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No matter what you say, it's The Deslondes

By Brian Baker, July 2015

In the spirit of hard-hitting journalism, it seemed logical to ask Deslondes vocalist/guitarist Riley Downing the Mike-Wallace-from-60-Minutes question that has to be on everyone's mind: How the hell do you say the New Orleans-based band's name?

"It's pronounced 'dez lawn,'" says Downing. "I know there's different ways that people have pronounced it over the course of history, but that's how people have pronounced it since we've been down here."

Like most answers, that one inspires more questions, primarily the one about how the country/R&B/soul/folk/rock/musical kitchen sink quintet came up with questionably pronounceable name in the first place.

"Charles Deslondes was an important historical figure down there; he was a slave who revolted and did very well until he was taken down," says Downing. "That didn't have anything to do with us naming the band Deslondes. It's a street name - the street's not actually named for him - and when it was me, Sam (Doores) and Dan (Cutler), we had all lived on that street, and we couldn't be the Tumbleweeds anymore, so we took a vote, and Deslondes became the name."

The Deslondes -

Just getting to the Tumbleweeds was a fair task for the eventual Deslondes. The band assembled in packets of ones and twos until they had amassed a quintet, starting with vocalist/guitarist Doores and vocalist/percussionist Cameron Snyder, who met in college in Washington state. They relocated to New Orleans, formed a band and met Downing at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Oklahoma

"My brother and a buddy I grew up all went there," recalls Downing. "We were looking for stuff to do that summer and we happened to go there and met Sam and Cameron across the fire. After seeing each other once a year for four years, Sam invited me to join his country band. I was in Missouri doing small town farm work. So, of course, I went down to New Orleans."

Doores met vocalist/stand-up bassist Cutler, and the new collection became the Tumbleweeds. The group came to completion when Snyder subsequently met fiddler/pedal steeler John James Tourville while touring with the Longtime Goners. At some point, Doores and Cutler also joined Hurray for the Riff Raff, but after a prolonged period of double duty and battles over which band would command their focus, the pair cast their fate with the Tumbleweeds.

The Deslondes was born when a Scandinavian band that had owned the Tumbleweeds name since the '70s made their presence known. The band adapted to maintain their fan base, but wound up hurting their åown cause.

"They were Sam D. and the Tumbleweeds, then when I joined and started writing songs, it was Sam D., Riley Downing and the Tumbleweeds," says Downing. "People would come to the shows and think it was three different acts, so they would miss us."

As a collection of musicians, the Deslondes is almost pathologically diverse. Hailing from all over the U.S., the quintet brings a kaleidoscopic set of influences to the whole; the Venn diagram of their inspirations would look like the aftermath of a malfunctioning bubble machine.

" We all like a lot of the same stuff, then we go dig up stuff we like on our own and come back and show the band and everybody enjoys it in their own different way," says Downing.

"When the band first came together, they played an Abner Jay song over the fire, and I'd never met anybody who had listened to Abner Jay (he was a Georgian, who played blues infused folk music as a one man band). And Cass King, who had made a run with Sun Records in the '50s and got lost in time - he had a record he put out toward the end of his life with a friend of ours from Chattanooga named Matt Towner. Us liking those two records kind of brought us together and made us want to do whatever it is the Deslondes do. It's a mix of all the genres we like."

Not surprisingly, the Deslondes' internal structure is every bit as different as its sound. All five members are songwriters, and four of the five sing - one of the Deslondes' sonic hallmarks is their astonishing harmonies - meaning the standard alpha male paradigm of band hierarchy doesn't apply to the Deslondes, leaving open the potential for the old creative cliché of too many cooks spoiling the soup.

"There are definitely days where that's going on, but everybody cheers each other on to write songs," says Downing. "Hopefully, on the next album, we'll even it up a little more. When we started on this album, everybody only had a certain amount of songs that they'd slapped together at the time. Whoever had more things they'd been writing at the time got worked on, but I think we would work on any song that anybody in the band would want to bring to the table."

Although the Deslondes' eponymous debut has only been out since May, the band is already excited about the prospect of getting started on their sophomore album. Part of that anticipation stems from the fact that they've got a backlog of quality material that didn't make the cut for the first one.

"We had a lot more stuff we did record that didn't make it on the album," says Downing. "We took a bunch of puzzle pieces and tried to fit them together. The next album is gonna have a lot of stuff that I would have loved to put on this album, but there wasn't room. They wouldn't fit right."

The Deslondes' process for coming up with the track list and running order for their debut was both democratic and strangely familiar.

"We all listen to a lot of music, and we think of it like making a compilation for a friend," says Downing. "There were compromises as well. Cameron had a song that we all wanted, but he didn't want it on there, so we were like, 'Well, it's your song, we're not gonna make you.' There's also family influence so we kind of went with what would make us happy and what would make everyone involved happy."

Although no one in the Deslondes is a New Orleans native, they've all absorbed the culture and incredible atmosphere that permeates every facet of life in the Crescent City. The band has already decided that they'll incorporate a little more actual Nawlins flavor into their next album, but the city's spirit has made its mark on the Deslondes and their unique musical quilt.

"There's a little bit different culture, and it definitely works for the music," says Downing. "There's not so much music business talk as there is in Nashville and L.A. and New York. And if you want to learn to play something, there's somebody that's happy to help you, just for the sake of passing it along. They see music in a different way than the Grand Ole Opry or anything like that. If every city got together and had a parade every weekend, I'm sure things would be a lot better in those cities."