The Deer Premiere “Acid Wash” and “Superstition Mountains”

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Today we’re thrilled to premiere two beautiful new tracks from Austin indie folk favorites The Deer.

“These were both written and recorded during the sessions for our most recent album, [2019’s] Do No Harm,” vocalist Grace Rowland tells American Songwriter in an interview featured below. “We did most of the tracking for ‘Acid Wash’ at a remote spot called Mountain Star Studio in Blackhawk, Colorado. ‘Superstition Mountains’ was tracked at the Church House Studios in Austin. It’s much more upbeat and danceable, while ‘Acid Wash’ is more of a love ballad.”

While “Acid Wash” shows the band’s tender side with lilting vocals and mournful violin, “Superstition Mountains” shows the five-piece folk outfit working in a more driving, hopeful mode.

“We used to do most everything ourselves, from the tracking, mixing, production, and distribution,” Rowland says of the band’s early efforts. “This was partly because we were broke, and partly because we began as a small folk project between friends; we never expected it to go on the road or become anything serious, it was just for us.”

Taken together, “Acid Wash” and “Superstition Mountains” constitute the band’s second release on Austin’s beloved Keeled Scales label following Do No Harm. “We had a record that was some of our finest work yet, and we all felt like the team at Keeled Scales would be able to do it justice,” Rowland explains of the band’s choice to ditch their indie roots in favor of something more structured. “We were right to do so, because in the old days we would have been scrambling every last bit of our efforts. Instead, we found ourselves surrounded by support from the industry and from our community.”

Like other Austin-based artists, The Deer are adjusting to post-COVID life in the “live music capital of the world” while trying to stay hopeful and healthy.

“We do miss performing, quite a bit,” says Rowland. “Some of us are involved in regular live-stream events with small groups and other friends, but we haven’t had a full band live show for several months now. It’s kind of giving me an existential crisis, to be perfectly honest. We’ve been creating and we have some recording weekends scheduled in a few weeks, but there’s just nothing like getting out in front of the crowd. It’s way more of a conversation with each other and the crowd, we like it that way.”

The band is rounded out by Michael McLeod, Jesse Dalton, Alan Eckert, and Noah Jeffries in addition to Rowland, who chatted with us over email about The Deer’s new singles and some of her most profound psychedelic and spiritual revelations. Check out the full interview and listen to “Acid Wash” and “Superstition Mountains” below.

American Songwriter: When did you write and record these tracks? What are they about, and how do they compare musically?

Grace Rowland: These were both written and recorded during the sessions for our most recent album, Do No Harm. We did most of the tracking for “Acid Wash” at a remote spot called Mountain Star Studio in Blackhawk, Colorado. “Superstition Mountains” was tracked at the Church House Studios in Austin. It’s much more upbeat and danceable, while “Acid Wash” is more of a love ballad.

This is your second release on Keeled Scales following Do No Harm, but you’ve released a handful of albums since 2013. How has your music—or your approach to making music—evolved over the years?

We used to do most everything ourselves, from the tracking, mixing, production, and distribution. This was partly because we were broke, and partly because we began as a small folk project between friends; we never expected it to go on the road or become anything serious, it was just for us. But over the years, especially after the loss of our band member and friend who passed away, the songs started becoming more substantial, and we felt like we were doing something that was actually really special and important. 

We started to take it more seriously and put more money into it, and it started to grow. We decided for this last album that we would like to take a different approach and find a good team for the release. We had a few bites from labels, but Keeled Scales stood out to us as the one that felt most like home. They’re well-loved and have a big reach to a new crowd outside our own in Austin, but they aren’t so huge that they wouldn’t have time or energy for us. 

We had a record that was some of our finest work yet, and we all felt like the team at Keeled Scales would be able to do it justice. We were right to do so, because in the old days we would have been scrambling every last bit of our efforts. Instead, we found ourselves surrounded by support from the industry and from our community.

I know you’re based in Austin, where tons of venues and artists were impacted by the cancellation of this year’s SXSW. I read that some bars are reopening, but that most venues won’t be able to open for a while. Do you miss performing for in-person audiences? What’s special about The Deer’s live show?

We do miss performing, quite a bit. Some of us are involved in regular live-stream events with small groups and other friends, but we haven’t had a full band live show for several months now. It’s kind of giving me an existential crisis, to be perfectly honest. We’ve been creating and we have some recording weekends scheduled in a few weeks, but there’s just nothing like getting out in front of the crowd. It’s way more of a conversation with each other and the crowd, we like it that way. Our live show has all sorts of solo/jam sections and vignettes that aren’t on the albums, and our manager had put together this really neat new visual projection system using two different VHS cameras and a mixer that we barely got to debut. We also had just got a whole bunch of new merch. It was getting pretty cool; we look forward to being able to unleash it.

In 2017, an interviewer asked you about some necklaces you were wearing. You [Grace] explained, “Our friends from Mexico gave us these. They are made from the Huichol Tribe in Mexico. The deer is a symbol of peyote, so this is a peyote button. They believe that the deer is a spirit guide from death to life, from moving back and forth between realms. And a guide and a protector, which I believe is very true.” What are some of the realms you move back and forth between as The Deer? And has peyote played a role in any of your musical, artistic, or spiritual practices?

Can I plead the 5th? HA! I kid. If you can’t tell, much of our music is based on or created in the psychedelic realm. I’ve never done peyote myself (and I can’t speak for anyone else in the band). But I’d venture to say that psychedelics saved my life, because they helped pull my music out of me. 

You see for much of my life I was super anxious and shy, and didn’t sing much of anything but stuff for school (opera and choral tunes). Around 2006, my friends from school invited me to come on a camping “trip.” I reluctantly partook, and proceeded to feel an anxiety attack coming on, which was a regular thing for me back then. Lo and behold, the clouds parted when Jesse played a song, and I started to calm down a bit. When he handed me the guitar, I just sang at the top of my lungs and felt the tension leave my body. It surprised everyone else who was there—they thought I was just this quiet little thing. My heart stopped pounding, my hands stopped sweating, and my entire anxious self found its center as I watched the music leave my body in a flurry of color and light. I was 22. I decided from that day on that I would never NOT sing. I would never again take my gift for granted, as it was medicine for me, possibly for others. I would forever share it. 

The truth is, psychedelics happened to be the avenue that released me from my denial, but you don’t have to have a trip to do that. Any situation where you deliberately position yourself outside of your comfort zone, into a space where you’ve always wanted to see yourself, and roll through the discomfort as your body and mind wake up can change you forever. Letting fear and doubt pass through you, and opening yourself to your wider potential is possible through so many avenues. Working in service to others in need, setting goals and pushing through your own boundaries to get stronger, traveling to places that are off your beaten path, experiencing a deep loss or a blessed miracle of life: each of these force you to see yourself and your world in a completely different light, and reveal the things you’ve always tried to hide. It is when you confront the unknown and continue through the fog of doubt to find your deepest truths that a psychedelic or spiritual experience takes place.

What else can fans expect from The Deer in 2020?

We had plans for spring, summer, and fall tours, along with a recording retreat to make a new album this year. But at this point I think most of us would settle for just being able to do some live-stream shows together as a band. It looks like we’ll be able to get that in the works soon, as well as recording, and we hope to come back strong with a tour and a new album as soon we’re humanly able. For now, we’re taking precautions to protect our loved ones. We’re taking our cues from how the rest of the industry responds in the coming year—not just in Austin but in the places we’d like to travel—and we’re waiting and watching.

“Acid Wash” and “Superstition Mountains” are out now via Keeled Scales. Photo by Letitia Smith

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