Casey Sidwell, bass player for Dragondeer, has a special relationship with Wilmington. Originally from North Carolina, his sisters live here, but one of them, Alecia Mitchell, happened to operate a live-music mainstay, The Whiskey, in downtown Wilmington for many years. “I have been coming to Wilmington to visit her since the ‘90’s,” he says, “and it is one of my very favorite cities on Earth. . . . Wilmington is a place the band really wants to tour through regularly.”
Sidwell and company, made up of Eric Halborg (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Cole Rudy (lap steel, mandolin, backing vocals) and Carl Sorensen (drums, percussion), are preparing for their return to the Port City on The Whiskey stage, Saturday, May 19. Though his sister no longer owns the venue, it’s one of Sidwell’s favorites to play today.
“I think it is one of the greatest small music rooms in the country,” he praises. Also, honestly, I know how y’all like to party in Wilmington, so the band is looking forward to a super fun show. Also, our singer is addicted to water sports—so, someone, please, take him surfing.”
Dragondeer’s soulful sounds of blues merge with their psychedelic senses and multi-genre influences. Aside from their regular tour, they’re embarking on what they call a “magical time of year”: festival season. Dragondeer has a few lined up over the summer, including several in their home state of Colorado, Blues from the Top in June and Arise Music Festival in August.
“There is nothing like playing with so many other artists,” he muses, “being around fans that are totally connected with the music, and playing outside in the sunshine or under the stars. Every year we make friends with other bands we end up hanging with at some festival. There is so much musical cross-pollination happening; it’s truly inspirational.”
Dragondeer just released their debut LP, “If You Got The Blues,” in March. They worked with producer Mark Howard, who has worked with the legendary likes of Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Robert Plant, among others. Totally immersed in a home-recording studio in Topanga Canyon, CA, they cut the record in just over two weeks. While much of “If You Got the Blues” was written before Topanga, the setting inspired them to go even beyond what was scribed.
“We had played almost all the tunes live—in some cases for a year or two,” Sidwell clarifies, “but in the studio, almost all the tunes got massively reworked.”
Sidwell made a complete demo of “When I See You,” with a bass, drum groove and arrangement. He passed it over to Halborg, for the lyrics and melody to jive effortlessly.
“It was one of the last tunes that made it on the record,” he tells, “and maybe the one song we had never even attempted live before we recorded it. It was definitely a tune that just ‘happened’ and fell into shape quickly. Sometimes those songs that come real easy are your favorite ones.”
While the title track and “Believe” were written by Cole Rudy, Dragondeer’s writing process remains shared and diverse. Songs like “Believe” are pretty close to the original arrangement on the album, while others, like Halborg’s “Darkest Rocks” were fleshed out with rhythmic and textural ideas from the band and Mark Howard in the studio.
“Mark really challenged us to be the best we could be,” Sidwell says. “We tore tunes apart and put them back together—‘trimming the fat,’ as he liked to say. He made us try different things, sometimes totally changing the rhythmic feel or the vibe of a tune, but in the end we all felt great about where we ended up.”
They originally had another name in mind for the release, too, but as their musical journey together unfolded, “If You Got The Blues”—which speaks to love, friendship and sticking by someone’s side—resonated best with their experience working and growing with each other. Even now, the songs continue to evolve or pick up varied nuances on stage. Dragondeer’s platform lends itself to improvisation and added energy. “Broadway Avenue” is a good example—a fairly short blues tune that manages to become an “epic rip-fest” at a live show. It dates back to when Halborg and Rudy first started Dragondeer.
“It’s a fun anthem tribute to the band’s hometown of Denver,” Sidwell describes. “Broadway Avenue and, particularly, South Broadway are real streets in Denver with a lot of music venues. A lot of the band’s first gigs were around the South Broadway scene. It’s one of our oldest tunes (despite appearing on record for the first time a couple months ago) and feels like a song that has just stood the test of time. It’s like a snapshot of the band’s origins—and it grooves pretty nice, if you’re into that.”
Dragondeer is starting the process of a second album in the coming months. “We’re itching to get back into the studio,” Sidwell confirms.