The Joining of The New Deal and The Disco Biscuits
Brothers Past’s Tom Hamilton has played guitar with The Join and you also play in the Omega Moos with Umphrey’s McGee guitarist Brendan Bayliss. How does having a guitarist in the mix change your dynamic?
In all honesty, I think I first had the idea for The Join when a guitarist like Jon Gutwillig (the Disco Biscuits) would sit in with the New Deal. Those moments really made me realize that we can sort of create these little songs on the fly. The Omega Moos is a different band than The Join and Umphrey’s McGee. It started because we were good friends with those guys, and it has really taken a life of its own. The cool thing about it is that since Umphrey’s McGee’s arrangements are so complex and so well rehearsed, there is a real freedom and creativity that emerges when you take those players and put them in a totally free, creative environment. It is the same thing with the Biscuits: they have 300 songs they can draw from counting covers and originals. So The Join is an arena for total free expression. But this is not navel gazing music—it is an outward flow of music to the audience. We play dance music.
There is something to be said for playing introspective music and then there is something to be said for just playing really great, experimental dance music.
Exactly. As an aside, I really like the fact that this interview is for Jambands.com as apposed to Spin or something because jamband people are the savviest musical audiences on the planet in regards to how the music is put together, the whole look at the music from the purpose of the players, and how they come together. It’s not a fad of the month and The Join is not a typical side project either—there is a real understanding among all the musicians involved. I love playing in this genre. In the past you’ve had certain bands that were kind of fringe jambands that sort of denounced their affiliation to the jamband scene, or said, “We’re not a jamband.” But whatever—I’m so proud to be a part of this genre because it is truly all about the music. It’s not about how cool your hair is that night or whether or not some blogger really likes you so now all of a sudden you have lots of people at your show. The fans are the most loyal people and everyone gets what everyone does. And everyone also knows alternatively when you’re faking it. When you come out and you try to be something you’re not, its like the audience knows, they’re like “Yeah….no.”
Only just recently did Spin and Rolling Stone and corporate America and Canada start trying to get in on this movement that is not affected by record sales or by radio. A few years ago everybody realized that you can play music that doesn’t go away when the next Hannah Montana movie comes out. At first it was bands like the Flaming Lips and bands like Pavement that realized that and now you have people like Radiohead saying, “Put us in front of 50,000 jamband fans.”
The jamband scene definitely gave birth to the modern American festival circuit in many ways.
Look at somebody like The Roots. They have been a longtime performer for the jamband audiences, and I think there’s a lot of value in it.
Shifting back to your own projects, the New Deal toured a fair amount in the past year or so and even has a new live record. Have you found that your time in The Join has changed or focused the New Deal’s sound in any way?
It’s a good question, and I think The Join has definitely influenced some of the New Deal’s sound. There are certain grooves that Jamie and I have picked up from other players that have played within The Join. I think the biggest influence on the New Deal’s new sound, though, has been Dan’s involvement in Dragonette. He has definitely brought it a little of that electro-rock sound into his bass playing and that whole world to the New Deal. It has made me less afraid to move into these almost techno-rock moments. At times it reminds of David Murphy’s style of bass playing. But playing with Dan in the New Deal has made us a little more open and less scared to embrace some of these taboo sounds. I think it all intertwines in this big matrix of different performances.
Jamie’s played with Brownstein before so they’ve got a good musical relationship, and I think Jamie’s brought some sounds back from those bands into our sound. I’ve been trying to incorporate some electronic sounds as well into my set—just for diversification—and that has brought more to The Join’s table as well. I think the nice thing about The Join is that because it’s improvised we get to bring to the table any ideas we want.
Have you thought about recording a Join album with a mix of guests?
I thought it would be cool to do a DVD where we played a big show in New York City, have all these different guests come out and film it. Logistically that would be a total nightmare putting everyone’s schedules together, but I think that that would probably be the most realistic way to capture The Join on record or DVD. But, now that you mention it, I’m thinking it would be kind of neat to maybe throw some tracks down and get Brownie and whomever to lay their parts down in the studio and have the Postal Service approach to a studio album. The only thing is that The Join in the studio takes away from the essence of The Join, which is again creating songs in the moment in front of people.
Speaking of albums, the New Deal recently released a live album that documents a Toronto show from this past July. Why did you decide to release that particular performance?
I think we had been looking for a show that did capture our “new” sound. I think we moved into a new era of sound for the New Deal. We record every show, and sometimes we record a matrix recording where we get an audience recording, the soundboard recording and put them into a stereo kind of digital track. But the cool thing about our Toronto shows is that they are one notch down subdued-wise for whatever reason. I don’t know why but they are a lot more conducive to a live record because of that fact that when you’re at a show and it’s full on in your face aggression, its feels awesome when you’re there, but is not going to be the kind of thing you want to put in your car while you drive to work.
So when we listened back to the Toronto show we were like, “Oh, it’s got an intensity and it’s got a lot of the new aggression and new sort of like intensity but there’s also a bit of a controlled element as well.” I think that that also comes with maturity a little bit too. When we first started in on this new approach, Dan was bringing in these amazing bass sounds—he was setting up these pedals, and he was playing with a different amp. He just created an amazing wide spectrum of sound to choose from, and I think we were like kids in a candy store at that point. Now we have pulled some of that back and created a little bit more of a controlled sound. We can turn in on when we want to and off when we don’t so that Toronto show was something where we capture that new era for us.
That same idea is reflected in The Join as well. When we did the first Join show with Murphy four years ago we hadn’t hit that point yet. We were still into the deep house, although we rocked it a little bit, but we had that chillness. And then when we did that Duo tour it added this whole breakbeat element—The Duo are very break-oriented. They have a real, sort of, almost like old school hip hop groove mentality. That’s what I really like too about The Join: We can launch into this 95 bpm or 100 bpm tempo stuff and you see the heads bobbing, and you’re suddenly in a totally new mode.