“Instead of new material going around in my head, I was still trying to take care of my old ones.”
Even though punk rock seems to have seized the lion’s share of press when it comes to the ’80s music scene in St. Louis, metal bands were right alongside, carving out their own piece of rock ‘n’ roll real estate. From basement parties on the South Side to fire hazards on the North Side, heavy metal musicians found a way to rise above the obstacles of jaded indifference and hipster elitism to get their music to the people who craved it. On any given weekend, you could check out Megalith or Axe Minister at Turner’s Hall, or Mak’er and Conquest at Bridgeton Soccer Club, pumping out the double bass drums, dual lead guitars, and melodic vocals that lent the much maligned genre its fist-pumping flavor.
One of those bands that gigged around town toward the tail end of those manic years was a progressive metal outfit called Deeler. Formed in 1987 and led by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Weir, Deeler released two albums: 1989’s eponymous Deeler and 1994’s Awakening in Me. Unlike many of his peers, the Rickenbacker-slinging bassist is still releasing original music, and his very first solo album, Negotio Infecto, has just hit the streets.
I met Weir at a local coffee shop, where we talked about the terrific new record, his colorful musical past, and the inspirations that fueled him along the way. “I was very a close-minded teenager,” he laughs. “I liked Rush and I liked Led Zeppelin. Then I got into this band called Storm in high school, and that band was the most eye-opening, versatile band I had ever been in. We would play Iron Maiden, and turn around and play Jethro Tull.” He considers this thought and continues, “To some people, it’s not that big of a stretch; but at the time, it was a pretty big thing to play music by a band that had a flute and wore tights, to a band that had two guitars and wore tights.”
With marriage and fatherhood, new responsibilities took the place of playing shows and writing songs. Somewhere along the way, though, something began to nag at Weir, and once he identified the itch that needed to be scratched, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. “Part of my curse has always been that my songs are like my children,” he explains. “I can’t ditch them. I have to take care of them. So all of those songs I wrote for Deeler that never got played or got played once, they never left me. I always wanted to go back and take care of that. Instead of new material going around in my head, I was still trying to take care of my old ones.”
The songs on Negotio Infecto—Latin for “unfinished business”—were recorded at Weir’s home studio, powered by crowdfunding, and with the generous help of two talented musicians: guitarist Dave Watkins, who handled lead guitar duties, and Nick Romano, who played drums on Secret Exodus. “Dave is the reason I’m here right now. I was a big Star Wars geek, and I thought about nothing but superheroes and Star Wars,” he recalls. “So in seventh grade, this guy in my class, who I didn’t talk to a whole lot, turned around and asked me if I would play bass if he showed me how. I said ‘Okay’ as I drooled on my desk.” This led to the purchase of a no-name, off-brand bass, and his first foray into the rocking realms of Black Sabbath and Triumph commenced. Watkins agreed to jam with his old friend, and his solos are one of many highlights on the album. “He played all the lead guitar on the album—gloriously, I might add,” Weir says. “It was exactly what I wanted for those songs.”
Though Weir wrote and recorded many of the percussion elements using a drum machine, he knew that Secret Exodus would require a little bit more attention. “When you’re doing a recording, just like you need a canvas before a painting, you need the drums before anything else,” he reasons. “So I put an ad on Craigslist saying, ‘Fifty dollars to lay down some drum tracks for an album.’ There was this great band called Mercury Descends that I hadn’t heard of playing in town. They were the only sign of progressive metal in all of St. Louis. The drummer, Nick Romano, gave me a call, and from the get-go he told me that he didn’t want any money.”
Somewhat surprised at this turn of extraordinarily good fortune, Weir went to see Romano’s band play at a local club. “I met with him, and he hands me a recording with all the drum tracks he had already recorded for ‘Secret Exodus.’ He’s just the coolest guy.” When I ask Weir about why more of his former bandmates didn’t appear on the new record, he says, “Everybody that was formerly in Deeler that I tried to get involved with the album just kind of dropped the ball. I tried to push them and say, ‘Hey, let’s just make an album; let’s just make some music.’ All I was asking for was to get together and have some fun. No one could get past the idea that there was no agenda other than to just make some music.” He shrugs and smiles. “So it became a Joe Weir album.”
Once the recording was complete, the next task was to figure out the artwork for the album. As Weir went back and forth with whether or not to include his own art, he found inspiration in the work of his sister, Angel Zellich, who supplied the gorgeous black-and-white photography that graces the packaging. “I struggled with the artwork for the album for quite a while, and in the end, her photography suited my album a lot better than my artwork did. A piece of my art ended up on the inside of the album, but everything on the front and back cover is her photography. She has a gift for black-and-white photos like no one I’ve seen. It goes back to the old issue of why not to colorize It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s a mood that can’t be replaced by color.”
Now that the album of formerly lost children has been sent out into the world, what’s next for the freshly galvanized bassist? “There’s a guy I used to play with in Deeler, Eric Pirtle, who has been nagging me to record with him for a couple of years, and I think I’m going to do that. He wrote two songs for Deeler, and both of them are two of the most-played songs we have online.” He also has his sights set on doing a live show that would be “a mix between my albums and albums that I love. I would love to, as an adult, open a show with ‘Highway Star,’ which is one of my favorites, maybe play a couple of Deeler songs, and some of the new stuff.”
“I’d like to record it and put it out as an album,” he reckons. “That’s a dream of mine.” | Jim Ousley
Negotio Infecto is now available at CDBaby.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes.