Interview: The Dead Seat | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Stockton Calling (11th April) is approaching and so we’ll be running a series of features on artists that will be performing on our stage at The Green Room. First up is Darlington’s good time gospel-blues outfit The Dead Seat. A band who have been relentlessly touring the region this past couple of years and getting audiences up off their feet with their catchy hooks and big choruses. We catch up with bass player, Paul Wheeler to find out a little more about them.

How would you summarise The Dead Seat’s sound in a single sentence?
Foot tapping, soulful blues.

Who are your biggest musical influences?
The first time we heard a modern-day retro sound was Pokey La Farge. We covered La La Blues in our previous band. The next touchstone was The Dead Brothers Can’t Get Enough of That Stuff. We realised there were lots of bands using acoustic instrumentation, strings, brass and woodwind to create older sounding music and we started to search around for inspiration. Southern Gothic seemed the right genre but we found we weren’t particularly dark or introspective, we did however like the themes of misery, poverty, temptation and redemption. We found bands such as The Devil Makes Three, Whiskey Shivers, The Haunted Windchimes and The Dead South and started covering their songs. Although a lot of their output could be considered Bluegrass we kind of liked the songs with a strong stomp beat and started writing our own. We listened to the recordings of Alan Lomax, the chain gang worker songs, Leadbelly, and the delta blues. We also got inspiration from Ray Charles, Charles Bradley, Ella Fitzgerald, Doc Watson and Etta James. We constantly look for new inspiration. Starting from scratch and researching as you go makes the songwriting that much more interesting.

How did you get together as a band?
 We have been playing together in various bands for 18 years. Ben, Pete and I started out in the jazz-punk combo Browser in 2002. Ben and Pete then went on to form a 3 piece melodic rock band called The Traits which later became a 4 piece as Carillion. I was briefly in a Grunge rock band called Sports before leaving to live in London. 8 years later I moved back to Darlington and we started playing together again, first as The Baddies, then as The Bad Suits, an acoustic rock n roll band. When that finished we decided to simplify the sound, focus on one theme and became The Dead Seat. Fuzz is a drumming veteran from acts such as The Shining and The Equalizers. We knew him from the Golden Age of the Darlington music scene, what people in the know refer to as the Dognoise era. He was looking for a band after The Equalizers disbanded. We took the best reggae drummer in Darlington and sat him on a box!

Tell us more about your songwriting process.
We are essentially a jamming band. Ben or I will come to practice with an idea, a few lyrics, a melody or an idea for a cover and we take it from there. Sometimes a song will emerge from a jam, a riff from Peter for instance. A song can happen quickly or take a little time, a few sessions. We will tweak the structure and start working on the harmonies and solos. We use a limited approach. We don’t use effects and we keep instruments to what can be easily carried, but we will use harmonicas, shakers, kazoos, whistles, claps and acapella to fill out a song, make it richer. We discuss where to drop down or shift the tempo, and make rough recordings as a starting point for the next session. We all have an input. Sometimes the song will mutate quite radically from how it was first conceived. And sometimes, after all that, we feel the song just doesn’t fit the band or what we wish to present, and it might be ditched. When we are happy with a song we like to play it out at an open mic night and see what the response is. If we are happy then it goes on ‘the board’. Songs on the board are rehearsed and can go into a set. We have quite a broad range of slow and fast numbers on the board now and we tailor the set to the gig. Not all gigs are the same and it’s a challenge trying to foresee what will work in what order for a particular crowd.

What can the Stockton Calling audience expect from your performance on 11th April?
I think people can expect to enjoy hearing songs that they didn’t know they would like. It is a common comment we get after gigs. Our sound taps into an earlier form of music, from before blues became popular with the British invasion bands and all the subsequent evolutions into the plethora of pop music of the last 6 decades. It isn’t about technical excellence, it’s about getting a good time vibe. We want to channel happy churches, cotton fields, gandy dancers and juke joints. I think the music is new to listeners but feels like they have heard it before. But we hope to make the crowd sing and dance and have a good time.

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