The New Deal: A New Era

By: Matt Beck

The New Deal
As a mentor of mine is famous for saying, "If you're not gaining, you're losing," and it is this exact mentality that drives the New Deal. This Toronto-based live-tronica trio has been at the forefront of all things jam since their inception almost 12 years and 750 shows ago. Following an impromptu jam session that was later released as their first record, This Is Live, the band knew they were on to something fresh and rapidly spiraled away from Toronto's acid-jazz scene.

Now they are ten albums deep. The newest, Live: Toronto 7.16.2009, will be available for digital download on February 23 with hard copies hitting the street next month. Tempted by the novelty of a "Live from Tokyo" record, the band originally thought they'd release one of the shows from their successful Japanese tour earlier that summer. However, this recording ended up being the stand out.

"There are a lot of different things that have to be right for a New Deal show to become a live record, and this show really stuck out as a nice offering of where we're at right now musically," explains drummer Darren Shearer. "We never discuss our show before we play; we just go out and perform. Some shows don't translate well in a recording. If you were there and were rockin' out with us, it might make sense, but it may be a little too intense on record. It may not be something you'd listen to in your car."

Jamie Shields by Brad Johnson
Shearer continues discussing tND's progression and why they chose to release the new record through SCI Fidelity rather than their own label, Sound+Light.

"We did the major label thing and we found that they generally didn't know what to do with us. They were happy with the fact that we'd gone from zero to hero, drawing 1,000 people in our city without having a record out and nothing on the radio, that we were able to play New York City and Los Angeles and draw decent crowds so early in our career; they were intrigued by that," says Shearer. "What they ended up doing, which was real ironic, was promoting to our existing audience. It was part idiocy and part insulting because our audience is way more in-the-know than the record company. You don't need to tell our audience that we have a new record out - we drop one little message on Facebook and everyone knows. We really hoped they would break new ground for us, but they just didn't do that. We were moving up, up, up, then we signed a record deal and our career started plateauing."

For the release of the new live record, SCI Fidelity just made sense. They already have the infrastructure, the customer base, and a good track record of getting this music out to the people who love it. Especially in light of the band's other projects, it was a no-brainer. Bassist Dan Kurtz is touring and recording with retro-pop sensation Dragonette, keyboardist Jamie Shields runs a successful commercial music studio, and Shearer operates a children's creative arts program in Toronto and shoots documentary films all over the world.

The New Deal by Brad Johnson
"We are realizing that there are so many parts of the world that want to be hit up with our music," says Shearer excitedly. "We broke Asia, which was amazing. There is a full replica of the jam band scene there, which proves how truly international this music is. It communicates to people in a very profound way, and that can be done anywhere. A cool thing about the New Deal being an instrumental band is that we can play to any language. As far as they're concerned, we're playing in Japanese."

Shearer says, "We're all in this together." Their stage setup reflects this, with Shearer and Shields facing each other stage front with Kurtz standing center stage and slightly back, forming an all-powerful triangle. This not only allows them to fully absorb the crowd vibe but also enables them to maintain constant communication. Using hand signals and lip-reading to dictate the musical key, tempo and genre allows them to seamlessly flow throughout the show. With the ongoing goal of always taking it bigger, the band is also very excited to introduce a new lighting design. Unlike many other touring bands, the New Deal wants their display to remain analog; think Blue Man Group.

Continue reading for more on the New Deal...

We broke Asia, which was amazing. There is a full replica of the jam band scene there, which proves how truly international this music is. It communicates to people in a very profound way, and that can be done anywhere. A cool thing about the New Deal being an instrumental band is that we can play to any language.

-Darren Shearer

Photo by: Brad Johnson

The New Deal's musical style concentrates on tension and release, soaring peaks and dark valleys that insight pure frenzy in a live crowd. Don't let the New Deal's sporadic touring fool you. They are fully aware of how to build anticipation and avoid sonically drowning their fans. All of their shows are recorded digitally, however, they resist releasing each show as many bands are choosing to do these days, although their open trading policy allows hungry fans to keep pace.

Darren Shearer by Brad Johnson
"We discovered early on that we didn't want to do the New Deal thing all the time. We want to have families and other musical projects. Be that as it may, we love when the New Deal comes together and connects, especially with our audience. [We want it to] feel new and fresh as opposed to feeling like we're banging ourselves into the ground, touring our faces off," says Shearer. "Playing improvised sets every single night, night after night after night, is a bit taxing. That being said, the last couple tours, for some reason, the shows go by SO fast. We used to take three or four breaks per set. Now there are times that we don't even take one. Time flies when you're having fun, as they say. I'm not jaded or bitter by where we're at right now. It's totally fine."

The New Deal is a true passion project for these guys. Shields and Kurtz have known each other since grade school, and their first band was The Weathermen Groove Tube, who counted Shearer among their fans. Shields single-handedly posted messages on music boards across the U.S. and sent free copies of tND's first demo (which eventually became This Is Live) to the first 100 interested people, resulting in up to 500 people attending their shows on their first tour across the States.

"A refreshing aspect about improvised music is that you get to play what you want. New Deal sets end up being a real reflection of where each individual is musically," says Shearer. Bear in mind that tND has only rehearsed three times in their entire career, and only because a singer joined a tour in 2003. "Dan has brought a lot to this band over the last few years. With his recent forays into the pop-electro scene, he has brought a new aspect to the band that Jamie and I have grabbed a hold of and gone with as well. We bring what we want to the stage without ever talking about it."

The New Deal
"I think improvisation has a stigma attached to it - just jam out forever until the club lights come on - which is not what the New Deal does. Although it's improvised, we actually try to create real songs in real time; songs that have an intro, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus so it feels like its not just one big long jam," explains Shearer. "Jamie is amazing at putting together structure so it always resolves back. People feel like they are getting songs, which is what we wanted from the beginning. They get a whole movement of music with four or five songs within it."

While Kurtz tours the U.K. and Canada extensively with Dragonette, Shearer and Shields host their pet project, The Join. The purpose of The Join is to take the New Deal sensibility and bring it to other players. It provides an invigorating and evolving way of spreading the message of improvisation by inviting a revolving cast of players to "join" them. "[It's] being able to play with your good friends and using that as a cool platform to explore," says Shearer. The Join currently have three March dates booked in the Midwest with Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein of The Disco Biscuits and have previously jammed with David Murphy of STS9, Marco Benevento and Joe Russo of The Duo, and Tom Hamilton and Clay Parnell of Brothers Past.

It is a new era for the New Deal. They are opening new markets, delving into places in America that they haven't hit before, and exponentially increasing audiences where they have. Many jam band fans have a natural electronic sensibility, which is apparent in the direction of music today. Bands like the New Deal continue to perplex the mainstream, which is totally fine, and as long as they continue to progress the art form, an awesome mixture of people will continue to get off on it.

The new record will be available for download from on February 23.

The New Deal has a few shows starting February 23 in Charleston, SC. Complete New Deal tour dates available here. As previously mentioned, The Join has three March dates booked in the Midwest. Complete Join tour dates available here.

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