What is the one thing a singer possesses, which trademarks the sound a band becomes known for more so than any virtuoso playing an instrument within the group? It’s very simple—the voice. But just like any new start, the voice has humble beginnings and the story of ours begins in a little town of about 800 people called Pitmedden; about ten miles outside Aberdeen, Scotland as Terry McDermott explains it. Is his name not familiar? His voice should be. McDermott came in second on the 2012 season of the NBC talent show, The Voice. His continual onslaught of rock music choices kept him in the ring week after week as other contestants were voted off in weekly battles against each other.
Though McDermott came in second, he didn’t just fall off the turnip truck; his roots go deep and started in a Scottish high school when he formed a band with his then writing partner, Nick Tyler. “We quit that band after going to school together,” said McDermott with a chuckle. “We came back to the music a year later and again had a similar vision and we had learned a lot of lessons in that band so we kind of reformed our vision as Driveblind, and we set about hand picking all the best musicians in the city that we knew from the local area. For instance the drummer; he was a guy we went to school with and he had been away for a year in Australia.
“So once we actually got the band it was pretty shocking how quickly it all came together. Scottish television picked up on it and broadcast some of our performances and after that, a record company flew up from London; now that was a big deal. It was a very ‘them or us’ attitude in the part of the world we lived in, because we didn’t think they could even find Aberdeen on a map, let alone send A&R guys up. But it actually started happening; we’d have shows at the Lemon Tree [Aberdeen, Scotland] where I’ll be playing on June 16th, with Terry McDermott and the Bonfires, which is the name of my new band.”
McDermott and Driveblind were playing shows at the Lemon Tree and garnered the attention of A&R people who would come to see them perform and according to McDermott it started getting very surreal as Polydor gave them a demo deal and they got their first taste of trying to impress a major label in the studio. McDermott also danced around British record labels, but while they were getting a lot of praise, nobody was pulling the trigger. “We were getting more and more impatient because we felt we had what it took,” explained McDermott with certainty as he spoke in a Scottish brogue about venturing to America. “And in recollection I have no idea how we did it because I can’t remember; we begged, borrowed and stole just about everything to make it happen and it was completely a fluke once we got there that things went the way they did because I had never been to the U.S. before. We were flying in over New York and the people below and I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s real Americans!’” he finishes with a laugh. “We landed in New York and what a wonderful introduction to the States. I fell in love with New York almost immediately. We played New York and then went straight to Los Angeles and you know it was a longer plane ride to get to L.A. than it was from Aberdeen to New York. But that first night at the Viper Room was a big night for us; we impressed a lot of people.”
That same month Capitol flew McDermott and his band back in April to Los Angeles, but the band already knew at that point that Ron Fair at A&M Records had serious interest and again things seemed to be moving along. The band had contracted out a lawyer in the U.S. to take care of business stateside which he did. He called Driveblind with a message so all the band members gathered around the phone in McDermott’s then girlfriend’s home in Aberdeen as it was the only phone with a speaker. Ron Fair, the president of A&M came on and said the words that changed their lives as McDermott states, “Welcome to A&M Records; you’re signed.”
“That was in ’03,” continued McDermott, “yeah I signed with A&M and went out and got horribly drunk on cheap champagne—very cheap champagne in all the clubs in Aberdeen. We moved to Los Angeles, lived there four years and had a whirlwind experience and I guess one of the reasons we were signed was we had a unique kind of classic rock influence yet with a British dynamic thing which really impressed the labels but I think the problem looking back now was; as good as we were and what we did, the record label was forced to ask themselves, ‘Now what – how do we put this square peg in a round hole?’
“They really didn’t know what to do with us even with radio,” explained McDermott, “and one of the disadvantages of being signed by the president of the label, while you can get a lot of things done, if you require attention, there’s nobody else above him to kind of get things back on track. And we felt that we would go through long periods, because Ron [Fair] is a producer as well. So we’d go through long periods where he was kind of unavailable and we just got on with things so to speak and recorded our record in the U.K., and our British producer, Mike Hedges, who I learned a tremendous amount from, but he and Ron started to butt heads and it very much became a war of ideals – the British super producer who believed it was the perfect sounding record and the American super producer who felt it sounded too ‘British’.”
What ended up happening was a period of uncertainty for McDermott. Driveblind didn’t know when to move forward or how to move forward but in the end they had a record about half to two-thirds done in Los Angeles. One would think that with various producers at the helm there would be no fluidity to the music but to the band’s surprise, they were very happy with the cohesive sound they heard and listening one cannot truly tell the difference between which producers did what song, but one thing this whole ordeal did teach them; a very big overview of the intricacies and problems of getting a record made. And though it is a common story, the band felt and McDermott still feels to this day, they put out a solid record and had a great time.
“Yeah we were touring so much that the house we kept in Los Angeles actually became superfluous,” laughed McDermott, “it was of no use really and all the guys had girlfriends—you know, what’s a musician without his girlfriend; so all the guys had girlfriends in L.A. and they spent most of their time at their girlfriends’ place. My wife was pregnant then with my son and I relocated to New Mexico for eight or nine months after that [and eventually on to New Orleans]. So that was kind of the end of the band I think; the forced living situations and being so far removed from the record label and being in litigation with them. There was only going to be one result and we knew that but we were a foreign band on foreign shores.”
When McDermott first heard of The Voice he had a lot of misconceptions of how it was going to be. After Drive Blind, he did a stint in Lotus Crush with the guys from Candlebox and when money was scarce and he didn’t have two nickels to rub together, he worked doing gigs on Bourbon Street like other musicians living in the area. McDermott made no bones about his feelings regarding that side of the industry. “It’s very much working the cold face of music so to speak,” he said in a soft low voice, “because down here you’re grinding away for not a lot so I think my first thought with The Voice, was that this was going to be a rather sickly pop hell; the antithesis of what I come to know but in all honesty, the show blew my preconceptions out of the water.”
McDermott continued with a lighter tone to his voice. “It was a tremendous experience and the people on the show were extremely professional and ridiculously hard working; when it comes to work ethic they set a new high,” he chuckled, “and it was a challenge! A fun challenge and I thoroughly enjoyed it, in fact it was more fun than work because it would actually take me back to that time when it was about necessity to get up and go to work and I thoroughly enjoyed it; it just suited me down to the ground.”
Dealing with different cultures can be a bit trying but McDermott fit right in. “I’ve lived here in the states now for five or six years,” he said with enthusiasm, “now though you could argue that New Orleans is kind of an oasis in the South. My knowledge of country music was absolutely zero before I met my wife I think, but she’s a big country fan so I knew all about Blake Shelton and listened to his music and in truth it grew on me a lot and I didn’t see such a cultural separation from American country music to where I grew up ultimately Scottish folk are more Celtic based music with story telling woven into the fabric of the local sense of where you’re from and American country music is no different.”
“I saw the attitudes and similarities and I relate to it more than people imagine,” continued McDermott, “the one great thing I remember was when I’d check in with Blake in his trailer and we’d be having a drink and talk about songs to do; and he’d suggest them and I’d suggest them and he’d pick this song out and say, ‘Oh you gotta here this!’ and he’d say, ‘You’ve heard this song,’ and I’d say, ‘Nope never heard it in my life’ and he’d say, ‘How the hell could you have never heard this song in your life this is one of the biggest songs in country music!’” laughs McDermott as he reminisces. “Then I’d say, ‘Well what about this one?’ and I’d play a song; I think it was a song actually done by The Beatles, and he goes ‘Who’s this?’ and I said, ‘You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me this is The Beatles.’ He says, ‘I’ve never heard this in my life,’ and again ‘How the hell could you have never heard of this song?’” as the laughter rolls through the room. “so once I got over the shock of that, it became tremendously fun because I got along very well with Blake. Aside from the fact that he’s easy to work with, I really like him as a person he’s a very kind and thoughtful guy; really charming and fun to be around. Obviously I don’t know him well enough to talk about him with enormous authority but I can say that we became friends and I became pretty confident early on with Blake; what you see is what you get. There’s no bullshit and you’re getting the real character.”
Before Driveblind were whisked away to the United States, they were originally working with a label called, Fat Hippy Records, an indie label out of Aberdeen and had known McDermott and his cohorts since they were kids. While in the process of getting their EP recording to release, the whole escapade surrounding signing with a major label happened and on June 6th of 2003, McDerrmott announced on stage that they had just been signed to A&M Records. But as we fast forward to the here and now, and not being a so-called, “spring chicken”, McDermott remembers who was there during their humble beginnings. “I’m a veteran of music to some degree,” said McDermott philosophically, “so with all the experience I have and with what I’ve learned through my time in the states and my time in this industry, I had an opportunity to come on to this show and become an independent artist and move forward with my destiny in my own hands. It’s weird that you can have these things at your disposal and still call the shots so I was excited to do something that would bring a spotlight to the people that really sowed the seeds for me with music in the beginning.”
“So I called up Fat Hippy and said, ‘Look, there’s going to be a reason for me to be back in the U.K. to do some shows and I’d like to if we can,’ and this was only about four weeks ago but I said, ‘I’d like to if we can and work quickly, if we can release with you guys and make it something where I could come home; and it’s been ten years for Fat Hippy; it’s their tenth year anniversary and it will be nearly ten years to the day when Fat Hippy released Driveblind. So I thought this would be a great way to bring a spotlight to a label that works very hard and doesn’t receive a lot of recognition. And it’s allowing me to retain my title as an independent artist and help an organization I care about so I saw this opportunity and I’m very proud to go home and do it. There’s two events coming up; I’m releasing the second single in the U.S. on May 24th; the song, In Your Eyes, a track that I wrote with Todd. We wanted to do something a little bit more up-tempo and more like contemporary rock n’ roll. So while that’s circulating around the U.S., we’ll be putting final touches on releasing a hard copy EP in Scotland; the U.K.”
Though Terry McDermott did not win The Voice, he certainly has won and feels this is truly an exciting time to be an independent musician and he can say that with some authority; he’s already done the label thing and knows all too well what the digital crash did; it started killing bands. McDermott is a strong believer in knowing your audience in order to sell music and that sites like Tunecore.com and Soundcloud.com along with all the digital retailers are truly a tool if you’ve done your homework. Again, providing you have an audience – it’s a very exciting time. When he released the song, Pictures, they wrote the track on a Monday, released it on a Thursday and it was No. 1 on iTunes rock chart on a Friday showing just how quickly it can now happen, on T.V. and in the digital world.