Deadman – Love will guide you home
One day not too long ago, Steven and Sherilyn Collins, the husband-wife duo presently known as Deadman, decided to quit their jobs for good. They had been making records for a while and things were going reasonably well, but their day jobs — both worked at an airline in Dallas — were getting in the way.
“[Music] was either a very expensive hobby or something that we were really going to pursue,” recalls Sherilyn. “So we hung up our day jobs and moved out to the country.” The day they left work for the last time, “it felt like a movie,” Steven remembers. “We got in the car and it was like, here we go, out into rock ‘n’ roll land.”
Or something like it, anyway: The Collinses sold their house, relocated to the Texas countryside, and set to work on Our Eternal Ghosts, their second full-length disc. Ghosts is a record born out of doubt; chaos and uncertainty inform every note. “The material came from a life change,” says Steven. “[It’s about] the things you do when you’re about to make a major decision. The earlier stuff we were doing was a lot more topical.”
A brooding, spacious mix of late ’60s country-rock, folk and gospel, Ghosts is unashamedly modeled after U2’s The Joshua Tree. Gloomy and interesting, it’s the best record Daniel Lanois never made, a moving meditation on religion, death, racism, the record industry and other potentially unhappy topics.
“With a name like Deadman, there’s not going to be a lot of levity,” Steven acknowledges. “There is a darkness with some of the stuff on the record. Those songs were done at night when the atmosphere got a little gothic.”
Ghosts is the third Deadman disc produced by Mark Howard, the Sling Blade co-composer whose work Steven had long admired. “It was kind of a freaky thing; I always said, ‘If I have a chance to make a record, I want to work with this guy,'” Steven says.
Thanks to his friendship with Tim Gibbons, a Canadian singer-songwriter who appears on the Sling Blade soundtrack, Collins was able to slip Howard a tape. Howard got in touch two years later and signed on to produce Deadman’s 2001 debut, Paramour, a rangy and open country-folk album with a southwestern feel. “We wanted to think about what we thought Texas sounded like,” Sherilyn recalls. “We wanted to focus on where [traditional Texas music] came from.”
Paramour did reasonably well; its centerpiece tracks “Ghost Story” and “Three Murders”, the latter about a notorious string of unsolved crimes in Juarez, got Deadman on the radio. And thanks to a long-forgotten contest Steven had entered — and won — there was enough recording equipment to stock their studio, located in a former fraternal meeting hall nearby. “They sent $35,000 in gear, in a big truck,” he remembers. “It was like Christmas.”
The windfall helped convince the Collinses, then still working day jobs, that it was time to strike out on their own. Though Deadman record their own material at Howard’s studio in Los Angeles, they can now work with other artists in their Texas recording space to help defray overhead costs.
Recording, living and touring together isn’t a strain on the relationship, the two insist; they have been playing together since they were engaged. Steven writes, sings and plays guitar; Sherilyn provides organ and keyboard work and harmonies; and there are several supplemental band members.
Being a couple might not make the recording process less complicated, but it certainly makes it briefer. “There is a certain complexity to it,” Sherilyn says. “[But] when you have a close relationship with each other it can be easier. You’re not gonna pretend you like something if you don’t.”