Deren Ney is what I like to call a “guitarist’s guitarist.” A player who obviously has the chops, but plays what fits the song. The song comes first. That’s not to say he can’t rip…He can! If you have a chance to catch a Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers show, chances are you left there quite impressed with Deren’s playing. He weaves in and out of blues, country, soul, rock, roots and back around again. VTB was lucky enough to have a few minutes to talk with Deren between tour dates…
Who were some of the guitarists you listened to growing up and that helped to contribute to your sound?
Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman and Steve Cropper are the ones most related to how I play in The Gramblers. I love Brian May and Jeff Beck but I don’t reference much of that in the band. And by “reference” I mean “rip off”.
I usually see you playing Gibson ES-335s and similar models- is that your guitar of choice?
Yes. I’ve tried others but those are the only ones that feel right. They’re sturdy but have more character than a solid-body like a Les Paul to my ears. They’re less forgiving too, in a good way.
What was your first guitar?
A Strat knockoff by Memphis rented from the local music shop. Total piece of junk. I loved it.
What are you using gear wise, both live and in the studio these days? (Guitars, amps, pedals, etc.)
A handwired Deluxe Reverb by CPAmps that’s been tweaked by the best Fender amp sweetener out there, Mike Pascale. He’s a magician. I prefer early 70’s 335’s and have been writing songs lately on a Rickenbacker 360 12-string which is so fun. For pedals I use an EP Boost for solos, a Memory Man for slap back, a Strymon Lex rotary pedal and EHX POG on a couple tunes, a Dunlop Wah and Ernie Ball Jr. volume pedal.
Most of us know you from being the guitarist for Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers. What are some other bands you’ve been a part of- and do you have any other projects currently?
I played in a few bands that never went anywhere, nothing you would know. Honestly I wasn’t that interested in playing music until I started playing with Nicki. We were a duo for a year and a half before The Gramblers formed and I fell in love with the songs and her voice and I could see from the beginning anything was possible, and I found that exciting.
As far as side projects, The Gramblers are so busy there’s not time to do much else, but when I’m off tour I go to Phil Lesh’s place, Terrapin Crossroads, and play with those dudes. I love Grahame Lesh, and his brother Brian, and Phil obviously is amazing, the whole Terrapin family rocks. They’re so sweet and fun and have been so welcoming to me. They’ve created a special place there which is all about loving music. If I can’t be on the road with The Gramblers that’s where I like to be.
Speaking of Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, how did the idea for the Van Sessions come about?
We were on tour and Nicki and our bassist Steve Adams were singing a song that we all love (“Tonight You Belong to Me” by Patience and Prudence) and we talked about having them record it some time. Steve suggested just doing it right then and there with an iPhone on the dash while we drove. He had brought a melodica too so I joined in on that despite not really knowing how to play. It was fun. We put the video up as a fun tour oddity and thought nothing of it. There wasn’t much reaction and we never thought there would or should be. It was just for fun. We did more videos on that tour and by the time we were doing Whitney Houston jams on melodica and ukulele I think we realized how fun this could be. I wouldn’t call the tunes guilty pleasures, because I love and admire them as songs, but once we decided we didn’t want to do standard singalongs like “The Weight” or “Wagon Wheel” or whatever I think we realized how fun and unique this could be. It’s a lot more fun and interesting to deconstruct a Hall and Oates song than to just bang out “Gloria” or something, and you learn a lot more about what makes songs work. That was why we did it, to pass the van time learning the ins and outs of the songs that had stuck with us over the years. We were totally shocked when they went viral. If I’d known people would someday see them I wouldn’t have always been so hungover.
Who are some newer guitarists that you really dig?
I always dig Greg Loiacono from the Mother Hips and Dan Lebowitz from ALO. They are tuned into being expressive and both play as extensions of themselves.
What’s the best advice you would give to a kid that wants to do what you do?
Keep your heart in it, always. You’re gonna need it. Making music your life is not about being cool or showing off how much you practiced or, certainly, fame or fortune. It’s about continuing and hopefully adding to the spirit of what made you love music in the first place. If that isn’t what’s driving you, don’t do it.
FIND DEREN ONLINE:
Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers official site:
Deren’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/DerenNey
Deren’s Instagram: http://instagram.com/derenney