By Mike Powers

The New Deal has been shaking dance floors in North America with their trademark sound of “live progressive breakbeat house” only since 1999. Hailing from Toronto, the New Deal is quickly bridging the gap between the live music and dance communities everywhere. As a trio of musicians, the New Deal produces a sound that seamlessly flows from one song or style into another, just like a DJ set. This band is guaranteed to make you dance into the night and keep you coming back for more. Darren Shearer (drums/percussion), Dan Kurtz (bass) and Jamie Shields (keyboard) have found a way to blend electronic styles with an improvisational flair. The result has kept music fans grooving from coast to coast. While in San Francisco this past January, the New Deal sat down before a sold-out performance to chat about their roots, a new record deal and their growing fan base.

Powers: There seems to be quite the word of mouth phenomenon happening with The New Deal here in this country. What’s your take on that? Do you see it happening in each new city you play at?

Jamie: It’s definitely from our performances and allowing people to tape our shows. We just went into Colorado and there were 300 people at the club waiting to see us for the first time ever there. The fact that even half of that crowd had heard about this band, who are from another country with no records in stores, is remarkable.

Darren: We definitely owe it to the word of mouth phenomenon and tape trading of the jam band scene here in the States.

Powers: Is there a difference between your crowds in Canada than in the States?

Jamie: The shows that we play in Toronto and Montreal are more oriented to the dance crowd and not the jam band scene. We have more control of where, when and how they happen and the way they’re marketed. Typically most of the people who attend these shows are very much into commercial dance radio and live DJ’s. What’s remarkable to us is that these aren’t your typical jam band fans. Their exposure to new music seems to come from club DJ’s. These people seem to have made a leap of faith by going to see us, a live band, which I’m sure most of these people wrote off a long time ago... that’s the real mystery to us, we can’t quite figure out how it’s happened. But it’s cool. That’s getting people out of a 100 percent dance oriented DJ culture-based way of seeing music into going back and seeing live bands again. We’re all very proud of that, especially in Toronto.

Powers: Do you find the band spreading out of Canada and into upstate New York at all? I just listened to a pretty strong show of yours from last Halloween in Ithaca.

Jamie: Wicked! Upstate New York to us means Ithaca for the most part, period. For some reason we’ve hit Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, but the crowd comes out stronger for our Ithaca shows at the Haunt and now the Odyssey.

Powers: Does a set time or length make a difference to you guys? I caught a pretty short set of yours at a CMJ showcase gig at S.O.B.’s in New York City last fall. I think you had about 45 minutes to play and then Logic came on, but you blew everyone away in that short time.

Dan: Typically it’s not about how much time we get to play. There’s something really good going in and doing a short set and walking away with people having their mouths wide open. When that happens it’s awesome.

Powers: Are you seeing any sort of cross-pollination between the jam band and electronic crowds at your shows now?

Jamie: Yeah, we’re at least trying to sway the electronic crowds back to checking out the people who actually make music and not just spin it.

Powers: How’s the new record label deal working out with with Jive-Electro? Are you finding that you have more resources to work with?

Darren: We’re trying to record our new record live while on the road. Jive definitely contributed in allowing us to do that. We have all the gear we need to do that thanks to Jive. A lot of our best stuff comes out while we’re on the road and connecting with audiences on stage. Jive actually told us to not to stray too far from what we do now.

Jamie: They came to us…we didn’t come to them with a polished demo asking for a deal. It’s a real shocker to us when a major label comes to you to tell you not to shorten up your material, but instead encourages you to stick with your natural sound.

Powers: So you can hand in a 45 minute single to Jive and they’ll be cool with it?

Jamie: [laughs] Well, I supposed we could do that, but we’re still allowed to release live records on our own record. We know we can cut songs that are 30 minutes, but we’ll probably leave that to the live records. There’s a real challenge trying to channel everything we do into a shorter movement, and we’re really excited to tackle that challenge for the upcoming Jive record. Hopefully we’ll make it slightly different than our typical live record by trying to condense our energy. It’ll be more interesting.

Powers: Would you like to hear yourselves on the radio?

Darren: I would like to hear our selves on the radio. If that happens, that would definitely show that radio is evolving. As long as we don’t devolve or sway from what we trying to be I’ll be very happy. If you’re hearing The New Deal on the radio, then hopefully you’ll be hearing Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers a lot more too!

Jamie: There’s different ways of spreading the word about great bands these days. There are groups like Phish that have relied solely on word of mouth and are tremendously successful. But then it’s also possible to combine word of mouth with radio play like Dave Matthews does or even like the Barenaked Ladies do to an extent. Dave Matthews is going to gross a million dollars at every show no matter what, but when he does have a single out…it’s going to be total cake for him. I ideally look at a song being on the radio like being a teaser to going to a show. I hope we can promote our shows by putting out an album that represents our live energy.

