Friday, 29 September 2017 10:28

The Sound of Silence: Rising GR jam band Desmond Jones honors mimes with music

Written by  Eric Mitts
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No one in Desmond Jones is named Desmond Jones. 

The genre-blending Grand Rapids band just thought it would be cool to have an obscure Beatles reference for a name, and took its rather unusual moniker straight from the song Ob-la-di Ob-la-da!.

However, upon Googling the name, the band discovered a real Desmond Jones — a professional mime who teaches in London.

“Mimes have been a theme in our art and music ever since,” drummer/vocalist/guitarist John Nowak told Revue.

On the cover for Desmond Jones’ upcoming self-titled debut album, the five members don the familiar striped garb and white face paint of the forgotten art-form, all in tongue-in-cheek tribute to their unintentional real-life namesake.

“Even sillier, I found out a few years after we named the band Desmond Jones that my uncle Willem has studied under the Desmond Jones in London,” Nowak said.

The band first formed in 2012 in East Lansing while several of its members attended Michigan State University. Made up of Nowak, guitarist/vocalist/drummer Isaac Berkowitz, guitarist/vocalist Chris Bota, saxophonist/vocalist George Falk and bassist/vocalist John Loria, the group built a solid following playing college house parties before ultimately facing the realities of graduation.

“None of us were even thinking about letting go of the band,” Nowak said. “With all of us about to start a new chapter, we dedicated ourselves to the idea of keeping the band going and foregoing the conventional route of getting a full-time job and starting a career after graduation.”

Weighing their options here in Michigan — where the fan base continued to grow — the members of Desmond Jones chose to relocate to Grand Rapids in 2015. 

“Isaac (Berkowitz) and I were both born and raised in Grand Rapids and were familiar with the city and the scene, and had family in town,” Nowak said. “We knew the local music scene was strong and desperately wanted to be a part of it.”

Together, they moved into a house in Eastown and soon after secured a weekly residency at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill, where the band went on to play every Monday night for more than 60 weeks.

“Our Monday night residency at the Tip Top was one of the best things to ever happen to us as a band,” Nowak said. “We owe a lot of our success in Grand Rapids to our residency at the Tip Top and we are proud of ourselves for sticking with it and using it as an opportunity to establish ourselves in the local music community.”

Playing for more than three hours at the bar every week, the residency helped the band work on old and new material while taking risks and opening up jams. The band drew a regular bunch of fans, or “Jonesies,” who would groove along to the extended jams until 1 a.m. 

All in all, Desmond Jones has played more than 400 shows, including an opening slot for The Verve Pipe at The Intersection in 2014, tour stops as far out as Colorado and West Virginia, and a triumphant New Year’s Eve celebration at the Tip Top this past year. 

Following two EPs, Desmond Jones will release its first full-length album on Oct. 7 during a special show at Founders Taproom. 

“Founders is one of the best venues in Michigan, the Midwest and even the country,” Nowak said. “We put in our time in order to finally get up on that stage, and to be releasing our debut album there is a point of pride and excitement for us.”

From February to August, Desmond Jones recorded the eight-song, self-titled LP with manager Kevin McKay at Inmuso Studios in Webberville, pouring hundreds of hours into the release. It was mixed by Alex Gauthier and mastered by Glenn Brown (who’s worked with everyone from Greensky Bluegrass and Billy Strings to Eminem and Kid Rock).

“We ended up going with a mix of songs that gives the listener a little bit of everything we have to offer,” Nowak said. “A short and sweet song, some extended jams, a little bit of R&B, a little bit of funk and jazz. We wanted it to span across genres and show the many facets of our original sound and songwriting process.”

With more than 65 original songs in its repertoire, Desmond Jones is just getting started. And after the album is released this month, the band plans to head out to the East Coast in November before returning for more shows in Michigan and ending the year with yet another New Year’s Eve party at the Tip Top.


Desmond Jones Album Release Show

Founders Taproom, 235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids

Oct. 7, 9:30 p.m., $5, (616) 776-1195

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