Frank Cruz cut his teeth on his mother's record collection. The lyric-forward, narrative rock and roll of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, and Paul Simon lead to early attempts, at 13 years old, to write songs in order to impress girls. A failed junior high school saxophone, trombone, and guitar player, Frank finally found some success at the piano, an instrument he taught himself to play so he could move forward with songwriting, while his younger brother, John, learned to play the drums. Throughout their teenage years, the brothers played together in numerous local bands in Ventura, California (a sleepy beachside town just north of Los Angeles), never achieving much success, but building a small following and self-releasing several DIY recordings.
This activity in the local music scene lead to lifelong friendships with likeminded high schoolers/troubadours Chris Dixon (La Practica de Familia) and Joel David Levin (Far From Kansas). Together, this group launched their own co-operative record label, SFS Records, modeling their community on the halcyon days of David Geffen's Asylum imprint and taking their motto from a lyric by Jets to Brazil: "It isn't what you sell but what you make." Collaborations, concerts, and a small but impressive body of recorded material emerged from this period, including Frank's first CD, A Thousand Perfect Summers, in 2001. Two-thousand-three saw the formation of Frank Cruz and the New Deal and the release of Blueskies Longrides Youreyes, Frank's second full-length record. While The New Deal featured a rotating cast of southern California musicians, including Dixon, Levin, and as always, Frank's brother John Cruz (Contra), what remained constant throughout personnel changes was Frank's emphasis on songwriting and his focus on excavating the sonic textures and aesthetic commitments of 1970s California folk rock in a 21st century context.
By the mid-2000s, Frank and Chris had traded in the sand and sun of Southern California for the bay and bridges of Berkeley and Oakland. While they continued to record and tour with Levin's band, Far From Kansas, they also began expanding their musical circle to include new friends and collaborators from the Bay Area's Rose Hill Collective. After a west coast tour in 2007, that included shows with Poor Bailey and Audrye Sessions, Frank and Chris (now the nucleus of The New Deal), reached out to the Poor Bailey rhythm section of Daniel Casentini and John Snapp to contribute to the New Deal EP, A Place of Our Own, released in 2008.
In early 2009, while Frank and Chris were in the process of writing for the next New Deal full-length, tragedy found the friends. Frank’s 5-year-old son, Zachary, lost his life in an unexpected accident on February 27th, 2009. Over the course of the next few years, while Frank and his family grieved and began the difficult process picking up the pieces in the aftermath of Zachary’s death, Cruz returned to the one thing that had been constant in his life since adolescence: songwriting. In addition to creating a scholarship at UC Berkeley in Zachary’s memory and founding a non-profit organization in his son’s honor, Frank began working on a series of songs to document the new world he was now forced to navigate without his son.
In the winter of 2010, Frank and Chris began work on an LP explicitly and unapologetically for Zachary. Over the course of several difficult years, the friends used the recording process as a space to work through their feelings of grief, sadness, and anger, as well as feelings of hope, possibility, and reconciliation in the face of the infinite and unknown. Fortunately, they were not alone in this work. Old friends and new ones, who all understood the significance of the project, contributed their talents to The New Deal’s complicated new concept album, including Casentini and Snapp, James Leste (Audrye Sessions), Anton Patzner (Bright Eyes, Foxtails Brigade), Lewis Patzner (Judgment Day, Mates of State), Chris Dugan (producer, Green Day, Norah Jones), and Willie Samuels (mixing engineer, Poor Bailey).
The resulting full-length borrows the symbol of an offering for the dead from the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos. Titled Ofrenda, the album is scheduled for release on limited edition vinyl and digital download on Día de los Muertos (11/1) 2014. Both haunted and hopeful, the record features honest songwriting and impassioned performances that bear witness to the enduring power of love between father and child.
Comments by Frank Cruz & the New Deal
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