The music on the New Orleans quintet the Deslondes’ self-titled album rolls out of the speakers like some heavenly radio program from the mid-’50s. Bathed in Sun Records-style reverb and layered with ragged-but-right vocal harmonies, the band casually works gospel, country and old-school rock ‘n’ roll into a confident groove. Ranging from bouncy, Sunday morning sing-alongs (“Those Were The Days”) and dusty Western swing (“Louise”) to mid-tempo rock shuffles (“The Real Deal”) and heartworn ballads (“Heavenly Home”), the band leaves no vintage stone unturned, creating a throwback style that never settles in one genre for too long.
The band is very much an ensemble, combining their instruments (guitar, pedal-steel, fiddle, upright bass) and their voices much the same way that a bluegrass group would do. “There’s a time for everybody to shine, but nobody insists on being in the spotlight all of the time,” says singer/bassist Dan Cutler. “I think we think it’s more interesting for all of us rather than one guy having all the limelight all the time. It’s more for the sake of keeping it interesting than an ego thing.”
The Deslondes (Cutler, singer/guitarists Sam Doores & Riley Downing, percussionist Cameron Snyder, and pedal-steel/fiddle player John James Tourville) have only been together for three years or so, but they’ve played enough during that time to achieve a certain musical telepathy that’s necessary both for ensemble playing and tight-but-loose vocal harmonies. “It’s mostly just from playing with each other for so long that we’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years,” he says. “We know what we do best, and we stack our layers accordingly. Sometimes we come right out and say something, but mostly it kind of just comes together how it comes together. And if there’s a hole that needs to be filled musically, it gets filled naturally. That just comes from playing together.”
As for their production style, which often makes the band sound as if they were gathered around one microphone playing and singing, Cutler says it’s not so much old-school as it is their school. “We were definitely consciously going for certain sounds,” he says. “In terms of the production stuff, a big part of that is (producer/engineer) Andrija Tokic. We definitely have favorites and certain music examples that we try to take after.”
It’s not a sound that he considers vintage, however. “I don’t think it’s as much of a throwback as it is space and echo and reverb that’s used on most recordings,” Cutler says. “We just kind of think certain things sound good, and we want it to sound pleasing to our ears. I’d say, sonically, the album is definitely a mix of a lot of different kinds of things. There are certain elements that sound sonically from a different era but there are others that don’t.”
In fact, despite the band’s instrumental skill and the overall stripped-down feel of their songs, they concentrate more on layering in the studio than they do recording live. “We have a few different ways of doing it, and it kind of depends on where we’re recording and who we’re recording with,” Cutler says. “In the case of the album, we recorded it in Andrija’s studio, and we’d do the rhythm tracks, the drums bass and guitars all at once and then come back and sing over them. Occasionally we’ll try to sing over them at the same time, but that’s the exception to the rule because we don’t want to screw the vocals up. There are a lot more details that go into singing and overdubs; people want to get that stuff perfect as opposed to the rhythm tracks, where perfect isn’t what you want.”
Actually, Cutler says, sometimes taking time between the basic tracks and the final touches can be a good thing. “It’s really great to have some space to listen back to what you did and think about it before you finish it,” he says. “It’s not really a continuity thing. It’s process with a lot of different pieces. It’s a gradual process.”