The Grateful Web Interview w/ The New Deal
Dan Kurtz gave us a couple of minutes of his time before launching of his final tour with The New Deal (TND). Sentimental and comical, Dan shared with us his favorite venues, music video directors, and moments with The New Deal as well as his thoughts on sexuality in music and the story of how this trio first met.
GW: I'm Abrina with the Grateful Web; we're speaking with Dan Kurtz of The New Deal this afternoon, how are you doing Dan?
DK: I'm doing great.
GW: You're in Florida tonight?
DK: Ya I am, I'm playing a show with my band Dragonette.
GW: Great. I was calling tonight to talk a little bit about The New Deal first, but I check out Dragonette and they seem awesome and I would like to spend some time on that too. But what I wanted to talk to you about was the New Deal and how you just announced that this is going to be your final tour this summer, and I know you've answered this question a couple of times by now but do you guys want to tell us a little bit about why you decided to break up and what projects you all are going to move on towards?
DK: Well, we're not breaking up to go do anything else, I think we're stopping playing as TND because we're not playing the way that we'd like to, or the way that we've always played as TND. It's become really hard to do. Some have other things going on, and in some cases that has gotten in the way of TND. At this point it's become difficult to play 30-50 shows a year with the schedule we were getting to, trying to accommodate everybody. At that point it becomes difficult to operate a band that only play 30-40 shows a year, at our all time high we were play 130-140 show a year. We're whittled those down, there was a sweat spot for a while and that became more complicated, even as we hit 70 shows or 80 shows. Between everybody's schedule commitment, I live in England most the time, Jamie's got two kids, Daren's doing a bunch of other things. In order to get us in the same place to play shows is getting really hard and we would feel the pressure or wanting to play more or feeling! Like we had to play more to maintain the prescience of the band. It was getting to a point where it became really hard to make that happen. It went against the spirit of us first enjoying playing in TND and secondly having it fit into our lives.
GW: Ok, understandable. You've announced one final tour for this summer and fall. You’re playing Wakarusa and Rothbury and a bunch of other really cool shows. What are you looking forward to for the summer?
DK: I think I'm looking forward to not taking a single show for granted and putting everything I have into every show. I think for the most part we've always done that, but there have defiantly been periods where we've had too many shows, you don't have that same urge to savor every second of it, for us now it's about savoring every second.
GW: Cool. And your band mates feel the same way?
DK: Well I think so, I imagine so...I hope so. TND is something we all grew up on, for us it was the biggest thing in our lives for a really long time. For all the music we are all play now, it has a very central roll in the kind of musicians we are, and whenever I play music I can feel how it's being formed from me playing in TND. I think all of us are going to recognize that in the next couple shows, like "oh ya, this is the place where I feel most comfortable when I play music." I really want to savor and remember this. I'm really looking forward to that.
GW: can we expect any special guests or surprises on this tour?
DK: We started talking about that, the funny thing is that we operate best when it's just the three of us. I mean, in very few cases have we had a shitty sound when someone comes and joins us, most of the time it's cool, and in a few rare cases it's like "wow, that was really amazing". At least for us, it always chances the dynamic on stage for us when we have somebody else playing, not that that's a bad thing, but especially now, it's almost selfish because we want to get everything out of the final number of minutes we're playing together. It's almost like all we want to do is play amongst the three of us. After 12 years it's like we have a secret language between the three of us, it's hard to get just anybody on stage and immediately participate. So we become a very different band with anyone else on stage. It's not a bad thing, it's just what TND does best is play amongst the three of us.
GW: Ok. So you have your tour dates lined up and I imagine you been to most of these places a couple of times before to play but can you tell your fans maybe your most underrated venue on your scheduled tour stops this summer? or in general. Places that people wouldn't think to go out, but that you actually really like.
DK: Well, over the last ten years we have played all of these places, other than north western Michigan, big festival, whatever, I can't comment on that, but I'm sure it's gonna be rad. What we started to do a couple of years ago was to play the South a little bit more, or at least south of Philadelphia and New York, which were kind of our hones in the North East. What I’m leading up to is that Richmond, Virginia has actually been an awesome place. I really love playing in those places and I'm really excited that that's on the schedule two days from now. I began to really look forward to playing in the South, at least that's South to me. I'm a Canadian so ...
GW: so that pretty far south for you.
DK: Ya, it's great that we're going to at least get as far as Virginia.
GW: That’s great, and you’re already in Florida so you can't really get an more South.
