Although hard to categorize—with its freewheeling mix of rock, reggae, electronica, and improvisation — the Deems are rapidly becoming one of Virginia’s most in-demand jam bands. With the 2013 release of Limes and Forms, a wildly successful Colorado tour in early 2014, and some well-deserved attention from across the pond in the UK, The Deems are broadening their reach far beyond the house parties that are the staple of any university community. The band is Mitchell Waranch, guitarist/vocals; Tim Reckley, keyboard/trombone/vocals; Andrew Hollifield, bassist/back-up vocals; and John Armstrong, drummer/vocals.
“The quartet builds a different set of music for every show, constantly improvising their far-reaching arsenal of songs with extended interludes and accelerated chord progressions,” wrote Justin Filiaggi in an April 2013 article about the band. Since their inception in 2010 as The Sour Deemsters, the band played virtually every weekend in different Harrisonburg, Virginia locations, from rickety wooden stages in West Market Street basements to the refined paint-glazed dining room at Clementine Cafe. “Our music is like an ongoing conversation,” says Armstrong,” where we’ll gradually build around a new theme while we’re still playing off the old one.”
One of the UK’s most active musical omnivores, reviewer Leicester Bangs, called the band “talented and versatile,” playing “a hip blend of improvised psychedelia, blue-eyed reggae and baggy-funk… the musical combinations they concoct sound remarkably fresh, and interestingly, they seem completely at home in a studio setting.” Read the full review here: http://leicesterbangs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/review-deems-limes-and-forms.html
In the past four years, the band has gained statewide recognition, frequently playing the major markets in Virginia and sharing the stage with Deltanine, Segway, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Supatight, and Brock Butler of Perpetual Groove. Thus far, 2014 has seen the rapid the progression of the band, with shows in Asheville, St Louis, and a 8 night run in Colorado. The summer will bring several festival dates as well as a one month residency at famed the Richmond, VA venue The Camel.
The Deems are available for both phone and in-studio interviews; contact Mitchell Waranch or John Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review: The Deems – Limes and Forms
The Deems – Limes and Forms (Independent)
Rapidly acquiring a reputation as Harrisonburg, Virginia’s most popular jam band, the talented and versatile quartet play a hip blend of improvised psychedelia, blue-eyed reggae and baggy-funk. I don’t suppose they could be accused of being overly cutting edge, though the musical combinations they concoct sound remarkably fresh, and interestingly, they seem completely at home in a studio setting. That’s not always the case with bands that thrive on stage, spontaneously stretching their songs and finding new angles to explore. Here, each song feels just right. There are no premature endings and the band make plenty of space for individual members to solo – and they play their six tracks in a smidge over 32 minutes, so they’re hardly in a rush.
They begin strongly with “Thinking Go”, where brass and keyboards bolster its easy groove, and the effect is not unlike a heady mash-up of late-period Can, Happy Mondays, and Dutch proggers like Focus. “401k” is probably the closest they get to a pop song, while still making room for space-jazz keyboards and a propulsive beat. They continue their jazzy explorations on “Limes” though this time it’s a fusion sound they go for and the result is dance-floor friendly with a strong vocal hook. The centrepiece track is “Crustache”, a seven-minute workout that comes in several linked parts and features a range of guitar styles – from Jerry Garcia’s feather-light leads to Freddie Stone’s funk - massive Bootsy-style basslines, swirling keys, and a spoken word, proto rap vocal.
Junkyard Blogging: A Deems Show Review
My time spent at James Madison University was an amazing moment in my life. At the core of my experience was friendship and music; at the heart of friendship and music was The Deems.
It was a Friday night at JMU. I found myself in a basement with maybe twenty people or so listening to three kids jamming on drums, bass, and guitar. There were no songs, only improvisation, a few Phish teases, and one moon-ball. I still remember feeling my way around the scene in the kitchen when I heard the opening "dun-nuh, dun-nuh" of "Wilson" beckoning people to return to the basement for more music. I'd come across a group of people who wanted to spend their Friday night in a house far off campus listening to their friends jam. It was blissful.
Over the next three years I watched the Sour Deemsters evolve from a three-piece to a four-piece, and that four-piece change three members, giving birth to what we know as The Deems today. Although members came and went, the essence of the experience always remained the same: friends dancing with friends to friends playing music for friends. The extent to which the music continued to get better with every passing semester was a somewhat unforeseen and amazing development. The whole thing went from a "Man, this is cool we've got musical friends who we can listen to jam out tonight instead of another apartment party" type scenario, to me telling my friends back home that "Guys, you all need to drive your asses down here and watch this band throw down because things have changed-- seriously."
That one moon-ball morphed into a professional lighting rig. At the helm were two brothers known as Cloud Lighting who contributed their own form of sensory-affecting improvisation every show. The music reached the point where it totally stood on its own merit; the house, the party, the friends, the strangers, the relationship with the guys in the band, all of that-- the music didn't need it to speak the way it was speaking. The mix of all of those elements made for some absolutely incredible times as a collective group coming together, for sure, but my point is that if the music was what mattered to you the most then you were leaving satisfied regardless of all those other elements that surrounded a lot of Deems shows. So...
The Deems, currently based out of Richmond, VA, are the most cohesive and refined incarnation of the band to date. As a fan who went from seeing a lot of Deems to none over the last eight months (and listening to no recent recordings), it is really cool for me to watch the video that I am going to review below. To be sure, the trend of The Deems continually evolving for the better has not been broken. On to the show from January 23, 2014 at the Hot Spot in Waynesboro, VA...
"Jam" > (15:19- 21:52):
I love when The Deems jam to open the set. This one begins subtly psychedelic and gradually turns straight space-cow-funk with solid bass and drum grooves, Tim on the clavinet, and Mitch laying down some nice rhythm work. From this opening jam, it seems that the guitar tone has been tweaked since my last show-- the wah effect is a little more smooth and funky on the rhythm playing. The jam heads into a movement where we can see how tone has changed by listening to (and watching) the guitar in a lead position.
The notes played feel a bit cleaner, sustained and less strained. It's not that the style of playing is different, but the shift in tone seems to make what Mitch used to play look that much easier, allowing him to move from high riffing back down the fretboard in a more seamless fashion. The landing from peaks in this jam and others in this set are stuck easier, meaning there is less space between the peak and the recovery movement. It sort of has a ripple effect that makes the playing over the course of a jam tighter as a whole.
The jam moves into this choppy-metalish riffing that the band locks onto for a few measures before peaking twice and falling off into a little bass break-down. It's here that we see Andrew incorporating some bass strumming, which is a technique that I don't recall him using much (if at all) in the past. Yet, it is utilized often throughout the set and comes into play during what is the highlight jam of the show. Personally, I think it plays nicely into what can be at times a very forceful and driving pluck or slap playing style. Starting up...
"Junkyard Dog"> (21:53-32:17):
A Deems live staple that I could catch at every show and be totally fine with. Coming out of the song and into a jam that begins with a section centering around some good ole bass slapping, it is a nicely paced version with Mitch back on the wah rhythm we saw in the opening jam and Tim injecting both organ and clav-- it's funked out for a good three minutes.
At the 26:23 mark, Tim switches to the piano and Mitch moves away from rhythm and into some nice interplay with Andrew. By the way, the drums have been insanely tight thus far (nice little fills @27:53). The next section of the jam begins at the 28:29 mark where some space opens up. Mitch utilizes an effect that adds an eeriness to the atmosphere, and Tim is already waiting to take initiative with some appropriately delicate piano notes-- the groovy cymbal work is spot on during this segment. It could have lasted another minute or two (or ten) for my tastes, but the transition out prompted by some jarring distorted guitar (@29:18) and the proceeding portion of the jam felt like a natural exist from space nonetheless.
Mitch lands on a riff (@30:02) that brings the jam back up and leads to a peak (@31:27) that, again, is hit forcefully and recovered from well. As my ears' memory serves me (and a few videos from early last year), those notes didn't have as much of a sustained punch in the past-- it's so nice to hear on this video. The jam falls out somewhat abruptly, but the rest of the band is on it and begins heading towards...
This is a song that works well just about anywhere in a set, but I do like it in the front half. It is their most pop-friendly song (in a good way) with a vamping lead-in to a catchy chorus that makes a smiling crowd want to throw their hands up in celebration and bounce around (that one chick has the right idea). The jam coming out of this version begins with a dancy-space-funk movement. I feel like "401k" is a great song to go into jams like this given the way they come out of the final chorus. This theme is very short lived here, however, as Andrew and Mitch move into a bass slappin', guitar choppin' section.
