You can’t miss Black Suit Devil.
Not so much because of the name – sure it’s memorable. Or how founding and sole member Andy Du Rego looks. Long black coat. Long dark beard. He certainly stands out.
But once his vocals drop, your head naturally pops up. Wow, you might say. Interesting. Then he settles in and the soul of the deep, raspy tinged vocals with a dark edge leaves quite the impression.
The Canadian band Black Suit Devil – totally fronted by Du Rego who sings, writes , plays guitar, and produces all the recordings – released the band’s second full length album A Matter of Time on Nov. 15, 2019 a record billed as an eclectic mix of sounds ranging from Folk, Blues ,70’s Rock n’ Roll, New Orleans Big Band to soulful ballads and upbeat bluegrass. Du Rego tackles subject matter ranging from the environment and politics, to love & loss and many things in between.
Likened to other grovely singers like Tom Waits, Ray LaMongtagne and even the late, great Chris Cornell, Du Rego walks to the beat of his own drum with Black Suit Devil. Previously, a guitarist in metal and hard rock bands, Du Rego founded Black Suit Devil because he simply wanted to explore other musical styles. No, he hasn’t given up listening to those hard charging guitar chords, Du Rego just doesn’t play them anymore. Well, at least not right now, he says with a wink.
Today, his focus takes a more mellow approach to song writing but remains just as vigilant as it took to shred through some metal tunes. Du Rego took some time out from Black Suit Devil to talk about the band and his future.
Founder: Andy Du Rego
Year Founded: I started writing songs for the project in the summer of 2014. Performed my first gig as Black Suit Devil in January 2015.
Hometown: Born and raised in Toronto but currently I call Brantford, Ontario home.
Influences: My Influences come from many different places and genres of music. I would say some of my more prominent influences would be Bob Dylan , Ray LaMontagne , Chris Cornell , Tom Waits , Steven Tyler I mean the list goes on and on but those stand out.
1. So I’ll come right out and say it. You have very interesting vocals. Peculiar even. And you can’t miss it. Are you actually singing and putting in the effort or do you generally have a rasp to your normal speech?
Thank you. It definitely is different (laughs). I’m a soft spoken person generally with a quiet talking voice but when I start to sing I get this grit in my vocal especially when I’m singing in a lower octave. It’s interesting when people hear me sing live they will hear a second vocal that harmonizes sometimes in a lower or higher octave. It’s creepy in a good way.
Some people have compared it to indigenous throat singing. I’m definitely singing from my diaphragm and a touch from my throat in a way that’s not damaging. It’s always what has felt natural to me. I lose the rasp as I sing in a higher octave. It thins out and I get a different kind of grit like the backing vocal you hear on my song January. It allows me to add different textures to my music and take it to different places sometimes all in the same song.
2. The vocals certainly grow on you and work well with your music. Did you have concerns your vocal style would not resonate with an audience?
I think it fits well with my songwriting style and really helps set a certain mood to the music. Years back I used to be in heavy metal bands / hard rock bands as a guitar player and never really sang in any of the projects. I felt a bit self-conscious about my vocal as it was different than the music I was playing at the time. It wasn’t until I started getting into artists like Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Tom Waits and Ray LaMontagne that I became more confident with my own vocal style and embraced it.
I really don’t have concerns that it won’t resonate with everyone, I mean, nothing anyone does will ever please everyone. Some will gravitate to it and other won’t but that’s OK. That’s what art is all about. Personally, I’ve felt it really helps me stand out and often the reason why people become fans of the music. I’ve always loved unique voices, like Tom Waits. Love him or hate him it’s something uniquely different.
3. Do you have to arrange the music to fit with your vocals, do you make vocal adjustments to fit the music, some of both or whatever works?
I just write what comes naturally really and begin to add vocal melodies over top. Sometimes I write vocal melodies that I later add music to. I don’t have a set formula or anything I just do what feels right to me. I’m lucky in the way that I have good control of my voice and a bit of a vocal range that I can change things up a bit. That allows me to get creative with the music for sure and opens up some doors.
