Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: Dan Kurtz - The New Deal’s New Deal ::
The New Deal back in March announced plans for a 2014 return, and the sound you heard among the fiercely
opinionated electronica factions of the jam scene was something like joy – the trio has
been long considered a
connoisseur’s choice among jamtronica bands.
Several festival and club dates are on the books starting in early July, but the sweet of
The New Deal reunion is not
without its bitter: drummer Darren Shearer will not be part of the lineup.
In a new interview with JamBase, bassist Dan Kurtz explains why he and keyboardist Jamie
Shields are confident Joel
Stouffer – the band’s new drummer and a member of Dragonette alongside Kurtz – will help
reset the high bar New
Deal fans demand of the threesome. Read on for our wide-ranging chat.
JAMBASE: Why is 2014 the time for The New Deal to return?
DAN KURTZ: Jamie and I had been working together on a film soundtrack for a friend
of ours and as we
were working together under very different circumstances than before, it was like, oh
yeah, we read each other’s
minds, and oh yeah, this is fun, and oh yeah, I wish we were playing live shows.
The thing was, when we stopped, in theory for good, at the time it just felt like what we
were doing had nothing
going for it. We felt maybe that we were getting edged out of the scene we were playing
in. I’d go and watch these
big EDM DJs play and I was like, shit, this is amazing, and we can’t make our band sound
like this with all this
production, and I guess this is where peoples’ interest is now.
Things have balanced out a bit again. I think people see live performance as having value,
not that that’s ever gone
away, but there’s a lot that people like as an alternative to that production –
immediately produced music and that
JAMBASE: I get what you’re saying but I’m also a little surprised – you guys were
celebrated for your
improvisational chops, especially for such an often-criticized section of the jam scene,
and didn’t seem to lack an
audience. Were you noticing lighter attendance or something?
DK: No, it wasn’t that. I mean, I’ve been around long enough to feel the waves of
impact of electronic
music on live music – we’re a product of one of those waves. And I have to say I can’t
speak for the other guys, but it
just felt like for me, at the time, there was something people were digging so much about
super bass-driven EDM
that I couldn’t recreate live.
What we did was musically satisfying and a lot of people were coming but I felt like we
didn’t know what to do next.
But I think it’s going to be really rewarding now being back playing shows with The New
Deal. Me, and Jamie and Joel,
I think we’ve gone back to a lot of the music we grew up listening to – '70s funk and
music – and re-learning
that that still has some value to an audience.
You know, what got me interested, if I could just highlight one thing, is when I heard the
new Daft Punk record. I
actually viewed that as a signal that dance music was taking another turn – if Daft Punk
can make a record that
sounds like that and be celebrated for it well that means that those doors are open. It
doesn’t mean EDM has jumped
the shark or anything, but maybe it means, oh, that old-school funk and house thing can
On the other hand, though, we’ve introduced a little bit more technology. I’ve managed to
adapt my bass in such a
way that I can actually reference a lot of these newer sounds that you hear in EDM. It’s
fun. As The New Deal we can
acknowledge a broad history of dance music, and play it.
JAMBASE: Can you give an example of a bass effect you’ve added?
DK: I’ve managed to trick some software into letting me control synths with my bass
in a way that I’ve been
trying to do for a long time. I have lots of pedals and I worked for a while with an
unsatisfactory product from
Roland. But now I’m running part of my bass chain through a computer and it’s given me
access to a ton of effects –
essentially some sounds that you might consider sounds of EDM: bit crushing, filters, and
when I need it, some really
aggressive synth sounds with my bass and the ability to control the tempo of certain
effects. Stuff like that. It’s been
kind of like building a Lego set in my basement.
JAMBASE: Let’s talk about the changed lineup. Somewhere along the way you guys
approached Darren and
the three of you just decided it wasn’t going to happen together. How did you come to that
DK: I approached Darren last May. In earnest, everybody tried to make it happen and
we held back on
considering any alternative until it became really clear that he just couldn’t commit. He
couldn’t commit because of
the nature of the work he’s doing now – it’s just not a thing where he can book three
months out and be sure that
he’ll be available. I think he gamely tried to see whether it could happen, but The New
Deal is not a full-time job for
anybody and I don’t think he really had much of a choice.
