In the short history of Deal Casino, the band’s original members have spent a lot of time in Asbury Park, N.J., specifically at the seaside city’s Lakehouse building, which features recording studios, rehearsal rooms and other music-related services.
So it was only natural for the dynamic, fervent rock quartet’s current lineup to get together at Lakehouse on a recent Sunday night to talk about Deal Casino’s forthcoming debut album, La La Land.
Formed three years ago in Sparta, N.J., Deal Casino (originally known as Something About January) trekked south to Lakehouse (roughly 90 miles one way) to record its Cocaine Love EP and The Runaways EP, both released in 2013. Since moving to Asbury Park, the group has made the EPs Heck (2014) and Nika (2015) and the 10-song La La Land at Lakehouse, where singer-guitarist Joe Parella teaches guitar and songwriting at its music academy.
“After we did so many EPs, it started to get to a point where we talked about doing a full-length album,” Parella says from a small conference room upstairs. “An EP is not looked at under a magnifying glass; it’s more like, ‘We’re just trying to get some ideas out.’ EPs give you that time to experiment, and once we got all of that out of our system and [listened to them again], we got to sit back and go, ‘This is what we did right and wrong.’ ”
Before work on its first album commenced, Deal Casino (named after a nearby beach club) needed to, as Parella puts it, “get a new chemistry together” following the addition of drummer Chris Donofrio, who joined in October 2015. An opportunity to develop its musical bond presented itself when the band — which also includes bassist Jon Rodney and guitarist-keyboardist Jozii Cowell — was asked that fall to back singer-songwriter Lauren Patti on her Good Hangs EP.
“Whenever you record with someone else,” Parella says, “you want to put 100 percent into it, but it’s not your own project, so you have this weird freedom. There are no limits. So that was a really good way to get that chemistry started. We learned on an even playing field.”
Late last year, Deal Casino “went into hiding,” says Donofrio, cutting back on gigs in Asbury Park in order to focus on writing new material. Basic tracks for La La Land were cut over five days in late March, with the vocals and overdubs recorded over the ensuing months and into summer 2016.
“We made a lot of music for this album,” Donofrio adds, “and what ended up going on the record was what we worked on the most.”
“Chelsea’s Wedding,” one of the earliest songs written for La La Land, is driven by a fuzzy bass line and punctuated by shimmering guitar. In the chorus, Parella sings, “We turn down the lights/but we look the same/All this time’s gone by/like nothing’s changed.”
“I was reading a Shel Silverstein book called Where the Sidewalk Ends,” Parella says. “One of the [poems] had a reference to the idea that if it were pitch-black, you couldn’t see what anyone looked like, so you couldn’t judge anyone. It was a simple idea, but it had a huge feeling to it.
“So I wrote that down and spun the words around a little bit, and from there I worked backward and forward. Then we all came together and talked about the idea. The overall feeling got tied into that going-home-at-Thanksgiving [experience] and seeing people you knew in high school and that a lot of things don’t change much.”
The sparse “Living Skinny,” with its refrain of “trying to fit into this world/trying to fit into your clothes,” is based on one of the Deal Casino members getting grief for being a millennial, according to Parella.
“We recorded this really simple chord progression, and the first thing I sang was, ‘I’m living skinny,’ ” he recalls. “That song was rewritten a lot, and it came out to be a little more political.”
A three-song EP, featuring the single “Human Cannonball” along with two other songs from the album, is out now in advance of La La Land, which will be released in 2017.
Coincidentally, the title of Deal Casino’s first album is the same as a Ryan Gosling movie that’s due in theaters soon. All four members of the band smile and laugh when that fact is pointed out to them.
“We were going to call the album The Notebook,” deadpans Donofrio, referring to Gosling’s 2004 film, “but we figured that was pushing it.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Deal Casino (from left to right): Joe Parella, Chris Donofrio, Jon Rodney and Jozii Cowell. Photographed Nov. 27, 2016, in Asbury Park, N.J., by Chris M. Junior