Live Music | Promotional | Event Photography » Archive » Re-post: Interview with Dan Saks of DeLeon

Since the old blog is dead, I’ll be re-posting gems like this interview I had with DeLeon frontman Dan Saks. This interview was originally posted in August 2007, shortly after I saw them perform at the Mercury Lounge in NYC. DeLeon is a fairly new band, but the inspiration for their sound has a long and rich history. Do some research on Dan (a.k.a. Shank Bone Mystic) and you’ll be surprised by what you come up with. For example, I learned that some asshole stole the wheels off his bicycle. And that’s just the beginning of it. Back in the day, he even collaborated with the very awesome Brooklyn via Jersey rapper Tim Fite (one of my all-time favorite live acts). He’s an intriguing character, to say the least.

It’s timely that I’m re-posting this interview now because DeLeon is playing dates with Tim Fite in the coming weeks. You can catch DeLeon and Tim Fite at T.T. the Bear’s Place (in Cambridge) on 2/19, the Bell House (in Brooklyn) on 2/20, the M Room (in Philly) on 2/21, and Thunderbird Cafe (in Pittsburgh) on 2/22.

Visit DeLeon’s MySpace page to hear some of their songs. You can check out my photos from their show at the Mercury Lounge in ‘07 here. Also, you can check out photos I took of Tim Fite performing at SXSW 2008 here

Oh, and you’ll want the read every word of the interview below. In true Jalapeño fashion, we somehow manage to get on the topic of pooping. Read on:

So Dan… let’s get down to the neety greety. What was your idea/inspiration behind forming DeLeon?

I’ve been performing with the venerable Hanukkah rock supergroup The LeeVees for the last few years. During our sets I do my rendition of the Sephardic Hanukkah classic Ocho Kandelikas. We added it basically because The LeeVees’ CD is about 35 minutes long and we were being asked to play 45 minutes sets, but it turned out to be a highlight of our show each night. Inspired by the reaction that song was getting, I borrowed my parents’ extensive Sephardic music collection and began imagining how these songs might sound if I gave ‘em the Dan Saks treatment (that’s me). I recorded about a dozen songs at my apt. and played them for friends as well as the people at JDub Records and got a lot of positive feedback. So what’s left to do but put a band together? Which is what I did. And I called it DeLeon.

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard Ocho Kandelikas. How does Sephardic Jewish music differ from, for lack of a better word, non-Sephardic Jewish music? Who do you think your music would appeal to the most?

If you like songs in Ladino about Hanukkah then you should definitely check it out. Simply put, the songs that DeLeon play date back to pre-inquisition Spain, so the melodies we are drawing from have Semitic, Arabic and Spanish elements to them. We do most of our songs in Ladino, which is the Judeo-Spanish language, like what Yiddish is to Jews of Eastern European descent. Other songs are loosely translated into English and have brand new melodies inspired by that ancient Judeo-Spanish sound. It’s that Spanish or Arabic element that makes it different from non-Sephardic Jewish music like klezmer or hasidic nigunim.

All that sounds much more academic than it actually is, meaning that you wouldn’t come to our show to learn about Sephardic history. You would come to our show to rock out and witness breathtaking guitar work. So anyone into that sort of thing who can get into foreign language singing is liable to have a good time listening to our music. Also people that want to learn about Sephardic history would like our music.

Does it translate easily into the modern-day or do you have to get really creative to make it sound like something the average pretentious hipster would want to listen to? Or is it about something more?

We have yet to add any toy piano so I can’t say if the average pretentious hipster would dig it or not but I can say that reinterpreting these songs has occured rather naturally. There is something about the Spanish and Semitic scales that can be quite haunting, sexy and very rock. Lyrically the songs we do are about adultery and drinking and murder and love and other subjects that never go out of style so no updating necessary there. We’ve got a couple tunes that had great lyrics but very medieval sounding melodies, so those are the ones I translated and treated like original indie rock material, suitable for even the most average of the pretentious hipsters.

How did DeLeon end up coming together? Are there any Gentiles in the group?

I put up my NYC music scene feelers and came up with the 5 piece we’ve got right now. Our bassist, Kevin, is one of my oldest friends. We were in a band together in high school called Funky Punk, that was every bit as awesome as that name suggests. The drummer, J Ride was also in an old band of mine, which I’m shy about naming. A little googling will turn up the name for the curious. I will note that we were to be on TRL on 9/11/01. That’s my footnote in pop music history; the addendum. Amy, our keyboardist and Andrew our trumpeter are our resident Gentiles. They keep me plugged into what’s going on in the Gentile world. I found them through magic.

I saw that DeLeon played their first gig just this past April (2007). How did you manage playing the Bowery Ballroom for your very first gig?

Practice? No wait. That doesn’t work. We played that show with Golem and Balkan Beat Box, two JDub bands. So it was JDub that helped get us on that bill. Not too shabby for a first time out. Someone in the band, and I won’t say who, may or may not have peed themself due to nerves during the show. An interesting aside is that I met and befriended Golem’s fiddler Alicia in Guatemala, well before I had heard of Golem or formed DeLeon. We were both playing a music festival in Antigua. Another, different kind of aside, I made home made granola bars from scratch yesterday. I’m eating one now and it is delicious. I used flax seed, don’t tell anyone or my rock cred is ruined.

Granola bars from scratch, huh… and with flax seed? Looks like someone’s concerned about getting his RDA of omega-3-fatty acids. Don’t worry I won’t tell anybody. Music festival in Antigua, huh? So, was it like a Central American version of SXSW or something? Speaking of which, are you thinking about SXSW next year?

Ain’t no acids like fatty acids. SXSW of Central America might be an overstatement. It was called Jamtigua and was comprised mostly of Central American bands. I went down there with my other band SBMP and we had a blast. All day concert, one stage, on a ranch surrounded by volcanoes. We ended up playing shows almost every night we were there in some bar or another. Believe me when I tell you that Guatemalans really appreciate the rock y roll. I’d love to bring DeLeon to SXSW (or to Jamtigua for that matter) next year and should probably look into that sometime soon.

Going back to something you said earlier, what does one do when they pee themself on stage? I have a buddy who once peed himself in a car and it was a terrible mess.

That’s awful. Were you in the car as well? Because that’s even worse. I think when one pees themself on stage, the best thing to do is to pretend that one hasn’t peed themself on stage.

Fortunately, I wasn’t in the car. And, by the way, it was a rental. Too bad for the poor guy who rented it afterwards. I did once poo myself a little at work – now THAT was embarrassing. But I digress… how soon can we expect a CD release? Do you plan on playing a ton more shows in the near future?

Now we’re getting somewhere. Pooing at work, man that’s rough. About a CD…We’re a young band in band years, so the plan is to play as many shows as we can in the next few months and then record an album once we feel like we’ve lived with these songs for long enough. Given how much we tweak the songs from show to show it seems that’s the best way to do it.

Sounds like a plan. Maybe you’ll even write in a few more banjo parts into some of your songs. Do you think the banjo is becoming the new glockenspiel?

Actually, yes. I do.

Yeah, but I think it’s possible to fake knowing how to play a glockenspiel. It wouldn’t take long to expose an inept banjo player. Anything else important we need to know?

We’ve learned that it doesn’t hurt to keep a spare set of undies at the office – that’s pretty much everything.

Yes, that would be wise. I hope no one reads this interview lest I be given an embarrassing new nickname. Good thing I don’t work there anymore. One last question for you, Dan… spicy or mild?

Pre-Inquisition Judeo-Spicy



DeLeon – La Serena | mp3