The Enduring New Deal and Joys of The JOIN
You’d be hard pressed to find busier Toronto musicians than the New Deal’s trio: Darren Shearer, Dan Kurtz and Jamie Shields. In April, 2007 Jambands.com explored the New Deal hiatus and Kurtz’s international pop project, Dragonette. This month we take a look at Shearer’s and Shields’ new projects which encompass their exciting new venture: the JOIN, Shield’s uber-cool Toronto studio and his toddler son, and Shearer’s Scientology centre.
Contrary to popular opinion, Shields and Shearer have not been glumly waiting around for Kurtz to return to their beloved electronica trio. They’re too busy enjoying the endless honeymoon period that is the JOIN their newest project that sees them collaborating live with their favorite musicians. We caught up with the two to learn the latest.
Lara: So Darren, tell me about the idea to start the JOIN.
Darren: The JOIN idea is one part necessity, but also one part new idea now with an opportunity to materialise. Jamie and I have always enjoyed playing with other players in an improvised setting, and The JOIN is sort of an expanded platform for us to create in that area. It’s a bit self-indulgent too being able to play shows with musicians that we, ourselves are fans of.
Improvised music has somewhat of a stigma attached to it, often looked at as something that has no structure or direction in it. But our approach in the New Deal has always been to create actual songs in the moment and to think ahead as to how the whole set will take shape. It’s very cool to practice that concept with other musicians.
Lara: How did you guys feel about Dan’s focus on Dragonette? Was there a sense of loss?
Darren: I think that Dragonette is something that Dan had been really burning to do. He has a tremendous talent in the studio, and his wife is a great singer-songwriter so it was inevitable that they would do something together. I support him completely, and wish him all the best on it, but of course it would be nice to have him around more to do shows. TND cut down on its touring years ago, due our lives changing and such, but we still love playing shows together and will continue to do so for a long time I think. That’s why we’ve come up with “The JOIN” and chose to keep tND line-up intact.
Lara: Do you not think it’s at all unusual, that you’d maintain such good friendships under the circumstances?
Jamie: It would be incredibly shortsighted to be upset with anybody because they have a band like Dragonette that’s taking off. I mean, what’s the whole point of the exercise if not that? Dan’s been my best friend since we were 14 years old. I wouldn’t jeopardise that because he had a chance to have a really popular band. I’m sure there are people who would. But I’m not one of them.
Darren’s a pretty versatile guy. He’s the only guy I know who can get two major record deals in his life. He deserves it; he’s one of the hardest working guys I know.
Lara: Have you heard Dragonette’s album? Tell me about your initial reaction
Jamie: There never was an initial reaction for me. I was hearing it every step of the way. I went over to England to play some music with Dan. And then every time they made changes to a song, they’d send it to me. I heard these songs back when they were still called The Fuzz. I like the record, I think it’s great. Hunky bass player!
Darren: I’ve heard the album and I like it. I urge everybody to check it out.
Lara: Right, so aside from the JOIN, Jamie you’re a relatively new dad and you’ve building a studio. Tell me about the studio
Jamie: I’m building it in the basement of my house with my partner, Adam White. It’s almost finished. Our recording company is called Studiocat. There are three rooms: the recording room, the control room and a lounge, which is currently used to house my keyboard collection. Martin Pilchner, a studio designer extraordinaire, has designed ithe didn’t seem to mind slumming’ it for a bit.
Lara: What is the focus of the studio?
Jamie: It’s both for myself and for producing other bands. I produced an album for a band called Moses Mayes. I realized afterwards that it would be much easier if I had my own studio and didn’t have to charge bands full studio rates. One of the biggest problems is that bands run out of time. This way, we can make the record on our own schedule. I won’t be renting out the studio to anybody willy-nilly, but its certainly for the stuff I produce and the stuff we do for TV.
