To hear Dave Desmelik talk about making a record, you’d think it was easy. “This record was recorded in about three days,” says Desmelik. “I’ve always believed that if you’re gonna write it, you might as well record it. And if you’re gonna record it, you might as well put it out there.”
Deep Down the Definition, the seventh solo effort from the Brevard-based singer/songwriter, is a remarkable collection of 14 new tunes, and it cements Desmelik’s status as one of the gems of WNC’s flourishing Americana scene. To support the record, Desmelik is playing a string of CD-release/benefit shows, culminating in the official CD-release show on Saturday, Nov. 5.
Desmelik is a Georgia native who took a circuitous path to the Asheville music scene. “I started in Georgia, and I came to the Asheville area via Flagstaff, Ariz., which is not the straightest route from A to B.” Desmelik learned the ropes of both live performance and songwriting in Flagstaff before joining the Asheville music scene in 2003.
He’s happy to be a part of it. “I think we’re so fortunate to have all these talented artists, not just musicians, but painters, sculptors and just artistic people, around Western North Carolina,” he says. “People are very open to the arts and to music, and man, there’s some good stuff going on.”
Desmelik may as well be talking about himself. After years of performing in every nook and cranny of the western part of the state, Desmelik has built a rock-solid reputation, and he’s long been considered a part of the “good stuff” that’s going on. “I’m up to my seventh solo record. I like to think that, hopefully, my songwriting has gotten better with each one,” he says. “And I’ve logged a lot of miles playing shows.”
On Deep Down the Definition, Desmelik showcases his fluency in a variety of musical styles. The record includes aggressive country rockers (album opener “Well and Smooth”), blue-collar ballads (“He Gave All He Had”), open-tuning instrumentals (“Driveway”) and spare, delicate piano numbers (“Deep Down the Definition”). He also displays his proficiency as a jack-of-all-trades musician. In addition to acoustic and electric guitar, Desmelik plays piano, banjo, harmonica, mandolin, pump organ and snare drum. “It was cool for me to play all the instruments I did, because I kind of have an idea and a vision for what I want these songs to become.
For the record, he enlisted the help of a few longtime collaborators and bandmates. “It was also really cool to have Andy Gibbon on a few tracks and Josh Gibbs to play lap-steel guitar on a few tracks. I think their contribution to the record is really cool, and I think they did fantastic work.”
What separates Desmelik’s music (which in many ways follows the alt-country trail blazed by the likes of Uncle Tupelo and the Jayhawks) from that of less accomplished practitioners of Americana music? Desmelik literally adds his own heartbeat. “In ‘Deep Down the Definition,’ there’s a little snippet where, if you listen close, underneath one of the lines there’s a heartbeat. That’s my heartbeat. We recorded my heartbeat.” Then he adds, laughing, “I did 16 pushups, we put the microphone to my chest, and goddangit, we got it.”
Still, he’s quick to point out that his songs are not strictly autobiographical. “I enjoy leaving the songs open for interpretation. There’s a song on there, ‘He Gave All He Had,’ that I wrote specifically for something. But when I play it live, I’ve had a number of people come up to me and say that that song affected them in this way or that way. I just let it be what it’s gonna be for them.”
Given Desmelik’s commitment to Asheville, it’s no surprise that he’s using the release of Deep Down the Definition as an opportunity to give back to the community. For the official release show, the Dave Desmelik Trio (which includes Andy Gibbon and Neal Crowly) will donate half of all CD sales to Earleen Bennett’s Beauty Through Cancer foundation.
“I guess I was trying to think, ‘How can I get more CDs into more people’s hands?’” Desmelik says. “And I thought it’d be cool to do a CD release/benefit show and then give half of all CD sales for that night to a nonprofit that I thought was doing a good thing.”
Such a generous act comes as no surprise. After all, Desmelik doesn’t make music to become a rock star. On the title track of his new record he sings, “Deep down the definition of wealth is simply creating your life.” For Desmelik, music is life. It’s just that easy.
— Joshua Cole is an Asheville-based freelance writer.
who: Dave Desmelik
what: CD-release show
where: The Bywater
when: Saturday, Nov. 5 (7 p.m. free. CDs $10. Half of sales go to Beauty Through Cancer. bywaterbar.com)