Last month I picked up this copy of Deception Bay’s self-titled debut while digging at Seattle’s Daybreak Records. The 1989 release is one of those “tweeners” that at five songs is too short to be called an “album”, but too long to be a single. To complicate things even more it clocks in at 33 minutes… which is certainly closer to album length than it is to that of an EP. Discogs categorizes it as a “mini-album”, which I suppose is as good as anything else I can come up with, so let’s just go with that.
ANYWAY… I really dug this the first time I listened to it. While it was spinning I was poking around online to see what else I could learn about Deception Bay, and it turned out there wasn’t a whole lot. In 1991 they put out a pair of releases, the 10″ Fortune Days and the full-length My Color Flag, but that was it. However, I did find a video on YouTube. For whatever reason the comments section caught my eye, and that’s where I saw a comment from Deception Bay guitarist/vocalist Jay Dunn. After a few searches I was able to put two and two together and thought that I found the right Jay Dunn online, so shot him and email, and sure enough it was the guy. Jay was great to correspond with and agreed to answer a few questions about the band for the blog. He also sent along the great photo below, one of the very few of the band together and I believe the only one that shows all three members who were on this particular record.
Deception Bay at The Rat in Boston
L to R: Carl Boland (bass), Jay Dunn (guitar and vocals), and Michael Evans (drums)
Photography by Paul Fay
So without further ado, here’s the man himself, Jay Dunn.
Jay, thanks for taking some time to talk to Life in the Vinyl Lane! Tell us a bit about how Deception Bay came to be and who was in the band.
Jay Dunn: In the mid-eighties, Carl Boland of October Days and I started playing together at my house in Central Square in Cambridge, MA. These were heady days for musical and artistic experimentation of every kind. Think WZBC’s landmark programming “No Commercial Potential” 24/7. Zoviet France, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins, Skinny Puppy, hundreds of truly avant-garde artists just quietly playing on the radio in the background. We used no amps, no drummer, and often recorded right in my room or onto a portable cassette 4-track. Carl played bass and provided percussion literally by hand on some drums we got from the alley. We made some tapes, and sent them around. Playing with a real drummer happened only at our first show, in Johnny D’s in Allston, I think. Over the following years we played with a number of awesome drummers, including Michael Evans, Terry Donahue, Him Arhelger, Danny Lee and Rich D’Albis.
How did the band comet to record a session at WERS, and how did that recording eventually become your five-song self-titled debut with Independent Project Records?
JD: I don’t remember how we got the radio station’s attention, but at the time, that live broadcast was only the third time Michael Evans (drums), Carl and I ever played in public, as it were. Together with our producer Douglas Vargas, and recording engineer Car Plaster, we just gave it our best that night, heard it was a success, and eventually managed to the master tapes from a DJ there. We’d played in Boston with Savage Republic, Bruce Licher’s band at the time, and as Independent Project Records, he was interested in the film aspects and moody environment we’d managed to create around our songs. After mastering the record at Capitol in Hollywood, we played a few great shows in Los Angeles, reuniting Carl with October Days drummer Rich D’Albis. For a guitarist, it was a dream come true to have a rhythm section like that.
I’ve seen “Deception Bay” described as goth rock, and that’s somewhat fitting given the overall darker feel of the songs. What strikes me the most about it is the way the rhythm section played. Normally you expect the drums to set the pace, generally in conjunction with the bass. But to my ears it’s the bass that sets the blueprint for the songs, holding steady and occupying a prominent place in the mix. The drums seem to follow, but with some occasional tempo changes and flourishes that give the structure some character. On top of that bass your guitar work and the vocals add the more emotional content to the songs. How did the band approach writing it’s material, and were you focused on having a distinct type of song structure?
JD: I was never conscious, really, of composing songs as such – they just happened as a result of our free-form style. Nothing we composed has ever been written down, that I know of. You could think of it as jazz in a way, yet the vast majority of jazz artists are consummate musicians first. I can’t read or write music, but it’s in my blood. My mom and her mother were both classical pianists. We always had music in our lives growing up. In Pakistan I learned about the Sufi and the devotional performers of “qawwali” music. In Urdu the term means to speak, or utterance, but the implication is that the singers are vessels, they are merely channels for something else. In no way am I likening our creative process, such as it was, with such a beautiful form of expression. But our music did just kind of come into being, without deliberate notation or preservation in any tangible way.
Deception Bay went on to put out a pair of albums in 1991, but noting after that. How did those last few years unfold?
JD: Carl had been on track to be a doctor since I knew him in college, so I moved out to LA as a trial, and ended up staying out there for some time. Both “My Color Flag,” our first and only studio album, and the IPR Archive Series 10″ were packaged and sold by Independent Project Records. The art was ours, designed by Bruce Licher, and we did some of the printing ourselves. Carl stayed in Boston to pursue his residency, and I went on to play and perform with a couple of different bass players. For a few memorable shows, including a live show on KXLU, I performed with Dino Paredes of Red temple Spirits and Rick D’Albis from October Days. We even performed with Zoviet France, a highlight of my experience as a musician. In the end, I just had to face the fact I wasn’t making any money or forward progress, so I started devoting myself to visual projects only.
You’ve established an amazing career as a photographer and artist. How did you get into photography, and what was the journey like as you transitioned into being a professional?
JD: I first became interested in multimedia in high school, but didn’t get started taking photographs until I went to Alaska as a youth. those days it was all about the light, and it still is, in a way. I was shooting black and white stills and film in my early days as an artis, and went on to incorporate film in our public performances. Those were dark and personal days, though, and while formative, they lacked any real perspective on the greater world outside our country. It was only after leaving the US and starting to experience some of the world’s less fortunate places that I realized how lucky I’ve been, and how much I wanted to contribute to a better understanding between us humans. I think photography can do that, and the best photojournalism and video lets people tell their stories without judgment, with dignity. I never consciously set out to make a career of it, it just happened.
Last but not least, are you still playing the guitar? And what are you listening to and loving these days? Any artists or releases that might be flying under the radar that you think folks should check out?
JD: I wish I could say I still played. In fact, a guitar teacher at one of the nonprofits I’ve been working with surprised me the other day when he showed up to a kid’s class with a vintage Gibson SG. What a beautiful instrument. I strapped it on, just to get the feel again, but I would have needed a few hours, a lot of electricity, and a room by myself in a deep dark cave somewhere to really communicate with the thing. If anything, I’ve learned to appreciate much more about the world. There are so many kinds of music out there, and every one of them can stir up something primeval in us.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Deception Bay is that it’s a live, in-studio recording. The guys didn’t get any re-takes or do-overs; it was one-and-done. For a young band to sound this great in that kind of environment is pretty special. In fact, it doesn’t “feel” live at all in the way some of the Peel Sessions do; the entire thing sounds very intentional.
The rhythm section is trance-inducing on the opening track, the nearly nine minute long “Since You Followed”. That flows directly and seamlessly into “Hook This Chain”, which brings a similar rhythmic pattern but one played at a much brisker pace, replacing the post-punky gloom of the opener with a sense of mildly anxiety-inducing urgency.
The vocals take on a more prominent role on the B side. “Not Far From This” is perhaps as close as Deception Bay get to a radio-friendly song, though even here it’s one that would only be getting play on college stations. There remains an insistent quality to the music that carries over from the A side, with the lyrics following in a more structured pattern. “Ride” is the only song clocking in at under five minutes, and it’s driven by a powerful and restrained bass line, one that feels like it’s straining against the leash, desperate to lunge for your throat but being intentionally held back. The album closes with “For The Season”, and this is the one time that the vocals step right on up to the front of the stage and say, “hey, listen to me!” There’s a desperation to the repeated line for the season, one that by the end of the song moves more towards resignation.
I’ve probably played Deception Bay a dozen or so times since I bought it, which is pretty unusual for me and speaks to how much I enjoy this record. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for their other two releases. Jay has some Deception Bay LIVE TRACKS and VIDEO posted online, so follow the links if you want to check ’em out. And I recommend that you do, because they’re pretty great.
Big thanks to Jay for taking some time to answer some questions and send along some images!