The Dejas may be fall into the dream pop/ indie-pop/rock duo category, but these two kindred spirits are far from pretentious. Following their sold out Speeding Softly CD release show in late February at the House of Blues Foundation Room in Boston, Callie Lipton and Aaron Katz, who make up The Dejas, proved to be more than grateful to the packed room.
From The Swell Season, She & Him, The Bird and The Bee, Dresden Dolls, Viva Voce, Mates of State, Beach House and even to a louder degree the White Stripes, the duo format is a niche that is becoming more common for its simplicity and lo-fi direction in both musical and aesthetic terms. However the Dejas are not your typical quirky Zooey Deschanel matched with M. Ward made for Spin special.
Lipton (guitars and vocals) and Katz (percussions, drums, keyboards, vocals) met in Dover, New Hampshire in the fall of 2005, where Katz, who had stepped away from the musical spotlight after years of drumming/singing with Percy Hill and as a solo artist to form his own production company – Aaron Katz Productions. It was here in Dover where Lipton was attending the University of New Hampshire, that she answered an ad put out by Katz.
“When Callie first came to my studio she was one hundred percent raw talent and pure uncontaminated positive energy. Callie had not yet been through the highs and lows of the musician lifestyle. She had not lived in a van with a bunch of hyper flatulent hairy dudes and she had not experienced the erosion of the soul that can devolve while dancing the music industry cha cha,” explains Katz. “ Callie’s presence was very angelic and it was healing and rejuvenating for me. She inspired me to get healthy and back on track with myself as a creative human in tune with my life’s purpose.”
Lipton was further enamored by Katz’ credentials and talents as a producer, his strength for making connections, understanding the vision of musical material, and bringing out the essence of what is being expressed. “Because I met Aaron at the beginning of my music career, I was exposed to opportunities that most beginning musicians don’t have,” admits Lipton. “He was already an experienced musician so he was able to open a lot of doors for me. I skipped the “open mic” stage as a songwriter and was able to jump right into playing at “legit” venues all around the northeast.”
At Katz’ studio the duo were able to do all of the writing, recording and playing, so it was a natural course to move their studio environment into a live setting, where they have since earned a loyal and growing following. Having built up a base in the Seacoast area, the duo calls the "in between" of Salem Massachusetts as their home, where they often play the Gulu-Gulu Café and while down south in the Boston area they play frequent gigs at Cambridge’s Toad and Lizard Lounge.
Lipton strums earnestly on acoustic guitar and offers soft yet meditative vocals, while Katz truly has his hands full on stage. Early on in The Dejas he was playing a dumbek (goblet shaped hand drum) with kick drum and djembe, but now he plays the drum kit with keyboard bass lines at the same time and then moves over to djembe,guitar or piano. And if that weren’t enough, a harmonica on a neck holder has been added to help handle some of the chords. Unlike Percy Hill where Katz stayed focused live on one instrument to achieve as he describes, “ a meditative state where music flows effortlessly, “ changing up instruments with The Dejas pushes him in and out of mind states. About his live multi-tasking Katz expresses, "there is more to control but with that comes more pathways to becoming completely free while getting lost in the process.”
When it was time to record their sophomore LP Speeding Softly, The Dejas hooked up with producer/engineer Sean McLaughlin at his 37’ productions studio in Rockland, MA. McLaughlin was an engineer for Elliott Smith and he has also worked with Maroon 5, Rush and Tupac Shakur. Described as a technical guru with his vintage gear and Pro Tools HD3 Accel set up, McLaughlin makes tracking and mixing a song with sixty plus tracks fun and effortless for the duo. The Dejas have even gone so far as to label their first breakthrough moment as “being in the studio and meeting with Sean about the project.” In many ways McLaughlin is the third Deja and they have a sandwich named after him called the “McMatzah”, which is corned beef,potatoes, bacon and cabbage with chopped liver on whole wheat matzah, with buffalo sauce on the side for dipping only.
Some of the 12 songs on Speeding Softly were written recently and others were treasures from the past that The Dejas reopened and added to. Much serious and challenging work went into the recording, but there were also a lot of fun times where they explored the material with new styles. This was the case in the two tracks “Gates of Mind” and “Beneath You”. The bluegrass feel of the second mentioned composition happened late at night when Katz and Lipton were feeling overtired and silly, and at one point singing like Johnny Cash and June Carter.
Lipton also never expected to play the ukulele in the studio, but McLaughlin, felt that it would be a refreshing change from all of the guitar-driven tracks that they had done. This was a change of pace that then led to the most ridiculous recording event either might have ever taken part in. Katz, Lipton and McLaughlin all stood around one mic with bright yellow kazoos attempting to harmonize at the end of “Gates of Mind,” laughing the whole time, creating what they call “kazoo harmonies.” Even though there is a definite indie-pop feel to Speeding Softly, explains Lipton, “people can get a little something different from each track. It’s like taking a drive and seeing different landscapes.”
First and foremost, The Dejas are a reflection of both Lipton and Katz’ personal love of music and its spiritual qualities. “Playing the guitar has always come naturally to me; it’s very much a part of who I am and I understand my connection to the instrument,” describes Lipton. “ It’s also extremely therapeutic to have a relationship with this instrument. As a musician I am drawn to certain chords that reach out to me and ring in my soul. I have discovered new emotions and also new ways of performing when I explore alternate tunings or styles of strumming.”
“I have been in a relationship with music for a long time now. Being able to have the wild storms and the soft intimacy keeps it flowing and interesting, “ Katz describes of his own musical experiences. “ In the end the most important connection and conversation is the one you are having with yourself. The deeper and more honest that experience,the more the audience feels/gets it. Making music when not fully absorbed, engaged and committed to the moment simply does not work, like back in eighth grade when you would make out in the dark with your eyes wide open or like driving a race car with the emergency brake on.”
Even though The Dejas have been playing together for three years, the release of Speeding Softly has launched a new era for the duo, as exemplified by their recent Boston sell out. One of their songs was just used as the opening music to an episode of Ashton Kutcher’s model drama program The Beautiful Life and they’ve recently been spotlighted on regional cable news channel NECN TV.
As one of the regions exciting musical duos, the pair seem to agree on most things and have goals for their musical partnership – but it’s their self descriptions of The Dejas that most truly fall into their whimsical natures. Katz goes as far as describing his musical outfit as “reiki while lying on an antique bed of nails,” while Lipton likens her voice to Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star and Suzanne Vega, while describing their live shows as, “we can play a soft acoustic setting but will also be able to reach an arena type of atmosphere, if the time ever comes.”
But Lipton isn’t shy about manifesting one other big thing she’d like to have along the way as she confesses, “as for materialistic things… the only thing I want is a tour bus!”
To learn and hear more about The Dejas, visit their website.