TND did some commercials before, for Genuine Draft Beer and Nike. I do a bunch of TV shows. They’re not cooking shows, they’re more like restaurant shows, like building a restaurant and all that crap. The music that we get to do is all over the map; there’s classical, jazz, and middle-eastern, it’s all over the map. One of the shows is called Opening Soon, about restaurants and the other is Opening Soon by Design, which is about fashion. And there’s a lot of other cool stuff that I can’t tell you about yet
Lara: Have you found being a daddy has changed your career?
Jamie: It’s changed things in so many ways. I used to love to tour heavily. And I just can’t do that now. I can’t go away for several weeks or months, because I just don’t wish to leave my son for that long. And one of the reasons why tND cut back touring was that I had to find ways to be a musician but not rely on having to go away. When I went away to make that Moses Mayes record, or even that tour we did the other way, I come back and even in that short time, at this age, they’re changing. When I’m away a week, that’s a pretty big amount of time in their small lives.
I was still touring pretty heavily when I got married. And it was like pulling teeth to get five days off. And I was thinking, “Well, if I can only get that amount of time off for my wedding, how’s it going to work when I want to go see my kid play baseball?” So, it was a big thing to me.
Music is my priority in life but so is my family. I have to be able to balance them both. I have to find something that works. The studio is a big part of that. The JOIN and Omega Moos also – they enable me to be able to play and still spend lots of time with my family.
Lara: And Darren, you’ve been working on a Scientology centre?
Darren: Yeah, it’s a “Life Improvement Centre” that will offer Scientology services like Scientology counselling called “Auditing” and courses that are aimed specifically at an area in one’s life that they would like to improve. It’s how I came to practice Scientology- by taking a course. We also offer a detoxification program that uses the sauna, exercise and very specific vitamins, minerals and oils that aid the purging of residual toxins, drugs, and even radiation stored in the body that can adversely affect you both mentally and physically. It’s something that really changed my clarity of mind and awareness. We have been renovating the building for over a year and are very close to opening. We’re very excited.
Lara: So with multiple irons in the fire, what touring do you plan to maintain with the JOIN? Pretty much I’m wondering how this will fit into your lives.
Darren: It’s a juggling act for sure, but Jamie and I love playing, and always look at doing shows as a vacation from our other lives. We don’t have a set amount of shows that we plan on doing. It’s based on our schedules as well as the people who we approach to play. Like our music, the schedule will be improvised. (laughs)
Lara: Tell me about the tour schedule so far.
Darren: This summer, we have plans to play with Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein of the infamous Disco Biscuits, and Clay and Tommy from Brothers Past. There’s a lot more collaborations in the works
Lara: Will the material covered be strictly New Deal material?
Darren: No, per our improvisational concept, we will focus mainly on creating new music. Although, we usually begin each tour with an evening rehearsal to get musically acquainted and go over the sign language and basic communication on-stage. I imagine we’ll touch on some tND as well as the music of the specific musicians that we’re playing with for example, we played a STS9 song with David Murphy on the last run.
Lara: Can we expect an album, perhaps each track with a different guest? Pretty cool, but high maintenance
Darren: Yes, a very good way of putting it. But yes, at some point we’d like to release a compilation of live songs with maybe one or two studio tracks on there as well. Jamie is building the most “boss” studio at his new place in Toronto, and I’m excited to break it in, drum-wise.
Lara: Who are you most excited to collaborate with?
Darren: We’ve reached out to Tony Levin (of, among many others, Peter Gabriel fame) for another project. Not sure what is happening with that. That would be pretty awesome. Other than that, there are a lot of great musicians that I can picture in the JOIN. It would have to be someone who understands the specific craft of improvisational music and one who can think on their feet. We just finished a run with David Murphy and he is most definitely someone of that mindset.
Jamie: The thing with David Murphy was beyond anyone’s expectations. We had high expectations. It was beyond what we thought it would be. He’s a fantastic bass player and a fantastic guy.
I’ve also played with Marc and Aron a lot but playing with Darren as well will be a totally different dynamic and pretty cool. And there’s the Omega Moos – but that’s not the JOIN. It’s always Darren myself, and Ryan and Brendan from Umphrey’s. That’s also a blast.