DK: Ya, I have to actually put on a shirt now, going so far North to Virginia.
GW: So do you want to tell us a little bit about Dragonette, your side project?
DK: Dragonette is a band I have had for about five years; it's kind of the reason why I ended up in England. It's very different than what TND does, phonically, but it's very influenced from TND with danced beats and big bass sythns, but it's a pop band. We actually have a song on the top 100 billboard right now in the UK.
GW: Nice, what is is?
DK: It's called "Hello", and a French DJ called Martin Solveig. I spend so much time in the US and then Dragonette has this whole other world of playing. I was in Brazil, Chile, China. I have been to Italy four times with Dragonette in the last two and a half months. France, Germany, it's just a very different experience, which is great. Where on the one hand TND is all about 30 to 40 minute long songs Dragonette is all about two to three minute long songs. It's almost a different part of your brain.
GW: I have seen some of your stuff on line, and I did an interview with Marc Brownstein a couple of weeks ago and he had also mentioned doing a project with a female after coming out of a band with a bunch of dudes, and it seems like your doing a kind of similar thing with your wife, who is totally beautiful and talented. And what he was saying, it almost seemed like he was like "oh thank God I have this beautiful talented voice and face to represent the music and I don't have to worry about that". I'm wondering if you could talk on that experience a little bit. Maybe it's totally different for you, I'm not trying to ask any loaded questions, but um...
DK: No, that's actually a very interesting question. Being a member of a female led rock/pop/dance band, which there are very few in terms of the ones that have ...when they hit they hit big, like Blondie or No Doubt. They are an anomaly other wise. There are plenty of female artists, but bands that are led by women are a different thing I think. It's such a great world to operate in because there's an entirely different sensibility in the music and there's a different kind of posturing or something. There’s very few rules that we have to follow.
It's kind of like if you're an Indie band you have to look a certain way or if you’re a punk band you have to look a certain way. For us it's been a longer process figuring out what it is exactly. Me, Martina, and Joel are stronger and it actually ends up feeling like a family. You have such a different effect on audiences when it's a band confronted by a woman than a three piece band confronted by a guy. The lyrical content, I would say it’s so much broader but it's not necessarily that, the tone is different. You can't go to the same places as you could with an all guy band, but you go to different places because there's a woman singing. Everything from the sonics, the way that you produce music around the voice is really different and if you want to get sensitive to the lyrics as the person making music, which is my job, then it's an entirely different pallet that you work with, and I can totally understand Brownstein’s thoughts on that. I feel like, on the one hand, I have had the best of both worlds for the last however many years. To be crude, I could rock out with my cock out with TND and then I can go be in Dragonette with Martina, and for me I think it’s made me a fuller musician in a way, which is great.
GW: Really cool, if you could touch on that a little bit more, Dragonette’s just like amazingly sexual, and it’s really fun pop music, and Martina defiantly doesn’t hold anything back, and I’m wondering, does that fall into some of the rules your not allowed to really go there with your all male band.
DK: I don’t know, I think the sexuality that has been in some of the songs in Dragonette , like for a long time a lot was made of that, a couple of songs in particular that were easy to be looked at as a song about sex, period. And, of coarse, I think that about 90% of the songs in the world are about sex. In our case they were, like this little voice, little woman was being so sexual, in a way that was more obvious or more challenging than the Beyonce or Shakira video for example, where they’re wet and dry humping a wall while getting rained on and their nipples are visible through their shirt. We’ve never made a video like that, yet we are much more race-y, for example. So to some degree I think the sexuality of Dragonette is misinterpreted in a sense, I think Martina talks about it in a different way. But I think the places that we can go to, that are harder to go to, like there are plenty of guys, and defiantly tons of hip hop artists who, especially guys, and girls, who are all about talking about how fucking great they are in bed or writing sex songs, like whatever, but anybody can do that. But in our case, the place that we can go that perhaps a three piece all male band couldn’t go are actually the exposing, vulnerability in the lyrics. We have lots of songs that talk about hurt feelings, basically, like betrayal or vulnerability. It’s harder for guys, unless their in like an emo genre, to be able to write those kinds of songs, and we can write those kinds of songs and put them to a dance beat, and make them like a big loud dancing song, but it’s actually about being betrayed or your heart is broken. So that’s what I mean about the places that we can go. From my experience in a three guy band, those are areas that are not often explored by an all guy band.
GW: Ok, so you have a bunch of videos out with Dragonette, do you, can you tell me about which music video directors you have really enjoyed working with?
