Going Deep with Deap Vally
Drummer Julie Edwards talks FEMEJISM and opening for Garbage and Blondie on Rage & Rapture Tour
By Rebecca DeRosa
Photos by Jeanne Sager
Last Saturday at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, I sat down for a conversation with the rock duo Deap Vally. As we enjoyed the July sunshine and cool breezes coming from the Catskills in upstate New York, we spoke about their new FEMEJISM Unplugged EP, their tour with Garbage and Blondie, and the power of knitting.
Tom Tom Magazine: You did the full length electric album, FEMEJISM, and then you did the four song FEMEJISM Unplugged. Why did you choose those four songs in particular and why did you want to do them unplugged?
Lindsey Troy, guitarist: It’s our homage to the 90s, the unplugged, you know. That Nirvana unplugged record is so awesome. I grew up listening to that. But yeah, it was a fun challenge for us. Why those songs? Those were just the songs that leant themselves to that the best.
Julie Edwards, drummer: We only had a couple days to do it so we really had to get smart about which ones to crack open and reimagine that would be strong and awesome in that amount of time.
TTM: I was listening to the commentary and I remember hearing you say that those songs that are at the end of the electric record are the ones that are the oldest. And those are the ones that ended up on the unplugged.
Lindsey: That’s so funny how those all ended up on there.
Julie: Uh huh…
TTM: Was it just that you were so comfortable with them that it was easy to reimagine them?
Lindsey: I don’t know why they leant themselves to that better. I’m not really sure, but they did for whatever reason. I really love how they all came out.
TTM: The song that sounded the most dissimilar was the last one, “Turn it Off.”
Lindsey and Julie: Yeah…
TTM: It was very haunting…
Lindsey: That song on the original version, is already the biggest departure for us stylistically, so doing the stripped down version was even more so of a departure. But it was cool, the version on the FEMEJISM album has a kind of 80s ballad, like, “Bette Davis Eyes” feel. And then we kind of reimagined it in a sort of Leonard Cohen sort of way.
Julie: Yeah, the reference was “Joan of Arc” from Songs of Love and Hate, the Leonard Cohen album. Especially because Lindsey’s boyfriend’s brother Andy Stavas was doing sax and he’s such a creative and fantastic sax player so we also wanted to pick songs and treatments that would work with the sax.
Lindsey: He’s also in a band, Kiev, which is a fantastic band.
TTM: Did you work with Nick Zinner [guitarist from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs] on both the electric and the unplugged?
Lindsey: No, just the electric. I mean, he came in—
Julie: He came by during—
Lindsey: He stopped by.
Julie: We did the track by track commentary at the same time as we did the unplugged. So he came by and we played it for him and he was definitely pleasantly surprised. He was like, whoa…
Lindsey: Yeah, I think he was not expecting that. Or didn’t know what to expect at all, you know? But he was really pleased.
TTM: What was that like, stripping it down, for the drummer? It sounded like brushes and mostly kick and snare. What was that like?
Julie: You know, honestly, I just kept it basic and for the most part, the drum parts are the same, they’re just with brush.
Lindsey: And the mic’ing was different. So it wasn’t mic’ing each piece, it was like getting an overall, holistic sound of the drums.
Julie: I like a really messy sounding snare, so I love brushes, because they are just so imprecise and they capture so many micro-rhythms.
TTM: Did you have more of a hand in producing the unplugged than you did the electric one? What was that process like?
Lindsey: The electric one was essentially co-produced by us [with Nick Zinner]. It’s hard to break down the roles of people in the studio, because you’re just in it together working it out. There are some tracks on FEMEJISM that we produced ourselves because Nick wasn’t available, he wasn’t in town. Those are “Gonnawanna” and “Julian.” For the unplugged, we were working with Chris Kasick as the producer. He had engineered FEMEJISM with Nick and he’s just so great. He has such a great ear. He’s such a lovely human being. He has so many amazing credits—stuff he’s engineered. He’s worked with Adele, and Haim, and Neil Young, and really it’s such a full range of awesome stuff.
When you’re making something, when you’re recording music, the ideal environment is an intimate environment where you feel really comfortable. We knew that Chris was that person. And we knew we needed to bang it out. [Laughs.] We were super involved in the way the Unplugged EP sounds and the direction of it.
TTM: Drum question, has there been any technique, piece of equipment or gear, or way of setting up that was a revelation to you that you were like, holy shit, why didn’t I do that before?
Julie: When we first started recording FEMEJISM we were outside El Paso at Sonic Ranch and we were with Nick and our engineer was Charles Godfrey and one morning before we got started, he gave me a 15 minute drum lesson. That was the second lesson I’ve had in my drumming career, and he showed me some little tricks for dynamics that kind of blew my mind and helped move me out of… Up to that point I had a “hit as hard as you can” heavy mother fucker approach. He showed me little ways to control myself. So that was pretty revolutionary.
Then, I have to say, being pregnant changed my technique because I couldn’t flail myself. All my center of gravity was in my seat, all my weight was centered there. And I basically had to learn how to be more economical with my movement, which was genius, because I used to wear myself out after one song, like, totally worn out. So that was great.
And then, when I first started playing drums, I was 25, it was in my band the Pity Party, and I used to play drums, sings lead vocals, and play keyboard with my left hand.
TTM: That’s a lot! [Both laugh.]
Julie: I remember early on, I had my cymbals in a traditional location, but I was in a two-piece with my bandmate Mark Smolen. I was at an angle like I am in Deap Vally, and I realized that every picture of our shows, there was a cymbal covering my face. Like, why am I working so hard to be hidden behind a cymbal? So I moved all my cymbals to my right. I had to relearn songs because that thing was over there now, but now that’s how I do it. It’s how I’m used to it.
TTM: Do you write most of your songs by jamming?
Lindsey: Yeah, a lot of them. We write every way you could think of to write. [Both laugh.]
TTM: And Lindsey, do you write most of the lyrics?
Lindsey: We do them together.
TTM: You tour the UK a lot. Do you have a bigger fan base there? Do you have more connections there, or do you just like it there?
Julie: When we first got signed, we were signed to Island UK, so the bulk of our business was happening over there. They were bringing us over there all the time.
Lindsey: We were getting some radio airplay over there early on.
Julie: And it’s this really manageable-sized industry that likes rock ’n’ roll, but we have great followings in random places all over the world. We’ve had headlining tours in Europe—we can pack a room in Amsterdam.
Lindsey: Australia, we’ve done some tours. Mexico City is great for us.
Julie: When we first got started, we were touring the Europe and the UK so much, we weren’t spending a lot of time in America, just in general. Our label wasn’t really pushing us in America. Over the last couple years we’ve really started to, like…you know, America is a really big pain in the ass. It’s so much physically bigger, just getting around is crazy, so we’ve been putting more time into just getting in front of people stateside and building a following here.
TTM: Random question, if you were to add a third member, living or dead, who would it be and what would their role be?
Lindsey: Like a dream member?
Julie: I know mine.
Julie: Mine is Paz Lenchantin. She’s in the Pixies now. She’s also in a band called Entrance Band. And she’s for me, in terms of what I’ve seen, she’s the most fully immersed, just completely owning it, bass player I’ve ever seen live. She’s like a force of nature.
Lindsey: Yeah, she’s got great stage presence.
Julie: Great everything.
TTM: Do you have one in mind? [Addressing Lindsey.]
Lindsey: John Paul Jones, he’d be fun to play with.
TTM: Why do you think he’d be fun to play with?
Lindsey: Because his bass lines are so groovy.
Julie: I have another one.
Lindsey: Yeah, that’s another one of mine, too.
Julie: I think Flea is one of the most innovative bass players in contemporary music.
Lindsey: You gotta love the funky slap bass.
Julie: Yeah, I love it.
TTM: So how is this tour going with Blondie and Garbage?
Lindsey: It’s really like a dream line up for us. It’s been connecting really well with the audiences. The type of fan that comes to these shows really responds to what we do. It’s so inspiring to watch Garbage and Blondie play every night.
TTM: I bet!
Lindsey: You know, they both just rule, just rule the stage.
Julie: And we’re just like pinching ourselves, pretty much, to be sharing a stage with these two bands. It’s pretty wild.
TTM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Julie: I’d like to add this little tidbit that I don’t think we’ve talked about in the press. I saw your picture [in Tom Tom Magazine] of the pussy hat. Lindsey and I met because I used to have a knitting shop called The Little Knittery in Los Angeles. Lindsey came in and that’s how we met. I taught her how to crochet and I taught her how to knit, and she picked it up really fast and I knew she had good eye/hand. Then she gave me her EP and I knew she had a killer voice and an amazing since of rhyme and rhythm and I was like, hmmm… And then she kept coming in and harassing me for advice on her projects. And then we jammed together.
But! That’s not the point of this story. The point of this story is that when we started touring heavily, I could no longer have the shop. I wasn’t able to manage it and staff it and do all that while I was on tour, so I sold it to my friend and employee Kat Coyle, who then went on to design the knitting pattern for the pussy hat.
TTM: Oh, interesting!
Julie: It originated there at The Little Knittery. I wasn’t directly involved, I just created the shop and that thing happened there. So that’s a little trivia tidbit.
Lindsey: It’s pretty cool, it’s pretty cool how huge that hat got.
Julie: It’s also so crazy, like, what is it about that place? You and I met there and we’re doing this. And then, like, the pussy hat came from there.
TTM: There’s some magic there. There’s gotta be a third thing.
Julie: Yeah, just honestly, there’s like some feminist, female… the thing about knitting shops is… you think grandmas knit, but people don’t realize that knitting shops are this incredible female space where an exchange of ideas is happening.
TTM: Like the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch…
Julie: Yeah! You know the editor of Bust Magazine created Stitch ‘n’ Bitch.
TTM: Yeah! I need to learn to knit…
Julie: Yeah, do it…
TTM: So what other things are you working on right now?
Julie: I’d love to talk about Desert Daze. It’s a music festival out in the desert in Joshua Tree that my husband and I started…six years ago, I think. It’s coming up Oct. 12-15. We play it every year. It’s a festival that really hearkens back to the original days of festivals. It’s very live music oriented. Not a lot of electronic music or dance music really. It’s like, groups of people playing music live onstage. It’s intimate and magical and enchanted and spacey.
TTM: Is this your first time playing here, speaking of which?
Julie: Yeah, this is crazy!
Lindsey: This is so cool.
Julie: Yeah, it is so cool. I didn’t even realize…when we got the itinerary it said Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and I told someone that last night in Red Bank, NJ, and they said, “Oh, you’re playing Woodstock!” I was like, “What? Fuck!”
TTM: Speaking of magical places where things happened.
Julie: Yeah! I mean, the origin point of the massive, corporatized, money grab that are big music festivals now.
TTM: Fyre Festival?
Julie: [Laughs.] You can say Fyre Festival was born here!
Rebecca DeRosa is the Reviews Editor at Tom Tom Magazine and drummer in the band Fisty.
Jeanne Sager is a photographer in the Catskill mountains of Sullivan County, New York, specializing in family portraits — newborns, maternity, seniors, etc. — and weddings. http://jeannesagerphotography.com