4. OK enough of that. Silly question, how did you get started in music?
Not silly at all. I remember the moment I first really got into music. It was 1994 and I was at home sick and lying on the couch watching T.V. I turned the channel to this thing everyone was talking about called Woodstock. The live feed was just showing an empty stage and then Green Day walked out. They just start rocking and everyone starts throwing mud up at them. I’m there thinking “This is the coolest thing ever!” I was an instant fan and began to listen to their music non-stop. They got me into music, but a few months later I was at my friend’s house across the street.
He was outside vacuuming his car when I noticed this cassette tape – that just made me feel old – with this picture of Lady Justice on the cover. It was Metallica’s …And Justice for All. It caught my eye and I asked him about it. He played me the start of side B and “The Shortest Straw” came on. That changed my life forever. I wanted to know what was making those heavy sounds and how I could do that.
My brother and that same friend started getting into playing guitar at that time. I was blown away by the sounds a guitar could make. I would watch them play and when my brother would head out to school or work I would sneak into his room a play his guitar and put it back just the way I found it so that he wouldn’t kill me when he got home (laughs).
5. You have certainly made quite the leap from playing hard rock/heavy metal to the folk and soul of Black Suit Devil. Why the change in musical style?
It’s what I was feeling at that time really. When I started singing I joined a Stone Temple Pilots Tribute band and dropped the guitar for the first time in my musical career.
I wanted to be a part of something where I didn’t have to worry about writing music to just have fun and gain my confidence as a singer and front man. I spent just over a year doing that then decided I wanted to front an original heavy blues band project and Joined up with these three musicians in Toronto and formed The Blues Emergency. I was the front man and one of the main songwriters in the band. Over the course of six years or so we wrote , performed and recorded a great record called The Machine. I had a great time in that band and really grew as an artist, unfortunately towards the end we were not getting along that well as happens in a lot of bands but managed to finish the record.
I was in a different head space at the time and was writing a lot of acoustic based music that I presented to the band but was not embraced by all the members . At that point I realized that I needed to truly take my music career into my own hands and really believe in myself and form my own project and began performing under the name Black Suit Devil while recording The Machine with the band at Edadic Studios. After I had six months of shows under my belt I booked recording time at the studio and started to record my debut record “The Freedom Sessions” while still recording with The Blues Emergency.
Communications within the band got really bad and it put a lot of delays on the album and my record The Freedom Sessions ended up being released first . The Machine sat on a shelf for a long time but did get released in the end. Although we never performed again together as a band we do get along now. We all have changed and grown, I guess. John Brand who was the bass player in The Blues Emergency now plays piano on Black Suit Devil recordings and on the live front.
6. Black Suit Devil is still a one man band, of sorts. Do you write all the music and play all instruments for the studio recording?
It is a one man band, so to speak. I write all the songs and lyrics and record /produce all the music myself. On the first two records I play all the acoustic guitars, main vocals, harmonica, and some percussion stuff. Then I get session players to come in to get the layers of sounds and instruments that I hear in my head when I write my songs. Some of them perform with me live and others are musicians that I meet on my travels. If someone stands out I always make a point of introducing myself and getting their contact info.
When I write I start hearing the different layers and try to get the right musician in for that song to make it the best possible. I’ll work differently with each one of them. I either describe what I’m hearing and what I’m trying to achieve or sing them the melody then go from there. I take on the producer role at that point and shape it to where I need it. You got to trust in their ability and just let them do their thing and get the best performance out of them and just guide them. I am really lucky to know a lot of amazing talented musicians.
7. Would you ever consider bringing in other full-time members to the band?
I am working towards having full time touring members in the band and currently have a group of musicians that do share the stage on some of my live performances, when I can make it possible. The writing side of things is very personal to me. I have a lot of music in me that I need to get out and prefer to work alone, not that I’m opposed to letting someone into that side of things but for now I really enjoy the way things are.
