We've all been there. You're enjoying a beer with pals at the local pub while a band plays silently in the background. You don't take notice until they start rocking a tune that makes your ears perk up. If the talent of the hired hitmen is above par, your attention will most likely be gained. Your brain starts firing on those rock 'n roll cylinders. Your mood shifts into reminiscing mode as the once invisible on-stage rockers start flooding the crowd with hits from your younger days. This is Dean FM and that sequence of events is what they do best.
I recently had a chance to get a closer look at what makes the members of a cover band tick. It's not easy having an unlimited cache of songs that continually need practicing, along with an ever-growing supply of new crop. And don't forget about remembering all the lyrics, too. Take a moment to become acquainted with the driving forces behind Dean FM and make sure to check them out at their next show. That is, before they start playing something that catches your ear.
Q: Some behind the instruments...is this your full-time gig? If not, where can you be found during business hours?
Frank Maher, lead vocals: Not my full-time gig. By day I am the general manager of Trend Motors Volkswagen in Rockaway, NJ. Though it may not sound like a music gig, I ROCK every day!
Chris Flanagan, guitar: For the past 16 years, I've worked in Manhattan for Solomon-Page GroupExecutive Search - Information Technology.
Dean Marra, drums/piano: I am a school teacher, currently in my 17th year...once I did want to do music full-time and when I retire I hope to do it even more.
Shawn Hendricks, Bass: Besides playing shows, I work part-time at a pizzeria (Anthony Franco's in Lincoln Park), and part-time at a comic book shop (Fat Moose Comics in Whippany). Both jobs are enjoyable and flexible, allowing me to put music first.
Q: How did you get your start in music?
FM: I started playing guitar at 14 when asked by members of the band. Before that, I would sing with my older brothers who played piano and guitar.
CF: My parents have always been music fans, so I've been exposed to it my whole life. I started playing guitar by the time I was 8 and I've never really stopped playing for any period of time since.
DM: I got started because of my dad. He was a musician and influenced me. He was a genius and worked at it. He knew so much about music. He is pretty much to blame for Shawn and Chris, too.
SH: Actually, Dean and Flan [Chris Flanagan] got me started! I used to watch their band practice in middle school (and was always highly critical of their work). Their bass player moved out of town after 8th grade, so they told me I should shut my big mouth and play the bass for them. The rest is history.
Q: Is your family your number one fan?
FM: My wife and kids are definitely NOT my number one fans when it comes to me playing out. My son has followed the music inspiration by taking up the drums almost a year ago and at 10 he has better timing than me. My timing, not so good. LOL.
CF: Music is just a part of the fabric of who I am at this point, so I don't think it registers to my family in that context. They absolutely encourage me to do what I love.
DM: My kids play music on their own. They are not impressed with me that much. However, they do attend some shows.
SH: My family had such higher hopes for me, but once I started playing bass, it was all I cared about. They have since realized (30 years later!) that it isn't a fad or a phase, but my lifetime pursuit, and they come out to my gigs whenever they can.
Q: Did you ever consider pursuing any other interest?
FM: I left music for a while and focused on magic. After a few years, I realized that it was really not the career I wanted to live with and I continue to enjoy it [magic] more as a social interest.
CF: Always, but never in lieu of music.
SH: Before picking up the bass, I wanted to be a comic book artist. Very much so. But I was terrible at it, and music just came to me much easier. I still wish I could draw better, though.
Q: Can you bounce between instruments or are you comfortable with the ones you hold?
FM: No bouncing for me, I can barely handle the guitar.
CF: Mostly guitar. I certainly tinker on other instruments, but guitar is my comfort zone.
DM: I play piano in Dean FM too. You can catch Electric Dean FM which I play drums in AND Acoustic Dean FM you can catch me playing piano and singing.
SH: Bass is my main instrument, but I'm a decent guitarist, too. I took drum lessons for a bit back in grade school and I still love to play drums when I get a chance. I sold my drum kit when I moved into a condo and I miss them dearly.
Q: In a landscape that includes endless cover bands, where do you find the inspiration to keep playing?
FM: The only reason I get out and play is to have FUN. Music is a great stress relief for me and I have a blast watching the crowd rock out with us. It’s crazy to think that we have been playing together for almost 30 years on and off.
CF: It comes down to people. When you get the opportunity to play with talented guys, the inspiration practically makes itself! And of course when an audience really responds to what the band is doing, well that's just the gravy on top!
DM: I get my inspiration for playing with the guys I play with. Plus, I always take the Joe DiMaggio approach in thinking there is someone seeing me for the first time so I want them to walk away thinking wow, that guy can play!
SH: I enjoy getting paid. That is my inspiration. But also, I just love to play, and most of my friends are other musicians and people I've met at gigs, both original and cover. It's a great way to meet people.
Q: Have you considered writing your own tracks?
