Deardarkhead is a New Jersey based band which consists of Kevin Harrington (Guitar), Robert Weiss (Drums), and Kevin McCauley (Bass). The band been active since 1988 and has six releases over that period of time. 2016 saw their first new release since 1998, Strange Weather, and it is a triumphant return, demonstrating that the band has lost none of its chops. Deardarkheadanswered my various questions including those about the history of the band, their new album, and what gear they currently use.
Hello Members of Deardarkhead. Could you please introduce yourselves to our readers and let us know what each of you do in the band?
Kevin McCauley: Bass guitar and newest member of deardarkhead.
Kevin Harrington: Hello, this is Kevin Harrington, and I’m the guitarist for Deardarkhead.
Robert Weiss: I’m the drummer and founder of deardarkhead.
So, how did each of you get started in music and were there other bands you were in prior to Deardarkhead and, perhaps, during the years of this current band?
Kevin McCauley: A friend of mine had a second drum set and since I always wanted to play percussion, he agreed to let me have it for several months. Fast forward more than a few years and another friend started giving me acoustic and electric guitar lessons. At the same time, the cover band he started with his wife needed a bass player. So I borrowed his Fender Precision bass and began learning the 40 plus songs that they covered. Shortly thereafter, I saw an advertisement from Deardarkhead looking for a new bassist so I begged and pleaded until they graciously accepted me into the world of deardarkhead.
Kevin Harrington: I got my first guitar for my thirteenth birthday and I had the normal lessons for a year or so. I jammed with other friends during high school just like everyone else does. It was never anything serious, just having fun. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I actually started taking it seriously and started developing my guitar sound and style. I never played in any real bands until I met up with DDH and I haven’t since joining DDH mostly due to contractual obligations and limitations, just kidding.
Robert Weiss: I’ve been playing drums since I was in grade school, but didn’t start playing in a band until my first year of college. My original group was called Aslan’s Pride, which only lasted for about a year around 1987-1988. We were quite U2-esque. DDH arose from the ashes of that group, at which point I started writing songs and got a 4-track cassette recorder. That really helped me to develop my ideas much more fully.
Since Deardarkhead has been a band since 1988, can you talk a bit about the history of the band and how you’ve seen your approach to writing and recording change over the period, especially considering the change in technology?
Kevin Harrington: I’ll leave the history aspect to Rob. We’ve always had great writers in the band, so we’ve been very lucky. There was never a shortage of great musical ideas swirling around for us to explore. Everyone contributed which made the writing process seem quite fast and easy. We’ve always worked in a very structured way, so at this point I feel that we kind of know when things are or aren’t working. I think my approach to writing has been relatively consistent over the years. Now with the help of some computer recording programs, writing has gotten much easier to do alone. At this point, us getting together happens a lot less frequently, so we have to make those rehearsals worthwhile. Developing ideas with the help of some recording programs allows us to really expand on ideas and developing them into more finished ideas before driving the rest of the band crazy with every little idea or change. As far as recording goes, be prepared and be ready to go when you get in the studio.
Robert Weiss: Ok since our history is fairly long, I’m going to be super lazy and copy and paste the facts from another interview:
I started the band in 1988. The first lineup was with Kurt Douglass (guitar), Blakely Parent (guitar & vocals), Josh Minor (bass) and myself (drums). We recorded a 7 song demo tape called Greetings From The Infernal Village, which we did by ourselves on a 4 track cassette recorder. Soon after that around 1990, Josh left and Michael Amper joined the band as our vocalist, he also played keyboard and guitar. Blakely moved over to bass at that point and we released a 4 song tape Spiral Down and Vibrate in 1991 and then a 4 song cd Melt Away Too Soon in 1992. Kurt left after that in 1992 with Kevin Harrington replacing him as the guitarist. We then released the Ultraviolet cd in 1993 and Blakely left in 1994. After that we became a three piece with Mike on vocals & bass, Kevin on guitar and myself on drums. We next released Unlock the Valves of Feeling in 1998. Mike then left the group at the end of 2009 leaving the future of DDH uncertain. Luckily Kevin McCauley came on board as our bassist during the fall of 2010 and we have been playing as an instrumental three piece ever since.
