6/20/2013 - As day one at the Granite State Music Festival nears its close, The Dejas will take the stage with a talented supporting cast. The duo — Aaron Katz and Callie Lipton — will welcome GSMF founder Scott Solsky on guitar, with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Lafontant providing bass and backing vocals. A drummer, either longtime mate Noah Appel or James Murphy of Blue Man Group, will round out the ensemble.
The band could grow by the end of the set; that’s a frequent story for the atmospheric folk-pop duo. An arts society tends to spring up wherever they go. The creative energy generated at the weekly “Dejas & Friends” in their Salem hometown makes it a magnet for musicians, painters and art lovers.
On 2009’s Speeding Softly, their lone album to date, the Dejas perfectly distilled this collaborative alchemy. Working with ace producer Sean McLaughlin (Elliott Smith, Maroon 5) and drawing from Katz’s many musician connections delivered a work filled with flourishes of beauty. Multi-layered gems like the soaring “Birth By Fire” and the dreamy “Your Eyes” recalled Winterpills and Civil Wars, two other groups that build on a male/female nucleus to produce gorgeous studio albums.
But it’s best to experience the Dejas at their essence, playing as a duo. Guitar and keyboard, in a subdued living room setting like Portsmouth’s Red Door; Katz’s sturdy singing is a counterpoint to Lipton’s lighter than air voice, carrying it like fragile driftwood on a foamy sea. Lipton picks and strums as Katz plays a variety instruments, a veritable one-man backup band.
The two met when Lipton, a fresh UNH graduate with musical aspirations, saw a Katz’s flyer offering production services. “It was perfect timing,” she recalled. “I hadn’t really shared my music with anybody … we completely connected on that level and we’ve been going strong since.”
Katz had recently left Seacoast jam band Percy Hill and was, he said, “kind of a road warrior. I wasn’t burned out, just tired, so I started producing.” Lipton’s innocence was a cleansing breath of fresh air. He found her untainted by what he’d once called “an erosion of the soul that can devolve while dancing the music industry cha-cha.”
What began with Lipton’s songs quickly grew, said Katz.
“Fleshing out ideas and creating the correct sonic textures … as we got going, I started bringing more material in and then it became more of a partnership.” Lipton agreed. “We were both putting the same amount of effort into it [and] it just didn’t make sense to call it the Callie Lipton Trio … I wanted to play Aaron’s material too.”
An eerily close connection also provided a name.
“When I first met Callie, I immediately felt the familiarity,” said Katz. “We have a lot of anachronistic events between each other and a lot of psychic communication. It’s always been like that from the beginning. The name came from a moment in time when we walked by a store called Deja Vu - it was born right there.”
The two aren’t a couple, but they share a musical bond that approaches romance.
“We know exactly where we want to go in life, we have the same goals and it’s almost like being married,” said Lipton. “We just travel down the same path and we work on things all the time together.”
The two share songwriting duties, with Lipton a deft interpreter on “My Only One,” a song Katz wrote for an ex-girlfriend. He finds it hard to sing himself; Lipton takes it forward like she’s finishing one of his sentences.
“It’s a great gift,” Katz said. “It’s hard for me to go there in a live setting … it’s great to have Callie express those feelings for me.”