The Spontaneous Chemistry of Deeper
How four sweet dudes from Chicago came up in the DIY rock scene and made a killer debut album.
When I tried to go see Deeper play a show in New York I was in between photo IDs, and the extremely strict bouncers at the venue wouldn’t let me in. Bassist Drew McBride and guitarist/lyricist/vocalist Nic Gohl, as well as Fire Talk label owner Trevor Peterson, all tried their darnedest to get me in, to no avail. You can imagine my frustration—in what world is a government-issued temporary ID not enough for you fools?! Though the melodic post-punk band wasn’t successful in wrangling me in, their valiant efforts, to me, proved that they are exactly the earnest, community-oriented musicians they seemed to be when I had previously spoken with them over the phone about their excellent debut album. There’s a ton of incredible music of all genres coming out of their native Chicago right now, but Deeper—McBride, Gohl, guitarist Mike Clawson, and drummer Shiraz Bhatti—stands out among the best new Chi-town rock.
McBride was at work and Gohl was on the drive home when I rang them up to talk about the extremely satisfying and catchy Deeper, which is the kind of record that snags you with its first sweet, spiraling hook and never looks back. Though the boys told me it was recorded sporadically over the course of a year and a half (they released the album’s first song, “Transmogrified,” as a loosie in 2016), it’s totally cohesive. It’s anxious about the world we’re living in, with lines about being “forced into debt” and cracking phones on pavement, and feeling the weight “crushing in.”
How did you all meet and become a band?
Drew McBride: We came together in a roundabout way—we’ve all been playing in the Chicago DIY scene for a while. Nic and Mike are best friends; they’ve known each other for a long time. I played in this band Landmarks, and we used to play with these guys before I joined. We’re good buddies with the band NE-HI, and that’s how we found our drummer Shiraz, ’cause he’s really good friends with them as well.
Nic Gohl: Me and Mike and Shiraz had already started Deeper around the time Landmarks broke up. We had always been a huge fan of Drew. He didn’t play bass, but we were like, “Fuck it, if you can play guitar you can play bass,” so we asked him to join.
Tell me about the album. How did it all come together?
Gohl: We never really set out to necessarily record an album. When we first started recording songs it was right when we first started playing together. We wanted to get it down on paper, essentially, so we wouldn’t forget anything. And slowly, throughout a year-and-a-half process, every couple of months we would get together with our friend Dave Vettraino, who Drew actually lives with, and also runs Public House Sound Recordings. During that time of randomly recording songs, we had an album.
McBride: I wish I could say we had some grand plan with a studio and laid down all these tracks, but it really was that we were in the mood to write a couple songs one way, so we went to the studio and recorded those, and then a few months later we recorded a couple songs that were slightly different moods.
Gohl: For a while, we were like, “Oh shit, is this even gonna work as an album?” because of that process. But I ended up liking that factor of the record even more. The difference between the recording sessions, the different feelings we had while writing certain songs.
“Recording is such a meticulous process, you end up, like, bludgeoning these songs to death. By the end of it we’re all sitting in the room looking at each other like, ‘Is this even good?’” — Drew McBride
It sounds like one album. I wouldn’t have guessed that it was recorded disjointedly at all. There are definitely different moods, though. I like that. It makes it feel full. My favorite song is “Message Erased.”
McBride: That one’s interesting because of the nature of how Shiraz and I run the rhythm section. We had the idea for the main hook. We just wanted to make something more focused rhythmically on the stop and start. That’s what makes it cool. The guitar chimes in, and you have the snap of the snare.
Gohl: You know the intro part—the melodic thing? I came in one day with a loop similar to that. We tried to recreate it, and then when we tried to transition to a different phrase, we came up with the main riff. Like all of our songs, we start with one idea and see where it goes. We just wrote a riff and tried to figure out what would come next, naturally. That one definitely incorporates the two different sides of the record. The fun, melodic parts, and the more hazy punk shit.
What are your favorites?
Gohl: I hated a lot of them. [Laughs.] After singing on everything you kind of start to get sour about a lot of things. But after taking a break from it I think “Pavement” and “Message Erased” are my two favorites. I like the way they evolve into each other. That was really intentional. To have one side end with that “Pavement” drone and the other side open up with that almost-happy guitar-interweaving thing that goes into “Message Erased.”
McBride: It’s probably either “Pink Showers” or “Message Erased” for me. But it’s funny because recording is such a meticulous process, you end up, like, bludgeoning these songs to death. By the end of it we’re all sitting in the room looking at each other like, “Is this even good?” You lose context of what is good music anymore. By the end, you don’t even get to really enjoy the songs. It really is—at the risk of sounding cheesy—for everyone else to enjoy.
Do you have any touchstones for your sound? Inspirations, influences, all that jazz?
Gohl: It’s hard to think of what inspired us for that period of time. We wrote sporadically throughout a year and a half and I can’t really pinpoint most of the stuff. I feel like the newer music is definitely influenced by more electronic music. Crash Course in Science, for me, and other synth-pop bands. And for Shiraz, he’s been working with a lot of hip-hop. As far as the older songs go, anywhere from fucking Devo and other friends’ bands like The Hecks. [The band] Women, of course, are a huge influence on us. Sonic Youth. Drew, what do you think?
