Originally from the small Southern Indiana town of Haubstadt, Deer came to Indianapolis via Nashville, Tenn. There, he worked for Epiphone guitars and played in a co-worker’s comedy country band. Will Jones and the Western Fringe’s big hit was “Don’t Fart When We Are Loving.” “That was a real trip,” Deer said with a laugh.
Once in Indianapolis, he began working as a music teacher at Indianapolis Public School 16 at 34th and Pennsylvania streets — a job he loves. And one that contributes to his music. “There are definitely situations I see at school with kids that inspire some of the thoughts behind the lyrics,” he said. He also soon met fellow guitarist Matt Boyer and helped form Citizens Band — a group that gained popularity in its four years in Indianapolis, self-releasing a solid CD of its own.
“Citizens Band was an incredible experience,” Deer said. “We all learned from each other and grew together. I knew I wanted to go a little different direction and this is what came out of that.” Deer and his former bandmates remain friends. Boyer will be playing behind Deer in the CD release show Friday.
The new direction Deer wanted to go was toward pop music. He said he didn’t want to do another “me-and-my-guitar album.” “It’s a personal preference, really. It’s more like a lot of what I’m listening to now — Radiohead, Wilco, Modest Mouse, pop alternative stuff,” Deer said. “I wanted it to be a mixture of that band sound along with coming from the singer-songwriter’s perspective.”
But, by turning toward pop, Deer isn’t turning away from depth. “The stuff I listen to is very palatable but also has these underlying layers so that, each time you listen to it, you can pick up this new layer. So, after listening to it 10 times, you’re still going, ‘Oh, I didn’t notice that before,’” he said. “My favorite albums are the ones that you can peel away the layers.”
Deer found the perfect partner in the project with Chicago producer Matt Thompson. The two met each other through Thompson’s mom — who happened to be Deer’s neighbor here in Indianapolis. And they clicked immediately. “He would throw some demos at me and I’d think to myself, ‘That’s exactly what I was going for,’ Deer said. “It’s almost like he just knew.”
The process started in August of 2003, with the two working to make demos in Thompson’s basement studio. “A lot of the stuff, originally, sounded very, very acoustic or singer-songwriter. Some of it sounded a lot like my previous band, Citizens Band,” Deer said. “Matt really started to see a vision for this album before I did, reworking the music for the songs I had.”
With demos in hand, Thompson, a multitalented musician who plays bass for the Mighty Blue Kings, brought engineer Dan Steinman and a group of Chicago musicians into the studio this spring to make the collaborative vision a full-blown reality. “Matt made available these amazing musicians who could pull off the ideas he was putting out,” Deer said. “It really became a team effort.
They all had incredible input and so did Dan Stineman. He was amazing. “I would throw in my two cents and Matt would say, ‘That’s a good idea, let’s do it this way.’ Or Matt or Dan would say, ‘How about this?’ And I would say, ‘Run with it.’ There’s the mixture of my songwriting with his musical ideas and then you put the band in there …” This approach was much different than the one Deer and Citizens Band took with that album. And the pop aspect of the music — with electronic drums and synthesizer effects — allowed for many possibilities.
“Matt just has an amazing ability to construct these instruments weaving in and out — the tape effects and instruments weaving in and out,” Deer said. He remembered one session lasting until the early morning hours after a full day of recording. Thompson had a drum loop set up for the song “Veiled Eyes” that just wasn’t right. “So Matt and Dan ran it through the tape machine and did all of these effects to it and it was like two mad scientists with the lab coats on. I was in the background going, ‘Yeah, yeah, more of that.’ We just had a blast doing it.”
Deer said he wanted the album to sound something like Elvis Costello backed by the Cure. Mission accomplished. Deer’s distinct and earthy vocals carry “Black Cloud Talk” and shine best in “Playing with Guns” and “I’m Not Built That Way” — the album’s two cello-and-acoustic-guitar ballads. The opener, “Sad Song,” and the guitar-driven tune “Small Town Affair” sound — in the music and vocals — much like the 1980s new-wave band the Plimsouls. Deer’s songwriting, with its blend of light and darkness and its influences from the city and the country, mirror the work of Peter Case, former Plimsouls’ frontman who went on to a relatively successful solo career.
As a whole, Black Cloud Talk shows promise for Deer, who is working hard to promote and distribute the album himself. “I started realizing that some of the most successful people I’ve seen grow as artists started releasing their own records and building their own following — really working their butts off,” he said. “That seems better than just throwing it out there and hoping to hit it big.”