Bob and Mike Delevante jangled onto the scene in the late ’90s with left-of-dial proto-Americana that harkened back to the folky blends of Laurel Canyon and the true blue rock n’ roll of their native New Jersey. Popped somewhere between other Nashville rebels of the era and the earthiness of their heroes, The Delevantes released two stellar albums (Long About That Time in ’95 & Postcards From Along The Way in ’97) before shifting careers and putting their art school degrees to use on the other side of the industry in Music City. Mike started Delevante Creative, a firm specializing in branding and design while brother Bob segued from the stage to behind the camera developing a reputation as a savvy and prolific photographer amid solo efforts. Though the siblings have remained bonded in pursuits within those realms, one might argue that it was only a matter of time before the Rickenbacker’s twang beckoned the band back together, and with rain rhythm and heavyweight denim harmonies, The Delevantes have come around again with A Thousand Turns. Joined by longtime collaborator, fellow Garden Stater, and E Street Band member Garry Tallent (who also co-produced the album), Mike and Bob share what it was like to be back in the studio together after two decades and just what exactly you should (maybe) call their music. A Thousand Turns is available now on CD and through all your favorite digital platforms!
AI- Fellas! I’m glad I could connect with you! Very exciting with the new album out– and way to do the slow burn! 24 years since the last album?
BD- Yeah, we’ve been tryin’ to build up some anticipation!
MD- Somebody wrote a review recently that said, “Some fans take a break. The Delevantes took a Rip Van Winkle break!”
Well, I wanna start pre-pandemic, if we can, 2019. Bob, you and Mike had been performing again together. Was A Thousand Turns a reality at that point or was it just getting started?
BD- It was just getting started. The last few years have been so crazy trying to figure out timing-wise, but we got the tracking and stuff done before the pandemic for the most part.
What had been your musical connection in between? I find it hard to believe that you guys weren’t gettin’ together and playin’, or even writing from time to time even though you’ve been pursuing your own careers outside of the band.
MD- It’s hard to explain sometimes, but both Bob and I do a lot of different kinds of creative work. When we’re not doin’ music, we’re doin’ visual art and we work together a lot too. So we’re always doin’ that kind of stuff together too. We live in Nashville, it’s a pretty musical town, and Garry’s one of our best friends, and so we get together and play all the time! Bob had three solo records out after our Capitol release, so he’s been in it a lot, and he’s always writing.
We really didn’t plan to do this record. We had planned to do a record and then studio time became available to us, so we took that opportunity. Bob had a bunch of songs done, so we did those, and then we wrote a couple together and did two week-long sessions and got 14 tracks done. And then the pandemic hit! We kinda went into how-do-we-finish-this-record mode! We took that time to do overdubs and learn Pro Tools and try to figure stuff out (laughs)! We worked like a lot of bands work. We would do overdubs and I’d send them to Garry and send them to Bob, and Bob would do some stuff and send ’em to us. We just went back and forth through email and sent it to the guy mixing it, and that’s how we ended the process!
That process, as you call it– the trading back and forth of files, doing everything remotely that way. It’s been such a weird thing to watch people evolve in the recording process and in the mixing and editing process due to the pandemic and the constraints that’s put on it. Garry, for you comin’ at it production-wise, having to piece everything together that way, was this new for you, or had you dipped your toes into this before?
GT- We just approached the whole thing very organically. I don’t really consider myself the producer. We all went in and did it, and it was all very casual. I think that the record captures that feeling and that approach. I could be wrong, but I think that it’s very organic. It’s very real-sounding despite the fact that it’s all done on computers. It’s an odd thing! Twenty-five years ago, we couldn’t have done this record this way! The technology is there, but we can still make it sound genuine, nonetheless. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
BD- I also think, again, timing-wise, the lion’s share of it was we were all in the rooms together before the pandemic. There were some stray parts that had to get done afterwards, but the real building of the songs and figuring it out, we all did it like we used to really. So a lot of that feeling was there already.
MD- Yeah, I think getting the spirit of the rhythm tracks is definitely something that we’ve always been drawn to as far as how to make a record, and that was get everybody in a room and capture a feeling, and then you build from there. But I would say doing a lot of the guitar parts, it was, for me, different than our other records and other things I’ve played on. You find yourself in a room alone with Pro Tools figuring parts out and then sending them to Bob and saying, “What do you think about this?”
That was all new to me! I hadn’t recorded a record in 20+ years! Usually, you’re sitting in a control room and people are starin’ at you while you’re tryin’ to come up with a guitar part (laughs)! This was just a little bit different, but I think we tried to embrace that and go, “Well, let’s just do this in a different way.”
BD- It can be good in a way because a lot of times, you’re in a studio and it’s “we have an hour to do this” and you’re sort of rushed. [This way], when figuring out some of the later overdub parts, you can take ’em and live with ’em for a couple days. Obviously, if you look at the timeline of our scheduling, we weren’t really rushing things (laughs)! That’s for sure! But it was a nice way! You could live with part, ” Eh, maybe I’ll change that? Or do this a little differently.” It gave us some time– which could be a good thing too!
Tell me about writing together again. Was it just like gettin’ on the bike and ridin’ again? Was it a comfortable familiarity in sitting down to put songs together as the brothers?
BD- Oh yeah! The more I think about it, Mike and I started playin’ guitars and singin’ together for fun when we were, I dunno, six and nine, so when you do something for that long, even if you take a break for a while– and we were doin’ some things in between there– we know each other so well. I didn’t feel like we missed a beat really. It felt very comfortable to me.
MD- I’d say maybe after the second song we tracked, we looked around at each other in the studio and I think Gary said something like, “You guys, we haven’t missed a beat!” And it’s just because we’ve known each other so long and [are] really comfortable with each other as friends and just goin’ in the studio. Like what Gary said, it was organic because we didn’t have any real expectations. We didn’t even know we were making a record when we first went in there! We just had some songs and we thought, “We’ve got some studio time. Let’s just have some fun and record some things!” It wasn’t until after the week was up and we thought, “This is soundin’ like we have a record goin’ here!” We played a couple shows too, which were fun, Garry had put out a solo record (More Like Me)and he asked us to be in his band. We went out and played a couple shows together and it was a lot of fun, so we were sort of igniting some creativeness around all of us.
The three of you– did I see that you actually met at a Steve Earle show years ago?
MD- Yes, we did! First trip to Nashville! You wanna hear the story?
MD- Well, it was 1988, I believe. We came to Nashville just to visit for about a week. One night, we heard Steve Earle was playing at this big club here in town called The Cannery. Bob and I were real excited ’cause Steve is one of our all-time favorites! We saw Garry up on stage playin’ a song and we were just really excited ’cause we were huge Springsteen fans as well! He got off stage and– this is my memory of it– he walked over to us ’cause we were standin’ in the back of the club wearing leather jackets. He walked up to us and said, “You guys must be from New Jersey. You’re wearing the uniform.” And he had a leather jacket on too! So just the three of us! It’s hard to believe that there weren’t other leather jackets in Nashville, but apparently, there weren’t (laughs)!
BD- Well, it was July (laughs)!
MD- We became friends from that moment on and just kept in touch. We went back to New Jersey, came back and forth a couple times to do some demo work, and eventually just moved here!
BD- And inundated the poor guy with cassette demo tapes!
MD- Yes! We had to empty our trunk and put ’em in someone else’s trunk! So we gave ’em to him!
I love the Rickenbacker sound, that jangle, and when you get the right beat behind it, it really doesn’t matter whether the song is happy or sad, I think it just feels phenomenal. I can only imagine that’s something that you both have missed from playing together. And it just shines so brightly on the new album!
BD- Mike’s in charge of the 12-string there, and it’s always been an integral part.
MD- Bob’s always joked that every guitar I have sounds the same anyway (laughs)! I got an old telecaster that I play live. Back when we were touring, it was hard to have more than one guitar out there gettin’ on planes and stuff. I played a telecaster, but it’s the same style. I’ve always liked that sort of melodic jangle and bands that have done that, obviously starting with the Beatles through the Byrds and through R.E.M. That style of playing may even come from earlier country music and bluegrass. Steve Martin always had a comedy routine about [how] you can’t have a sad song with a banjo (laughs)! He plays banjo and he goes, “I’m gonna write a song about sickness and death… But I’m gonna do it with a banjo!” That jangle, melodic thing…
GT- It’s like a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down!
