Grandiose and proud of it
Why go for regular music when you can order Deluxe?
In late 2001, Katrina Skalland sat in the front row at the True Love Coffeehouse and watched Local Honey drummer Naked Nathan perform a solo set. For Skalland, it was an eye-opening experience. “He sang this song that went something like, ‘I wanna rub your belly,’” she recalled. “He was staring right at me. He was in his bathrobe, and his hair was sticking out.”
It was a life-changing moment. “I thought that all music happened on the radio,” she said. “I didn’t realize that there were tons of humans making their own music and playing it live. That wasn’t in my realm of consciousness.” Her consciousness expanded, and the spark that became her local band, Deluxe, was ignited.
Skalland and local musician and producer Dave Middleton recently sat down at Java Café and Brew Pub to discuss Deluxe’s short history and the band’s new album. As they talked, Skalland carefully unwrapped a red, green and orange ceramic olive-oil dispenser she bought on a recent trip to Italy. The blue-knit beanie she wore matched her eyes and covered her baby-fine blond hair. Even though it was a mild evening, her cheeks glowed red like embers.
“I grew up doing musical theater and singing in chamber choirs and orchestra and stuff,” she said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing writing my own songs.” Skalland teamed with Frank French, the drummer for the Inversions, who encouraged her to write. Together, they started Deluxe. Skalland feels that her early songs were “tongue-in-cheek” and said that French encouraged that side of her writing.
Recently, she decided to make a move toward the serious. “My first songs were my attempt at writing quirky, clever things. Then I stopped trying to be clever. I wanted to feel sincere and honest and good about it, like it was real. I stopped playing with Frank, who’s a huge fan of the tongue-in-cheek.”
Skalland credits Middleton, who co-produced Deluxe’s upcoming CD, Mary’s Got Seven but I’ve Got Ten, with making her songs something more. “They’re not my songs anymore. They’re our songs,” she said.
“I feel like ultimately the people I play with make it real, make it magical. I never hear songs with me playing them alone. I always hear them with a choir and orchestra pit,” Skalland explained.
“She has this really disparate set of influences. This is why the record is so … weird,” Middleton explained. “On the one hand, she says, ‘I want this indie-rock sound.’ But then she wants an orchestra and boys choir. It’s this opposing thing of unbelievable grandiosity.”
“Grandiosity,” Skalland agreed. Skalland worked through three months of preproduction with Middleton and Deluxe’s other band members—Naked Nathan on drums, Ian Bone on bass and Emily Sault on vocals—to craft the songs on the band’s first release. The record also features such Sacramento mainstays as Jay Shaner, Simon Ennis and Julie Myers, in addition to other local musicians who have inspired Skalland over the years. Recording the album with so many helpful friends was Skalland’s first opportunity to hear the songs as she envisioned them.
The few rough cuts currently available from Mary’s Got Seven suggest a creative mix of rock and the musical theater that Skalland grew up with. “Forever Doll” shows Skalland’s doing her best PJ Harvey, with a scratchy, breathy delivery. Other songs, like “Honey Hands” and “Evening Alone,” feature the dynamic instrumentation found in orchestra-based music while managing to remain as catchy as a good pop song.
Although Skalland writes the songs for Deluxe, she also admitted she doesn’t know how to write them. “I write a song with a chord progression on the guitar with some lyrics, and I usually take that to Dave and Ian. I explain how I want the songs, like emotionally, and sometimes I have some ideas, and sometimes I don’t. And then they play what they feel is appropriate.”
“But it’s always going to be Katrina’s thing,” Middleton said. “Katrina and Deluxe are one and the same.”