A longtime champion of guitar-driven rock & roll, Kurt Deemer responds to the modern moment with World Upside Down. Recorded during the Covid-19 era, it's an album about resolve, resilience, and relationships, laced with power-pop hooks and the anthemic songwriting of a frontman who's been sharpening his craft for more than two decades.
"Just keep looking up," he sings during the album's opening line, introducing a sense of battle-tested optimism that weaves throughout World Upside Down's eight tracks. Apart from a cover of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions' "From the Hip," he wrote the songs alone, taking inspiration from the seismic changes that have shaken American society since Donald Trump's inauguration.
"When I wrote the title track, I was thinking about the moment I sat in front of the TV, watching Trump being announced as the winner of the 2016 election," he remembers. "I thought about the school shooting at Stoneman Douglas, and the way those students got out into the street to protest. Given everything that's been happening lately — the political environment, the pandemic — I knew the album needed to be called World Upside Down."
Rather than write exclusively about the forces that drive us apart, Deemer also wrote about the experiences that bind us together, turning tracks like "Real Deal" and the heartland rock anthem "Rain" into amplified love songs. Inspired by his own ongoing recovery from addiction, he turned "From the Hip" into a rallying cry for those fighting their own daily battles. The result is an album that nods to those who came before him — including fellow melody-driven rockers like Tom Petty, Neil Young, and the Replacements — while exploring new territory, turning Deemer's classic influences into something singular.
Years before he released solo records like 2016's Gaslight and 2018's Antenna Like a Lightning Rod, Deemer grew up in inner-city Baltimore. The FM radio was always on, filling the family home with a diverse soundtrack of rock, pop, folk, and soul. "My sisters and I listened to the radio 24/7," he remembers. "It was playing in the house all the time. We'd sing along with the songs we knew, and whenever I saw bands play live, I instinctively knew I wanted to do that." Before long, Deemer was making his own music, graduating from the noisy clatter of his earliest recordings — which he strummed on a three-string guitar discovered in the back of his sister's closet and recorded with a cassette player — to the focused sounds of his first professional bands, including the Shadowmen and Vulgaria.
Vulgaria gradually morphed into his current project, the Kurt Deemer Band, whose material highlights the singing, songwriting, multi-instrumental, and production talents of its namesake frontman. Even so, World Upside Down is far more than a showcase for Deemer alone. Drummer Steve Rose and guitarist John Christensen have been playing with him since Vulgaria's heyday, fine-tuning the chemistry of a road-tested band whose members are both familiar with one another's instincts and willing to challenge their sonic boundaries. That familiarity came in handy during the recording of the self-produced World Upside Down, which began at Sheffield Studio in North Baltimore. Joined by their bassist, Kris Maher, and their live sound engineer, Keith Nachodsky, the group spent several days at the studio before the global pandemic forced everybody into quarantine. Deemer and company finished the rest of the album in isolation, with a number of guests — including solo artist Andy Grimm (who contributes lap steel to tracks like the cinematic "Kalamazoo"), Dave Hadley (who adds pedal steel to "Don’t Look Down" and "Take a Chance"), and vocalist Ellen Cherry — adding their own nuances. The result? The most focused album of Deemer's career, laced with electric guitar, organ, gang vocals, driving grooves, and harmonica.
Created during a time of global instability, World Upside Down chooses hope in the face of hopelessness. Love in the face of loss. Focused rock & roll in the face of noisy cacophony.