Interview: Dearly Departed

I am so smitten with Seattle’s Dearly Departed. I love the singers’ (Noble Monyei and Kira Shea) voices, and the songs are just extraordinary. Monyei, formerly of the Horde and the Harem, stood out to me in that band as well as having a special sound; what a thrill it is to see him in his new venture. Monyei and Shea began Dearly Departed a couple years ago, and, joined recently by drummer Brody Smyers, they started playing live shows last year. I have their demo, which is exquisite on its own. They’re currently working on EP number one, Salad Days, which I am eager to have completed – you can of course help them finish it by heading to that link’s kickstarter! The band’s sound is really hard to peg, though with its gorgeous melody and harmony I feel as if it stands alone. As a live trio the band brings intensity and a great passion; their next show will be on March 30th at the Crocodile Back Bar. Thank you Dearly Departed for hanging out and answering my questions!

So, what’s the story of forming Dearly Departed, how did you get together?

Kira Shea: Three years ago. We didn’t play music together at all for like six months or something. He [Noble] would play guitar – he was in the Horde and the Harem at the time and we would hang out and play songs. I play ukulele a little bit, so our coming together kind of came from that, me trying to do this ukulele thing. On a camping trip we played a lot, then he was like, here’s a song, here’s the part you’d sing.

What about finding Brody?

Noble Monyei: Craigslist.

Brody Smyers: I responded to Craigslist. They needed a drummer to play a show in a couple weeks at the Skylark. I was looking to play with some different people. I heard back from Noble the same day and we jammed that night.

KS: We had been doing our stuff for almost a year at that point, trying out different things. Our demo was done with a drum machine. We played (live) a long time without drums, even without microphones and I played glock a little bit and he would play acoustic guitar. We [Noble and Kira] had known each other for a long time. [A band] is really intimate. You have to have trust.

NM: Zoe Wick invited us to our show at the Skylark. That set us in motion. Everybody works together well.

Will the EP be as electronic as the demo?

KS: Some of the keyboard sounds will make it a little electronic.

NM: It’s definitely electronic in that there’s no acoustic, it’s all plugged in instruments. We try to manipulate sounds in terms of getting that dreamy, washy stuff. In that way I kind of look at it as electronic but not trance. The drum beats are beat-oriented but at a slower pace. Like pastoral dance music. If you speed it up you can hear the modern influence.

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Dearly Departed – from left to right: Brody Smyers, Kira Shea & Noble Monyei
photo by bryn mooney

Do you all work together on the songs?

NM: I pretty much have the song form worked out [but] sometimes we collaborate.

KS: Noble has these part songs, a lot of times they’re three-part songs. We find the structure.

How did you guys decide what instruments to play, and/or start singing?

BS: I grew up in the ’90s listening to alternative rock, the Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Beck. I just reached the point where I didn’t want to be a bystander. I went out and bought a drum set, and started playing.

NM: I went to boarding school in England, so they made us do all sorts of subjects. . . music and theater. I think I was typical in that I didn’t like school, but those were positive things. The school play was Oliver. I always had a connection to music and performance from an early age. I didn’t take up guitar until I was in college. I always wanted to make things – guitar was the most accessible thing. I was in an apartment and couldn’t have a piano. I grew up in Christian school, so you just sang. You sang hymns in church. That was my introduction to singing and music. I didn’t sing in a band until I was in college.

KS: I think that’s reflected in our amount of melody. I always sang. When I was twelve, the idea of singing harmony occurred to me. I grew up singing in church too. I was soprano, and that’s the melody, so the rest of it didn’t really occur to me. I listened to Jewel back then, pretty exclusively. I was in a musical, Footloose. I played violin a lot, never felt passionate about it. I got a music theory background from that. When I was nineteen my mom forced me to be in a church talent show, and I had to have someone accompany me. I was like, this feels terrible, I feel like a diva. Next year, for this talent show, I’m gonna accompany myself, so I learned just enough chords to play this one song. Once I proved that to myself, I didn’t do anymore. [When Dearly Departed began] Noble was like, you can’t just sing in this band, you have to play an instrument. I was like, I’ll play the drums. I had a 45-second audition, and I was rejected. Then I got a synthesizer. Noble is a good guitar player. The Korg is pretty cool. I have not explored the synthesizer to its fullest extent. It has a much larger capacity as an instrument than playing it just as a keyboard.

Where are you from, and why come to Seattle? (Turns out Shea is from Seattle).

NM: When I was in the Horde and the Harem, I went to college here. I had the opportunity to play music.

BS: I’m actually from Texas. I moved to Colorado for a while and started up a band with a friend I grew up with that I hadn’t seen in ten years (in Seattle). I was snowboarding all over America. Those are my things, snowboarding and drums.

What else are into, musically or otherwise?

NM: I’m a Los Angeleno, film and television is huge. Even though I don’t watch a ton of it, I grew up with that culture. Even a lot of the lyrics I like or write are referential to film and television. I was a theater major.

BS: I draw inspiration from not playing music, and spending time in nature. Taking a music break. I like to go to shows and hear other drummers play.

KS: I’m trying to emulate some artists that I like just as an exercise. Regina Spektor’s a big influence right now.

Are you thinking of videos for the songs?

NM: Every song is a video. That will be the next thing.

KS: I love costuming and set making.

Was playing live at first a weird feeling?

NB: I was in the Horde and the Harem for four years, and toured. So for me it wasn’t. I’m comfortable with what it [Dearly Departed] sounds like on stage.

KS: It was a big jump just practicing on microphones. When we got Brody, everything needed to be louder. We practice pretty hard (twice a week).

NM: That’s the benefit of having three of us.

KS: We focus on being so tight, knowing where each other are. I don’t see either of them on stage, but I know where they are. It’s pretty blind at times in terms of hearing yourself.

NM: Our songs are really slow tempo. Any mistake you make there’s a longer space. The tightness and blending is important.

What about favorite music?

KS: Beck – Top one. Regina Spektor. The Shins. Explosions in the Sky.

NM: I used to be a wedding DJ. I will listen to anything and everything. I can hear good music that I don’t like. “Groove is in the Heart” – couldn’t stand that song, but I played it because people loved it. I love Aimee Mann. When you listen to music with lots of space, people project their own desire on top of it. I want that. Like I do that when I listen to the Beach Boys.

BS: I saw Björk at Red Rocks and it changed my life. . . The Chemical Brothers.

There are so many changes in your songs.

KS: The narrative form of the songs is more of a journey. The song ends at a really different place than it started. It feels like the tempo should change, but we keep the intensity, without changing the tempo.

NM: It’s like if you’re listening to Louis Armstrong, the way he approached speed and time. The beat’s fast in the background, but he floats on top. So you have this sense of chaos in the background, but he plays elongated notes. It’s a way of messing with time.

BS: I’m doubling time on my end but the overall pulse isn’t changing. It’s hard to record slow. . . There’s a lot of fast and experimental rock music in Seattle. We’re trying to do something completely atmospheric and spacy. The thing’s that fun about Noble’s songs is that there are a lot of parts where it’s a breakbeat type beat, but then there are also solos.

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