an outtake of one of
those things. The benefit of doing that was that we played into a
click-track. It made editing a lot easier because of the fact that this
genre of music requires riding a relatively steady tempo all the time. If
you're essentially arranging a song on a computer afterwards, if it's not
lining up to a grid, it's so exhausting to make everything sound musical.
That took a load off me, in particular, on two songs that needed to be that
way. That was great, I suppose. That's what I'd like to try more of on the
JJ: When you listen to a 10 second chunk of something recent that
you've played, what would be different than, say, a 10 second chunk from
DK: I'd say the first thing, the biggest difference is how we
play now and how we played then, is that we have the capacity to play a lot
faster and a lot more intensely. The majority of the record is kind of set
up that way. I would immediately say that it's "a little more uptempo, and a
little more aggressive than what we used to play". Otherwise, I'd say that
the record really forced me and Jamie in particular to listen to what the
bass did against the keyboards all the time to make a full-sounding track,
be it on the record or live.
If I listen to the record, I'd think "wow, this is well arranged", from a
snotty musical point of view — which all of us, to some degree, come from.
I don't think it would be possible to play in a band like The New Deal if we
didn't have some kind of inkling of that arrangement already. In terms of
stepping on each other's toes, we didn't end up doing that on the record.
JJ: How much is premeditated at a given show? 'cause you
obviously have songs…
DK: We've never made a decision to, say, "we're gonna start with
this and then we're gonna do this and then we're gonna do this" or even just
"we're gonna start with this to start the set", largely because what
determines the start of the set is gonna be whatever the DJ is playing right
before, 'cause most of the time we'll just lift off what he's doing it and
play on that and modulate into something else. A lot of the time, either
they key we're in is a good factor in making the decision as to where we're
going next, or a relative key for the sake of keeping with the flow. Or, if
we want to radically change it, then we'll find something that has nothing
to do with what we're playing.
We don't have any mandates to make sure that we get all the hooks into every
show. If you do 20 or 25 shows in a row, especially for us, we're gonna be
bored out of our minds if we fall into a rut. It often pushes us to spend
less time trying to integrate what we've done up to this point, and just
stretch out on whatever we happen to be playing.
JJ: I've noticed that both you and Jamie refer to them as "hooks"
and not "songs".
DK: There are songs that we've made out of the hooks. From a live
perspective, we're less successful in taking advantage of those hooks if we
play them just like the record as opposed to doing what up until now The New
Deal has been known for, which is just riding with whatever's happening. The
notion of a song suggests its a pretty static arrangement and everything
else. That's the thing that's troubling in terms of addressing them as
JJ: Do you think the improv that goes in or out of a certain hook
has a certain characteristic that's related to the hook?
DK: Yes, I do. Immediately on either side of the hook, a lot of
the time… It would be hard to take a hook that we've played, a really
aggressive hook, and make it a really soft, melodic, beautiful song. On the
other hand, there's a song on the record called Glide, which is
really down-tempo versus how we play it live most of the time. There is some
flexibility before. Often I find that if we play a head, more or less the
way we always play it, what follows immediately afterwards is often in
really stark comparison to it. We'll drop to something super quiet and then
find something entirely different to do. I think that serves a couple of
purposes. I think it keeps us interested. I think it keeps everybody who
comes to shows more than once a year interested as well. We have a really
different mandate when we play live than how we make a record for a record
company in particular as opposed to just making a record.
JJ: A lot of the ideas in electronic genres are very repetitive,
very much based on long cycles. How do you keep it interesting for yourself,
while keeping the movement true to the long cycles?
DK: When we started I think that I myself felt that I had to push
and push and push. I'd be playing very hard all the time and developing and
making developments around those minimalist ideas. One of the benefits of
having played together so much is that the focus has shifted to giving it a
long time to breathe around that idea. As you develop stuff around it… I
might have another note in my bassline, or I may change it to another range,
or I may have two lines that I switch between but they work around the same
theme. Jamie and I are pretty kinetic in that way in terms of the pace at
which we build things melodically and at the same time we refer to Darren
doing the same things just in terms of intensity level.
You can do a lot with a really simple idea. In fact, pretty much all the
time that's the way to make a good song. In fact, the reason we're able to
sit back and chill out on that is because we don't feel that we have to
overwhelm people anymore. We've got a tremendous amount of license with the
people who are coming to listen to us play, so we're gonna let it breathe a
little bit and let subtleties come through, as opposed to hitting people
over the head with new ideas every 10 seconds, which is what we used to do.
It's funny: the more you play in a context like this, your technical ability
increases by leaps and bounds, but the best way to take advantage of that is
to play simpler things way better. That's what we're doing more and more
JJ: How do you keep yourself from playing too much?