As for recording, the technology has changed over the years so we’ve used many different methods in the studio, both analog and digital. At the end of the day we always just try to be well prepared and do things in as few takes as possible. What you hear on the records is a pretty good representation of how we sound live.
There were 18 years between albums and the new album is markedly different not having a singer. Can you talk about why such a long gap and the decision to finally record a new album without vocals (a brilliant album by the way)?
Robert Weiss: The crazy thing is that we have never stopped playing since we started in 1988. We’ve had very stable lineups over the years, we just didn’t have any label interest. We released records in very small amounts on our own label, Fertile Crescent Records, when we could. Now there are a ton of bands in our vein, but back then we just did not fit in with the American scene at all. In general, we definitely identify more with British music, as that’s where most of our influences and favorite bands come from.
After our singer/bassist, Michael Amper, left in 2009 we searched for a replacement but had absolutely no luck in finding anyone we liked. Once Kevin McCauley joined us we just started working on material assuming that we’d find a vocalist. It never happened, so we focused on being solely instrumental. Even when we had a vocalist, we always played a few instrumental songs at most shows. It really was an organic transition. We just worked with what we had, trying to make the songs interesting and dynamic enough so that they would stand on their own. We’re glad you like the record! We’ve had some great reviews, so I guess people get what we are trying to do. As much as I love having a vocalist, being instrumental has been challenging and it was a change of pace for us.
I think most bands would have packed it in after all this time without being able to make a decent living from it, however we’re gluttons for punishment and we really do enjoy the creative process. There’s been an evolution of our sound over time and we wanted to make a record that reflected that, while still sounding like classic DDH.
Strange Weather is this album that just has so many wonderful phrasings and sonic choices. How did you approach writing the songs on this particular album and how did you approach the tones and sonics on it?
Kevin Harrington: Often Rob will present ideas that are halfway to three-quarters the way finished. At that point, I help to arrange or to put leads on top of what’s already there to help finish out the song. Sometimes that happens right away, sometimes it doesn’t. As far as guitar tones and sonics go, I’m surprised I’m not deaf yet. It takes a lot of fine tuning of all of the eq’s, distortions, effects, etc., during band rehearsals and working at home. I’m constantly tweaking sounds, always trying to make it better.
Robert Weiss: Other than the fact that it’s an all instrumental record I don’t think we approached Strange Weather any differently. We’ve always encouraged everyone in the band to present song ideas, so it really depends on who has a good one. Sometimes one person has an entire song written and we arrange it together, while adding our individual parts. Other times we jam on something at rehearsal and build it piece by piece. Currently I use Garageband to demo all my song ideas. I tend to layer a lot of multiple guitars to get the ballpark sound I am going for. After that I kick things over to the rest of the group and we refine it, changing and arranging things together till we are happy with it. Mr. Harrington spends a lot of time dialing in the effects, as that’s a huge part of our sound. Since he carries the melody of the songs he has to work a bit harder, so things don’t get boring from section to section.
I must ask. Were there any tracks that did not make it onto Strange Weather and will we get a chance to hear them at some point?
Robert Weiss: We had planned on recording a few more songs, but we were on a tight schedule. Hopefully we will record them for a future release. We did have two of the songs from Strange Weather remixed, which you can download for free over at the When The Sun Hits blog.
I usually like to ask bands about a few tracks on their latest album to get more specific details about writing and recording. Can you talk a bit about the writing, recording, and thought processes behind the opening track “Falling Upward” and the closer “Thinking Back”?
Kevin Harrington: “Falling Upward” came about very quickly. A few years ago, thanks to my girlfriend Dawn, I got a guitar for Christmas! This one was the Fender Squire Strat with the usb output. The first thing that came out of it was “Falling Upward”. I think I recorded all the parts over one weekend. The intro came later. To be precise, it was after having a few drinks and then listening to something off of MBV’s Loveless on the way home. I powered up the rig and out came the intro. There was some band development of course, but all in all, it fell into place quickly.
