Calgary’s Deadhorse finds soul in the ’60s

With a sound that is mired in swampy organ and ghostly vocals, Calgary band Deadhorse enthusiastically embraces the past. The group is obviously comfortable bridging the gap between the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s and Jack White’s band The Dead Weather, yet they still manage to bring a current relevance to their songs.

Formed in 2009, band principals Danny Vescarelli and Jennifer Crighton had previously performed together as a part of the band The Consonant C. By the time that group was winding down, the seeds for Deadhorse had been planted by the duo. Danny says that Deadhorse was a means to make “loud, fun music again.”

“Deadhorse guitarist Eddie Dalrymple had left me a copy of a demo of his Sons of Bullwinkle project and upon hearing it, I was convinced that I needed to jam with him. I basically asked him out on a guitar date,” Vescarelli jokes.

Asked why bands and music from the ’60s has had such a profound influence on the band, Vescarelli says the matter is rather cut and dry as far as he is concerned.

“You can hear and feel the fire of the music … (it) rocked so hard with all the electricity, feedback and crazy psychedelic influences stacked on top of the liberation associated with that time frame.

“All that stuff is still exciting to this day, but there often seems to be a sense a dullness, irony and perhaps even a lack of ability, regardless of intentions, to make something so fresh and immediate using the basic rock n’ roll tools of drums, guitars, keys and voice. Just like so many out there, we’re trying. By golly, we’re trying.”

Deadhorse cut its self-titled debut with acclaimed indie rocker/producer extraordinaire Jay Crocker at his Calgary studio, an experience that had an obvious profound effect on the band, for better and for worse.

“Jay was not afraid to tell us if we sucked hard or to take songs and turn them completely inside out if he thought it was necessary,” Crighton says. “For us, the last point was really important as the advantage of an outsider’s ear and mind is something that is getting rarer with self production becoming so common. Making the record really was collaborative; Jay left an audible whiff of himself in some way on every track.”

Vescarelli picks up where his bandmate leaves off, stating, “Jay brought knowledge and a desire to make the record that we wanted, even if we hadn’t spelt it out exactly. We knew that he had this sweet, old analog gear to make the record and were already fans of the overall esthetic that he brought to his solo project, Ghostkeeper and NoMoreShapes. He believed in the notion that the more times you play something, the further you’re likely getting away from the source.

“On album track Big Blew Sky for example, we played that first thing one morning and while we’re all looking around at each other with a look like ‘Well, now that we warmed up on that we can do it for real.’ But meanwhile Jay is on the studio talk-back telling us to come in to the booth to give it a listen. And that ended up being the take we used for the record.”

Article published in May 20, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript