DUMBO, BROOKLYN: Ellie Innocenti, lead singer of Deluka, a four-piece dance-rock band from Birmingham, England, opens the door when I buzz at Vel Records’ studios in DUMBO. It’s a workday at Vel, where Innocenti and bandmate Kris Kovacks have been writing and recording their first full-length record. They are far from home, and this — they tell me — is a good thing.
“We’ve been here a month and we’re on our tenth song,” says Innocenti, pointing out, “that’s very prolific for us! We’re quite slow when we’re writing at home, because we have no time constraints. Plus there’s a million distractions — there’s everyday life to contend with.”
Most bands hope to be so plucked out of their everyday as Deluka, who was discovered on Myspace, signed to Vel Records and brought to NYC to work with a successful music production and business team. “This is like my ideal scenario,” says Innocenti. “To be taken out of our very insular little world and brought here is ridiculously fun and exciting and really inspiring.”
Signing to Vel means working with founder Camus Celli, a producer/engineer and songwriter with a track record for helping launch careers, including that of Gavin Degraw. “My production style is to provide an environment and the right conditions for something that’s already good to flourish and grow,” notes Camus. If all goes according to plan, Deluka should emerge from this creative cocoon a better version of itself.
“When I first heard Deluka and saw their videos and live footage, I was really surprised that they weren’t signed because the music was so far along and developed and thought-through,” Camus adds. “The songs were great, the production was great, the live show was on. I was waiting for the catch but I just never found one. So I reached out.”
Plans were made for Deluka to come over to NYC and do a test run, the outcome of which was a five-song EP. “The goal for the EP was to create a sort of benchmark — a statement that says, ‘here’s where we are now,’” says Camus. “The song, ‘Cascade’ is a really cool representation of what Deluka’s doing.”
Deluka’s sound combines shimmering electro-pop production and jagged guitar playing with Innocenti’s powerhouse, Karen O-like vocals, driven by hybrid beat-rock rhythms. After writing and largely recording their songs, Kovacs and Innocenti bring in bass player Daniel Brasco, and drummer Stevie J. Palmer who expand these laptop sessions into full band assaults. It’s how they’ve produced Deluka since the beginning, and Camus does not intend to fix what ain’t broke.
“I mixed the EP,” says Camus, qualifying, “But Kris is really good. When stuff comes off his computer, it’s so far-formed. If it’s working, I’m not going to mess with it. I’m here to provide that environment in which they can continue doing what they’ve been doing.”
GROUNDWORK & GRAND THEFT
Kovacs and Innocenti have been writing together for over four years, starting just after they met at a show — Innocenti was singing/playing guitar in an acoustic duo and Kovacs went to check it out. “I was blown away by her voice,” he says. “I’d been involved in this sort of bedroom electronic music project. We were building our production skills but the music was kind of meandering and we knew we wanted to find a vocalist. I asked Ellie to do a guest vocal with us and it worked out really well.”
Adds Innocenti: “We kind of had what each other needed. He had the electronic instrumentation and I had the melodies and lyrics and we made this sound we were both happy with. We relocated the studio to my spare room, and developed it from there. We spent ages trying to find the right balance of song and sound.”
Eventually, a glitz-meets-blitz sound emerged. “We’ve both been really into 70s and 80s new wave and punk, mixed in with more aggressive, electronic music like Prodigy or Digitalism, and even Primal Scream and Soulwax,” says Innocenti. “Bands that push their genres a bit.” Nodding, Kovacs adds, “And we also like bands with razor-sharp wiry guitars, like Gang of Four and Bloc Party.”
Honing their production and songwriting chops simultaneously, and then adding band members, Deluka self-produced enough content to get them noticed on Myspace. And, Camus wasn’t the only bite. “This guy reached out saying he was from Rockstar Games,” says Kovacs, “But it looked shady — he had no profile picture and no friends, so we thought it was a fake and didn’t respond. Then one day, a Clearing Company contacted us, looking to clear our song, “Sleep Is Impossible,” for licensing on Grand Theft Auto.” They quick hired a lawyer and licensed their first song just like that.”
“We’d done quite a lot of ground-work by ourselves,” notes Kovacs. “We also did SXSW last year prior to signing with Vel.”
LIFE ON THE FAST-TRACK
In writing/recording the full-length record due out this fall, Deluka’s workflow has been readily enhanced by Camus’ laissez-faire approach with the band. “I see this as a global record, and so wherever I can help guide them through the songwriting, or hand them a different keyboard, provide some level of outside inspiration, I do,” describes Camus. “Sometimes it’s just about encouraging them to put ideas down without getting bogged down in the sonic details of, like, tweaking a hi-hat sound. They are very much into sonic landscapes being creative inspiration, but there comes a point where if it’s a great song, it’s a great song. Get it down and think about that later.”
Innocenti chimes in, “And that’s made us move faster, and become more prolific. We’ll call Camus in when we’re at an impasse with a song and he’ll tell us to carry on in one direction or another. We had nobody to say that back in England and we’d go nuts working on the song until we hated it.”
One of the goals for the record will be to capture the “band-sound” and energy of their live shows, something Deluka wasn’t able to do in their home studio. “We’re a lot more aggressive live,” says Innocenti. “It’s like a contradiction because we like slick electro sounds but then we punk it up live. And we want that to come across on the record.” Kovacs adds, “Every carefully conceived guitar note on the record goes out the window live, and things just seem more ferocious.”
Vel’s recording studios have both highly controlled environments for mixing, as well as raw, loft-space live rooms for blasting-out full band performances and capturing live rock rhythms to blend in with the more pulsing electro-percussion.
“We’re writing and recording at the same time,” says Kovacs. “Then, if anything can sound better, we’ll take the time to set up the room and re-do it. But, if it’s sounding good in the way we’re doing it at the moment, then that’s what’s getting exported over to the mixing stage. So, we’re sort of semi-making the record as we write.”
Whatever happens next, signing with Vel has been step one of this band’s journey. “We’re in a wait-and-see scenario,” says Camus, “We may put the record out on Vel, or we could partner with a major to release it. We’ll see what happens in the next couple months. So far, people have really gravitated to the project, wanting to get involved because they believe in it. It already has this groundswell of its own.”
Check out Deluka’s EP on iTunes!