McBride: That’s a pretty good summary. All the bands from outside of Chicago that Nic has listed were really big influences on all of us growing up. Our sound does get triangulated by the people around us, the community in Chicago, the people we play with. People often say we sound influenced by Omni, but we came up playing with Omni. We’ve known them for like four or five years. I don’t know if we’re necessarily influenced by them, or if we all just have the same sort of influences and are coming up at different times.
What’s the scene in Chicago like?
Gohl: We came up in the DIY scene. Animal Kingdom was huge then. It was a DIY space a few of our friends ran, in Avondale. They really allowed a lot of us to get our feet wet playing live. Deeper never played there, because it was done way before we started. But other bands we came up in, like Landmarks, and other bands I played in with Mike and Shiraz, played there almost every weekend. As with tons of other DIY spaces that have been closed down over the years, that gave us the ability to play like shit for a really long time, and then finally figure out what we wanted to do with music, and actually make a real effort at making something that maybe people in a sweaty basement would want to listen to, like, at a restaurant, or at home.
McBride: Take it for what it’s worth, even though we’re doing, like, white dude, indie rock thing, but there is a bunch of really interesting jazz and hip-hop coming up in the city. There’s this label International Anthem, and Dave, who I live with, records a lot of those records as well. That label is one of my favorite things about Chicago right now. It’s hit after hit after hit.
Yeah! I love that label, and all the hip-hop out of Chicago. What is the DIY community like there now?
McBride: The nature of DIY music, it’s kind of been a fucked up period in general. When Nic and I first started playing music in Chicago six plus years ago, there were a ton of DIY spaces, and it’s the kind of thing where, even if you’re in your late twenties, you’re like, “Am I too old to know where all the cool DIY spots are, or are there fewer spots?” And it’s probably the latter: there are fewer spots.
“There [used to be] a ton of DIY spaces, and it’s the kind of thing where, even if you’re in your late twenties, you’re like, ‘Am I too old to know where all the cool DIY spots are, or are there fewer spots?’” — Drew McBride
Gohl: I feel like it’s a mixture of both. I grew up in the suburbs and old bands that I played in would come down to the city and play. We did a few shows in art gallery basements and we’d leave and have fuckin’ brown boogers coming out of our noses and shit like that. I think as we grow up, we want to solidify the fact that we’re trying to make an honest effort at playing music, and don’t necessarily want to get emphysema every time we play a show. Places like Empty Bottle, The Hideout, all those people that are running those venues now are friends of ours. They grew up with us in the DIY scene and now they have jobs at real venues, and I think that allowed the DIY scene to flourish in those venues instead of in basements the past couple years.
Nic, since you write the lyrics, tell me about what we’re working with thematically on the album.
Gohl: It’s song by song. But in a past band Mike and I were in, I had just started dating my long-term girlfriend, and I was writing a lot of love songs. He took me aside and said, “Hey man, you gotta make it less obvious, because it’s too much for us.” [Laughs.] So I kinda took that to note for a lot of the newer stuff. Just making sure he doesn’t know what I’m singing about half the time. But it’s always different.
What’s wrong with love?!
Gohl: Nothing’s wrong with it! I think it was just a little too much, I was just too stoked, you know?
You gotta be a little corny sometimes, right?
Gohl: Maybe on the next album we’ll have some love songs or something like that. But the main thing [on the album] is a lot of social anxiety, and anxiety in general, toward everything. About living in a big city, being broke, and you know, fuckin’ Donald Trump’s in office. Everything kinda fucking sucks.
Are you really feeling like everything fucking sucks all the time? What’s good?
Gohl: You can’t let it take over. I think after about a year of it, we’re all excited for November. And four years isn’t the end of the world, right?
Well, maybe. We’ll see.
Gohl:I guess I’m just more trying to not be broke all the time.
That’s true. The government sucks and we’re broke all the time. But tell me about the good shit in your life!
“The main thing on the album is a lot of social anxiety, and anxiety in general, toward everything. About living in a big city, being broke, and you know, fuckin’ Donald Trump’s in office.” — Nic Gohl
Gohl: We’re all pretty excited to finally get a record out. For a lot of us we’re just happy it’s gonna be warm and we’re out of the winter. And then touring’s gonna be a lot of fun, finally going out on the road with records and stuff. It’s always weird when you go to different towns and play for people and they ask for music and you’re like, “Ahh, we don’t really have any!” So that’s gonna be cool, if they wanna buy it.
McBride: Also, I feel like we’re all in pretty good spots. Most of us have significant others we’ve been with for multiple years. Compared to years ago, we probably all feel much more stable and happier with our lives. We’re close to a lot of people in the music scene so we have a lot of friends. That’s the positive stuff!
Gohl: Definitely. I’m being a Negative Nancy. We have a lot of good shit happening. I just moved into a sick ass apartment, and I got a garden going, so that’s pretty dope! I was listening to this TED Talk about Blue Zones, places where people live on average to be like a hundred or more, and eating beans and growing a garden are two of the things that are similar in all of those Blue Zones. So I’m eating a lot of beans and starting to grow some vegetables. Maybe some flowers, too. FL