We had the opportunity to chat with Dan Kurtz, bassist for the recently reformed and reunited the New Deal for Live for Live Music. Having made the decision to get back together with Kurtz’s fellow Dragonette bandmate Joel Stouffer behind the kit, as opposed to original drummer Darren Shearer, we discuss he and Jamie Shields’ decision to move forward with the current lineup, the transition from taking a couple of years off to getting back out on the road, Shearer’s decision to sit this one out, the ever-changing state of tND’s music, Catskill Chill, and more.
L4LM – First and foremost, how does it feel to be back?
DK – Fucking awesome! Playing New Deal music, when it’s great, is the best thing….and it’s great most of the time. And I think for that first show back, at the Hudson Project, it really was something new. We had Joel as opposed to Darren and we needed to not only figure out our own roles but to satisfy the crowd, who plays a major role in our live shows. So, that was a relief and a great feeling.
L4LM – Now that you have that show, as well as a full summer of tour dates under your belts, how is the comfort level at this point with this new lineup?
DK – Well, the comfort level is awesome. The next challenge is for us to get extremely comfortable with out new gear, individually, in that we all have some new sounds going on, and just to get that familiarity, and kind of take the interface element of making music, and concentrating on the fluidity of the music, as opposed to be like ‘what the fuck happens if I hit that button?’. The relationship of technology to the music has always been behind the scenes for us, a lot of mastery of the gear to establish, in order to just focus on the music. But the gear is also important for the sounds that we are creating. The more that you can learn what your gear can do for you, the broader the palate of music that can be created.
L4LM – Especially for you and Jamie. You both have fairly elaborate rigs, even just on your bass.
DK – Totally. My bass rig has undergone a major overhaul, and has opened up a lot of different possibilities in terms of running stuff through plug-ins through the laptop, with the computers running through it, making it a mind-bending journey of what is actually possible. The only downside to that is that computer are somewhat unforgiving in the sense that you kind of have to anticipate everything you want, and build controls and parameters for everything you think you might need, map them to a limited set of physical set of controllers that I use with my feet. Once a week I sit down and try to monitor the speaker with all of my gear around and I sit and program as if I were writing an app, so that’s certainly new.
L4LM – That certainly sounds like a learning experience in and of itself. So, I’m sure everybody wants to know what was the major factor in the decision of the “Why Now?” in the reasoning to come back and hit the road once again?
DK – Well, it certainly was a confluence of a couple of things. One was when I heard that new Daft Punk record, it was a signal that EDM was quickly broadening its palate to re-include the retro side of bass music. ‘Retro’ meaning where it all started, and we have always had our feet in that world from the beginning. And the last couple of years with Darren we were kind of increasingly coming up with music that was super hi-fidelity, super loud EDM sounds that didn’t lend themselves particularly well to what we do and how we do it. And I kind of felt like what we did at the time, or at least what we did really well wasn’t where things were headed in the scene we were playing. So, I felt that the re-inclusion [with the Daft Punk release] of those sounds and sensibilities with real instruments, and maybe even more of a melodic sense, was back in play, and we could be a part of that. That’s a very esoteric assumption that I made.
And then beyond that, in terms of the nuts and bolts of it all, Jamie and I had more time working together on movie soundtracks and music in general, as I had moved back to Toronto (from England). We discovered that 25+ years in playing together was something we realized we had missed. So we figured that having the ability to play again together, as I was now off the road with Dragonette, who I was touring with pretty solidly for two and a half years, the fact that we were enjoying working together again, and people were interested in having us come and play, was affirming in getting us back out there. Then the only wrench in the plan was that Darren wasn’t able or interested in going back out on the road. This was a conversation that started last May, over a year ago, so this was something we have been thinking about for awhile now.
L4LM – So was it a touring thing for Darren? He just wasn’t interested in going back out on the road?
DK – Yeah, I think so. It was more so that his current position wasn’t allowing him the flexibility to take off that much time, because his first priority, at this juncture, is to meet the ever-changing demands of what he is doing right now. So we tried to work around it for a good amount of time, but it just wasn’t happening.
L4LM – That is certainly understandable. I’m sure it was a tough decision for him, but you get to a certain point in life and tough decisions need to be made. So, with Joel, you work with him in Dragonette and have a solid musical connection, but it’s a very different style of music when comparing it to the New Deal. How has that transition been? Has Joel been working with you and Jamie for awhile now in preparation of getting ready for these summer dates and get tND back on track?
DK – We did a lot of playing together, and luckily, Joel understood it very quickly. In retrospect, it really wasn’t a surprise, because Joel came up playing as a jazz musician. So the idea of improvisation and playing off one another, and not just playing part-oriented music, was pretty easy for him. What we were concerned with was just getting on side with the message of transitioning and communicating that Jamie and I would be very hard-pressed to rewrite, you know what I mean? Well, the two of us do it this way, so instead of us changing, as opposed to the three of us coming up with something from scratch, well, you’re going to have to integrate into doing it the way we do it. It wasn’t like a fuck you thing, it was more like it would be very hard to undo 1400+ shows of Jamie and I working together.
