There, on the Coachella 2016 poster, in the smallest type at the end of the paragraph listing the 56 Saturday performers, you will find The Dead Ships, a Los Angeles garage-rock trio with no label, no booking agent and only a self-released album and self-released EP to their credit.
How in the name of festival fever did that happen? Well, sometimes you check your phone and it’s Goldenvoice calling.
“This came out of nowhere,” frontman Devlin McCluskey says. “It always seems like there’s some invisible hand working for bands to get to the next level, but we have no label, no booking agent, nothing like that. It’s such a surprise.”
The band’s manager, Darren Jenkins, says he received a phone call from Goldenvoice’s Paul Tollett on Saturday offering a spot: “Apparently they had a spot and Paul asked his people to send him their favorites from 2015, and he checked them out and picked us. It feels special, like we were handpicked. We’ve been doing the hustle for so long, we couldn’t be happier.”
Indeed, it’s a welcome boost for a band that’s been writing an underdog story since they formed in 2011 after songwriter McCluskey, a Chicago native and veteran busker/open mic night performer, started jamming with drummer Christopher Spindelilus. McCluskey’s originally acoustic songs were flushed out on electric guitar and became the Dead Ships’ 2012 debut “Electric Ahab,” and they toured the U.S. as a two-piece. Later, when asked to perform at a Levon Helm tribute (and nailing “Ophelia”), Alex Moore joined the band as bassist.
The Dead Ships’ visceral sound and sweat-drenched live shows have endeared them to a certain core following (although, curiously, not the Burger Records crowd), and they’ve been hard to miss at local festivals: They’ve paid their dues at Brokechella, the Silver Lake Jubilee, Echo Park Rising, Culture Collide, Chinatown Summer Nights and Summer Concerts at Pershing Square.
It was a trip to the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival in Canada a couple years back that ended up making the Dead Ships “feel like 2016 was going to be a really fun year for us,” McCluskey says. There, the band met Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene, a relationship that eventually led to Canning’s producing 11 new songs for the trio. The first batch, including the single “Big Quiet” (which earned some radio play), was released last year as “EP I.” The best from that EP will be combined with the others for a full-length the band hopes to release later this year.
Maybe they’ll have a label and booking agent by then?
“The last couple of years have felt like a long ‘Rocky’ montage,” McCluskey says. “We’ve just worked and worked and worked and worked. It seems like it might be paying off.”
||| Stream: “Big Quiet” and “Canyon”