I've been to shows where I thought this interplay was used effectively to give a jam with some steam on it already an added push, and I've been to shows where it might have been a little overused. Although it lead to a jam that ripped nicely, I would've like to see them try to develop a fresh idea or theme a bit more instead of going to the chop/slap so soon.
But this section does lead to more fire from the band (@37:20) and some tight peaking. Mitch shows some nice work (@38:37) throughout this jam, slipping nicely into some tension/release (@38:48) and towards two nice peaks (38:53/ 39:21) with a lot of nice phrasing and movement. It feels like more notes are being played. As the jam comes down, the beat is switched up on a dime (@40:33) and they move into a light-hearted groove that patiently bleeds into...
"Whippet Love" (43:00-51:10):
This song's Dead-reggae-ish vibe fits nicely right here as it closes out the first run of the set-- its uplifting feeling and sense of closure in the jam segment is a great way to start the next chunk of music or act as a closer. It's one of a few songs that has an obligatory emotive jam. Deems have "Whippet Love", "You Crazy F*ck", "Portrait of Taylor" and "Unicorn Valley" just as Phish have "Hood", "Reba" and "Slave"-- you know, the beautiful songs where the guitarist tries to melt your heart, punch you in the gut, and rip your face off simultaneously.
The guitarist delivers in the version-- he's playing a strong show right now.
"Feel This Strange Pt. 1 & 2"-> (51:47-1:05:43):
So far the band has touched on funk, rock, and reggae in the first three songs, only to follow it up with a little more dubbiness into the blues. The first two parts of this trilogy rank somewhere around the middle of their catalogue for me and aren't typically on my to-hear list at a show, but its always enjoyable when they pop up in a set. This version rips hard-- it's balls out shredding rock from the band.
The jam starts out with a tight rhythmic section (@56:05) and moves to some funky bass and guitar riffing/rhythm before cooling off and breaking things down (@59:55). The entire band is moving together and sharing the space well at this point-- very tight and chilled out (John @1:00:25-28). At the 1:01:32 mark, Mitch lands on a riff from which this jam lifts off-- the bass line revolves primarily around this riff and uses strumming throughout this section while the guitar just absolutely rips and wails as it gets calmly abused-- the drums propel forward and the organ soars. There is no doubt that Mitch is in total control as his body language remains loose and he appears to be playing unconsciously (@1:03:07-13), as does the band. This is why I wake up with a sore neck and heavy head after a Deems show.
As this portion of the jam falls off with some distorted guitar chords ringing out, the band brings things down (@1:05:05) into a really beautiful place that hints at a transition into "Portrait of Taylor".
"Portrait of Taylor" (1:05:43-1:19:16):
After the multi-themed strangeness that ended on a hot and aggressive note, I find the setlist framing of this portrait to be very nice-- a chance to catch our breath in the aftermath of the preceding fire. The song itself begins with an intro when Andrew starts finger-picking and Mitch follows with the main riff from which he moves about. John holds things down on the ride and Tim contributes his own beautiful ideas on the piano. It's just a pretty piece of music that shows the versatility of emotion The Deems are capable of invoking.
In the past, this was a song that never saw that much play, but has appeared in sets far more frequently since last summer-- and I think it deserves to. The song has a nice bounce to it throughout the verses and an uplifting bridge break-down (@1:10:58) that calls my feet to work out a little Dave Matthews shuffle. The emotive jam that follows is an appropriate extension of the song as a whole. Beautiful and patiently, everyone is playing in a very delicate manner before things start to accelerate. Again, this is one of those songs, like "Whippet Love" earlier in the show, that sets out to be a soaring and emotional moment driven by the guitarist. This version holds its own.
"Head For the Hills" (1:19:58-1:25:52):
A Deems classic and fan-favorite. It has enough going on in the song itself, with its various sections ranging from metal to swing to reggae, to work as a satisfying jam-less set closer regardless of time constraints. It's an anthematic Deems song that always served as a nice reminder of our youthfulness and as an antidote to any sort of periodic anxiousness surrounding the temporality of college life-- "Everyone is fine. Oh, we ain't worried 'bout time- everything's alright."
It still gives me the same feeling today as it always did.
The Deems put together a very well-played set without missed cues, glaring blemishes, or a lack of cohesion. Six songs were played over the course of 70 minutes which breaks down to ~12 minutes a song. The band touched on a number of different genres, themes, and moods in song selection and improvisation. It was a dynamic performance with notable contributions from all four members throughout.
With the addition of a multi-effects pedal, the guitar tone that I always loved has become more powerful while its rawness has become refined without losing its edge. If tone shapes style then this evolution in sound has only helped the progression of the playing itself along with practice, of course. A staple characteristic of The Deems' style of jamming is their chaotic/tension/release form of peaking and it is something that they've only gotten better at over time.
As the lead guitar peaks and moves forward with a fuller, stronger, crisper sound you feel it hit with much more of a punch-- your ears hear it, but you feel it much more in a physical sense. The movement/ re-location/phrasing/number of notes displayed on the guitar surrounding those climaxes was great. Ideas were fresh and with a limited rehash of phrasing-- consistently strong playing without over-indulging at the expense collective improvisation of the band as a whole.
In regards to the band as a unit: there was confidence without cockiness, swagger without flashiness, and a focused ease to the whole performance. The Deems showed attentive listening within tranquil spaces that nurtured more pensive conversation, amidst peaks of controlled frenzy and everything in between; there was a pervasive fluidity to the music played in this set.
One final note: props be given to the fifth member of the band, Cloud Lighting, for continuing to enhance the music with their impressive visual production skills.
The Deems have their sights set west as they are about to embark on their first tour beyond the east coast. To all the Deem Teamers, my hope is that you might use this re-cap when spreading the music to those unfamiliar with the band. Remember, it's alright to nerd out about The Deems. See you guys in Colorado...
Set highlights: Jam> Junkyard Dog, Feel This Strange Pt. 1 & 2
Head For the Hills Tour :
2/27- Plush/ St. Louis, MO
2/28- Private Event/ Boulder, CO
3/1- Donkey OT/ Denver, CO
3/5- 320 South/ Breckenridge, CO (w/ Pigeons Playing Ping Pong)
3/6- Quixote's True Blue/ Denver, CO
3/7- Private Event/ Boulder, CO
3/9- The Bowery/ Knoxville, TN
Three years ago, senior Mitch Waranch had a vision he hoped would offer JMU students an alternative to the typical house party, the repetitive pop music and senseless binge drinking that went along with it.
That vision has culminated into what is now a four-piece jam band: The Deems.
“We do it because we love the energy, because we want to give people something to do rather than the same JMU parties over and over again,” lead guitarist Waranch said. “We were trying to create something for the kids that may feel trapped in that mentality of JMU.”
Since their inception in 2010 as The Sour Deemsters, the band has played virtually every weekend in different Harrisonburg locations, from rickety wooden stages in West Market Street basements to the refined paint-glazed dining room at Clementine Cafe.
Regardless of where they play, The Deems’ style invokes a unique mixture of rock, reggae and electronic sound that has the ability to produce everything from face-melting guitar solos to smooth, entrancing keyboard melodies.
Of the four band members, three graduated from JMU last year: keyboardist Tim Rekly and two former Blue Mountain Collective members, bassist Andrew Holliefield and drummer John Armstrong.
The jam quartet constructs a different set of music for every show, constantly improvising their far-reaching arsenal of songs with extended interludes and accelerated chord progressions.
“You can’t really explain how we pick up on different cues, like we’ll be looking around at each other and I’ll catch a smirk on someone’s face and you get a feeling like ‘OK, let’s go,’” Armstrong said. “It’s like an ongoing conversation, where we’ll gradually build around a new theme while we’re still playing off the old one.”
This distinctive musical improvisation, made popular by bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish, has helped The Deems develop their sound into what it is today.
In the last three years, the band has gained recognition statewide. This past Thursday night the band played in Baltimore at the nationally renowned venue The 8x10 with fellow rising bands DELTAnine and Segway.
“The 8x10 was maybe my favorite venue I’ve played at in my entire life,” Waranch said. “It was bizarre because the minute that I hit the first note the lights came up and the crowd went wild without ever having heard or seen us.”
With the success The Deems saw in Baltimore last Thursday, a move to one of the largest cities on the East Coast is currently in the works for this upcoming summer.
“As a band we decided that we wanted to pursue this as a career,” Waranch said. “Originally we wanted it to be Richmond, but we just love the scene in Baltimore. That same welcoming feeling we get here seemed like it carried over.”
The band plans to book as many shows as possible this summer. In the fall, beginning with Shenandoah Valley’s Spaghettifest, the band’s looking to commit to a lengthy tour up and down the East Coast.
