OVER THE past few years County Galway band The Deans have moved from being a blues rock trio to one whose sound embraces folk, jazz, psychedelia, and roots.
This journey has culminated in a new EP which reveals the extent of how far the band have come from their beginnings, in the early/mid-Noughties, as electric guitar wielding worshippers at the altar of Rory Gallagher and Peter Green.
As The Deans - Gavin Dean (vocals/guitar ), Gary Keon (drums, saxophone ), and Ronan Lally (bass/vocals ) - began to tour widely across Ireland, Britain, and the Continent, they began to grow disenchanted with blues, finding the genre too restricting and the European blues circuit too safe, too much of a ‘Groundhog Day’ experience.
It was time to broaden the horizons and to embrace and explore different styles of music. The first instalment of this change was the Distraction EP. It saw the trio drop the ‘blues-rock’ tag and allow in elements of country, psychedelia, folk, pop-rock, and hard rock. These days, the trio prefer to be called ‘roots rock’.
“We have a vast amount of influences,” Gavin tells me as I sit with the band for a Monday afternoon interview. “There are brass sections on some of our songs, piano and keyboards, and pop-hooks. Roots encompasses them all - folk, blues, jazz - we’ll use it until we don’t need a label.”
Yet roots-rock is, for many, interchangeable with country-rock or Americana. “People coming to our gigs expect a lot of different things,” says Gavin, “but they usually go away satisfied.”
The band are about to release their new six track EP, Roomworks Vol 1, on iTunes. Noticeable on these new songs, which were written by Gavin, is the emphasis on vocal harmonies (‘How Long’ ), a quiet/loud dynamic (‘Follow The Sun’ ), and above all, how the songs are built around the acoustic, rather than the electric guitar (‘Lonely Like Me’ ).
“It reflects the influence of JJ Cale, The Band, and The Kinks,” says Gavin. “What I like on the acoustic guitar is its resonance, its woody undertone. It is a very good base to build a song around, you can build it up from the bottom. It also gives space to allow the vocals room and to develop vocal harmonies, rather than being drowned out by the electric guitar.”
Gary believes the move to feature more vocal harmonies in the band’s songs is due, in part, to Ronan who joined about a year and a half ago. “Ronan is a strong singer and his voice encouraged us to take a chance and go in this direction,” he says. “After that, the harmonies just fell into place.”
The band are just back from a long tour which has seen them play The Edinburgh Festival, Liverpool’s The Cavern Club, London, Paris, dates in Spain, and a music festival in Malaysia. Their next show is in Galway city when they play Monroe’s Live on Friday December 28, and for 2013 there will be shows in the USA and Asia.
“It’s been non-stop,” says Ronan. “We’ve been on the go since July/August. Touring and being in a band is a way of life. A lot of people find it hard to commit to and it’s not for everyone, but my time has been amazing. Just hop in the van and next you’re in Paris or New York.”
The French connection
Despite the almost ‘never ending tour’ schedule The Deans have, they are fortunate to have a place where they can rest, recuperate, write, and record. A friend of the band runs a hotel situated just half an hour outside Paris and he has given the top floor to them which they have converted into a rehearsal and recording space.
“That has played a part in the way our sound has developed,” says Gary. “We have the time and the space to experiment. We don’t have to worry about studio deadlines and bills for recording time.”
Such a luxury could breed excess and self-indulgence but the trio maintain a sharp focus on keeping the songs tight. “We will do a song and then cut it,” says Gavin. “We’ll see how it works, where it can be trimmed, so that by the end what is left is there because it has purpose.”
According to the band, Roomworks Vol 1, represents only a small fraction of the work they have recorded and are developing for future releases. “We have so much material,” says Gary, “and we plan for another six tracks to come out as Vol 2.”
France has also been good to the band, with their music receiving a warm reception from the French people.
“It’s just fallen well for us,” says Gary. “We played a lot of bistros and juke joints at first and it seemed the whole town would come out to see us. Every small town has a festival and we get to play many of those. More recently we have been playing in Paris, where we’ve gone down well.”
Although the band are not based in France, when it comes to the tour and festival circuit, they acknowledge it is a good central location to have during such times, while also being close to Ireland and Britain. However the band’s furthest excursion yet has been to Malaysia.
“It was billed as a jazz festival,” says Gary, “but it featured all kinds of music, like at the Montreaux Jazz festival we had the opportunity to play at in 2009. At the Malaysian festival we were referred to as ‘the rock band’. Young people loved what we were doing and what we are about. It’s opened up a whole new audience.”
Tickets for The Deans Monroe’s Live show are available on the door or through www.monroes.ie and 091 - 583397.