Emerge From Nothing

Thee More Shallows wowed critics with their debut, then disappeared. Will More Deep Cuts put them back on the map?

Thee More Shallows. It may be one of the worst names ever, and David "Dee" Kesler, the multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and chief songwriter for the cerebral indie rock band, knows it.

"[It's] an incredibly bad name that we have," he exclaims during an interview at the Latin American Club, a cozy, dimly lit bar in the Mission, seated next to bandmates Odessa Chen, Jason Gonzales, and Brian Fraser. (Chen sings backup vocals; the latter two mix it up on drums, synths, samplers, and guitars.)

So why did he choose such an appalling appellation?

Thee More Shallows (clockwise from upper 
left): Jason Gonzales, David Kesler, Brian 
Fraser, Odessa Chen.
Thee More Shallows (clockwise from upper left): Jason Gonzales, David Kesler, Brian Fraser, Odessa Chen.

"We liked the name 'The Shallows' because, well, we liked the multiple meanings," Kesler says. "And then we put the two E's on there because we thought that was good."

An odd thought, that. Made even odder by the fact that someone else already had it: Shortly after playing his first few shows as Thee Shallows, Kesler received a cease-and-desist order informing him that the name was already spoken for.

"So then we had to put the 'more' on there because of some battle of two bands no one's ever heard about," he continues. "And we ended up with this awful piece of real estate that we continue to occupy."

But hey, at least it's a memorablename. Besides, as Kesler points out, "It's a bad name, but, whatever. Names are good if the music is good."

Indeed. And in early 2002, when Thee More Shallows released their debut album, A History of Sport Fishing, there were a lot of people who agreed that the music therein was, in fact, good -- possibly great -- especially people in England, where the album received glowing reviews in a number of high-profile pubs such as the London Times, which gave it four out of four stars, and Mojo. In addition to dates up and down the West Coast, the band played a European tour in support of Sport Fishing. Thanks to increasing critical support, a fan base grew and grew. Thee More Shallows, in spite of their lame handle, were well on their way to something bigger. What they needed most was a solid follow-up to Sport Fishing that could cement them as something more than a flash-in-the-pan act. And so Kesler went to work, hunkering down in his newly constructed recording studio in West Oakland. And the work went on. And on. And on.

"I disappeared," says Kesler. "I would spend 12 to 15 hours a day there by myself, going crazy, trying to manipulate the minutiae of sound, tweaking on a toy piano part for an entire day, totally unnecessary things. And in the process I dropped off the map."

It's now almost three years later, and that follow-up has finally arrived, and it is spectacular. Bigger in scope and vision, full of disparate sounds like French horns, strings, guitars, and musical saw, and sonically sparkling like the Turtle Waxed grill of a '65 Corvette, More Deep Cuts was worth the wait. There's just one problem: You can't buy it, at least not in the States. Kesler and company can't find a label to put it out.

As the songwriter puts it, "I think the process of making the album, which was pretty epic and saw me becoming completely cloistered and consumed with writing and recording, made people forget we existed."

Uh-oh.


Thee More Shallows began as the musical project of two friends, Kesler and Tadas Kisielius, who knew each from their college days at the University of Michigan. When the pair moved to the Bay Area, they started a band called Shackelton, which had a one-year run playing local clubs in 1999 before it imploded. After that, Kesler and Kisielius decided to become a duo. They contacted a poet friend of theirs and asked for a list of potential band names. The Shallows topped that list, and, well, you know the rest. In 2001, they recorded Sport Fishing on an eight-track in three months, and put it out with S.F. label Megalon. They weren't expecting much attention, let alone the kind of critical praise they ended up receiving.

The material on Sport Fishing projects both confidence and vulnerability. Much of it consists of melancholy, atmospheric, atypically arranged pop songs, like "Where Are You Now," which is simply a four-minute buildup in which an elliptical guitar line and gently throbbing drums grow heavier and heavier as Kesler delivers his breathy sing-speak; the effect is of a voice that sounds as if it's whispering confessions to you in a low-lit bedroom at 3 in the morning, as increasingly busy music rumbles beneath. Elsewhere we see just how many tricks the duo has up its sleeve: "Pulchritude" is a 2-1/2-minute instrumental piece in which violins (Kesler and Kisielius are classically trained) dance anxiously around plucked guitars; the title track is a seven-minute epic that winds its way through languid, organ-drenched verses, ultimately ramping up to a tension-releasing, distorted-guitar-and-toy-piano-laden climax. It's no wonder that when people tried to compare this band to others, everyone from Scottish noise-assault artists Mogwai to whimsical indie-popsters Death Cab for Cutie came to mind.

Sport Fishing is wide-ranging and addicting. Unfortunately, however, halfway into recording its sequel, Kisielius decided it was time to move on. He had put a career as a lawyer on hold to focus on music, but when he got an offer to move up to Seattle for a job, he took it, leaving Kesler to fend for himself, which proved difficult.

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