Interview with Jamie Shields of The New Deal

After twelve-plus years of pioneering the sounds of “Livetronica” (along with bands like The Disco Biscuits and Lake Trout) and touring all over the world, The New Deal is treating fans to one last string of shows before going their separate ways in January 2012.

Their final four U.S. shows will be played in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York.

The Philly show, on December 28th at the Theater of the Living Arts, promises to be a special night for The New Deal and their loyal fans: a celebration of their long career, and a final goodbye, all rolled into one.

To get some insight on the band, we spoke with keyboard player Jamie Shields about The New Deal’s humble beginnings, their successful career, and what’s next for him, Dan, and Darren as they go their separate ways.

Independent Philly: Who came up with the name “The New Deal”? Does it hold any special meaning for you?

Jamie Shields: It holds very special meaning as our ability to come up with a name out of nothing at all. We weren’t really a band when we came up with that name. In fact, we played our first concert and had a record before we were even a band. We were sort of this lose combination of a bunch of people and we were playing in Toronto at some sort of cover bar, playing some acid jazz covers (Darren was in charge of that band). Sometimes I sat in, and sometimes Dan sat in. Dan and I have been playing in bands together since we were 13. Then one time the combination of people wound up being Darren on drums, Dan on bass, and me on keyboard (because the guitar player didn’t show up). No one was really listening at these gigs so we just sort of said “let’s just make this up, no one really cares so let’s just have some fun.” And when we were doing this, we said, “You know what? This sounds pretty good. Let’s go do this at a real bar, at a real venue, and let’s hear how it sounds there.” So we did that and probably six people showed up (who were our friends) but we taped it because we wanted to hear how this impromptu thing sounded, and we listened to it and said, “This is great, let’s put this out. Let’s make this a CD.” So we had our first record, before we even had a band or a band name. At that point we were like, “We’re going to have to a) title this album and b) name the band.” So we just kind of threw a bunch of names out, and figured this was kind of a new interesting musical progression (for us at least), it was like nothing we’d really heard before, and it was new to us, so we were like “Sure, The New Deal sounds great to us!”

IP: Is it true that you never loop any of your keyboard tracks, and play all of the repeats live?

JS: All true, all 100% true. We play everything live. Our drummer now has sort of brought in an e-pad of electronic drum sounds on stage but everything we play is being played with our hands, or our fingers, or whatever. There’s nothing that’s looped and nothing that’s predetermined before hand. I mean, we’ve never had a rehearsal and we never have a set list; we just kind of go up on stage and start playing and it would be a little hard to have preset sequences and stuff if that’s our approach because our approach is so sort of organic and natural.

IP: You’ve played shows and festivals all over the planet, what is the largest crowd you’ve ever played for?

JS: That’s a good question. I would probably have to say it was in Coachella at the Coachella Festival. I imagine it was probably about 30,000; somewhere along those lines. I couldn’t count them all, I only got up to about 1,200.

IP: Do you prefer the large scale shows or playing at more intimate venues?

JS: There’s very different mindsets for both. The larger scale shows have a real intensity to them, maybe because they are so big and the crowds are usually so in to it. There’s a whole lot of electricity that’s going on throughout the venue but I find, personally speaking, for the smaller shows, there’s less of a demand within myself to try to, quote/unquote “Rock the House.” And when we play the smaller shows my mind’s a little more free to wander and like I said, because we improvise so much I kind of just want to be able to go wherever my mind takes me. Usually I’m able able to do that at the bigger or smaller shows, but I find that it’s a little easier for me at the smaller shows to be able to do some stuff like that.

IP: After almost thirteen years as a group, you’ve decided to call it quits at the end of this year/early next year. What’s next for you, Darren, and Dan individually?

JS: I’m very busy right now. I write a whole lot of music for TV, commercials, and film, so I’m pretty busy with that.

Dan, the bass-player, he’s really busy with a band called “Dragonette” which is his band, and they’ve had a number of hits in Europe and in The States and stuff, so he’s pretty busy with that. That’s with his wife Martina.

Darren is very busy with all sorts of musical stuff. He’s running a bunch of musical endeavors out of Toronto, although I think he’s going to be moving to L.A., but I mean that guys is never without a gig, he could pick a million bands out there that would want to have him. He could easily be on the road successfully touring within five minutes.

IP: Does the knowledge that you’re playing your final shows together add something to the experience at your current shows? Can fans who have seen The New Deal before expect anything different from this final run?

JS: Well the shows are always different because they’re improvised. In regards to them being special, yeah, they’re going to have a special feeling to them for sure. We’ll probably be pulling out some tunes that we’ve never played or that we’ve rarely played, and bringing back some of the older stuff that we haven’t played in a while. You know these shows are more of a “Thank You” to our fans for sticking it out and sticking by us, and enjoying all of the music we were able to put out. We have a pretty strong relationship with our fans and we wanted to be able to get out there one last time and just say “Thanks,” and show it in a musical manner as opposed to just saying it.

IP: If you were a fan, putting together a Top-5 list of “The New Deal” songs, what would be on it?

JS: Well from the fans’ perspective I would probably put on it: “Gone, Gone, Gone” “Technobeam” “VL Tone” is pretty popular, “Blame Yourself” we always get a lot of requests for that, and probably a song called “Deep Sun”. Those are probably the top-5 fan favorites, at least that I can think of.

IP: Let’s do some quick word association… First thing that comes to mind…

IP: How’s your slap-shot?

JS: My slap-shot is okay, I’m concerned about my Toronto Maple Leafs slap-shot. I was at the game on Saturday night in Buffalo and it was just disgusting. The amount of penalties, and the inability to get it out of our own end, ugh it was just the worst. And we had such a nice start to the season and even a nice middle to the season and now we’ve lost like three out of our past four of something, rough; you can’t do that.

IP: If you could relive one of The New Deal’s shows over the past decade-plus, which one would it be and why?

JS: It might be our last show of our tour in Japan last year in Tokyo. That last show was pretty special. I mean it was sold out and there was a line around the block. And this is a band that doesn’t have any hit singles, and this is a band with no singer, and we were headlining our show in Tokyo and it was just a magical experience. I would relive that every day if I could.

IP: How often do you bring in a vocalist?

JS: We have some tunes on our records that have vocalists on them and in Toronto just the other night, we had Dan’s wife Martina (she’s sung on a couple of the records) and she came out and sang a track. And there are about three or four tracks out there that are pretty popular, fan favorites as well, that have vocals. We do instrumental versions of them but if the fancy strikes us we’ll bring someone out, but if it doesn’t we’ll just stick to the three instrumentals off of “The New Deal”.

IP: Tell us something that would surprise or even shock our readers…

JS: That my second serve in Tennis is surprisingly good.

We hope you will all join us at the T.L.A. on December 28th as Deathwaltz Media presents this extraordinary night of music with The New Deal and Sonic Spank.  You can buy tickets online, at the T.L.A. box office, or enter our contest to win tickets for you and a friend!

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