Meet the musically and geographically nomadic Arron Dean. The South Africa-via-Brooklyn songsmith has kept several homes and musical identities in his lifetime, but only on the full-length MPLS does Dean showcase a unique and intimate sonic persona.
Raised on a small farm in an area called Knoppieslaagte outside of Johannesburg, amid the country’s political upheaval, Arron followed his muse stateside to play jazz in Boston. Disheartened by the general apathy people have to the genre, Dean started again from scratch in New York, reorienting himself with a punk-rock band quickly began packing clubs and partying their way across the Lower East Side. Meanwhile, he earned his keep working myriad jobs, from running a youth hostel to mopping recording-studio floors in exchange for the chance to write music for advertisements. But after a few years the audiences at shows dwindled and opportunities waned as the band drank away their potential.
The band met their inauspicious end when half of the band members were fired from the bar where they all worked. Deciding it was time for a change of scenery, they made plans to relocate to Minneapolis, where our story begins again. But only Dean and one other member managed to follow through, the others staying behind in part due the same drug and alcohol problems they hoped to outrun. He became bent on making a real change. “When we got to Minnesota I grabbed my acoustic guitar and started writing the most sincere music I’d ever written. I wrote about everyone I missed and everyone I loved. It was what I needed at that moment.” His new sound, a strain of modern folk infused with a hint of British melancholy a la Nick Drake, sprang from the old bluegrass and country records Dean played to find peace during long drives through the Midwestern expanse.
Though he did not intend to record or release any new music he naturally amassed a set of songs and found himself at Minneapolis’ Sound Gallery studios beginning another journey—recording the music that would form the foundation of his debut album, MPLS. Soon, he found himself working 16-hour days and pouring his paychecks right into the studio. “I’d work for four months saving everything I could and record two or three songs in two days,” Dean says. “Then work until I had enough money again to record.”
Though the lyrical landscape is colored by drunks and absentees, these tales are delivered in a sad but hopeful tone. “I was picking up a lot of pieces when I went out there,” Dean says.”Although the songs are about the Twin Cities, [the cities] are really more of the backdrop. The songs are really about love, redemption, forgiveness, and missing the ones I love, with Minneapolis in the background of it all.”
MLPS is a remarkable album, built on workmanship and life’s tribulations, that documents the almost contradictory emotional arcs of someone whose life has been spent searching for something that may actually be in the past.