There’s already an air of mystery about singer-songwriter Deep Gold’s identity as it is being well-guarded, and I have absolutely no idea what his real name is. His publicist wouldn’t budge on this, and because I think his music is so fantastic, I’m forging ahead in telling you about him.
What I do know is that he’s originally from Miami, now lives in Rockland and will be playing on the nearby island of North Haven on Aug. 30 and up the road in Camden on Sept. 7. His lifelong connection to Maine is through many summers spent on Vinalhaven as a child and some time living there as an adult over the past few years.
Before he started making music, Deep Gold wrote poetry. H didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 20 years old. Once he learned a few chords, he realized that songwriting was his preferred method of expression.
It might not be all that original to compare him to other artists, but I’m going to do it anyway because once you hear Deep Gold for yourself, you’ll understand why. He sounds like a cross between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, with a little Tom Waits in there, too. In his bio at deepgoldband.com, he acknowledges these three as influences, along with Randy Newman, whom he respects immensely as a songwriter. “When I started writing for Deep Gold,” he said, “I realized I was fitting into that same ‘man in a black suit with a deep voice’ tradition, though I’m more influenced by them stylistically than lyrically. That said, I admit I’m walking a street they’ve paved, and I’m embracing that because it’s something people can instantly relate to.”
But don’t call him a copy cat. Deep Gold has woven his Americana sound with a Gothic aesthetic and a range of topics covered in his songs.
A few months ago, I was sent the first song from Deep Gold’s forthcoming album. The track is called “The Waters Rose,” and it was written post-Hurricane Katrina. It opens dramatically with strings and the lines: “It’s bad news on the bayou, the flood came in just like God has said/There’s bad news on the bayou, the storms swept through/Now we’re left wondering what to do.”
Take a listen to “The Waters Rose”
Horns and a few tinkling piano keys are heard, then the song shifts from first to third gear with drums, bass, keys and guitar as Deep Gold and his throaty voice continue to paint a bleak portrait, with female backing vocals accenting the song at just the right moments. The song ends back on a slow note, as if Deep Gold is saying to the listener, “This story isn’t over, but I’m going to just leave it there to marinate.”
“Don’t Worry” offers life advice about not buying into preconceived notions about a whole bunch of stuff, including the afterlife. “Please don’t worry about heaven/If you’re happy, you’ll have a happy ending.”
“Hot Dogs for Sale” is a swampy number about peddling “heaven in a bun” on a hot summer’s day and ultimately questioning one’s life choices.
“JFK” tells of the ghost of President Kennedy, still lurking in the White House. “In the oval office, his feet are on the desk/He’s sipping gin and tonic, he’s snickering at the president.”
Then there’s “The Hellhounds.” It’s a brooding, moody number about a down-and-out dude who just wants to be left alone to play his saxophone. “I almost had a love affair with a woman who stopped and said, ‘Hey there, your music’s good, but it’s so damn sad, why you gotta play like that?’ ” The production quality of this – and every song on the album – is first-rate. Sometimes I don’t notice this sort of thing, but it’s impossible not to in this case.
Turns out the album was recorded in Nashville in a studio called The Bomb Shelter. It’s the same studio where Alabama Shakes recorded its debut album “Boys & Girls” in 2012. Deep Gold worked with producer Jon Estes, whose recording credits include Kesha (bass), Steelism (bass, string arrangements, piano/keys, writer) and Robyn Hitchcock (bass), among dozens of others.
Along with producing the record, Estes played bass and keys and enlisted the help of Jeremy Fetzer from Steelism to play guitar, percussionist Bryan Brock and Alexis Saski and Maureen Murphy on backing vocals. Estes also brought in three-piece horn and string sections, which added remarkable texture to Deep Gold’s songs.
“(Estes) really is a genius in the studio. I’d already written all the songs going in, but there was a huge amount of interpretation to his credit because it’s a pretty big album as far as the arrangements go,” said Deep Gold. He added that he didn’t touch an instrument during the 10-day recording session, which suited him just fine. “I was able to concentrate on the vocals and conveying my stylistic and genre ideas to Jon,” he said. “He really understood what I was going for and was essential in helping bring my vision of the record to life. It ended up being a refreshingly raw expression of the material.”
But what about the name Deep Gold? That question has a few answers. For one thing, it’s the color of his guitar, a Gibson Les Paul Gold Top. Also, his publishing company is called The Golden Door. That name was inspired by an inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty of the sonnet “The New Colussus” by poet Emma Lazarus, which includes the lines “Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
But the most significant meaning of the name Deep Gold is a deeply personal one. His grandfather gave him a gold coin when he was a child. “His parents were killed in the Holocaust, but he survived and escaped to the U.S. after the war with absolutely nothing,” he said. “He was one of the millions of immigrants to pass by that statue en route to Ellis Island, and he really lived the American Dream – got an education, started a business, found a secure and free life for himself and his family. Later, I realized the gold coin was symbolic. So many Jewish people in Europe were persecuted for so many years that they kept their savings in gold coins because it was the easiest thing to take with them if they suddenly had to flee persecution. The gold coin was something from my grandfather’s history, but it was also emblematic of his journey to the United States. It’s a story of suffering and of America, one that has really shaped me. It has a lot to do with who I am, and my mission in music.”
Deep Gold’s album comes out on Sept. 28. In the meantime, you can find a few of these tunes (including “The Hellhounds”) on Spotify and can follow Deep Gold on Facebook and Instagram (@deep_gold_music).
Before I end, I’ll share one late-breaking footnote. I sent a quick note via Facebook messenger to Deep Gold in hopes of confirming info about an upcoming show. A few hours later, I heard back. He told me his name and is leaving it up to me whether to share it. At this point I see no reason to, but I will tell you that it’s an unusual one and that he likes people to use his nickname.
That said, if you go to one of the shows listed below, or to future ones that will surely be happening in Maine, be sure to say hi to Nick.
Upcoming Deep Gold shows:
Aug. 30. Waterman’s Community Center, 12 Main St., North Haven, $10. watermans.org
Sept. 7. Blue Cafe at the Camden Opera House, 29 Elm St., free. camdenoperahouse.com