The pandemic and live music’s stumbling recovery have not been kind to working musicians (to drastically understate it). The inability to safely and reliably convene has been a drag on the bottom line as much as the soul, depriving bands of their primary way of building an audience, not to mention pay the rent.
The internet is a powerful tool, but for many artists there’s no substitute for the stage, stepping in front of a crowd and letting the music speak to listeners in ways social media “gurus” never could. This is especially true for artists like The Dip and Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, two must-see Seattle bands who had heads full of steam when the world turned upside down.
Back in 2020, seven-piece soul brigade The Dip planned to take its second lap around the country supporting its sophomore album, “The Dip Delivers,” which featured Lamarr and DLO3 guitar wizard Jimmy James on standout scorcher “Advertising.” Especially meaningful, the Seattle favorites had landed their first headlining date at the Showbox, a longtime benchmark for local bands on the rise.
“It was a huge bummer,” recalls baritone saxophonist Evan Smith, “it being such an iconic venue and this yardstick in the musical community. And then seeing in recent years all the discussion of whether that property was going to be redeveloped, too. I remember thinking at the time ‘Oh, great, I’m never going to get to play there.’”
Before the shutdown hit in early 2020, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio was gearing up to release its second album with Colemine Records. The boutique soul label helped the hard-grooving soul-jazz ensemble make a splash on the jazz charts with its debut album — a strong but hastily recorded set — just a year earlier. The band’s more fully baked follow-up, “I Told You So,” was initially pushed to October, but as fall approached “it seemed like everything was starting to get worse,” Lamarr says.
Nevertheless, when the record finally dropped in January 2021 — with club gigs still largely extinct — it similarly ascended the charts, even though they couldn’t give the smoldering collection the proper touring push it deserved.
“People weren’t able to get out and see live music, but naturally people crave music,” says the ace organist, crediting his wife and manager, Amy Novo, with keeping them visible online. “I think that helped with the sales of the album, because people desire music. You always do, whether you realize it or not.”
While the omicron surge has thrown another bump in live music’s recovery, both DLO3 and The Dip are picking up where they left off, emerging from a largely grim two years with some of the most potent music of their careers and big hometown gigs springboarding into ambitious tours. Against the odds, all the pre-pandemic momentum they built hasn’t seemed to wane.
When their primary tour plans were sacked, both DLO3 and The Dip turned their focus toward writing, squeezing in mini runs, festival dates or one-off shows as surges and restrictions allowed. (Dip frontman Tom Eddy’s first comeback show was in a makeshift band with DLO3’s James, whom Eddy cites as an inspiration.) After a carousel of part-time drummers, DLO3 finally found a full-time kitminder in Dan Weiss of Nevada band The Sextones, a steady-handed drummer who emerged from a pool of 160 applicants. “When he came onboard, I kind of felt bad for the guy,” Lamarr says of the timing. “He quit his job and everything and we played four shows and everything got shut down.”
With their small but mighty lineup solidified, DLO3 were eager to crank out fresh material to introduce the new guy. Despite a pandemic and geography making in-person rehearsals at Lamarr’s Pullman home trickier (Weiss was living in Reno before joining James in Seattle a few months ago), Weiss quickly jelled with the tight-knit group, originally born out of jam sessions Lamarr and James once anchored at Seattle’s Royal Room.
A number of tracks on the band’s forthcoming album, “Cold as Weiss,” named for the drummer, weren’t written until the prolific trio hit the studio in late 2020. “When we go to the studio it’s really fast,” Lamarr says. “We’ll knock out 10, 12 songs in a day.”
Out Feb. 11, the new album sees the funked-out groove riders fine-tuning many of the things they do well, while introducing a bluesy slow-cooker in “Big TT’s Blues.” On opener “Pull Your Pants Up,” Weiss holds down a free-swinging hip-hop beat over which Lamarr and James trade saucy, melodic leads. It’s a make-’em-move dance floor igniter that should go over well when DLO3 plays the Crocodile on Feb. 4. (If a sit-down gig is more your speed, they’re back at Jazz Alley for a four-night, six-show run May 12-15.)
“For me, the ‘Cold as Weiss’ album is ourselves — it sounds like us,” Lamarr says. “It’s like we’re getting more defined in our sound.”
If “Cold as Weiss” is the tightening of an already locked-in unit, The Dip dived into recording its third album, “Sticking With It” (due March 4), wanting to keep it loose.
After months apart, the band got together for the first time in the quarantine era during fall 2020. Equipped with negative tests and some rough ideas, the guys spent a week at a Lake Whatcom cabin fleshing out new songs. At least after a night of reconnecting by the fire and playing Bob James songs well into the evening.
“It was pretty euphoric,” Eddy says. “I sometimes forget during that period you were afraid to do anything, go to the grocery store or whatever. … I don’t know if we got any music done that first night, because we were just so happy to be out of the cage, so to speak.”
There’s a bit of a perfectionist undercurrent to the band’s 2019 album, “The Dip Delivers,” recorded over a lengthy period while the band delighted in learning the ins and outs of analog recording at their Central District studio. In fairness, it worked. Certified soul shaker “Sure Don’t Miss You” became a legit indie-band hit, amassing 34 million streams on Spotify without a record label’s marketing push.
With “Sticking With It,” the septet — which has since signed with Nashville’s Dualtone Records (The Lumineers, Shakey Graves) — dialed down the reverb in favor of a drier sound making the horn sections hit harder. They also prioritized heartfelt performances over technical perfection, Eddy explains. “We were trying to emphasize a more human element to it.”
On starry-eyed love song “Sleep On It,” Eddy and a trio of backup singers’ swoon-worthy vocals sound like they’re coming from the other side of the bed, wearing a reverence for classic rhythm and blues on their pajama sleeves. It’s up there with the slow-drifting “Anyway,” where Eddy channels his inner tuxedoed crooner, as some of the more intimate moments on an album that still packs its share of party — even in its heavier numbers.
The upbeat horns on “When You Lose Someone” contrast with the gravity of Eddy’s lyrics, as he struggles to figure out how to be there for a grieving friend. “It’s hard to know what to say or what to do, because there’s nothing to say or do, except to just be there,” he says.
With new records in tow, both The Dip and DLO3 are set to embark on significant spring tours, with Lamarr and company heading overseas, and The Dip landing a Bonnaroo slot as summer festival season picks up. But first, The Dip (fingers crossed) finally get to play the Showbox — twice. The guys mark their album release with a two-night stand at the fabled club March 4-5.
Plus, that deal with Dualtone means “Sticking With It” will have more industry muscle behind it. Nice way to make a comeback.
For all the excitement, saxophonist Smith admits there’s “still a tinge of sadness” wondering what could have been without the COVID-19 interruption.
Part of the reason Lamarr and his wife formed DLO3 was that Lamarr wanted to make a name for himself outside his hometown, working beyond the Seattle club circuit. The pandemic may have grounded him temporarily, but with another 25-show European run on the horizon, it’s safe to say: Mission accomplished.
“It’s a trip, man,” Lamarr says. “I didn’t see all of this happening.”
The crystal ball still isn’t the clearest. But for these two, there’s plenty of light.