L4LM – Now that Joel has settled into the mix of being the drummer of the New Deal, have you come up with any new tracks? Or is it more so just going out and concentrating on playing each show to the best of your abilities?
DK – We’re just at the stage of feeling everybody out, and stuff will evolve from there. The sure thing, by virtue of the fact that Jamie and I have always worked with the method, has never really lent itself to ‘hey, let’s write some new music and present it in live shows’, most of our music has simply evolved from live shows. It’s almost like an oral history of sorts, we just keep it live, instead of recording things. We did that a long time ago, and some of those songs have carried on throughout our history, but both Jamie and I prefer the kind of ever-evolving part of tND. We never feel at any point, ‘Ok, we have to record and document this and then put it out.’ That could change at some point, but it is not the ethos of tND.
L4LM – What are your thoughts on your upcoming Catskill Chill set? I know a lot of “Chill Fam” are very excited for tND’s set at this year’s festival. I promise you one of the best crowds you have seen in awhile.
DK – I can say this, I fucking love playing festivals, especially jam-oriented festivals with the New Deal. It has always been our strongest market, for lack of a better term. The appeal for me is simply, at this moment, I get to play a show, I get to play outside, and I get to play for a bunch of people that are coming from all over the place; it’s a great way for us to celebrate coming back. I mean there is a magic to club shows, especially really sweaty ones, but this time of year you are hard-pressed to really want to play in a club. It’s been a long time since I looked at my calendar and thought that I can’t wait to play every single one of these shows.
But I did meet Josh Cohen at the Hudson Project and he was really excited to chat about Catskill Chill and having us there and playing whatever we want musically, and that makes you feel good. What could be bad about that?
L4LM – It really is a fantastic festival, with an intimate vibe that will be clear to see as you walk around and then make your way on stage to play. But you also announced several other show moving into the Fall, at Red Rocks, Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas, at Terminal 5 in NYC w/ Conspirator, Philly, Dominican Holidaze and several others. Are you guys looking to continue this into 2015, or are you going to take some time to regroup and look to see what the future holds?
DK – Well, we are definitely playing in 2015. We will probably take some time off in December, and then look into more dates. But that is all subject to the will of the people; if the fans want it, we’ll bring it. In order to ramp up a Canadian band to play even one show, the amound of infrastructure with road crew, visas, and whatever else you can imagine, the up front load in order to do a show is phenomenal. But once those things are in place, it becomes so much easier to concentrate on putting together incredible shows for our fans, and having so much fun doing that. So the only caveat in putting this all together was making sure that people wanted to come see us play.
L4LM – The visa situation is that difficult, huh?
DK – Yeah, it gets harder every year too. But in doing this for a long time, you understand what it takes, and are that much more prepared to deal with what can sometimes be an extremely tough situation.
L4LM – So, what is going on with Dragonette, now that the New Deal is back?
DK – Well, we are writing music. We actually have a single that is coming out on Canadian and Belgium radio that is going to begin a rather steady stream of Dragonette songs, which will eventually result in a tour. But, we have never had any problems making this all work out. And given the fact that Dragonette isn’t based in England anymore, and I don’t have to fly across the ocean every time the New Deal plays a show, it will make it that much easier. Basically, any New Deal show that I was playing, I was waking up in the UK and flying across that day to play a show that night. And that is something that can be extremely draining after awhile. Two year ago I flew 156,000 miles that year doing Dragonette and tND shows; I think it added up to over 400+ hours of flying. So, without that kind of issue, there is more work that can be done.
L4LM – How does it feel being in two successful bands?
DK – Pretty damn good, man. I’m 42 years old, and to be able to do this is pretty fucking great. And it’s a testament to a couple of things. One is the awesomeness of the members of both bands, the people that I work with. Working with someone like Jamie has been incredible, and I hope that I have had some of the same influence on him musically that he has had on me. It’s really great to be able to work with people that are excellent at what they do, and that goes right down the line to our sound and lighting guys. And, if you look at it, if you swap out Jamie for Martina [Sorbara – lead singer of Dragonette], you now have Dragonette, all the way down to the crew and the gear. It’s been a super luck of the draw type circumstance.
I just want to say thanks so much once again to Dan Kurtz for taking the time to chat with me and discuss the current state of the New Deal, Dragonette, and the Catskill Chill. It certainly means a lot coming from a long-time fan of the band.
– Chris Meyer (@Chris MeyerL4LM)
*** Tickets to this year’s Catskill Chill, which takes place September 5th-7th at Camp Minglewood in Hancock, NY are currently on sale. Get your tickets here! ***
Take a listen to the New Deal’s show from The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD on July 12th, 2014, via Archive.org:
[Thanks to Elana Gershuny for taping]