For the closer, “Thinking Back”, well that’s another story. That one started with the opening just like you hear on the recording, but the parts in the rest of the structure went through quite a development process lol! The song was probably three-quarters of the way finished when I had the brilliant idea to totally change the style of the song lol!! Fortunately, Rob reeled me back in and we picked up where we left off. That was a close one. That’s why I trust Rob and his voice of reason, most of the time lol. I think I drove Rob and Kevin crazy on that one, but in the end, I’m very happy with it.
Robert Weiss: Mr. Harrington had come up with demos for Falling Upward and Thinking Back, but when we were finally finished working on both of them as a band, it was pretty obvious they’d make great opening and closing tracks. I think they bookended the ep very nicely. Falling Upward sets the tone for the ep with its long building, atmospheric intro and Thinking Back resolves things sonically and emotionally like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.
For our gearheads, what sort of equipment do you all use while recording and, if different, live?
Kevin McCauley: For recording, Line 6 Bass Pod XT, Hartke amp and miked 4×10 cabinet, and a glorious 1970s Fender Jazz Bass found in a local yard sale by guitarist Kevin Harrington. Most of the time playing live, I use a Fender Jazz bass Mark Hoppus Signature model paired to the aforementioned rig.
Kevin Harrington: I’ve been using a DigiTech 2101 Artist rack unit as my processor since the mid 90’s until now. It goes thru a Rocktron Velocity 300 rack unit which I run in stereo to two 2×12 cabs with Celestion Seventy 80’s. The only pedal I use is a Morley Bad Horsie wah. The guitars I used on Strange Weather are my Squire Strat from the late 80’s, it has a Hot Rails in the bridge. My Les Paul Pro with Burst Bucker pickups and my 12 string Strat. This is my normal rig for everything I do. The guitars have changed over the years depending on what we’re playing. I like to rotate them from time to time for various reasons.
Robert Weiss: Live I use a 4 piece, Tama Granstar Custom drum kit (14” x 6” stainless steel snare, 13”x 9” mounted tom, 16” x 16” floor tom, 16” x 22” bass drum), Paiste cymbals (3000 series 14” Sound Edge Hi-hats, 2002 series 22” Heavy Ride, 2002 series 18” Crash, 802 series Splash) and a 16” Custom Projection Zildjian Crash. For Strange Weather, I used a house kit at Miner Street Recordings with my snare and cymbals.
If you would Kevin, could you tell us how you get that dreamy tone like in “Ice Age”?
Kevin Harrington: Like all the songs on Strange Weather, except for “Falling Upward”, which has only one guitar part, I layered two guitar parts. One rhythm and one lead of course. I recorded each part twice, one panned left, one panned right. Generally I used lightly distorted, chorused, delayed and reverbed sounds for the rhythm tracks and more full blown versions for the lead tracks. The tremolo effect at the end of Ice Age was something we did in the studio.
As individual musicians, do you have artists or writers that you consider to be influences on how you write, approach, or generally think about music?
Kevin Harrington: Yes definitely, over the years there have been many influences, too many to mention. Sometimes the mood that a song evokes or the tempo or the effects on the guitar etc. There is so much great music of all styles out there, that it’s hard not to always be wanting to grab an element from a song or an artist or a style of music. With so much great music out there, the challenge of writing becomes greater.
Robert Weiss: I could talk about bands I like all day long, so on some level everything I hear is an influence. I am a music junkie and I’m always listening to a wide variety of music every day. I’d say initially, 4AD, Creation Records and Factory Records were huge influences on our sound. Those labels all had a certain aesthetic to their approach even though not all the bands sounded the same. The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Church, the Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain, U2, The Police, and Joy Division were all big influences on me when we started out.
Thanks so much for doing this. I have one last question. What’s next for Deardarkhead?
Robert Weiss: Thank you for the interview! We just hope to be able to keep making music and putting out records that we like. The past few years have been extremely difficult for me personally, as I’ve been taking care of my mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a terrible thing to see someone you love slip away every day. All I can say is use your time wisely while you are alive, do the things which bring you joy, and love the people who are important to you.