By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of James Cromwell Holden
Dragondeer are that band you could swear you discovered one day while brushing away the dust from your hip dad’s vinyl collection. Nestled somewhere between the quicksilver psychedelia of the ‘60s and bone-thumpin’ blues from Mississippi’s yesteryear, these Colorado cats have crafted a sound that is equal parts cosmic and grooving. Worry not if you lose sight of shore while swimming through reverb drenched waves of harmonica and guitar. This Colorado four-piece harnessed the power of their old home to create layer after layer of swamped-out etherealness.
BTR tunes into the mind of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Eric Halborg to find out how.
The old-school sounds you guys have honed are reminiscent of old delta-blues and psychedelic records. Do you find yourself digging into the past to get that inspiration, and how do you manage to maintain its sense of modernity?
I listen to a lot of older music on vinyl. I definitely wanted to create a warm round earthy sound with Don’t That Feel Good that had a tonal vibe you’d find on older recordings, ‘cause that’s what I have been getting off on the last few years. I listen to stuff like Leadbelly, Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Wells, Elmore James, The Grateful Dead, King Tubby, Bob Marley, early John Mayall, Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Upsetters… and a common thread through all of those recordings are rich earthy tones. Tube amps, reverbs, delays helped us get those kind of sounds in the studio.
We also listen to newer artist like Kurt Vile, War on Drugs, Brain Jonestown, The XX, First Aid Kit, Entrance Band that I feel capture an old school vibe in their records’ tonality and then bring the compositions and delivery into a modern realm and Dragondeer is going for that as well… our take on “lived-in” sounds.
What about some of your biggest non-musical creative influences?
The Beats, Taoism, gardening, grass, tequila, being out in the woods, Abraham-Hicks, Denver, and the good life in Colorado. I went to school for visual arts and graphic design so those are both big in my life and inform my music making. Especially the extensive work in Photoshop I’ve done. Seems there is a direct correlation to the many hours spent manipulating graphics in Photoshop crafting an image and the hours I now spend in Ableton Live crafting the vibe and tones of a recorded song. They are both exercises in tweaking a computer program’s layers to the vision you have for a piece and seem to overlap for me.
Describe your songwriting process. Is there a rhyme to the madness, or does it change with each song?
Changes with each song. It’s very stream of conscience with the songs I write and they do seem to come outta nowhere and often complete both lyrically and musically. To be honest, a lot of the words come out when I’m in the bathtub. We are landlocked here in Colorado but I must need to be in the water a bunch cause I take really long ass hot baths… randomly a lot of songs come to me there. Cole Rudy wrote “Castaway” on the record; he and I both have a lot of songs coming out of us after finishing the record so the new stuff is really collaborative between Cole, Carl, Casey, and I.
How did you come up with the band name?
I waited tables at a place called Sushi Zami in Boulder, Co. that sold a lot of Kirin Beer. I drank a lot of it as well, and one night wondered what a Kirin was. Turns out it was a mythological creature in Asian folk-lore that was half dragon and half deer. It was a sign of good luck and appeared at the beginning of a new era. Seemed like a good omen name for a new band and I liked the alliteration.
Album artwork for Don’t Feel That Good
Your new record, Don’t That Feel Good, just dropped a little over a month ago. What was the recording process like?
We recorded the drums in John Macey’s (lap steel player from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) studio with Nick Sullivan and Keff Kanan here in Denver. We wanted to get the drums recorded at a proper studio and then we recorded and mixed everything else (acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocals, mandolin, lap steel, bass, percussion) to those drum tracks at my home studio. I live in a house in Denver that was built in 1911 and we utilized the whole house to get the natural reverb sounds of the wood floors and mikes up staircases to get sounds bouncing around real spaces.
It must have been nice recording the tunes in the comfort of your home.
Being able to record the record ourselves on our own time schedule let us experiment, work at odd hours when inspiration strikes, and cut loose and party a bit while we worked. Having that space and unrestricted time let us create something that was really close to our vision of how the record would sound… that being a sit down-kick back-let your ears dig in-psyched out record. We also wanted heavy rhythmic movements to the songs so we included a lot of tambourine, shakers, bells, random whiskey bottle and junk kit clicks mixed in with the kit drum which is something Carl manages to rock on stage as well.
On a nerdy tip, everything was recorded (and mixed) into Ableton Live and the lapsteel, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and the harmonicas were all run through Fender Blues Juniors and recorded with Shure SM57s mixed with a signal we got from a Shure Beta58 placed in an enclosed space up a stairwell twenty feet from the amp. We dubbed it the “weird space” and the tones that bounced around up there were mixed with the amp sounds throughout the record.
The record was mastered by David Glasson, who recently remastered the entire Grateful Dead studio catalog. How did you get in touch with him, and how was your experience working with him?
David Glasser owns a mastering studio up in Boulder, Co. called Airshow Mastering that is ace. I had worked with Dom up at Airshow with my old band The Swayback, but I knew that David Glasser worked with Pete Seeger and The Grateful Dead and Third Man Records, mastering The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records for them and it seemed his vibe would work well with what we were going for on this record. His connection to The Dead was huge cause we were covering the blues traditional Deep Elem Blues that I know and love from The Grateful Dead version (and we actually used one of Jerry Garcia’s old guitars on our version). I didn’t know David, but I sent him my mixes of Don’t That Feel Good and he got back to me and said he wanted to work with us. He has won Grammys for his mastering work on old Lomax recordings and blues works and he asked me the vibe I wanted for our record and i pretty much said i wanted it warm and sounding like an old blues record with a little more bump in the bass… and he did just that. Mellow, cool guy, humble, and totally took the time to get it how we wanted it to sound.
Do you foresee more mandolin and lap steel on future releases? The couple of tracks they were featured on had moments of great atmosphere.
All of the new songs have lap steel or mandolin on them. Cole also got a Dobro that he’s starting to play a bunch. Dobro or lap steel run through an amp with effects has some gorgeously far out sounds to it that will be making its way on to new recordings as well.
What are your plans for this year? Will you be touring in support of the new tunes?
We are playing a bunch of festivals and gigs all around Colorado this summer (South Park Music Festival, The UMS, Westword, Mishawaka). Plan was to play around the entire state and soak in the Colorado summer and then tour the west coast in October. Playing live a ton is the plan from here going forward…it’s our favorite part of the trip.
Or check them out live:
June 26 2014- Cervantes’ Other Side- Denver, CO
July 3 2014- American Safari Ranch- Fairplay, CO
July 4 2014- American Safari Ranch- Fairplay, CO