I have done the band thing for many years and found it very hard to get everyone on the same page. I mean being in a relationship with one person is a challenge, let alone four or five in a band. I always found it difficult to find people as committed to wanting to pursue music as I am. It’s not an easy life and it’s not for everyone. The way the music industry is right now it’s just a lot easier to work solo. Things just flow a lot easier.
8. Black Suit Devil music comes across rather contemplative. Even without the lyrics you can sit back and just ponder whatever is going on with life. Is that your approach to writing music?
Lyrically, I really put effort into writing about subjects that make people think or at least I try to. Musically, it comes down to what I’m feeling at the time. But a lot of people have told me that. One of my fans told me it’s their morning coffee music (laughs). I’m good with that.
9. You have a brand new album A Matter of Time. It sounds a bit more upbeat than your debut full length album The Freedom Session but you still bring a lot of soul and intensity. Would you agree?
I agree 100 percent. I don’t like to and won’t write the same record twice. There will always be similar sounds, but I have no intention of repeating things. I believe there should be many layers to one’s art and you should never box yourself into just doing one thing or genre. I have always loved artists who try different things and mix it up like Bowie, Dylan , and Waits. I want to keep Black Suit Devil always changing and growing into different places. I wanted to make A Matter of Time for fans of music like myself, who like all sorts of different sounds.
10. What are you most proud of on the new album?
The thing I’m most proud of on this record was taking on the engineering side of things. My previous records including The Machine that I recorded with my band The Blues Emergency was engineered by Anthony Sestito out of Edadic Studios in North York, Ontario . I would handle the production side but always wanted to take on the engineering side as well. I have always loved learning about how records are made and love the process of recording. I want to learn every aspect of it.
If it was up to me, I would be recording 24/7. I learned a lot from working with Anthony over the years and when he left the business I decided to invest in my own studio and take the recording process into my own hands. I highly recommend it to every songwriter to learn that side of things. It really does help shape your songwriting. I’m really proud of how it came out.
11. I really enjoy “January” the song you wrote in memory of your grandmother. Was it difficult to write or did the words and music just spill out?
I’m glad you like it. It’s one of my favorites on the record and my most personal song on the album. Really happy with the way it worked out. That one didn’t take long to write at all. If I remember correctly it was written in two sessions. Most of it just flowed out then that trippy breakdown was worked out on a different day.
12. You’re making inroads in the music scene. Getting some radio play. Are you in that state of constant touring to get Black Suit Devil music in front of many people as possible?
2019 has been the hardest working and best year thus far for Black Suit Devil. I really wanted to push the amount of live shows I perform and tried my best to get my music out to many people in different places. I had some great opportunities and highlights this year like performing at The Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton NB. To be a part of a festival with some of your heroes like Robert Plant, Nathaniel Rateliff, The White Buffalo is always a great feeling for a songwriter. That was a great weekend. Opening for Philip Sayce was another great moment. He’s an amazing musician and person. Lots of hard work for sure but great times. Did a lot of touring out on the East and West Coast of Canada.
13. Do you bring along touring musicians or do you play the primary parts and trigger the others?
So far I have only toured solo. The band joins me on more local gigs or shorter drives. Solo tours work a lot better in the beginning to help build. Plus not everyone wants to stay out for a month or two. Sometimes I have people from out of town join me on a gig, musician friends that I have met on my travels but most often my live shows are stripped down to an acoustic guitar, vocal , and harmonica . I’m not a fan of backing tracks or anything like that. My songs always start with just a guitar and vocal.
14. What’s 2020 look like for Black Suit Devil?
2020 already geez. Time flies. I’m going to really push to get Black Suit Devil out to as many people as possible this upcoming year. Really get it to where it needs to be through many different avenues. Performing at a lot of festivals and touring in places I haven’t been yet in and outside of Canada. Lots of recording as well, I have a few albums ready to start ghost tracking this week. This will be one of the most productive and important years for Black Suit Devil.