FM: When we were younger we had a few original songs we wrote. (When do we get to hear these performed? -ed.)
CF: Sure. I write songs. Not as much these days though. It's a matter of bandwidth. Can't do it all! I have a huge respect for the writing process and the ability to create a statement that's uniquely your own, where you can feel it and share it with the outside world.
DM: I do write my own music on piano and often while I play drums I think of it as telling a story.
SH: I do a little bit of writing, but I really enjoy collaborating with other musicians. I like when someone has the basic framework of a song, and then we sit down and hash out the arrangement and changes.
Q: What gets you amped up before each show? Keeps you going during the shows? And how do you feel once it's over?
FM: Before the show is when the excitement builds and we chat with friends and bar goers. During the show it’s definitely the crowd that keeps me going. Playing to empty rooms can really be a total downer. When the show ends, we know right away if we killed it or not. Then it’s time to muster up some strength to load out all the equipment and head home.
CF: It's usually just after the band gets set up and everything is ready to go. Before we start, I get a feeling like, "let's do this!!" Once the show is on, it just carries itself for the most part. Outside of a pre-show grande Starbucks, I'm usually good to go.
SH: Bourbon. Bourbon. Ready for more bourbon.
Q: What is your favorite song to play? What is the one that you hope the crowd never asks for?
FM: I can’t honestly say that I have a favorite song to play. When I’m feeling great, I enjoy everything we are doing even if it’s not a song I particularly care for. We are always asked to do song requests and we try our best to oblige. For me personally, I always dread someone requesting any Grateful Dead. I just never got into their music as a kid and I’m super uncomfortable trying to fake any of their songs.
CF: Honestly don't have favorites. Really, it's about the energy [of the] band. A good band can make any song a favorite song. We did recently have requests for Justin Bieber material and maybe that's where it falls off the cliff for me a bit.
DM: I pretty much enjoy everything.
SH: I like when I get to play anything "off the beaten path." It's great when you play something "niche" because the majority of the crowd may not recognize it, but the few who do freak out because it's a song nobody else is covering. Songs by Tom Waits, Clutch, GWAR, Portishead, and Pantera always seem to befuddle most of the crowd, and that makes me happy. If I NEVER play "Hotel California," "American Girl," or "Sweet Caroline" again, that's fine by me. "Freebird," too.
Q: I'm sure that this isn't an issue and more of a rhetorical question, but how would you deal with drunken hecklers?
FM: Thankfully most of the places we play handle the unruly people. We have seen a little of everything through the years and we just keep the music playing!
CF: It's part of the job description, isn't it? Seriously, if you're band's being heckled, you should probably be in a better band. I don't recall being heckled in any band that was worth its salt.
SH: The best way to deal with a heckler is to get them on your side. A while back I was playing a solo acoustic gig for a bunch of drunken firemen, and after the first song a guy yelled out "Why do you sing like a girl?" I replied "Because I'm wearing extra tight panties tonight." It got a big laugh, and they proceeded to buy me drinks all night. Good times.
Q: If you could invite one famous musician to play in Dean FM, who would you want on stage next to you?
FM: When it comes to famous musician, I have many. The question you asked makes me think of one that would complement what we are doing already as a band so my pick would be Billy Joel. Though Dean plays the keys in our acoustic act, when we rock out electrically it would add another dimension to get the keys rocking out.
CF: Prince. Can't go wrong with Prince in your band.
DM: One famous musician to play with...hmmm...I'd want to play drums with Stevie Wonder and piano with Dave Weckl.
SH: Mike Patton.
Q: What does the future hold for the band?
FM: Dean FM will keep rocking for many years to come. Whether we are playing our electric show, acoustic act or a quiet cocktail and keys hour, we will all continue to chase our passion and love for music. We are currently booked for Thatcher McGhee's in Fairfield on Saturday, March 12th, April 8th at Morris Tap & Grill, May 14th at Morris Tap & Grill, May 28th at Thatcher McGhee's in Denville and June 10th at Morris Tap & Grill.
CF: The future is always unwritten...
I can say that by playing music, we participate in a journey whereby we accumulate new experiences along the way; and to me that's why we do this. Music is about discovery. It's about evolving. Music is a verb!
DM: The future of the band is very bright because we are versatile. We have the acoustic side of Dean FM, which is great for Sunday afternoon, happy hours, etc...AND Electric Dean FM for getting your groove on.
SH: More gigs, hopefully. I love these fellas, and it's always fun spending time with them, on or off stage.
I want to give a big thanks for the members of Dean FM for taking time out of their already busy days to sit and answer my questions. I find it intriguing to look beyond the stage presence and give people a voice that goes beyond the words already written. Make sure you do make an effort to go and see these guys play. And go and say hello, too. They truly appreciate each and every fan that supports what they're doing. A preview of their sound can be heard HERE and HERE.