Dean Fertita is a man with some of the most sought-after talents in rock music. Since 2006, he’s had two of the brightest musical minds of our time, Jack White and Josh Homme, competing to fit him into their respective projects. More specifically, he’s played keyboards for The Raconteurs on their first touring year and second album, handled guitar/keyboard duties for The Dead Weather, and has been playing both instruments with Queens Of The Stone Age since their last release in 2007 as well.
Given those three bands’ very peculiar sounds, and how Mr. Fertita manages to fit into them so seamlessly, it’s surprising that he found yet another stylistic avenue with a solo project. Entitled Hello=Fire, his solo debut features appearances by QOTSA members Joey Castillo, Troy Van Leeuwen and Michael Shuman, as well as production credits by his Raconteurs cohort Brendan Benson, and it’s well worth checking out. We recently caught up with Dean to talk about this variety of projects.
Firstly, can you tell us a bit about how the Hello=Fire project came to be?
Hello=Fire started in Detroit with a few songs I recorded with Brendan Benson. Over the next year, while I was touring with QOTSA, I would go into studios on days off and work until it was complete. It was a luxury to have everyone around and they made real important contributions to the album.
There are some monstrous pop hooks on Hello=Fire. Did you put your attention specifically on creating them?
The record was pretty spontaneous. I didn’t really have time to rehearse with a band, so I can’t say things were thought out too far in advance. As far as arrangements go, I grew up on a lot of 60’s and 70’s rock and I think that style of songwriting is forever burned into my brain.
The LP has both writing and producing credits shared with Brendan Benson. How did he get involved in this project?
Brendan and I have been friends for a long time and have had a great working relationship. We went back and forth for a while working on each other’s songs and recording in his Detroit studio.
Since the band’s live debut at Spaceland in LA, we’ve been eagerly anticipating more shows. Will we get to see the songs in action again?
I will definitely continue to record and do more shows. It’s just a matter of working out schedules. The show at Spaceland was interesting. I hadn’t played on my own in almost 6 years and only had one day of rehearsal, so the show was teetering on disaster…I loved it.
Comparing this album to your most recent work with The Dead Weather, there isn’t much similarity at all between the two bands. Was there a conscious decision to stay so distant from that band’s dark sound?
There wasn’t a conscious decision to distance myself from anything, but the great thing about music is being able to explore different parts of your personality. Sometimes it’s as simple the people in the room. It’s like conversation… You talk about different things with different people, but the space that I’m in with The Dead Weather is just as natural to me as Hello=Fire.
Do you share the same influences in writing for The Dead Weather and Hello=Fire?
The Dead Weather is darker, but the influences are still rooted in blues.
On the liner notes of both Dead Weather albums, you can see writing credits for just about every possible combination amongst the band’s 4 members. How do you manage to make it all come together so cohesively?
An exciting aspect of the Dead Weather is that what we were doing was never discussed. We didn’t expect to make a full record. It started with the idea of making a 7″ and it exploded from there. I think part of what makes it so cohesive is that we have known each other for a long time. We share a lot of the same ideas about making record and like to let the music tell us where to go.
After being the keyboardist for The Raconteurs on their very first tour, how did you come to join Queens Of The Stone Age?
Hutch, who has worked with QOTSA for many years as the sound engineer was with the Raconteurs in 2006. When that tour ended, he went back to work with QOTSA. It turned out that they were looking for someone to play keys/guitar and he put me in touch with them. I owe him so much for giving me that chance.
In 2008, when both QOTSA and The Raconteurs were on tour, you stayed with the former, and Josh Homme joked about “winning a custody battle” over you. How did you come to the decision of which band to stay with?
QOTSA made me feel a part of the family immediately. There was a feeling that the future of this lineup could be interesting. It was disappointing that schedules didn’t line up better with the Raconteurs, but I think things worked out good for everyone.
Since the previous lineup of the Queens had a 5th member onstage for only a handful of songs, was it a tough process adapting the setlist to have a keyboardist/extra guitarist for the entire show?
I won’t play something if it doesn’t fit or feel like we are adding dimension to a song. There is no room for redundancy. With QOTSA, aside from the obvious parts, I listen for things that are important in recordings that sometimes don’t make it in a live scenario or for ways to emphasize what is already there. The cool thing is that we are always trying to get someplace new, so the live setting lets songs evolve from the recorded versions.
What part of touring South America has piqued your interest the most so far?
I loved every minute we spent in South America. I just didn’t get to see enough and can’t wait for the opportunity to do more extensive touring there.
After QOTSA are done with the current tour, what’s the next plan for the band? Can we expect to see you as a full-time writing/recording member on the next Queens LP, or have you not discussed this yet?
Now that we are home, QOTSA will begin working on a new material. We have no rules on how the record will be done, so I think it could be real collaborative. As a band, we should find ourselves in some new, shark infested water pretty soon.