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A Family That Plays Together...

The delMars mix chops with whimsy, Chuck Berry with the Sex Pistols, and family with friends to create their own brand of musical stew

By Erik Hage

Here’s your free bird right here: The delMars are (l-r) Dan Winchester, Matt Toomey, Leah Walsh, Dave Walsh and John Hoffman.
Photo: Chris Shields

I’ve got a pretty good irony detector, but Torquemado delMar just might be giving it to me straight about the origin of the delMars. “We were playing this ‘pukka music,’ ” he says. “Pukka is Hindi for raw or half-cooked...”

Well-cooked,” corrects guitarist Him delMar (named after the repeated sentiment, “We’ll get ‘Him’ to play 12 bars”). Torquemado continues, undeterred. “Then Him delMar says, ‘I hate this shit. No one’s going to want to hear it.’ So we took the ‘rock pledge’: Play the whole rock, nothing but the rock, so help us God. We put our hands on the bass drum before every show. Fucking a-men. That’s how we started.”

That was the genesis of it? “Yeah. Sort of.”

Here’s what is certain: The delMars are Dave Walsh (Torquemado delMar) on guitar and vocals, John Hoffman (Him delMar) on lead guitar, Leah Walsh (Mrs. DelMar) on lead vocals, Matt Toomey (Drummy delMar) on drums and vocals, and Dan Winchester (Danny delMar) on bass and vocals. Furthermore, Dave Walsh is actually Leah’s dad, and Toomey is her husband. Got it?

And that spirit of fun and family pervades the group, albeit tempered by a sharp dose of dead-serious musicianship. The group also stay true to that “rock pledge”; during a Sunday night rehearsal in a subterranean rec room (“delMars Mission Control”) adorned with art, child drawings and shelves of vinyl records, they will wrap traces of traditional folk, surf, blues and even country in a ripping, unmistakably loud alt-rockish assault.

How would the delMars themselves characterize their sound? A volley of answers comes from all corners of the rec room: “Loud and fast!” “Varsity rock action!” “Guitar army!” “Uneasy listening!” “Just a fucking rock band, y’know?”

“I hate when people say they’re an original band and list all these bands [that they sound like],” says Winchester, who, along with bass duties, is the group’s de facto manager.

“I tell people the [Sex] Pistols and the B-52s with Clarence White and Chuck Berry on guitar,” Hoffman chimes in with a perhaps contradictory shrug. (He is actually pretty accurate in his description.)

The essence of the group is a combination of youthful play and salty experience. Leah’s stage presence combines B-52s cheekiness with denim-and-Doc Martens toughness, while Dave has the rumpled, shaggy, benevolently witty appeal of a really cool dad. (The father and daughter represent the age span of the group: 24 to 49.) Hoffman and Dave have played together for several years, and their lithe guitar interplay speaks to that relationship, while the youthful rhythm section of Toomey and Winchester has an unmistakably nervy punk energy, with the kinetic Toomey often clopping out a powerful, surflike battery of tribal drumbeats.

But Dave wants to clarify how he ended up in a blistering rock group with his daughter: “I called Matt [Toomey, his son-in-law] and said, ‘What’s the key to success in the music business?’ And he had the answer: ‘Chicks out front.’ ”

This wasn’t the first time that father and daughter had performed together, though. “We did a lot of car singing,” Leah points out. They both recall “Do You Wear Your Jock a Lot,” a ’60s song by underground folksters the Fugs, as an early carbound hit. (The song that contains that refrain is actually called “Boobs a Lot.”) Dave also remembers that, when Leah was a teenager, “We did a folk music thing where we were wildly reviled. . . . That was at the GottaGetGon folk fest.” Leah is quick to point out that her dad raised her on a steady musical diet of bluegrass and traditional folk.

In my dogged efforts to conduct a conventional interview, I ask about other influences, almost flinching in expectation. “It’s more like, what haven’t we been influenced by than what we have,” shoots back Hoffman. Dave shouts, “We’re definitely influenced by [Albany roots-rockers] the Coal Palace Kings! They got us a nice gig so we want to say a lot of nice things about them guys! They’re our major influence!” The rec room explodes in laughter and raucous agreement. (The delMars played with the Coal Palace Kings at a recent Brand New Opry show at Valentine’s.)

The group have a bunch of originals for their debut album, which they will record in the high-tech barn-loft environs of Arthur Scott Verner’s DMS studios in mid-December. But their set is also interspersed with some choice covers, as Dave notes: the Blasters’ “Long White Cadillac” (“The closest thing to a straight-up cover we do”), Neal Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl” (“It’s very fast”), “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (“Has kind of a Johnny Cash-type flavor to it”) and “Coal Tattoo” (“A traditional folk song that we do almost like a surf version of”).

The band also make it clear that they didn’t exactly morph overnight from rec-room project to club-ready rock band. “It took a long time,” Hoffman claims. “We had a flutist,” Toomey remembers, almost wistfully. “We had a banjo . . .” Hoffman adds in fellow reminiscence. “That was part of the pukka thing,” points out Dave, bringing them back down to earth. Hoffman also remembers an early formative stage of the group down at the old Miss Mary’s Art Space home on New Scotland Avenue. (All the members have strong ties to Miss Mary’s, but make it clear that the delMars are a completely separate and outside endeavor.) “There was a blues jam, and Matt and I would usually get there and play for that. Then I started playing here [in the rec room], playing pukka music. Then we took the rock pledge and Dan came on.”

“It started to come together when we got Dan, really,” Dave adds. “It really solidified when Dan and Leah started singing together. It solidified into this format; it was obvious that it was something that resembled music rather than bullshit, which is what we had been doing.”

“We’ve had a lot of success so far,” Winchester says. “We don’t go out looking for shows. We’ve had some really good gigs and people were really happy.” Leah hopes that once they have the CD out, they can start playing even more venues.

Ultimately, though, what is it really like having family members—a dad, daughter and son-in-law—in a band? “Convenient,” Dave states. “We’re doing laundry right now,” Toomey chips in brightly. Leah notes, “It’s really funny: Someone will tell a dirty joke, then my dad will scratch himself and be like, ‘Fellas! Come on, there is a lady in here.’ ”

As of press time, the next scheduled gig for the delMars is Dec. 12 at Valentine’s in Albany, opening for locally bred pop heroes the Figgs.

Rough Mix

Photo: Chris Shields

MAKE A LITTLE BOOKHOUSE IN YOUR SOUL: Whimsical postpunk bigshots They Might Be Giants released a children’s book in October (published by Simon & Schuster no less), Bed Bed Bed. Their songs over the years have brought back a smidge of childlike wonder for their legions of adult listeners, so who better to speak to our still-open-minded youth? Hey, they may even inspire the next generation of artists to include a fun-loving quotient in their creative work. The world could only benefit.

Anyhow, TMBG performed for free last week next door to the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in celebration of their new work, to a crowd of young and old alike. It seems as though no one in the 400-plus crowd missed the now-empty Talbot’s store, which was the venue for their performance. (There’s a song in there somewhere.)

YOU COME ON LIKE A FLAME: Changing Spaces Gallery, in Albany’s Center Square Neighborhood, will hold its second annual Fire and Ice Festival on Feb. 7, 2004 (yep, that’s the February upcoming—better get used to that number) and they seek submissions from artists, poets, musicians, filmmakers, “performers of all kinds, one-person and group acts, and spectacles.” No one should feel left out of that list, and if you do, submit your work anyhow. The spectacle category casts a wide net.

If you attended the debut Fire and Ice Festival last year, you’ll recall that it was a smash. Though the weather was frigid, people walked the streets—many with their lit candles in hand (which signified something, but it escapes me now)—from art space to club, partaking in this unique offering of varied and creative art and performances. One could sit in on a poetry reading in one cozy space (anything was considered cozy compared to the weather outside) and a play in another. Since many of the venues were galleries, art viewing was always included.

So don’t miss out on being a part of this year’s event. The deadline is Dec. 5 at noon—no latecomers accepted, and early submissions receive particular notice. Call 433-1537 for specifics.

DEADLINES AND COMMITMENTS: More submission info (perhaps Albany has more going on than people give it credit for, no?), this time for potential inclusion in the next issue of Screed, put out by the diligent and hardworking Miss Mary’s folks (If you’re still unaware of Miss Mary’s or Screed, go to http://missmarysartspace. The deadline for their fourth issue, hitting the streets on Dec. 23, is Dec. 8; so painters, illustrators, photographers, musicians (a free CD is included in the publication), poets, you get the gist, send your materials to Miss Mary’s, 2B Irving St., Albany, NY 12202. They also run personals and classifieds free of charge, so get that info to them tout de suite.

—Kate Sipher

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