The Delevantes’ new album, A Thousand Turns, is their first since 1997’s Postcards From Along the Way. “We almost called the album Come and Go, ’cause that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Bob Delevante, who forms the duo with his brother, Mike.
“Come and Go” is actually a song on the album, whose chorus is “Sun comes up and the sun goes down/Plants spin round and round/Halley’s Comet is headed this way/If you miss it this time, it’ll be back some day.” The reference to Halley’s Comet, which is visible from Earth once every 75 years or so, was “kind of a little joke about us,” said Bob.
The brothers — who are both singer-songwriter-guitarists — grew up in Rutherford and were part of the Hoboken music scene in the ’80s and early ’90s (at first as part of the band Who’s Your Daddy) before relocating to Nashville, where they still live. They’ve recorded for Capitol Nashville and Rounder and shared stages with Levon Helm, John Prine, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, among others. Bob released three solo albums between 1999 and 2016 in addition to working in design and photography. Mike has his own design studio, Delevante Creative, in Nashville.
A Thousand Turns features catchy, gorgeously textured roots-rock, buoyed by their joint singing, which boasts the unmistakable magic that seems to appear only when siblings harmonize. Co-producing the album, as he has done on their previous releases, is Garry Tallent of Bruce Springsteen”s E Street Band.
You may also remember that when Tallent played his own music to open a concert by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park in July 2019 (and Bruce Springsteen joined him for a song), both Delevantes were in Tallent’s band.
I talked to Mike and Bob shortly before A Thousand Turns came out on the Moon River label on Sept. 17.
Q: This is obviously the first time you’ve recorded in a while. Are these songs that you’ve been kind of piling up over the years? Or are they newer songs?
Mike: Bob and I hadn’t recorded in a while, but we always talked about, “Hey, we should go in and do something soon.” And we just sort of didn’t get around to it. But we were invited to do a session over at Blackbird Studios here in (Nashville). It’s a great recording studio. And we went over there and brought the band. We weren’t even expecting, really, to do it.
Bob’s always writing. And he had a bunch of songs done. So we were like, “That’s great. Let’s just go in the way we have.” ‘Cause it was a great opportunity. We were looking forward to it. And Garry Tallent came in with us. And Brian Owings is the drummer. And then we had enough time to write together, and we (wrote) three songs together and then the other 11 are Bob’s. But we kind of worked through them as a duo.
Bob: We hadn’t been touring, and I had done a bunch of records in between, on my own, and always write quite a bit. So we arranged (the songs) together, then went in with the band. Things always change when you get in the studio. You get in there with Garry and Brian and they all have great ideas and rhythms change and things happen, which was really fun. We didn’t go in, really, with any kind of preconceived ideas of how things were going to turn out. Obviously there’s a basic melody and a guitar part. But that changed too. It was a fun way to work, ’cause it all happened right there in the studio.
Mike: What also happened that was very different: After we did the basic tracks, we started do some overdubs and then the pandemic hit. So we were kind of left with these, sort of almost done songs. And then, “What do we do now?” So what was sort of different for me, and a little bit for Bob, was that I went into my own studio, kind of taught myself enough Pro Tools to be able to work with Bob, who’s pretty well versed in Pro Tools, and the guy who mixed it, Bill Schnee. And I was able to work on guitar parts, which is very different. Usually you work those out in front of people looking at you … and here, I had a chance to kind of work on some things and email to Bob and he would listen. It was a little bit more of a reflective way to examine a song and see what it needs as opposed to trying to figure out … Both are good. I don’t know what’s better. But it was a different process.
Bob: When the pandemic hit, we all went into kind of this weird slow motion. Everybody was working on their own. But we could go back and forth with emailing people MP3s. “What do you think about this part?” It was an interesting way to work, for sure. But it gave us some time to kind of finalize things. And then Bill Schnee mixed it during that time. It was the same deal. We sent mixes back and forth, and it worked out. But we did get to get all the tracking done before all this craziness hit.
Q: Do you see a lyrical theme running through these songs at all? Or are they just kind of a random selection of songs?
Bob: They’re somewhat random things that I wrote. But there were things that really resonated with where we were. Like the song “Little by Little” is about reflecting … you look back as we’ve gotten older, and you say. “Well, we did this, we did that. But things happened that way for a reason.”
Mike: There’s some light things in there, but I think some it felt a little more serious than other things. When I did the music to “Rain” (the song, “The Rain’s Been Falling”) and I gave it to Bob and he put lyrics over it, it was like, in the middle of a shitty time. Everybody was sitting around their houses, not being able to go out. So some of it did reflect, I think, some of that. But Bob’s lyrics (for most songs) really came way before (the album). Musically, it kind of felt like there were some things in there that reflected the time we were going through as well.
Bob: A little darker.
Q: It’s been really such a dark time — politically, even, before the pandemic.
Mike: I think the music to “Junk Man” came out a lot more chaotic and crazy. You start playing guitars over the lyrics and adding things to it and, you know, the sitar and all that. It was like, it just fit. It was dark and weird and slow but also chaotic.
Q: I’m sure you’ve played with a lot of other people. But performing as siblings … is there a kind of telepathy you have with each other that you don’t have with anyone else? Is there something really special about that?
Mike: A lot of that was reinforced and came through in this project because we hadn’t played together (in a long time). But we’ve worked together a lot: We do a lot of visual work together. So we kind of know each other’s styles. I think just hanging around, being family, you know the expectations or you have a sense of what works and what doesn’t. I think we always had that just from being siblings and playing together for so long, but I think even when we stopped playing together for a while, it kind of came through.
When you’re on a family vacation and you’re at the beach and your kids are running around, and you pick up a guitar … that kind of relationship … we went into the studio and it really felt like it just fell into place. Everybody knows where everybody’s going. And even if it wasn’t what you expected, it’s like, “That’s great. Let’s do it.” You have to be open to it.
Bob: We’ve been doing this for 40 or 50 years, since we were really little kids. And then with Garry since …
Mike: I think our first demos with him as a producer were ’88.
Bob: So everybody kind of knows everybody. Definitely singing-wise, we sort of know where things are going.
Mike: I’ve learned to know when not to sing. (laughs)
Q: How far apart are you in age?
Mike: Three years.
Bob: Three years, nine months. I’m trying to grab every month I can.
Q: And Bob is older, right?
Q: I guess with the recent death of Don Everly, I should ask if The Everly Brothers were an influence on you in any way?
Bob: Oh, course. I should tell you a funny story. It’s such a Nashville story. My son was graduating from eighth grade, and Mike was there. And my son goes, “This is my friend.” And his last name was Everly. And I was like, “Really? That an interesting name.” His grandfather was Phil. So we got to meet Phil.
Mike: “Would you like to meet my grandfather?”
Bob: “Yes, we would!”
Mike: I got a chance to see them when they opened for Simon & Garfunkel. It was a pretty limited tour. It was so important that I drove down to Atlanta to see it with my wife, and it was just incredible to actually see all four of them onstage together.
I think they were so influential, even beyond the brother aspect of it. They were one of those acts that cut through everything. There was no genre about it. Back when we were kids in the ’70s, you heard John Denver songs on AM radio. And all the things that we would consider Americana or country now were up in New York, too. The Everlys were definitely, for me, right up there with Elvis and Buddy Holly.
I was lucky in college. One of my humanities courses, going to art school, I wrangled a course in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And early on, the teacher dropped a needle on the record player to the Louvin Brothers. And that was even more of an eye-opener. To hear that kind of brother harmony … here’s an act I never heard of. The Everlys were just like great pop songs and you knew a pair of brothers were singing them. But this is a group that, I really learned about them because of their brother harmonies. It was really incredible. And I bought this album and I brought it home to Bob and we were just like, “This is another thing to learn about.”
Q: When you first worked with Tallent, how did that come about? How did you kind of hook up with him as a producer?
Bob: We were on our first trip down here (to Nashville). We had played the New Music Seminar (in New York) and someone from BMI heard us and said, “You should come to Nashville.” So two weeks later, we’re knocking on his door because, you know, we loved playing up there, but we realized a lot of the business, or label stuff, for what we were playing, was happening in Nashville. Mike found (Steve Earle’s) Guitar Town album, and Foster & Lloyd … we saw all these people coming out of Nashville, and we thought we should check it out. So we come down here and we’re at a show. We went to see Steve Earle play at a club called The Cannery. And Mike recognized him and said, “That’s Garry Tallent there.” So we went over. And (Tallent) said, “You guys must be from New Jersey.” We were like, “How do you know?” We realized, the three of us had black leather jackets on and we probably were the only ones (wearing that in the club).
Mike: He said, “You’re wearing your uniform.”
Bob: So we just started chatting. And at the time, we had a trunk full of cassettes, so we ran out and got ’em all and just stayed in contact. He was on one of our lists of producers we would love to work with, because he had done the Steve Forbert records, and he had worked with Greg Trooper.
Mike: He had done that Marshall Crenshaw track (on the soundtrack of the movie “La Bamba”). He worked with Steve Earle. We had an attorney at the time and he said, “Make a list of producers you’d like to work with, to do a demo.” And (Tallent) was actually No. 1 on the list. So that just worked out great.
