WHEN THE Deans released their debut album in 2008, they were a hard rocking, fretboard burning, blues band, but the last year has seen them evolve into an altogether different kind of rock’n’roll animal.
They still ‘got the blues’ but these days the Athenry trio bring folk, country, acoustic rock, and psychedelia into a mix that demands the band be described by the broad based term ‘roots rock’ rather than just ‘blues rock’.
Galway audiences will have a chance to hear the band’s new sound when The Deans - Gavin Dean (guitar/harmonica/lead vocal ), Gary Dean (bass/vocals, and Gary Keon (drums/vocals ) - play The Crane Bar, Sea Road, on Friday July 23 at 9.30pm.
“Our sound has changed, it’s more diverse,” Gavin tells me as I sit with the band for the interview. “Some parts of the show are acoustic, others a cappella, and then we go crazy with some psychedelic jams.”
Gary Dean: “We listen to Muddy Waters but then we want to find out the roots of Muddy Waters and that leads us to folk-blues and country. We listen to doo wop, Dean Martin, Bob Marley, and The Band are a huge inspiration.”
Perhaps the major influence on The Deans is Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac. What began as a blues band were soon incorporating all kinds of sounds into their music from the very gentle to laying the grounds for heavy metal.
“Peter Green is a big inspiration to us,” says Gary. “In some parts of the album Then Play On Fleetwood Mac go almost country and I don’t know where ‘Albatross’ came from.”
Yet The Deans are no musical magpies, simply interested in snatching styles here and there. It is all about learning and absorbing the new inspirations in an effort to create their own individual sound and style. A hard driving tour schedule across the European continent over the past 18 months has been essential to this.
“We played the Montreux Jazz Festival last year and that was a great experience,” says Gavin. “In Ireland if you don’t know a band you tend to stand at the back of the hall, but at festivals people come right up to the stage and want to see what you are doing, that creates an atmosphere.”
“They were about to pull the plug on us as we’d gone 15 minutes over time,” says Gary, “but the festival organiser said ‘No let them off, this is the best thing I’ve heard all day!’ which was great.”
Travel broadens the mind and playing the prestigious Montreux festival as well as a blues festival in Holland and a pop festival (also on the continent ), has encouraged The Deans not to allow themselves become boxed into any corner musically.
“The blues scene on the continent can be stifling and you could just get stuck on that circuit,” says Gavin.
While there is no doubting how crucial and seminal a musical form the blues is - it did after all give rise to rock’n’roll, rock, hard rock, blues rock, and metal - like any genre based music, it can suffer from formula and cliché. As the old joke goes: “Well if this is a blues song/I just gotta sing the first line twice.”
“We love the blues and it is my favourite kind of music but we want to take that and from there make our own music,” he adds.
The first real sign that The Deans were beginning to explore beyond the confines of the blues came with last year’s six-track Distraction EP.
“The EP was a change,” says Gavin. “There was harmonica and acoustic guitar there and the songs had a more topical, political, point of view. We were going for a sort of old time sound and I think we got that woody undertone on the EP. ‘Distraction’ and ‘Snake Dance’ got a great response in Europe and airplay in Ireland. The EP was a breaking point for us, it encouraged us to keep trying new things and now we feel the possibilities are endless.”
Another of that EP’s key tracks was the majestic ‘Princess of Catalonia’, inspired by a trip to that beautiful and very distinct nation in northwest Spain.
“I really like Catalonia a lot,” says Gavin. “I like how patriotic they are. It’s rare for that many people these days to believe in the same thing. Recently one million people marched through Barcelona calling for independence. I think it’s great.
“The song itself was inspired by other things and is quite dark and the reason for the title doesn’t reveal itself until the very end.”
The song attracted some attention from Catalan audiences who were keen for a translation of the lyrics. “We were in Tarragona and there were these girls were asking what the lyrics meant,” says Gary. “We met an English guy there and he translated them and we asked what he thought it was about and he said ‘Sounds as if she was havin’ none of it!’”
One thing that remains constant is the band’s impressive skill as musicians, particularly Gavin, who is widely recognised as a phenomenally talented young guitarist. However were it not for Kurt Cobain he might never have taken up the instrument.
“I played drums for a year before I played guitar,” he says. “I was going to drum lessons one day and the teacher had Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ playing while he was setting up the drum kit. It was like something out of a comedy film, but it was like the doors were blown open by the sound of that song. I’d never heard anything like it before. Most people think it was blues that turned me onto guitar, but no, it was Nirvana.”
As well as playing The Crane, The Deans will also play Whelan’s in Dublin on Wednesday and Dolan’s in Limerick on Friday July 30. They also plan to release a new single ‘Worried All The Time’ in October.