The New Deal
‘A Sonic Send-off’

Words by Matt Kiefer— New York, NY

Since this may be some readers’ only chance to experience The New Deal live, I will not mince words.

From firestorms of energy to melodic transcendence amidst funk driven sonic adventures, a New Deal show delivers a visceral musical experience that any live music lover can appreciate. For those that have been to one, this goes without saying. When James ‘Guitar’ Shields (keyboards), Dan Kurtz (bass), and Darren Shearer (percussion) combine their talents on stage, the effect is undeniable: those that love to get down, get down.

Since 1998 the Toronto based trio has been serving up the most intense live breakbeat house the world has known throughout every kind of venue and festival. Bold statement, but being that ‘live breakbeat house’ was coined specifically as a way to try and encapsulate TND’s style, it’s a given. Their breadth of energy and improvisational creativity is unparalleled amongst live instrument electronica, and their methods entail a dedication to a performance ideal that few aspire to.

As the trio’s final tour approaches, we got a chance to speak with Darren Shearer at length about the upcoming sendoff shows and The New Deal’s legacy.

Despite this tour having a certain special significance as the last, when it comes to tour preparations TND still takes a very different approach than most. “What’s funny about the New Deal, aside from not rehearsing, is that we’ve been ritualistic about there not being rituals, and very focused on the idea that right up until we start the show we have no idea what we’re going to play”, Shearer says. “The focus has always been that the second we hit the stage, that’s when we actually know what we’re going to be playing.”

This technique of working within the purity of the moment has translated into an incredibly diverse array of live experiences for TND’s audiences over the years. From hand signals for key and tempo changes to lip reading what the upcoming song is going to be, the trio weaves tight, synced grooves via three-way improvisation. “That’s been the modus operandii if you will”, Shearer explains, “the idea that you can create music in real time and create songs, actual songs, with intros, verses, choruses and such, without having to make it sound like a jam – you know, jamming on one thing for 20 minutes. We’re almost pushing forward this idea that we did rehearse it, but it’s actually created in the moment.”

So not just the improvisations, but the compositions we do know as New Deal songs have all been created on stage, built upon in the moment as recurring jams surfaced in the early shows. No studio work, side noodling, or brainstorming as it relates to song composition occurs outside of the live performance. Again, this is essentially the polar opposite of traditional song creation, elevating it to a new level of live performance art.

Time apart as a band even tends to enhance this ideal, and the band is ready to flex it’s creativity once again during this farewell run. “We haven’t played a lot over the last couple of months”, Shearer shares, “so it’s always very interesting- when we tend to take a break from playing and come back a lot of new sounds will come out, so we should expect some new sounds from the upcoming shows.”

The New Deal interview
“The fans in this genre are so savvy. They know when you’re faking it, they know when you’re just phoning it in.”
-Darren Shearer of The New Deal

With the band’s ideal having been to enable a certain purity of live music production, the decision to end it has also been based solely on the music. Rather than detract from the integrity of the music, the band decided to go out on top as TND, so to speak, and to that effect, the phrase ‘on top’ needs to be emphasized.

From their B.B. Kings late night start early in the morning of 1-1-11, through Boston, NoHo, Baltimore, and New York, TND is still dropping into that sweet spot like only they can, crafting the rawest of raw through live improv woven into their lexicon of compositions. With such advances as the introduction of soundboards being released to a generous show schedule throughout the year, and the continual polish their sound undergoes, 2011 has been a stellar year for The New Deal. So why stop now?

“It really comes down to wanting to not do it half-ass”, Shearer admits. “If we were just popping out quick pop songs that were going to be gone in a few weeks, it would be a different story, but the fans in this genre are so savvy. They know when you’re faking it, they know when you’re just phoning it in. And not to say that we were phoning it in, but it got to the point where you can’t really just be ‘maintaining’ for so long. You have to get to a point where you have to start creating, and recreating again, changing it up, putting real emphasis on that – and because of the commitments Dan has with his other group, Jamie has with his family and the studio, and the stuff that I’m doing, I think we kind of figured out that we weren’t able to do that.”

“So”, he goes on, “instead of becoming kind of like The New Deal tribute band of ourselves, which bands can fall into, where it’s not even special anymore, we were like no, this has been a great 15 years, we have had one of the biggest years of our career, we feel really satisfied with what we have created. I think we feel good that we have a legacy that we’re leaving behind”, he concludes.

Well, we ain’t done yet. If you move your body and you’re near Baltimore, Philly, or NYC, I highly advise that you take advantage of these last shows to rage TND and get gritty. Both NY shows are sold out and Baltimore and Philly are selling fast, so get to it, and those fortunate to join TND on Jamcruise will no doubt experience a surreal sendoff show.

The New Deal’s performances exhibit a purity of live expression that is anything but common in the electronic music genre, and is more so simply an expression of Jamie Shields, Dan Kurtz, and Darren Shearer than any particular music genre labeling. From myself and all the fans, thank you for sharing over all these years, guys. | Farewell