Last November, we had the opportunity to hear Common Deer open for The Franklin Electric at the Horseshoe Tavern. We found ourselves immediately struck not only by their musical talent, but also by their ability to capture and hold an audience’s attention.
The group recently released their first EP, opening a new chapter in their career. Songs that shine live really take off in these studio recordings, auguring a great future for these five musicians.
Common Deer graciously took the time for an interview with us.
We had the opportunity to hear you live last November at the Horseshoe Tavern. It seems to me that the recorded EP really reflects the energy and ambience of your live set beautifully – did the process of recording songs you’ve probably done live several times now affect or evolve them in any way? If so, how did your songs change?
At the beginning of the pre-production process we were challenged by our producer, Laurence Currie, to take a microscope to songs that we’d already performed live many times. This allowed us to find moments that really meshed and also identified some areas that were less cohesive. In a couple of the songs we were even given the task of taking a step way back to find what the song as a whole was missing. This pushed us to rework breaks, crescendos, bridges and even choruses.
Having taken a short hiatus from live shows for a couple months, returning to the stage after the songs had been tracked in the studio posed another challenge – to re-orchestrate what we’d created in the studio and perform the EP on stage. In some cases this meant playing a different instrument altogether. Liam especially championed this feat, as he flows through elements of rock, hip hop, and electronic throughout the album and then needed to recreate this on stage. We feel that the resulting songs are much more self-aware and allow each instrument to have both moments in the spotlight and as part of the collective driving force.
Out of the many things I find really appealing about your music (both live and on the EP), two in particular intrigue me. First, most bands aren’t fortunate enough to have a string section of sorts available to them. How does having that additional sound texture impact your songwriting?
The cello and the violin contain a very unique emotional quality in their timbre. Adding strings to parts can often create swells and builds that give a more cinematic vibe than a lot of guitar-based indie bands are able to accomplish. We have also dived into the endless world of synths over the past year or so, and I think the combination of these instruments has really created something unique in our songwriting process and in our live show. On the record ‘I’, a lot of the synth pads are layered with real strings in an effort to create a balance between synthetic and organic qualities. As our songwriting process evolves, violin and cello are go-to tools that we’re not afraid to use for writing parts that seem familiar but distinct to the listener.
You utilize changes in meter in really creative ways (thinking particularly of “Confession”) – that’s not very common in pop music and it’s great to hear. Is that intentional on your parts, or do you sort of flow with where the creativity is taking you with respect to meter and rhythm?
The changes in meter of Confession (chorus and outro) were written with the intention of playing with an uncommon sway while keeping the overall feel accessible. It’s a musical challenge that we put ourselves up to sometimes and I think we’re getting better at it – to prompt the ear of an audiophile with something interesting while not alienating the everyday listener. It’s also really fun to play these rhythms live.
Some riffs that are brought to the songwriting table are extensively polyrhythmic and require some massaging to find the right sway and vibe. You’ll hear an example of this in a song called ‘Wait’ that will be on our second EP (to be released May 2017), or alternatively at a live show. Other times we find ourselves forcing a square peg into a round hole and decide to scrap the idea altogether. On stage we get to flow to the changes in meter and make them feel organic, but generally speaking these rhythmic placements are carefully crafted in the lab.
You posted a #tbt picture recently from when you were first recording demos a couple of years ago. What has the journey been like since then, both as a band and as individual musicians?
It has truly been an eye-opening, terrifying, beautiful, challenging and humbling journey. The amount of growth in these past couple years that we’ve felt as individuals, professional musicians and ultimately as a family is immeasurable. This is a learning experience that no University degree could ever do justice. And sharing it with a team and family that you deeply believe in both musically and morally is something that needs to be cherished daily. Since that photo was taken, all 5 of us have been ‘all in.’ We hope it’s starting to show.
If I recall correctly you had more songs in your set than appear on the EP. Can we look for a full-length album in the near future from you? (And how did you select which songs made it to the EP? It must be a bit like picking from among your children…)
Since we received funding to record professionally in late 2015, our plan has been to release two EPs before a full-length album. The first EP “I” just dropped and we are heading back into the studio this month to record “II”, which will be another 5 song EP including many of those new songs in our current live set. Ultimately, the decision of which songs to record for each album was a collaboration between us and the producers that we’ve been working with. It generally comes down to preference and suitability for the overall cohesiveness of the EP, and we try to leave songwriting ego out of it. Some songs not chosen for either of these EPs may be released as individual tracks or end up on an eventual full-length album, but some others will end their journey as demos sitting in a private Soundcloud link for the rest of eternity. Once we release EP ‘II’ in May 2017, the plan is to hit the road and bring our set to clubs and festivals across the country and beyond.
Do you have plans for touring in 2017?
Absolutely! As soon as EP “II” is released we will be hitting the road – details to come. Hopefully you’ll see Common Deer in a city near you very soon! For upcoming tour dates visit our website.
Photo credit: Paul Alexander