Q & A with keyboardist Erik Deutsch
Since studying music at the University of Colorado and moving to Brooklyn after living in the area for a decade, keyboardist Erik Deutsch has gone on to play with Norah Jones, Trevor Dunn, Erin McKeown and, more recently, finished a three-year stint with Charlie Hunter. Prior to that, while living in Colorado, Deutsch played in Fat Mama, studied with Art Lande and also performed with Ron Miles -- two musicians he lists as major influences.
Deutsch set up shop in New York six years ago, where he formed his own band, which includes Fat Mama guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and bassist Jonti Siman, as well as drummer Mark Dalio and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, who all appear on Deutsch's outstanding new album, Hush Money.
Deutsch and his cohorts will release Hush Money locally at the Boulder Theater this Thursday, January 21. There, they'll be joined by Miles, pedal steel player Glenn Taylor, trumpeter Jon Grey and saxophonist Jon Stewart. A few of Deutsch's other friends, Jefferson Hamer and DeVotchKa's Tom Hagerman, are slated to open the show. We spoke with Deutsch about the new record, studying with Lande and the extent of Miles's influence on his compositions.
Westword: In your bio, you mentioned that Hush Money could be an amalgamation of your life-long music influences. It seems like there's a lot of different stuff going on in there.
Erik Deutsch: I definitely think it is, I guess. Unless, maybe, if I had ten albums under my name, and I said, "OK, I'm just going to make an album of this kind of thing," I would do something specific. But at this point in my career, I guess all you can do is try to do is put what you do on your record and hope it works.
I happen to be someone who does a lot of different things. There are a lot of different music paths that I go on in my musical life. The fact that I play in a lot of rock bands, that I play a lot of jazz music, that I've played a lot of experimental music and all these types of things -- they just kind of add up and make the whole of what I'm trying to do with my stuff.
I think that Hush Money definitely has different sounds on there. It's a little more clear in terms of going different stylistic ways and kicking into different genres. That was intentional. I think it worked out pretty good. I think there's a thread that holds everything together somehow.
WW: I can see that. Even though the tracks differ somewhat musically, there is a sort of cohesiveness throughout the whole album.
ED: I guess I always listen to records and look at balance, like one song is completely different sometimes and it doesn't fit. Like, "OK, we've got this kind of song and this kind of song and this kind of song," and we balance out the record in that way. I think that's a process I've been through before, either with records I've made or records I was helping produce. I guess it's kind of how this works. We've got some groovy ones, some crazy ones, some funky ones, and lets mix them up and see how they work together.
WW: One thing I thought was really cool was having Sara on bassoon. I saw her play with Wayne Horvitz's Gravitas Quartet. Is that where you got the idea to throw her into the mix?
ED: Well, that's where I met her. I was in Europe with Charlie Hunter, and we and saw them play in Austria. We had the night off and hung out with them, because they're our friends. That was the first time I met Sara. I knew Wayne, and I knew Ron Miles, of course. We were on a train maybe a week later in Slovenia, and we pulled up to stop and they hopped on the train with us, and so we got to ride on the train together for five hours or so.
Those kinds of things are really fun about touring, in Europe, especially. I got to know Sara, and that was right before she was about to move to New York City. I thought, "This girl is amazing. It would be great to have her for a gig." And I had already used a bassoon in my band, but never anyone who could improvise on the level of Sara. She's a master.
So we got her going in the band and it just stuck. The vibe was great, and she's a great person to hang out with. The more we did it, the more we had the songs feature her. And especially in the studio, we were able to get a lot of her going. It can be a little challenging live with the bassoon, like trying to rock out.
WW: She was really doing some really cool stuff. It's rare that you get to hear the bassoon in that context.
ED: I know, and I'm really glad that's she's a part of it, and I'm glad the people appreciate it.
WW: Tell me about making the record.
ED: After Sara joined the band a couple of years ago, we started playing together all the time, and the lineup kind of stuck. After we got the lineup together, some gigs going and some tunes, we thought it was time to record. We went into the studio called the Bunker, here in Brooklyn, and made it in just a couple days. It's a pretty cool little studio with a lot of good gear and some good sounds. We recorded it on to tape instead of using the digital recording medium.
