Life has been pretty crazy for Deren Ney over the last couple years, ever since he began building a musical career with Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers. He’s undergone the transformation from humble Mother Hips fan out in the audience, to the humble lead guitarist on stage beside his musical idols, stoically melting the faces of adoring fans across the nation. Chico couldn’t be happier for him. Ney found some time between gigs to answer a few questions from Synthesis about his musical life on the road.
What’s the funniest/weirdest thing that’s happened on the road?
We were in Cleveland backstage and this longhaired British guy came down and said he was the tour manager for Yes. We were like, “Okay…” He said he’d heard our album and wanted to see us when he was in the States, but because Yes had to be at a Hall of Fame dinner he couldn’t stick around for our show, so he just wanted a picture with us. That was very strange and funny to me. Very 1976.
What’s been your favorite/most memorable performance so far?
I darn near wept at High Sierra last year. We played early on the last day and the crowd was amazing, overflowing out of the Vaudeville tent. People everywhere smiling, singing, cheering their hearts out. Lots of Chico faces actually! We were about to go on our first big national tour, everything was getting pretty crazy, and that show felt like our home crowd was giving us their blessing to go forth and Gramble and make them proud. It really touched me that people were so supportive.
Do you have a current favorite song to perform live?
I love “Little Too Late.” It’s always fun to play. It’s got a subtle humor.
How have you developed as a guitarist/musician throughout the Gramblers experience?
I listen to music better from playing with Nicki. I’m trying to be the Greek chorus to her main story. I love what she does so much, and I just want to reinforce or embellish it where I can.
You’ve done well in the summer festival circuit in the past. Any particular stops you’re excited about this year?
Bonnaroo and Newport are big ones for us, which we really want to be special. Newport especially is such an honor. They’ve been letting us know that it’s a community event that they want all the bands to be part of all weekend, so it sounds really fun. Mountain Jam also sounds like a big old party.
What are the chances of you joining Hall & Oates on stage at Outside Lands?
I can go for that.
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers return to the Sierra Nevada Big Room for two performances on Monday, May 6th and Tuesday, May 7th.