Hunched studiously over a stack of keyboards, fingers steadily punching out a melody, Daniel Coy looks as much the part of a scientist as of a maestro. His awareness seems multi-pronged, simultaneously introverted and focused on the loose-leaf sheets of sound wafting up from the instruments surrounding him. Every few bars, the focal point of his concentration seems to shift; the crown of his head lifts, rotates toward his bandmates, and lowers.
Jen Rock is standing in the corner of the practice space, singing into a microphone that's duct-taped onto its stand. Her voice has a plank-board quality—straight and strong, low to the ground, a combination of microscopic splinters and sanded-down silk. I like the colors that you wear, she sings, staring forward at nothing in particular, her words curdling slightly around the edges, I like your hair.
In the opposite corner, Jennifer Bradley sits behind her drum kit, her rhythms as unapologetically candid as Rock's voice. Josh Sidman stands over his upright bass, carving deep crevices into the song's underbelly, as the piano line picks up again just in time to glaze everything over with one last wash of sound. "We live in California hey, hey, hey/ We live in California…."
Deek hoi's come a long way since our first introduction to it, by way of an unassuming four-track recording that landed in our office sometime last year. But Summer/Book, as it was called, turned out to be among the most stellar efforts—fledgling or not—we'd heard in some time, a splash-puddle of instrumental whimsy and lo-fi production that was as innovative as it was nostalgic. And that was just the beginning.
"We call it the love story of Deek hoi because of the history of how it got started," Rock says, alluding to the serendipitous collision of the band's members. Coy, Rock and Bradley became good friends in college, although the idea of making music together didn't surface on the radar until sometime later.
In part, that was because they were mostly all closet musicians. Bradley, for instance, grew up playing the piano and the saxophone, but explains that stage fright kept her from taking her talent out of the house. "I never ever played in public, ever," she says. "My own parents wouldn't have had evidence that I ever played the instruments they paid for other than practicing, but I just never wanted to."
Though Coy has some band experience, he's still just emerging from a lifetime of at-home tinkering, indirectly fostered by the musical inclinations of his parents. "From a very young age I had pianos and guitars laying around, and drums and basses, and I can't say I'm very good at any of them but I do really like the sounds they make," he says, noting that recording was a passion he developed during childhood, drawn to its noninvasive charm. "You don't have to worry about saying, ‘I want to goof around with this idea,' and you're draining other people's time. With recording, you can spend hours and hours and hours only entertaining yourself—you're not boring other people."
Rock may be the band's most novice musician, having taken up the guitar during the last couple of years. But she had a gift for it. "I was like, hey Danny, guess what?," she says, recalling the day she approached Coy with a song she'd taught herself. "And I was so nervous. But the relationship he and I have, I trust him, so I played him a song really fast, and it worked, and a couple weeks later he had this band."
Rounding things out is Sidman, Deek hoi's newest addition. The bassist brings some performance experience to the table, having moved to Knoxville four months ago from California, which he called home base when not touring with well-known bluegrass outfit the Earl Brothers. "I'm used to playing bluegrass/old-time music," Sidman says. "This has been the most musically broadening experience I've ever had."
With next week's CD release show, Deek hoi is preparing to release an updated representation of itself, The Golden Country. It's an album that, in its shyest moments, embodies all the transcendental qualities of psychedelic folk, but when it rocks out, it comes out with fists, punching through the American Gothic canvas and reaching through to something even starker and yet more emotive on the other side.
"People play all the time hoping they'll land themselves in a good setup with a good band, playing out shows, and I'm floored," Rock says. "It just kind of happened."