Indie Rockers Common Deer Enjoying a Warm Reception on Their First U.S. Tour

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COURTESY OF THE SYNDICATE
  • Courtesy of the Syndicate
Common Deer singer-keyboardist Sheila Hart says the music scene in the band’s Toronto hometown is great but admits it’s become “oversaturated.” In the midst of the indie rock band’s first extensive U.S. tour, Hart says the band has enjoyed the enthusiastic reception it’s received from less-jaded American audiences.

“From traveling to other places, people seem to appreciate live music more [than they do in Toronto],” she says via phone from a Petaluma tour stop. The band performs with Hazard Adams at 9 p.m. on Sunday, April 8, at the Beachland Tavern. “In Toronto, if you look like you’re having too much fun, it’s not cool. You play a lot of rooms where people just stand there with this 'impress me' kind of attitude. People will just come up to the front here on this tour. In Toronto, they’ll stand so far away. It’s almost impossible to derive energy from that. It’s very satisfying to be touring down here.”



The band first formed a few years ago when multi-instrumentalist Adam Hart, singer-guitarist Graham McLaughlin and drummer Liam Farrell, all of whom had played together in other bands, held auditions for a new female vocalist and bassist. That’s when Sheila Hart and Liam’s brother, Connor Farrell, joined the band.

Hart says singing harmony with McLaughlin was effortless from the start.



“I grew up doing musical theatre and choir,” says Hart. “I’m great at harmonizing with other people and finding that sort of blend. It just turns out that the timbre of our voices sounds very similar. They work really nicely together. Sometimes, if I can’t hear myself clearly enough in the monitors, I can’t tell if I’m listening to him or myself.

For its first release, last year’s EP I, the band worked with Laurence Currie (Wintersleep, Hey Rosetta!). The songs have an indie folk feel that recalls the power-pop/indie folk of New Pornographers.

EP 1 was an interesting process,” says Hart. “For us, it was definitely an essential process to go through. We had never recorded together and for most of us we had never recorded in that capacity. Adam and I grew up doing more classical stuff. We weren’t in bands recording things. The process took a long time."

The band had less time to spend on EP II. It spent a week in preproduction and then had to knock out the album in two weeks with producer Gus Van Go (Arkells, the Stills).

“It was totally different from stretching it out over months with Laurence,” says Hart. “However, we couldn’t have done EP II in the amount of time and with the level of quality if we hadn’t worked with Laurence. He really challenged us. It was a more fast-paced experience.”

Songs like “WAIT!” and “Mistakes,” a lilting song which finds Hart and McLaughlin trading verses, have a bit more heft to them. Hart says the band intentionally tried to sound heavier on EP II.

EP I was more informed by folk,” she says. “We started out as an indie folk band. I would not consider us that anymore. That is a purposeful decision. I don’t listen to folk music — not that there’s anything wrong with folk. It’s more that bands go through transitions, not necessarily to cater to what is in vogue. As musicians, we listen to other musicians all the time. My favorite artists are artists whose catalog is very diverse in their sound. EP II moves in the direction of a very large sound. It’s just a different kind of production. It has more synths. Anytime you get synths in the mix, it will have that punch. Synths just cut through in that way.”

With its fluttering synths and synthetic sounding drums, the Pet Shop Boys-like “Gone” even has an ’80s synth pop feel to it.

“We love '80s music,” says Hart. “[Singer-guitarist] Adam [Hart] is super informed by ’80s pop. I listen to a lot of New Wave and Dark Wave as well.”

The lyrics aren’t political but they address the times and Hart says the recent U.S. presidential election informed some of the themes addressed on the album.

“Whether it’s the environment or political leaders, we did it to ourselves," Hart says. "That’s the whole point of ‘Gone.’ You can look at someone to blame, but we’ve done it to ourselves. That’s the most depressing part about it.”

The aforementioned “Mistakes” addresses the theme of living with anxiety.

“For Graham and I, we spend so much of our lives worrying and making ourselves sick over things that haven’t happened yet,” Hart says. “That’s just how my brain works. I was reading some statistics about the increase of phone calls and accessing mental health. We are suffering from a national mental health crisis. Young people especially are having a hard time. It comes from the crushing insecurity about the future.”

Hart says the songs really come to life when the band performs them live.

“I feel like we truly are a live band,” she says. “Graham moves between three different instruments. My brother moves between three different instruments. People aren’t used to seeing the stuff we do on stage. Visually, it’s a captivating thing. People tend to be surprised with the variety in the set. That’s one of the biggest pieces of feedback I’ve gotten from this tour is that people say they haven’t been to a show with so much different stuff and where the songs don’t sound the same. It’s an energetic show too. We’re all pushing each other, and no one is getting complacent. No one ever feels like they can phone it in.”

Common Deer, Hazard Adams, 9 p.m. Sunday, April 8, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $8 ADV, $10 DOS, beachlandballroom.com.

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