DK: In the event that we're not at our peak performance, or if
we're in a less-than-inspiring moment in the musical program (which does
happen from time to time), you can feel the energy sag. It doesn't matter
how much. It may be contained, it may be the three of us. At that point,
I'll just stop playing and it'll force a change and give me a chance to
clear up or whatever. It'll necessarily make everybody else react. It's like
a little reset thing. It's all about the energy. The minute you feel you're
tapped out, that you have nothing more to offer after what you're playing
now, to whatever the jam is that's happening then, then it's time to back
off. That's the mark of a band that knows its limits. You've probably seen
dozens of bands who just keep slamming away at something that everybody's
really tired of. Somebody's gotta make the decision to take themselves out
of the equation. One of us always does.
JJ: The majority of your sets are improv. I was wondering if,
beyond the books, there were any – for lack of a better word – tricks for
things that you can do that you know will elicit a certain reaction or will
move the band in a certain direction.
DK: The most obvious trick is a sustained, very intense build up
on Darren's drums to the point where it's so obvious that we've gotta come
across the wall and the lights are going mental. Darren's really good at
building up that tension. That's a trick, but it's not employed as one. "Oh,
we'll really fool them now." I think they're all related to changing the
dynamic of the room. I think the one thing that we never sat around and
verbally agreed on, but it's a tacit understanding of the band, but how we
make music is based much more on levels of intensity than anything else and
what kinds of moods you create as opposed to creating a wicked hook and
playing it over and over and over again, like a mantra — the one thing that
everybody's sitting around and waiting for. That's not the focus. All of the
tricks that we employ are things to radically change the dynamic, the energy
level of what's happening.
JJ: Like you said before, The New Deal is a live band, and all of
your albums – with the one deviation of the new one – are live albums. This
new one, you obviously have to listen to at home. I was wondering what
context you imagine people listening to this music in.
DK: At home. Right away. There are performers, artists, musicians
out there, who you can imagine doing a live, unplugged version of their
songs sitting in your living room; if you could afford to hire some famous
songwriter to come reinterpret your songs there. That's definitely not The
New Deal. It's very seldom that people – in the jamband fanbase, that's a
different group of people – will put on a record with one track on it, 60
minutes long, and you ride with it and imagine yourself at a show. That
seems to be what the benefit of listening to a live show of The New Deal.
Sonically, it drives me mental to listen to a live show of The New Deal
because it has none of the volume or intensity of actually seeing the show,
and it doesn't have the clinical approach to making it sound as best as
possible as a record does. There's no sense in having a record that's 110%
live, crazy energy all the time. It definitely leans to that side, anyway.
I think we wanted to have pint-sized versions of New Deal shows, but
something that's sonically treated so that if you listen to it at a low
volume it doesn't sound lame. And you can also identify, for newbies to The
New Deal, you can identify the band by song as opposed to 60 minute sets. I
think it totally serves a different purpose.
I think even with the live EPs we have. The first one, I find much more
listenable at home than the third one, for example, which is a really
rough-and-ready balls-to-the-wall show. I don't think we would have taken
advantage of the studio if we had just done that.
Most people listen to music very quietly in their car. I think that's where
we aimed at. The review that we got in Eye Magazine in Toronto said "it's a
great record to clean your house to, because it gives you the necessary
elements of hardcore push to really mop the floor and then it gives you a
chance to chill out before you go out and tackle the carpets or something".
(Laughs.) But if it works…
JJ: That's funny. I think of the third [EP] like that, 'cause
everything is really adrenalized and twice as fast and really bright. That's
one of my Sunday cleaning records.
DK: I guess I just need to be less distracted by what I'm
JJ: Well, for me, cleaning is such a mindless task that I slap
that on and drift away. It's either that or punk.
DK: I put on the most immemorable, mellow house compilations to
JJ: Huh. I need something driving — either something I can dance
to or sing along to. Are there any records that you looked to as models
when putting the new album together?
DK: I don't think in terms of the technical approach, there
really wasn't any template to keep in mind. In terms of records to emulate
on any level whatsoever, I think that if there's any insecurity on the part
of The New Deal is that if we aim too hard to do a dance track or something
like that we're at a loss because we can't compete with a lot of the sounds
that dance music employs — drum machine sounds. For better or for worse,
they've become the measuring stick of what drum sounds are in dance music.
We're trying to recreate those with live drum sounds, recorded – in some
cases – in really awful circumstances. If we're doing a house track, we
can't say that we want to sound like this house track because, typically,
the entire instrumentation is entirely different. It was liberating after we
got over that insecurity and said "this is just gonna be a New Deal record,
there isn't anything to measure up to". It's not a self-congratulatory
thing, but it's more to say that we can't possibly put ourselves in the
position of being measured up against as Basement Jaxx record or a Daft Punk
record or a whatever record.
The way that we make music with this band, the philosophical approach, is
"this is what we're limited to: we're limited to the sounds of these drums,
and these three or four keyboards, and this bass player". We didn't have to
reference anything. I've made rock records before where, after you record
the guitar sounds, you're mixing the guitar the sounds and you're switching
between your track that's coming through the board and a CD of Guns 'n Roses
because you want your kick drum to sound like Guns 'n Roses. "Does it sounds
like that yet?" "No." "Well, if it doesn't sound like that yet, it's not
gonna be a good sounding rock record." We weren't in that position. That's
great. That took a long time to figure out.