Dan: I don’t think there’s any greater feeling to a band that’s good at what they do, than performing in front of large amounts of people. You can’t describe it.

Powers: What’s been your biggest show so far?

Jamie: Our home shows get into a thousand or so. New York City is probably getting into a thousand or so. We’ve played to thousands before, but there not always there to see us. [laughs]. We’ve done the festival scene plenty of times.

Powers: What’s your take on those larger bills when you might be the opener or the overnight band?

Jamie: We’re all about it. It turns the people on to us. That’s a cool feeling when you win an audience over. For example we opened up for St. Germain in Montreal. It was a pretty elite electronic music crowd. We rocked the house. It was totally insane getting a killer response. We only had 4 minutes to sound check, but we blew the crowd away. Typically clubs aren’t thrilled to see a band roll in like us. They aren’t used to seeing so much equipment roll through. But it’s the ultimate payback when you walk off stage thrilled at blowing an audience away and club management.

Darren: We try to be cool to everyone…the sound guy, bartenders and owners everywhere we play. There’s too much attitude in the music business. We hopefully think that in the end the music speaks for itself. Right now, we have an Internet news group out there with 200 names or so on it. Jamie monitors it a lot. We’re psyched that people are spreading the word!

Powers: How important has the Internet been to The New Deal?

Dan: We love to respond to our fans. They treat us with respect and we want to return it to them. If you looked at The The New Deal as a pure business, most business would be psyched to get the criticism and feedback that we get via the Internet. Most companies would pay for surveys and stuff. [laughs] We play music and have developed a fan base that our interested in giving us feedback and trying to get us to come play every city. You have to support that!

Jamie: We get a lot of emails weekly, especially from places we haven’t even been to yet. It’s amazing. That’s why we try to hang out and talk to people at shows or respond to the emails.

Powers: What do you think of your devoted fans?

Dan: Well they must be intelligent if they have a computer. [laughs]. We’re always hip on meeting them.

Jamie: Hell some of them on the newsgroup describe what they’re going to be wearing to our shows.

Darren: I love opening up for a DJ at times and winning over crowds, particularly electronic crowds that aren’t into the band thing. It’s also awesome when we play with other jam bands and win those kids over. It’s cool to see that the jam band crowd has an appreciation for our music.

Powers: The New Deal can definitely bridge together some different scenes it seems here in the States.

Jamie: Worldwide too! This is the year of getting to know America…every snowy corner of it! I just sent out a CD to India to some guy who ordered one. I also sent a couple over to Finland and England. I think our sound can be pretty universal world wide, particularly since we have no lyrics. Electronic music is definitely growing worldwide. Drum beats are on the radio in India even!

Powers: There you go, tell that to Jive, “let’s get India Top 40 on the record first and watch Soundscan units grow!” Was that part of your deal when you signed? Having the ability and resources to go worldwide with your record?

Jamie: [laughs] That’s key. The States are important too, but it would be so easy to go overseas and win some people over.

Dan: San Francisco by car is a hell of a lot farther from Toronto than London by plane. It would be interesting to me to see how we would fit in over in Europe. The New Deal fits into an entirely different niche here rather than in Europe. The States have a culture and history of jam bands, which Europe doesn’t have. We’ve been kind of riding that jam band versus electronic fence so far here in North America. I’d be real interested to see how quickly we would fit into the electronic scene in Europe.

Powers: When will the new release happen?

Dan: Well it depends on how many shows we play. We were hoping to have it in Jive’s hands by the end of the spring. So maybe actually out in the public’s hands by the fall?

Darren: I know if we went out there and worked hard over the years like Phish has, The New Deal would draw a pretty decent size audience. But I don’t know anything about releasing a record internationally, but Jive does. We’re psyched.

Jamie: The fact that Jive wants to do this and not ask us to change anything is huge to us. We don’t have to sacrifice our integrity. Our management is renowned for taking acts with strong character and magnifying it. They’ve done it with Sara McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies. Jive has that same vision as our management and us. For the most part we’ve been able to do everything we’ve wanted. Up until now we’ve release 3 records for probably a total of 230 minutes of music and a grand total of 6 or 8 songs. [laughs]. We’re going to keep rolling with it! [laughs]

The New Deal is about to sweep down the west coast for a limited three-show run in California this week. San Francisco music lovers will be grooving into the overnight fog with a smile as JamBase Presents the New Deal at the Justice League this Thursday night - buy tickets now! The New Deal then travels down to beautiful Santa Barbara for a Friday night gig at The Edge before taking part in the Coachella Festival in Indio on Saturday afternoon.

Mike Powers | San Francisco

Powers Interview Archive
  • Robert Walter | March 2001
  • Stanton Moore | February 2001
  • Les Claypool | January 2001
  • Michael Kang | August 2000
  • Karl Denson | September 2000
    Stay tuned for more...
  • [Published on: 4/24/01]

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