:: Rocco Deluca :: supporting John Mayer and Ben Folds :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: June 15 ::
By Brian Kenney
Hollywood and rock and roll have long had a suspect relationship. A tumultuous marriage between entertainment and business. The connection can generate instant entertainment credibility. But when Hollywood is in the business of making music, that is to say, in music for the sake of making business, well, that’s something else entirely.
Such is the case for Long Beach, Calif., singer/songwriter Rocco Deluca. Having lived his whole life in the L.A. area, Deluca has long known both the ins and outs of the music industry and the walk and talk of Hollywood.
“Put in the right time and energy, film and music work together,” Deluca said of the concert film released last year, I Trust You to Kill Me. This is also the title for Deluca’s 2006 debut disc on the Kiefer Sutherland-owned label Ironworks. “It’s a film about struggling,” said Deluca of the rockumentary which chronicles not only Deluca and his band The Burden on their first-ever European jaunt, but also Sutherland’s struggles as their tour manager.
The soft-spoken Deluca has mixed feelings about the finished product of the film, which shows his band’s low points and growing pains. It also showcases their tour manager, Sutherland, in comprising and embarrassing situations; all as Deluca attempts to forge an identity with a fresh audience. “It’s a film about struggling, which is still hard for me to witness,” he said.
Hard to witness because Deluca was trying to shed the “just another acoustic songwriter” image. In the current renaissance of singer/songwriters, Deluca wants to stand alone among the growing myriad of Jack Johnson wannabes. And he does. He doesn’t craft songs as “cute” as Johnson, which is a credit to his songwriting. He’s got the lyrics of Bernie Taupin and a softly sour voice reminiscent of Chris Cornell in his heyday of Soundgarden. But it’s the hauntingly soulful and whining melodies from the slide of his Dobro that remind us why we miss Jeff Buckley so much. As a result, the early slings and arrows that the film portrays are tough for the young Deluca to handle.
There’s no doubt that a sense of self is what attracted Sutherland and Ironworks partner Jude Cole to Deluca during the singer’s demo days, when he was honing his skills playing around Los Angeles, ultimately lining up a weekly residency gig at the Gypsy Room. Sutherland and Cole approached him and ultimately signed Deluca as Ironworks’ inaugural artist in 2005, as a result of Sutherland’s tenacity.
Accompanied by The Burden — bassist Dave Beste, drummer Ryan Carman, and multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Greg Velasquez — Deluca, with producer Cole at the helm, masterfully crafted I Trust You to Kill Me, a Radiohead-meets-Gomez record by way of Keb’ Mo’ and Paolo Nutini.
While much has been made of Deluca as a Dobro player, it isn’t the resonating guitar that he wants to be known for. In fact, it’s one of a myriad of instruments that Deluca has grown up playing. His father was a touring guitar player with some early blues artists, among them Bo Diddley. “It’s hilarious that they’re calling me this great Dobro player. [But] I’ve never really sat down and learned theory; I’m not very technical about it, really. It’s flattering. I started playing the banjo and just stole all those tunings for the Dobro,” Deluca said.
It’s the sensitivities, the croon of the Dobro that makes its sound so haunting. There’s a certain vulnerability in its whining twang, vulnerability echoed in Deluca’s songs; a vulnerability he confesses is his most positive attribute. “I’ve always been drawn to the more dopey, rough-around-the-edges people. I’ve always been drawn to the [singers]who can barely make it through the song,” he said.
While Deluca is so involved in his art, he must also consider the business side and the Kiefer factor. Early on, Sutherland served as Deluca’s tour manager. This worked in a number of ways: it worked to fuel interest in Sutherland’s business venture as Deluca was one of the “24” stars, and one of Ironworks’ investments. It also served as conversation fodder for the film version of I Trust You to Kill Me, where Sutherland provided countless youtube minutes as a bumbling tour manager who lasted all of 10 days before firing himself.
So while Sutherland has stepped back from tour managing duties, Deluca is still a part of the label that helped draw massive attention his way —good and bad — and Deluca said that he’s just happy to be focusing on his music again. “Just recording and doing artistic things are a creative time,” he said of his excitement over the initial Ironworks’ relationship. “We were just seeing where it went. We just wanted to make something that mattered. For me it was a bit of a distraction. Just like any artist, the promotion of an album is not the making of a record. The campaign is a lot different than pure creation.”
Spectate if you Gravitate:
• Jeff Buckley
• Johnny Cash
• Led Zeppelin