He was actually in the process of moving (to Nashville) at the time. He went back to New Jersey and we kept in touch and we’d send him new songs here and there and he was working out of Shorefire (Recording Studios in Long Branch) at the time, and we just kind of kept in touch until it was like, “Hey, you should move to Nashville. Come down. Let’s work on a demo.” And we went down with Who’s Your Daddy and did some demos and then, eventually, we were coming back down here so frequently that we decided to stay. That’s when we were working as a duo, and then we started to work on more demos, but it turned into the first record. We didn’t have a rhythm section, so Garry played bass and another guy who we worked with, who we had met on that first trip … his name is Mike Porter, he was the drummer. So the four of us went in as kind of a band. And that started us having this great relationship as friends and bandmates, in a way. Whenever (Tallent) could, he played live. We went on the road together and he was a good sport. He just did anything with us. So that’s why, going into the studio after 20 years, it was like, of course, here we are again.
Q: Is it possible to sum up what he contributed musically, to this album?
Bob: The same as he always did: As a producer, he was never too heavy-handed, but he always brought the best out in everything, and in everybody’s performances. He’s just one of my favorite bass players in the world.
A lot of people who work with us come from friendship relationships. When you feel comfortable with someone, it brings out the best in everybody.
Mike: He never produced anything he didn’t play on with us, too, which is interesting. I think Bob’s right: He’s never heavy-handed. He was always like a musical mentor who was guiding us in certain ways and not saying anything till he really had to. He was so open to listening to something, you know, different, and I think he believes in the live, spontaneous … I think that’s the way he plays with Bruce.
Bob: He comes from the songwriters that we come from, too. Like, you know, Buddy Holly, The Searchers, The Byrds. Whatever it is. And right through Steve Forbert and Greg Trooper, you know, songwriters that we really love. Guitar-driven rock stuff. So it all fit real well.
Mike: Back when we pretty young, the first time I saw him play was (with Springsteen) at those famous Capitol Theatre (in Passaic) shows. I remember being in, probably like the second-to-last row at the Capitol. But I remember looking at him and watching him play. I lot of times you don’t notice the bass player that much. But I really noticed him. And I thought that everything about his contributions to that music was one of the elements that made it so special. His melodic approach, like the way (Paul) McCartney might approach something, or (Bill) Wyman might approach something. I think he’s right up there with them. What other bass player would play “Backstreets” like that?
It kind of reminds me of the “McCartney 3, 2, 1” series. They isolate some of these tracks and play some of McCartney’s bass lines. And Rick Rubin is like, “You’re playing a different song from everyone.” And it is. If you had the best L.A. bass player, they’ve never do it. They’d be scared to.
Q: When he played at the Pony Summer Stage and Springsteen showed up, was that something that was planned out in advance, or did that take you by surprise?
Mike: The way that show came about was, Garry had his solo record (More Like Me) come out and we were all having lunch and I just said to Garry, “You should call (Southside) Johnny. He’s playing Fourth of July (in Asbury Park). Ask him if you can open.” We weren’t playing with him at all. I just said, “You should do that. It would be a great opportunity.” And he said, “Yeah?” And he said, “I’ll ask him if you guys play guitar with me in the band.” And we’re like, “Okay.”
So he called, like, 20 minutes later, and said, “Let’s start rehearsals.” I think along the way, I asked him if his friend was going to come. And he’s like, “I don’t know.” We never really talked about it again. And then that day, you’ve got so much going on …
Bob: It was raining and stuff, too.
Mike: It was like a high school reunion. You’ve got all these people you haven’t seen since high school coming, and just so much going on. And I came out of the back room where we were just hanging, about to go on … and we didn’t even get a chance to do a soundcheck ’cause it was raining like crazy. So we just kind of walked in and walked past (Springsteen) and went, “Whoa.” It was quite a nice surprise. And then you get into playing mode and you don’t think about it again. It wasn’t until the song came up that he had sung on the album (“Dirty Rotten Shame”). And Bruce was watching the whole set from right in front, which was really nice. And so we got to that song, and Garry just pointed down to him and said, “Come on up.” So yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was definitely great to meet him and the place went absolutely berserk.
Bob: I can’t tell you how many people said to me, “I wonder if Bruce will show up.” And I was like, “No, no.” But I was wrong.
Here is “Little by Little,” the first single from A Thousand Turns.
Here are two more songs from A Thousand Turns, “The Rain’s Been Falling” and, below that, “The Junk Man.”
Here is a video of Bruce Springsteen performing “Dirty Rotten Shame” with Garry Tallent at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park in 2019. Bob and Mike Delevante are both playing guitar in Tallent’s band.
And here are The Delevantes in 1995.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.