DK: Well most of the time they’ve been friends of ours.
GW: oh wow, they are really beautifully produced.
DK: Ya, there really, well the first one we made, “I get around” was made by our friend Wendy Morgan, who I think she’s doing Nicki Minaj videos, most recently, but she’s done, um, what was that band Danger Mouse and Cee Lo, anyway, whatever, I sound like I, all of these videos you would know about. But anyway, Wendy’s a great video director, another guy, Drew Lightfoot is one of our best friends, also from Toronto, does work all over the place, and then the one video that I personally really enjoyed was for “Take it Like a Man”, which is where we did like a spoof on boogie nights, like porn shoots, 70’s porn, really good idea. Anyway if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth looking that one up. And then I think the video that eclipsed everything is the one Martina did with Martin Solveig, which I think currently has 30 million views, although we we’ rent in the video and it was just Martin playing tennis, but whoever made that video with him falls totally in line with our sensibility. It’s basically like a spoof on the Royal Tenenbaums. But in general making videos has been really fun and because it’s been about having a really good time with a friend of yours it’s like coming up with a story and then turning it into a really short movie.
GW: Cool, ya, it seems like a lot of fun, what you guys are doing. So you and the other members of TND are kind of living in different places right now, bur do you hope to collaborate with them in the future?
DK: I would imagine it would be hard not to, we play magically together in the sense that we jammed together by accident twice, twelve years ago, and were like “fuck man, this is awesome, I have never felt this way before, lets do this” you know. In terms of the three of us working together, Jamie and I have known each other for 25 years and met in high school and played in a dozen bands before TND, and I think it would be absurd to think that we wouldn’t keep doing stuff together. Jamie is doing a very different thing than I am right now, where I’m making pop music and Jamie’s making music for TV and film. And, although Dragonette ends up having a lot of our songs in film and TV, we don’t write for film and TV, and I can imagine as time goes on I would love to do more of that stuff with Jamie. In terms of playing together, the three of us together, who knows, I just don’t think we’re going to be on tour as TND any more. Darren, in my opinion, is probably the best drummer I have seen in terms of the power that he has and sensibility…..and I’m gonna really miss playing with him, so I will probably find the opportunity to do that again.
GW: Ok, well I’m out of questions for you, but since you mentioned, and this is your final tour, do you want to tell us how you guys accidentally met and then ended up jamming together those first couple times?
DK: Oh ya, sure. I think Darren had this weekly gig, kind of like a revolving musician, on Thursday nights, at this douchbag bar in Toronto, and he and I played in a wedding band together at one point, like “oh ya, you should come and play with me at my thing”, you know. We just got hired…… and during that, while we were playing, you know wedding bands always have their kind of like, there’s like a Bible of songs you could play, and so everybody knows “The Funky Chicken” and “The Macarena” and shit, so we both appreciated how well we played those songs together and he was like “you know Jamie Shields, right?- you should go ask him to come and play too” and so Jamie and I an Darren and at the time this guitar player played lke kind of funky acid-jazz music, one or two Thursdays in a row, and Darren used to kind of have this revolving door, and because the five of us were good enough from the first night he was just like “oh lets just do this again next week”, and then we did it again a third week and then the fourth week, we were about to get fired actually, from the gig that we had because we were getting a little to far out there, and just we’ rent the funky chicken any more, and so we got a gig in a very underground club in Toronto and we just went and played, and that was also kind of our sliding out of responsibility of telling the guitar player that he was no longer a part of our band, just left, the three of us, and when somewhere else and played. And when we did that we bought a cassette tape at the corner store beside the venue we were playing, and we asked the sound guy to tape what we did, and he taped the show, and …… cuz our plan was to only improvise everything that night, and so we listened to that tape and we were so blown away by it that we went and did it again the following Wednesday and the two shows that we glued together from these 99 cent tapes, we made our first album from it. We came up with a name for our band, and named all the songs, hired the sound guy, who 12 years later is still with us, our sound guy, cuz he did such a good job on the first gig, and that’s how it went. And I truly, like “holy fuck we just did this” and we put everything we had into it after that, for years. It was awesome, when I tell it I’m just amazed by how it really was.
GW: Great, ya, to all those wedding bands out there.
DK: thank God for those wedding bands. You never know, it’s really a jam band in there.
GW: ok, well is there anything else you want to tell your fans reading at the Grateful Web before we say goodbye?
DK: I would just say thanks a million for having come to all the shows. It totally made it all worthwhile, it made us keep coming back, it kept us going.