Since emerging from Toronto as one of the pioneers of the live electronica scene that continues to blur the line between the dance club and the concert hall, The New Deal has embraced emerging technology on its progressive journey. But one device you will never see the trio deploying on stage is looping.
“We use digital tools, but it’s all us,” bassist Dan Kurtz says during a recent interview to promote the band’s shows this week at Ardmore Music Hall (Feb. 21) and Brooklyn Bowl (Feb. 22). “When we play something that’s repetitive, dance kind of stuff, it feels so good to micro-improvise a bass line. If we looped it, the humanity goes away pretty fast.”
That spirit of technical innovation with a human heartbeat is also at play in the recording studio. The group — Jamie Shields (keyboards), Kurtz and Davide Di Renzo (drums) — on Sept. 27 released “Phoenix,” with no prior announcement to fans, the first in a new trio of albums. Part two, “Age of Discovery,” was issued earlier this month. The trilogy marks the first recorded material with Di Renzo on drums and was recorded “off the floor,” which means the band members played together rather than record their parts separately.
“It’s definitely the way we do things best,” says Kurtz, adding that years ago, limits of time and technology would lead the band to overdub, or record separately.
The group is calling the three-album series “The Asylum Sessions” after Kurtz’s studio where they recorded. “Phoenix” marked TND’s first album since 2016’s “Mercury Switch,” which itself was the band’s first in more than 10 years due to a hiatus, which found the band off the road between 2011 and 2014.
While TND’s current run of shows is headline gigs, it recently played a run of shows opening for jam band titans Umphrey’s McGee.
“Those shows were probably the most fun part of the tour,” Kurtz says, adding the bands have been friends for at least 18 years. In fact, members from the two acts also perform as the Omega Moos, a ’70s and ’80s tribute band.
While The New Deal and simpatico groups like Sound Tribe Sector 9 have been stalwarts on jam band tours and festivals for well over a decade, when TND was getting started in Canada in the late ’90s there was no such scene to speak of there.
“It had not bubbled up in Toronto,” Kurtz recalls. In fact, he wouldn’t have even been aware of the phenomenon in the States if Shields wasn’t “a rabid Phish fan.” When the band made its first album, Shields posted on the Phish.net forum offering to send free CDs to the first 10 people who responded.
The group eventually made its way to the northeastern U.S., where clubs like The Wetlands in New York were buzzing and towns like Philadelphia and Boston also became hotbeds for local jam bands and touring acts to come through.
“That is the area that has always felt like home for The New Deal, and we’re always excited to come back,” Kurtz said of this week’s shows in Ardmore and Brooklyn.
With “tons of source material,” pulling three albums from the recent sessions was not a challenge, Kurtz says. Now, with the albums completed and the third ready for release, he’s focused on building a new concept for the live shows. While he was short on details, he says he’s been working with a Toronto artist to create an “immersive” audio-visual experience “generated by us on stage,” rather than the typical concert light show.
“I like the idea of expanding what we do,” Kurtz says, “and not just hammering people with lighting.”