When New Deal bassist Dan Kurtz started focusing on his electro-pop band Dragonette, keyboardist Jamie Shields and drummer Darren Shearer were left with a lot of time on their hands. Instead of forming a regular band, the two musicians conceived The Join, a revolving collective of musicians Shields and Shearer can call upon to play improvisational dance music at any point. After spending the first part of 2010 focusing on the New Deal, Shields and Shearer will perform as The Join with the help of the Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner. The four musicians have confirmed a short tour through the Midwest, making stops in Bloomington, IN (3/4), Carbondale, IL (3/5) and Chicago, IL (3/6). Below, Shearer discusses The Join’s upcoming shows, his Omega Moos project with the members of Umphrey’s McGee,
the New Deal’s new live album and how Radiohead ended up in front of “50,000 jamband fans.”

The Join originally formed as a way for you and Jamie Shields to stay active while bassist Dan Kurtz played with Dragonette. But it seems like a few micro-bands have formed out of the project: The Join with David Murphy (STS9), The Join with the Duo, The Join with the members of the Disco Biscuits and The Join with the members of Brothers Past.

I think the whole purpose of The Join was to take the New Deal’s improvisational sensibilities and artistic model, if you will, and bring it to players that are also familiar with that way of creating music, but may not be doing it as much as us. The nice thing about the way that we “jam” is that, although it’s improvised, we still have a structure. Jamie teaches everyone within The Join hand signals for key changes and rhythm changes, which enables us to take the best qualities of each musician and piece them together without it being one big, loose jam. So, throughout the set, we are able to build these real songs.

If you look at The Join with Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein, Magner is the layer master—he has a way of creating lots of different layers of sound and the syncopation is really great. If you couple that with Jamie, who is also equally talented in that area, but he adds a real, almost like a lead guitar kind of feel to a lot of his playing. Then you have Brownie who just lays down such solid foundations to put all this stuff on top of it. If you had a bass player that was more wanky it probably wouldn’t work—it would be your running shoes in the dryer kind of phenomena, a bit too much happening. So the tonal mix in Brownie and Magner’s incarnation of the band is very satisfying.

If you look at like what we’ve done with David Murphy from Sound Tribe, he fills out a bit more space in the sort of mid-spectrum, as well as far as rhythmically and he also plays a little synth-like keyboard onstage. So it’s interesting. The cool thing about it is as long as we don’t come in to a show or a run of shows going, “This is how The Join is going to sound,” I think we almost always come out on top—as long as there is no pretense, you know what I mean. I remember Brownie saying to Jamie before we were about to go onstage at a show a while back, “So what are we going to start with?” and Jamie’s like, “I don’t know.” He’s like, “What do you mean you don’t know?” But there’s a purpose behind that. It’s not just this sort of thing where we’re like, “Oh we never know what we’re gonna do because we’re just so creative in the moment.” I think the second we put any boundaries or pretense behind what we’re going to do, it just changes the whole synergy of everything and we end up not pulling on the strings of those musicians.

The New Deal had a long history with bands like STS9 and the Disco Biscuits. Are there any musicians that you didn’t know well before playing with them in The Join? If so, how did that dynamic change the group’s ethos?

The Duo. We had this last minute booking to play this Re:Generation festival that Sound Tribe puts on, and we decided to play with The Duo—even though we had never played with that band before [though Jamie Shields has played in a few projects with Joe Russo]. We talked on email, and we were like, “Great, let’s do it” and we showed up, didn’t rehearse and didn’t even sound check. We just got up onstage and started playing. I really went into that show without putting any preconceptions on how I thought it was going to sound—I just started playing. To be honest, I worried a little bit about how Joe and I would play together because he’s probably the most creative, and most pure/natural drummer in the whole scene. He just sort exudes this pure rhythmic power. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing on a garbage can or playing on a drum set—he played this little steel pan drum with us on this last run we did in Colorado—it doesn’t matter he just plays, but he’s a lot busier than I am as a drummer in regards to the amount he plays at any show. But it worked right away because I totally recognized that my role was pretty much to support him—to be the clave, the metronome, the heartbeat—because the pocket is so large when I play with those guys.

To some degree I think Jamie recognized that as well with Marco Benevento, even though Jamie was taking a lot of the solos. Joe and Marco are the most creative resources in our scene. There’s a certain eccentricity to them and our role really was to support them. My purpose as a drummer is to make the dance floor move when Joe Russo is doing some big, kind of complex syncopated rhythm on top of that.

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