You guys were really, I think, ahead of the curve when you consider the landscape of what Americana music is today. I look around at a lot of the newer bands that are playing and then some of your contemporaries at the time that are even now putting out records. When you think about what you were doing then, and you hear what you’re doing now, how do you feel about that? Do you feel like you’ve come back around or are you just right on time?
BD- Oh, man! I don’t know? I never thought about it timing-wise!
GT- In the ’90s, we thought we were doing country! They told us that we weren’t, as it turns out (laughs)!
BD- It also depended upon where you were.
MD- If we were up in Hoboken playing, everybody goes, “Man, you guys, you’re a country band!” And then we came to Nashville and like, “Oh, you guys are a rock n’ roll band!”
BD- We needed to move to Delaware or somethin’ like that, somewhere in between!
GT- Right on the Mason Dixon line!
MD- We’ve talked about this recently, you know, back when they started Americana, before that, they would just say roots music or country rock or alt-rock. Everybody tries to put a name on it, but I guess it was a radio format that was trying to be able to find a home. And they were our favorite artists too! Singer-songwriters like John Prine and Steve Earle, Foster & Lloyd, Nancy Griffith– those were the artists that we really loved! I think it was exciting to have a home for your music in a radio format, for sure. It’s pretty big now, Americana, I hear (laughs)!
GT- I think we used to call it AAA too.
In that mid to late ’90s period, I lived in BFE, Georgia and my parents had just gotten a dish. So at the most random times of day, I could catch blocks of what I considered at the time and still call alt-country on TNN or CMT– and it played Steve Earle, Fred Eaglesmith, Chris Knight– and The Delevantes! That stuff was as cool and important to me as the Stooges and the Ramones because it felt fringe and it felt different than what was on the other 23 hours a day on those channels.
GT- I forgot about alt-country!
MD- I forgot about folk rock! We were talkin’ about how now some of the artists that were considered mainstream, like Bruce Springsteen or Jackson Browne if they came out now, they would be Americana artists.
And are! Garry can attest to that. Watching the most recent albums that Springsteen has put out, they’ve been thoroughly embraced by Americana radio and Americana enthusiasts as much as the long-time fans of Springsteen’s music. Jackson Browne as well, who just released an album.
MD- I actually went to that show! I saw Jackson Brown and James Taylor together. It was a great show, but again, if they were new artists now, they would be Americana.
Bob, did I see in the liner notes of the album that you play the saw?
MD- (Laughs) Play? I’m not sure I’d use that term myself!
BD- I do not play in the traditional sense of like the bowed– you know, how the people play the saw? But we were lookin’ for some kind of a percussion thing, and it was used on the song “This Old House”. I always, or we all end up a lot of times in old homes. I don’t know why? We just like old homes!
MD- Gluttons for punishment?
BD- Yeah, pretty much! I was messin’ with using a saw– just like cutting a board– so that became a percussion track, and it fit thematically that’s for sure. But, yes, it was more like just a sawing motion of the wood, not the bowed thing. I’d like to try that sometime, but I don’t know if my wife would let me (laughs)!
There’s a group in Atlanta, Andrea & Mud, and Andrea, the lead singer for that group, plays the saw.
BD- Oh, is that right? You’re saying like the bowed kind? It’s pretty amazing– but my wife won’t let me rehearse that in the house!
MD- That’s why you have your own studio!
The album has 14 songs, which is massive, and I don’t feel like there’s one filler track on it. Every single one can stand on its own. My question is, did you have to pare it down? And if you did, does that mean that there’s more to come down the road?
MD- There’s always more to come! We did two weeks of tracking at Blackbird Studios here in Nashville, and we did seven songs each week. When we got done with it, we thought about, “Would we pare it down?” And again, just because we went into the project without anything in mind other than we were just having fun with our friends making music, we thought, “Why try to pare it down?” We were happy with them all, and we thought if we can fit ’em all on a record, let’s just release ’em! Bob’s always writing, and I think we’ll continue to write some things together. So I would like to say that there is more coming. Because we don’t want to wait another 24 years!