Frank Cruz - vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboard, percussion
Chris Dixon - electric guitar, background vocals
Wesley Pua - bass, glockenspiel, background vocals
Michael Musumeci - keyboards, glockenspiel, accordion, percussion, background vocals
Daniel Casentini - drums, samples, percussion, background vocals
Frank Cruz - vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, keyboards, Wurlitzer, Hammond organ, glockenspiel, samples, drums, percussion
Chris Dixon - electric guitar, bass, acoustic guitar, upright bass, glockenspiel, samples, MIDI programming, background vocals, percussion
Daniel Casentini - drums
Josh Cook - electric guitar
Brian Espinosa - background vocals, percussion
Robbie Kimzey - electric guitar
James Leste - drums
Joel Levin - pedal steel, harmonica
Michael Musumeci - keyboards
Anton Patzner - violin
Lewis Patzner - cello
John Snapp - bass
Khalil Sullivan - harmonium
Frank Cruz cut his teeth on his mother's record collection. The lyric-forward, narrative rock and roll of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, and Paul Simon lead to early attempts, at 13 years old, to write songs in order to impress girls. A failed junior high school saxophone, trombone, and guitar player, Frank finally found some success at the piano, an instrument he taught himself to play so he could move forward with songwriting, while his younger brother, John, learned to play the drums. Throughout their teenage years, the brothers played together in numerous local bands in Ventura, California (a sleepy beachside town just north of Los Angeles), never achieving much success, but building a small following and self-releasing several DIY recordings.
This activity in the local music scene lead to lifelong friendships with likeminded high schoolers/troubadours Chris Dixon (La Practica de Familia) and Joel David Levin (Far From Kansas). Together, this group launched their own co-operative record label, SFS Records, modeling their community on the halcyon days of David Geffen's Asylum imprint and taking their motto from a lyric by Jets to Brazil: "It isn't what you sell but what you make." Collaborations, concerts, and a small but impressive body of recorded material emerged from this period, including Frank's first CD, A Thousand Perfect Summers, in 2001. Two-thousand-three saw the formation of Frank Cruz and the New Deal and the release of Blueskies Longrides Youreyes, Frank's second full-length record. While The New Deal featured a rotating cast of southern California musicians, including Dixon, Levin, and as always, Frank's brother John Cruz (Contra), what remained constant throughout personnel changes was Frank's emphasis on songwriting and his focus on excavating the sonic textures and aesthetic commitments of 1970s California folk rock in a 21st century context.
By the mid-2000s, Frank and Chris had traded in the sand and sun of Southern California for the bay and bridges of Berkeley and Oakland. While they continued to record and tour with Levin's band, Far From Kansas, they also began expanding their musical circle to include new friends and collaborators from the Bay Area's Rose Hill Collective. After a west coast tour in 2007, that included shows with Poor Bailey and Audrye Sessions, Frank and Chris (now the nucleus of The New Deal), reached out to the Poor Bailey rhythm section of Daniel Casentini and John Snapp to contribute to the New Deal EP, A Place of Our Own, released in 2008.
In early 2009, while Frank and Chris were in the process of writing for the next New Deal full-length, tragedy found the friends. Frank’s 5-year-old son, Zachary, lost his life in an unexpected accident on February 27th, 2009. Over the course of the next few years, while Frank and his family grieved and began the difficult process of picking up the pieces in the aftermath of Zachary’s death, Cruz returned to the one thing that had been constant in his life since adolescence: songwriting. In addition to creating a scholarship at UC Berkeley in Zachary’s memory and founding a non-profit organization in his son’s honor, Frank began working on a series of songs to document the new world he was now forced to navigate without his son.
In the winter of 2010, Frank and Chris began work on an LP explicitly and unapologetically for Zachary. Over the course of several difficult years, the friends used the recording process as a space to work through their feelings of grief, sadness, and anger, as well as feelings of hope, possibility, and reconciliation in the face of the infinite and unknown. Fortunately, they were not alone in this work. Old friends and new ones, who all understood the significance of the project, contributed their talents to The New Deal’s complicated new concept album, including Casentini and Snapp, James Leste (Audrye Sessions), Anton Patzner (Bright Eyes, Foxtails Brigade), Lewis Patzner (Judgment Day, Mates of State), Chris Dugan (producer, Green Day, Norah Jones), and Willie Samuels (mixing engineer).
