Interview: The New Deal’s Jamie Shields on the band’s last tour together
The Canadian electronica/jam band The New Deal are calling it a day. After 12 years, the three-piece—featuring Dan Kurtz on bass, Darren Shearer on drums/beatbox, and keyboardist Jamie Shields—is on its final tour; one of the stops along the way is in Philly tonight at the Electric Factory. Known for its extended improvisation, the band built a significant following amongst the jam band and electronica music scenes over the years. We e-mailed Shields, who was kind enough to discuss the band’s final tour.
The Key: Why did you decide to call it quits?
Jamie Shields: Basically, our lives as individuals had progressed to the point where we felt that we weren’t able to devote as much time to the band as we felt it deserved. For a big chunk of our 12 years together [The New Deal] was our big priority and took up a high percentage of our actions and thoughts. As we got busy with other projects in our lives, whether it was me being a dad and writing music for tv and films, or Dan with the incredible successes of Dragonette or Darren with the Riverdale Mission, we realized that tND was suffering from our branching out, and rather than slowly devote less and less time and effort to the band and watch it grind painfully to a halt, we felt it was best to try and end it properly.
TK: What’s next for the individual members? Any new musical projects in the mix?
JS: Well, all of the projects we’re currently doing outside the band (mentioned above) will take on greater importance now and will receive some of that time that used to be devoted to The New Deal. I hope that some of the side projects that Darren and I play in together (such as The Omega Moos and The Join) can continue to be viable, but only time will tell regarding that. Darren is probably the most likely to participate in new projects, and his recent involvement in Conspirator shows that he is a drummer who is very much in-demand. Myself – I’m happy to continue developing my TV composition business and to be a good father to my two boys.
TK: The band has built much of its success on touring. Darren once said in an interview: “We are not a radio band. We have always made our money from playing live.” What kind of advice can you give to new musicians just starting out?
JS: The one thing I say to every band that talks to me about that is to play every show that you’re offered and to do that for about two years straight. Don’t be picky about the shows you choose to play. Get in front of every audience that you can. If your band is good, then you’ll impress people – maybe not 100% of them but at least a handful, and if you do that as often as you can, then you stand a decent chance of developing a fanbase. Playing as often as you can also helps develop one’s stage chops – it’s one thing to sit in a rehearsal room and practice something over and over but it’s very different to do it on stage in front of people without being able to stop and start the song (or concert) again.
TK: The jam-band genre has become pretty ambiguous over the years. What’s your take on why that has happened? Has the economy of the jam-band ecosystem impacted the jam-band business model?
JS: We’ve never been that enamored with placing tags on music, be it ours or anyone else’s. When we started playing in this band twelve years ago we didn’t even know that a “jamband” scene existed – there certainly wasn’t much of one in Toronto at the time. We had decided to play improvised instrumental dance music and then see who else likes it – that was the extent of our “scene-making”. When we started to play in the States I guess the improvisational element of the band seemed to draw people from the jamband scene as well as the jazz scene, and one of the things that those two communities share is a strong live concert presence. The economy has affected the live concert element of music pretty dramatically, both positively and negatively. Nowadays the only way for a band to make a living is by playing live. If you don’t do that, you don’t stand much of a chance in keeping your band above water, so to speak, so in that regard the live concert concept of the jamband world has enabled bands who are road-tested to continue to develop their audiences and generate some income to keep going in a world where record sales take on less and less importance.
TK: Do you have any highlights from the band’s time together you’d like to share?
JS: Too many to mention, but some that come to mind include our last show in Chicago, where we managed to sell over 3400 tickets, a great coup in our books and testament to the fact that if you play enough shows and your music is good, you can continue to make an impact in music today.
Other highlights would include our sold-out tour of Japan last year where we found out that we were far more popular there than we had originally thought… playing Coachella was also memorable, going on tour with Herbie Hancock, playing Moby’s Area One tour… the list goes on and on!