I felt like these songs could benefit from some extra vibe and warmth. I wanted this record to sound more mysterious and full of intrigue, and somehow, I thought that recording it on tape would give it a sense of mystery and intrigue, that maybe if we did it with a real crystal clear digital recording, it might not have the same thing. To go along with that, the piano I play on this record is not, by any means, a great piano. It's got character, but it's kind of a beater of a piano. I like that. I think it adds to, it because it's not a super sparkly $50,000 instrument or something like that. It's kind of an old warhorse.
We went in there and recorded mostly live. We had some guests come in there and play some horns. Then we took each track to Jonathan Goldberger's house. He played guitar on this record, and is an old buddy of my mine. He went to CU and played in the band Fat Mama that I was in a long time ago in Boulder. We took the tracks to Jon's place and started doing some overdubs. He started doing a lot of guitar work. I put a lot of keyboards on there. I brought a lot of keyboards over, and we'd do things and meet for a few hours here and there. He started doing a little mixing.
We spent about four or five months doing that. We spent the whole spring mixing, which was cool. I never did it like that. I always just went to a studio and just hammered it out. So it was pretty neat to take the time. Jonathan really has amazing ears, and he's a great worker, and I really trust him with all things sonic and also musical. That's why he's a co-producer on this album with me. He's just someone I've known for a long time, and I'll trust his taste forever.
We took it out and mixed and mastered it at Airshow in Boulder with Dominick [Maita], an amazing engineer. He's another guy with an amazing ear. I ended up putting out the album myself with the help of my family, my dad, especially. I've always had a little bit of help, although all of my records have been independent productions or have been on small labels. This is the first time I did it all myself. That was a nice learning experience.
WW: Are you going to be playing with the same people on the record at the CD release show?
ED: Unfortunately, it's only to going to be half and half. Jonti and Mark, the rhythm section, are coming with me. Glenn Taylor is going to play pedal steel guitar. We've played for over a decade. Jon Grey and Jon Stewart, who are old friends of mine, they're going to play saxophone and trumpet. Ron Miles will play the other trumpet. These are all people who have played my music many many times over the years. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the whole band out there this time, but that will happen some day.
WW: Speaking of Ron Miles, you guys have been collaborating for a while, as well, right?
ED: We sure have. I came out for college in Boulder in 1995, and I heard about Ron really soon after. I saw him play at Herb's Hideout, and I talked to him and ended up meeting him at the school he teaches at the Auraria campus. I had a lesson with him, and maybe a year or so later, I got a call from Ron to play a gig at Trio's, which was in Boulder. That was the beginning of it. I definitely think that guy is one of my all time favorite musicians and favorite people. Someone I would consider a mentor and such an inspiration in my musical career. That guy's amazing.
WW: The title track kind of reminded me of Ron's music.
ED: I have to tell you, I was writing a song on the piano last night and I said to myself, "This sounds like a Ron rip-off." The thing is, I kind of smile about it because I kind of have a feeling that Ron knows that he's kind of put his stamp on me and other guys in Colorado. I think it's a great thing.
I think other musicians have put their stamp on Ron, although Ron is such an original. You can't avoid it. It's unavoidable to not being influenced by people. So when I write music there's going to be Ron Miles in there, and there's going to be Art Lande in there, and there's going to be Charlie Hunter in there. These are my people. So yeah, I agree with you. That "Hush Money" track definitely reminds of some Ron songs that I've played over the years.
WW: You studied with Art Lande, as well, right?
ED: met him when I was eighteen, right around when I met Ron. I probably knew Art before Ron. I started studying with him and took weekly piano lessons for the better part of ten years. Also played a ton of music with Art, because Art is a really good drummer along with being a pianist. We had a piano trio; we played piano trio music there for a year. I think we rehearsed every Monday for four or five years. That band was called Triangle, and we actually had a record that was out on the Synergy label.
Erik Deutsch Band, CD release party, with Jefferson Hamer & Laura Cortese and Tom Hagerman & the Guerilla Ensemble, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, January 21, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street (Boulder), $12, 303-786-7030.