Deakin Hicks: Making a new space in the world

by Brent Cole

As I was preparing to interview Lucas Hicks, half of Bellingham’s Deakin Hicks, I realized that it has been 18 years – nearly to the day – since Lucas Hicks entered my music radar. Not long after, he became one of the musicians I most respected in town.

At the time, Lucas was in the epic smash jazz trio, Pacer, which landed on the magazine’s cover five months later and promptly broke up (another fun fact: half the article never printed as we – apparently – were still figuring out how to design pages). But, life goes on and Lucas kept making music so we kept covering it. He took off to San Francisco for awhile, but after being diagnosed with cancer 13 or so years ago, he was back playing music in between dealing with treatments. Lucas played in more bands than I can remember, including Jill Brazil, The Brent Cole Miners, The Gallus Brothers, The Shadies, Rattletrap Ruckus and many, many more. Honestly, I can’t think of another person who has played more music in Bellingham and has seen more ink in What’s Up! than Lucas.

And for good reason. He’s amazing. Brilliant.

Which leads us to his latest project with Thomas Deakin, the aptly titled Deakin Hicks. This is a band that finds Lucas and Thomas in their purest forms as musicians – playing, writing and creating music that is truly unique. Engaging, beautiful, complex and artful, Deakin Hicks is a culmination of 20 years playing music – between two people whose musical connection defies the laws of the natural world and has created a union most artists only dream of.

The connection between the two go back well over a decade, according to Thomas. “Seeing Lucas Hicks perform at the 3B (Tavern) with his spasmodic demolition derby Jill Brazil changed the course of my life,” he said of first seeing Lucas playing sax. “Shortly thereafter I began playing saxophone and abandoning hope of a safe and normal life.”

Jill Brazil soon broke up and Lucas pursued more roots oriented projects while Thomas would eventually play in Yogoman Burning Band, among others. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when Thomas, along with the legendary trumpeter Joel Ricci, sat in on one of Rattletrap Ruckus’s regular gigs at the Redlight. Lucas had become serious about playing the accordion and Rattletrap was his latest musical outlet. After the show, Lucas told Thomas that he could hear Thomas playing clarinet in his head even though he had been playing sax. Lucas gave him a CD of music and that was that; Thomas went home and pulled an old clarinet out of his closet, determined to learn the new instrument.

As the duo began playing music together – with Lucas on accordion and Thomas on clarinet – they quickly realized they’d found a musical connection unlike anything they’d ever experienced. “It’s a collaboration we’re both eager to put our time and energy into,” said Lucas, adding, “Lately, it’s been our total focus.”

They are so focused they can play for hours and hours, quite literally. Some days while on the road, they’ll busk for hours, play a show, busk some more, putting in 10-14 hour days.

But for the duo, it isn’t work, not in the slightest. Instead, it’s a musical awakening that comes from the magic of playing together. “We line up personality wise and musically and it’s all we want to do,” Lucas exclaimed.

The songs are first built by Lucas on the accordion, with Thomas then playing  – sometimes working within a melody, sometimes a counter melody, sometimes structured and others improvised. The sound varies from performance to performance, sometimes even hour to hour, minute to minute.

As part of the connection, the two have created a sound that, while sounding familiar, is one of a kind. Based on different inspiration, such as artist Jim Woodring for Lucas, Thomas also explained the deeper aspects to their sound. “It almost seems like a post globalization response to a commoditized culture,” he explained. “Everything has gotten louder, more complicated, everything has become an experience for sale.” But Deakin Hicks is “commercially totally unviable – you can’t do a one sheet, it is something whole unknown and it’s not anything you’re going to get unless you experience.”

While they sound “wholly unknown,” there is a certain familiarity within their music, as if the listener has heard it somewhere, or more likely, felt it, yet they can’t put their finger on it.

So far, the duo have traveled down the West Coast, New Orleans and New York, playing house shows, small theaters and other intimate performances spaces where the listener can be engaged iand not a passive participant. They’ve also played in France, Estonia, and other parts of Europe, and will return to again this summer. Afterwards, they’ll head to Alaska and do more touring down the West Coast into fall.

Deakin Hicks’ new album What Could Possibly Go Wrong? will be released this month. Recently recorded in Seattle by Kevin Bressler (a former Fairhaven professor), the album was recorded in one day, though mixing took a couple weeks.

While Deakin Hicks is, without a doubt, the hardest working band in town, for Lucas and Thomas, it’s just who they are. “The music is a vehicle for us being ourselves,” stated Thomas. “That’s the best thing about it. This is the most autobiographical music, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted.” He added, “At its core, I get to live the life I want to live. There’s no space for it (their unique sound), but by doing this, we’re tearing open a space in the world.”

ALBUM RELEASE SHOW: Deakin Hicks’ CD release celebration for What Could Possibly Go Wrong? will be held at The Idiom on May 22 at 6 p.m. For updates about the band, see their Facebook page Deakin Hicks. 

Published in the May 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine