What Was Lost Has Been Found: The Rebecca West Step Back Into the Light
Once upon a time, somebody sent me a CD. I was a little reluctant to give it a listen at first, honestly, because at the time it seemed like I’d been inundated with folky female singer/songwriters, and hey, it sure looked like yet another one of those.
When I did put it on, however, I was bowled over by Cameron Dezen‘s gorgeous, insanely pure, clean-sounding voice; the album, Love + Rescue, was utterly angelic, and while there was a definite folk influence, to be sure, it went far beyond that, coming across instead as a straight-up pop album like something Aimee Mann might’ve come up with if she were a little cheerier. “Wow,” I remember thinking, “she’s really, really good. This is going to be everywhere.”
And then…a whole lot of quiet. A couple of years‘ worth, in fact. I kept waiting to hear that Dezen was working on something new, was playing around town, something, but over the next few years she and collaborator/producer/husband Matt Hammon only popped up sporadically and seemingly vanished right after. That followup to Love + Rescue that I’d hoped for, well, it didn’t look like it was ever meant to be.
But then, a few more years on down the line, and out of nowhere appears this new band, The Rebecca West, which includes some familiar faces: Cameron Dezen (now Cameron Dezen Hammon), Matt Hammon, and Alexis Dezen, Cameron’s brother, who also happens to front The Damnwells, a NY-based band I’d run across in the intervening time and by which I’d been very impressed. They’d written a song, “Lost and Found,” and put it online, on their Bandcamp site.
And oh, wow, was it incredible. Gone were the electronic pop touches, replaced by insistently jangly guitars, propulsive drums, and a dusty, windswept folk-pop feel, but that angelic voice was still damn near perfect. If anything, this is/was better than Love + Rescue, and that album lived in my stereo for a ridiculously long time. Dezen and Hammon were back, apparently, and to make things even cooler, they’d brought Alex Dezen along for the ride.
Like any music junkie, of course, I immediately wanted to hear more, but I was nervous that The Rebecca West would fade into the ether like so many bands around here do, some without even ever releasing an album (Piano Vines, sigh…). Then I got word that the trio were doing a Kickstarter project to be able to record and release an EP, and my hopes went through the roof.
Now, it feels like the band’s trying to crawl cautiously out of their collective shell, and that’s an amazing, awesomely great thing. SCR was able to touch base with Cameron Dezen Hammon to chat a bit about the band, her past, their future together, and all of the rest of it. Here goes…
SCR: First off, I really liked your 2005 album, Love + Rescue, so much so that I expected to see writers everywhere raving about it, honestly. But after it was released, it seemed like things got really quiet. I saw a brief thing about you in the Chronicle in 2007, but then that was it; you vanished for a few years, it felt like. What happened in the meantime?
Cameron Dezen: Strangely enough, we did a pretty big push for reviews for Love + Rescue when it came out in ’05 and got some great ones — of which yours was one and the best, of course — but we didn’t tour for it, so it sort of died on the vine, sadly. Mostly because financially we didn’t think we could make a tour work.
I’m sure my therapist could offer you a much deeper, more nuanced answer that involves self-sabotage and fear of success, but I’ll let you decide what to make of that. In 2009, we made a Christmas album called Come and See under a band name, Olivette, and switched gears to focus on playing in churches.
Can you talk a bit about how the band came together? How did Alex get involved?
I wrote “Lost and Found,” and Matt loved it — it started as a ballad, can you believe that? Matt gave it the driving rhythmic thing is has now. We decided to start recording the folk songs we didn’t play in church as a separate project. Rebecca West was an author Matt loves, she was a bad ass, and I loved the name, so we used it.
Okay; I’ve heard the name and know the original Rebecca West was a real person, but I don’t really know anything about her.
Rebecca West was considered one of the early feminist writers — in her words, people called her a feminist whenever she “expressed sentiments that differentiated her from a doormat.” We loved her writing on Eastern Europe — Matt and I have been there several times — and her book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is among the most epic works of art ever created.
“Rebecca West” was a pen name; her real name was Cicely Fairfield. “The Rebecca West” is a musical pen name for us — a name for the music we make Monday through Saturday, in other words — not church music.
And for Alex, this doesn’t mean The Damnwells are on hold or anything, does it?
How did the recent Kickstarter effort go?
Kickstarter went amazingly well, we surpassed our goal. The EP is out! On iTunes and at Cactus!
What are the songs on the EP like, from your perspective? Are there any particular artistic touchstones you think of when you listen back to it, like, “oh, yeah, that’s our Fleetwood Mac song,” or “hey, that sounds like The Swell Season”?
That’s an interesting question, and on most of the songs, I would say no, because we don’t listen to music very much when we are writing or recording, to avoid unconsciously stealing ideas.
But I will say that “Next of Kin,” is our “Barton Hollow”; it has a similar vibe to it, though our recordings are much denser, more orchestrated and generally louder that The Civil Wars, but the homage is there, for sure. We absolutely loved that record they put out — who didn’t? It inspired us, for sure.
I love the songs on the EP, by the way; “Lost and Found,” in particular, is heartbreaking and gorgeous. How does the songwriting process work for you, as a band? Does one person do the bulk of it, or is it “he does the music, she does the lyrics,” etc.?
I love your questions. Let’s get coffee and talk it over! Okay, but yes, here’s the process: typically, Matt or Alex comes up with the music, I come up with the bulk of the lyrics, the boys tweak lyrics or make suggestions, I tweak music or make suggestions. That’s when we write together.
However, for the EP everyone contributed songs they wrote entirely — i.e., Matt wrote “Drift” and “Make It Rain,” Alex wrote “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” I wrote “Enough,” the others were a hodgepodge/co-writes.
And now, a bit of a loaded question, with a bit of a foreword first: I’m pretty much a heathen, myself, but I’m curious about the role your faith plays in the band. I know Cameron and Matt, at least, do a lot of church-related stuff, although I’m not sure about Alex — is that a big part of The Rebecca West? Do you consider yourselves a Christian band?
No, we are definitely not a Christian band. We are two Christians and a Jew making folk music about our lives. Spiritual themes emerge because we are talking about life and death, divorce, love, heartbreak, genocide — i.e., “Next of Kin.” [Ed. Note: Wait. What?] These are big subjects, and our framework for dealing with the stuff of life — this is Matt and I — is a spiritual framework. Ironically, Alex wrote the most “Christian” song on the record, “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” sort of by accident. But that’s another conversation.
It seems like you play live very sparingly, and it’s often in low-key, somewhat out-of-the-way places, places where most fans of music like yours aren’t necessarily going to know to go. Is that intentional?
No, not really. We are open to suggestions. See: self-sabotage, fear of success, etc.
On a related note, do you have plans to play out more now?
Plans are forming. It would be great to get a tour with another band — we’re talking about that. It’s difficult to tour, because Matt and I have a six-year-old, and Alex is busy songwriting in L.A. and N.Y. He wrote a song for Justin Bieber’s last album — don’t judge — and he’s been pretty busy ever since.
We would love to play something at SXSW and maybe do another run through the Southeast. There’s a potential date at the end December with one of our favorite singer-songwriters at Fitz but it’s not confirmed. [Ed. Note: okay, now that show’s confirmed, and it sounds great.] Crossing fingers.
Speaking of plans, what’s next after the EP?
We’ve started writing for the next record, talking about playing shows, talking about the next record; we just launched our new website, which is awesome. Life stuff, too — I’m applying to MFA programs in Creative Writing because I just don’t have enough on my plate. And also, Matt and I just launched an anti-human trafficking non-profit organization — so there’s a lot of work around that.
Since I’m always curious about the Houston scene and people’s different places within it, do y’all feel like you’re a part of that? Are there bands in town you like or are friends with?
Sadly, no, but just because we never play in public, or at least we haven’t yet. We’d like to be; there’s a lot of great music coming out of Houston these days.
Looking Backwards Question: when you were a kid, did you think forward in time and see yourself where you are now? Or have things taken a fairly different turn from how you’d planned it?
When I was a kid, I thought I would be on Broadway in Phantom of the Opera, or Les Miserables. I’m a secret musical theater nerd. I think Alex is doing exactly what he wanted to/thought he would do. I’d say Matt thought he’d be playing drums full time.
Big Future Question: where does all this lead for the three of you? Headlining spots at festivals and performances on _Jimmy Fallon_? Or is the plan something more grassroots-level?
Someone else asked us about Jimmy Fallon recently — sheesh — we would absolutely love to do that, would love to play festivals. If anyone asks, we’re available. END