JAMBASE: But to be clear, it wasn’t like he wasn’t interested?
DK: I think he wanted to do it. I don’t know to what degree he wanted to, but I
think if I’m in his position, I
have to look at the logical side and the emotional side of things. It makes you feel all
kinds of weird to move on from
something that was so great when we were doing it. But I think he acknowledged where his
life is at the moment and
didn’t see it happening.
JAMBASE: How do you and Jamie know that Joel is the right man for the job?
DK: Well, the role that Darren played was so much more than the drummer – half the
time he was the
onstage musical director, leading development throughout sections and moving us from one
section to another.
Those are things we can’t afford to lose, so there is some mechanical stuff that Joel
needs to be able to do, and can
do, thanks to his many years of playing jazz.
If Joel couldn’t meet that kind of thing, the jams would be really flat. He’s a different
drummer than Darren, so he’s
under pressure because he has to be able to do what Darren can do at a minimum if we’re
going to keep up what we
do. But what I do know from having played hundreds of shows with Joel is he’s just so
solid – he intuitively knows
what should be played, and my hope is that he’ll feel comfortable enough to explore his
version of crazy. That’s a
comfort level and an experience thing that we expect to develop over time. He’s also a
really fun guy to hang with.
JAMBASE: Are these things you had to impart to Joel? Is it more important he just
get comfortable with what
The New Deal does as a tight-knit trio than give him too much direction?
DK: We haven’t had to have that conversation. Innately, Joel gets what needs to be
there – we would have
been crazy to even go this far without being sure he could do that. But there’s a lot of
room for him, too. I think the
stuff that’s of less interest to me now is revisiting the heads we’ve been playing for 15
years and getting them
exactly right. We’ll still have that stuff that the crowd can rely on as an anchor when we
get really far out there or in
the middle of a jam sandwich, but one thing we’re encouraging Joel to do – and one thing
that The New Deal has
always done – is take leads and drag the band off in different directions.
We can all turn on a dime to meet wherever one guy has led the band. That’s not something
just a drummer could do
and not something that most drummers naturally gravitate toward. But Joel is a multi-
understands the construction and development of multiple parts and he’s had a lot of
experience doing that. I want
him to feel comfortable taking us off-center – we’ll be with him.
JAMBASE: So much of what you guys do is rooted in that live improvisation, but do
you think the three of
you will be composing new music as well?
DK: I don’t know. I think we had the advantage of doing that early in the game.
2001 was when we wrote a
lot of the heads we’re still playing today, and Joel will learn all that stuff and have it
in his back pocket. But I never
find that the pre-meditated stuff is the stuff that becomes the best of it. Sometimes
we’ll play things, and then you’ll
come off a show and be like, holy fuck, that’s awesome, let’s hold on to that and go
listen to a tape and figure out
how to work with that again. From the beginning that’s the kind of stuff I would always
tell Jamie and vice versa –
“That thing you played right there, remember that? Let’s see if we can develop that even
JAMBASE: So are we OK saying The New Deal is back? Are you guys firming up more
plans after the current
DK: Yeah, we’re already talking about next year and what to do. It hasn’t escaped
me that people could
100 percent wholesale not like this new version of The New Deal and just not come – which
means those future
opportunities wouldn’t present themselves. But I have a lot of confidence it will be
great, and if people want us, we’ll
keep coming. Jamie and I have both realized that we have a lot going on, but when you take
The New Deal out of the
whole portrait of what we do musically, something is missing. It’s a huge part of who we
JAMBASE: What else musically are you working on outside of The New Deal?
DK: I’m making another Dragonette album. I’m also working on some pop records, and
known artists but I’m not sure how much I can talk about that. The other thing that’s been
fun this last little while is
that I’ve begun doing some work with a guy who worked on the last Dragonette record. His
name is Davey Badiuk
and he lives at the house, and it’s a factory of music happening here all the time.
Dragonette this year took a bit of a break after a prolonged period of touring, and that
gave me a chance to think
about playing with The New Deal again and maybe making some other records. I think the
fruit of that will start
coming out next year. Davey is really far into EDM and I’ve been learning a lot from him.
I feel good – I feel like the
only limitation I have is how much I limit myself.