The Deems have attributed much of their success to a local fan base so dedicated that it has now become an institution with a name: “The Deem Team.” The Deem Team has grown from the interconnection of fans of other talented Harrisonburg bands the group has shared shows with including Money Cannot Be Eaten, Two Alpacas and The Serotones.
Keyboardist Tim Rekly believes that the band’s performances are more passionate when they play in places where the fans energy is almost tangible.
“That’s why basement parties are the best, because people are right in your face,” Rekly said. “It’s like looking into a mirror; people reflect the music back to us as it’s all happening at the same time. Sometimes I feel like all the cells in my body are exploding at once.”
Several fans, including senior media arts and design major Danielle Bohy remembers the days when that energy was hard to come by and the band had only a single strobe light in their West Market Street basement.
“It’s been really cool for me to see them evolve from essentially nothing to this powerhouse that kills it every night,” Bohy said. “You can tell that they’re confident and that they’ve become very comfortable in their own way. A brand new person that walked off the street that’s never seen them before could thoroughly enjoy it.”
The Deems’ last public show before their move this summer will be a special event titled “The Deems and Friends” tonight at 9 p.m. at The Blue Nile. Appearances by local musicians from the Harrisonburg area who’ve inspired The Deems will join the band on stage throughout the night.
Regardless of where The Deems future touring takes them, the band seeks to recognize the many components that have made the Harrisonburg music community what it is today.
“If you actually like music, here it is, because this is what we want to do every weekend and we know there’s people out here who want to do the same,” Waranch said. “We want to provide that opportunity for people to actually get involved within this community, with something bigger than just themselves.”
The Deems, a local jam quartet, perform Thursday at The Blue Nile. The band was started in 2010 but when three of the members left Harrisonburg, guitarist Mitchell Waranch recruited Andrew Hollifield (bass), John Armstrong (drums) and Tim Rekly (keyboards) to replace them.
The band started as a feature on the JMU house party circuit and brings that intimacy to their downtown shows.
The Deems are releasing their first album, “Limes and Forms,” this Friday. They will play a release party that night. Search “The Deems” on Facebook for more information.
Hydro-electro-phonic-funk. Those are the words that come to mind when I try to fit Harrisonburg’s most popular jam band- the Deems, into a musical genre. The Deems, previously known to some of you as the Sour Deemsters, have become a staple in the Harrisonburg music scene and have developed a significant following, affectionately called “the Deem Team.”
The Deems are a unique band in that they span the continuum of the Harrisonburg music scene, from JMU house parties to downtown venues like Blue Nile, Clementine, and the Artful Dodger. I have to say, regardless of where they perform, the Deems consistently deliver a great show characterized by laser lights and an audience that just can’t help but dance.
The band’s set lists are a mix of originals with the occasional Beatles or Phish cover thrown in. The Deems combine vocals with guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums, not to mention their habit of highlighting other instruments, resulting in great variety.
I’ve been a fan of the Deems for a while now, so last week when I heard there was a show on Thursday at the Blue Nile, I knew I had to attend! Nate Sacks started off the night with an acoustic set. Next up were the Deems with Mitch Waranch on guitar, Evan Morris on keyboard, Andrew Hollifield on bass, and John Armstrong on drums. As usual, the show did not disappoint, with just a $5 cover for hours of awesome music, saxophone and trombone solos included, and something that can only be described as “good vibes.”
One of the greatest aspects of a Deems show is how involved the audience gets with the music. I thought Thursday night would be a great opportunity for me to hear straight from the fans what they love about the Deems and what keeps them coming back for more. JMU senior Becky Peterson said, “They have great stage presence and energy! Their music is really good. I love the variety of sounds and instruments they experiment with.” Becky also noted that “the Blue Nile only adds to the atmosphere” and provides a great space for the audience to “jam.”
Another JMU senior, Jessica Jenkins, described the show as “crazy, intense, and wildly psychedelic” (as is certainly evident in the pictures). Jessica said what sets the Deems apart from other bands is that their performance is “a real show with lights, a fun atmosphere,” and most importantly, “band members that look like they’re having fun.”
Both Jessica and Becky expressed excitement for the next Deems’ show coming up on Thursday, April 5th at 9:30 pm at Clementine. As usual, the show is only a $5 cover.
Pinky's Farm, WV
Richmond, VA w/ Celtic Panda
Pinky's Farm, WV
July Residency in Richmond, VA
Virginia Beach, VA