The resulting full-length borrows the symbol of an offering for the dead from the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos. Titled Ofrenda, the album is scheduled for release on limited edition vinyl and digital download on Día de los Muertos (11/1) 2014. Both haunted and hopeful, the record features honest songwriting and impassioned performances that bear witness to the enduring power of love between father and child.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” –William Faulkner
According to Mexican tradition, the spirits of departed children return home on November 1st, during the annual celebration of Día de los Muertos, in order to commune with their family. November 1st is sometimes called Día de los Angelitos—Day of the Little Angels. Ofrendas, or offerings, are constructed in the home, premised on the Indigenous Mexican belief that souls require nourishment—even after death. The assembly of the ofrenda is a family activity in which every family member who is able participates. Upon the ofrenda table, families will artfully arrange photographs of the deceased, along with food, flowers, and candles, as well as mementos that held special meaning to the dead. The central idea is that during this period of public and private (family) rituals, we are reunited with the dead in an atmosphere of communion and spiritual regeneration. The souls of the dead reassure the living of their continued protection, and the living assure the dead that they will remember and nurture them in their daily lives.
In the local cemetery a community band with a drum and flute ensemble plays both melancholy and vibrant tunes for eight hours. Candles are lit on the graves. Rosaries are said as church bells toll out pleasing music for the souls of the dead.
This album, constructed in large part at home, with the generous help of so many good friends, is our communal offering to the memory of Zachary Cruz, our son and godson, a wonderful little boy (forevermore), who we miss more than words can say. May he accept our Ofrenda and rest in eternal joy and peace.
Frank Cruz & Chris Dixon
April 25, 2014
Sources: Davíd Carrasco and Scott Sessions, Daily Life of the Aztecs and Maria Herrera-Sobek, Celebrating Latino Folklore
Within the dying of media comes the passing or slow dying of individual units—tapes, records, cylinders, cartridges—all of which decay, and in so doing, seem to take on characteristics of having lived. Once digital media arrive as 'other', as cyborg sound, the analogue seems to breathe, however rasping the sound. –Paul Hegarty, "The Hallucinatory Life of Tape"
The first cassette I owned was To The Extreme by Vanilla Ice. It was released in 1990. I was 8 years old. The memory of that first tape is still surprisingly visceral: butterflies of anticipation walking to Wherehouse Music with my aunt; the smell of the j-card when I opened the cassette and took out the insert; pressing play and rewind, play and rewind, again and again, until I had memorized each and every song.
This scene plays out (with variations) time and again across the chronography of my childhood. Jumping on the bed listening to my New Kids on the Block cassette. Driving with the windows down on the freeway in Southern California in my father’s car. He tosses me August and Everything After (on cassette, it is 1993). "Put it on," he says. Waking up early on 9/11/2001 because Bob Dylan’s new CD, Love and Theft, was hitting the shelves that Tuesday morning and I wanted to be first in line. Listening to that record that day, searching for some hidden meaning, trying in vain to make that CD signify.
And then, I wasn’t a kid anymore. I had a kid of my own. I remember a summer day in Berkeley. My 4-year-old son, Zachary, went to Amoeba Records on Telegraph with his mom and made a discovery of his own. The Beatles' 1, on CD. I watched as he took the booklet out and explored the liner notes. We dubbed that CD to tape for him to listen to in his room. Zachary passed away a few years later. I still have the CD and his cassette. I will keep them forever. When Zachary was laid to rest, his Sgt. Pepper LP was placed in the coffin with him.
The fact that with the click of a button, I can instantly own a digital copy of Sgt. Pepper for $12.99 doesn’t make me feel much of anything. It is certainly convenient, and I do appreciate that. It seems important to note that I can buy just one song from To The Extreme, should I choose. I can play that song, ironically, at parties at my house over my AppleTV device. A single song is only 99-cents. These formats make no demands of me as a listener.
I decided to release the Ofrenda demos on cassette not to be clever, or hip, or ironic, or necessarily even nostalgic. I decided to put this music on cassette hoping that you might have some memories of your own to recover as you hold a tape in your hands for the first time in years. It is significant that this format, even more than vinyl, requires patience. It takes time. There is no way to move instantly between songs on tape. Sometimes, you don’t even know exactly where you are in the album. Much of the music on Ofrenda, after all, is about time. The trouble with it. Learning how to live with it. The fantasy of circumventing it. Almost all of these songs were recorded in my basement on Rand Avenue in Oakland while I was figuring out what to do about time after Zachary died. Furthermore, cassettes are an imperfect, limited medium. I find that appropriate for a record like this: an album of demos and rough drafts and mis-takes and aborted arrangements. My first band made our first recordings on a 4-track cassette machine. If you have a cassette player in your car or put away in your closet, I hope you listen to this tape.
If you see a walkman at a thrift store and you think of this tape, maybe go for it. I think these songs will sound best in headphones at night when you can’t sleep. That’s how I made them, at least. Don’t judge them too quickly. These things take forever. I especially am slow.
August 1, 2014