Dean Fertita’s musical career has been eventful, if not always predictable. He was a member of Reigndance, otherwise known as the band helmed by Andre from the first Real World, and Fertita’s next band, Waxwings, gained more, albeit unwanted, notoriety from its relationship with Bobsled Records CEO Bob Salerno. His recent work with the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, Queens of the Stone Age, and Eagles of Death Metal has allowed him to establish a niche as one of the most reliable sidemen in the rock universe. Perhaps in his quest to be claim the mantle of hardest working man in music, Ferita has decided to return to the front, with his project Hello=Fire. The band’s eponymous debut is currently available.
First thing’s first. What does Hello=Fire mean?
It doesn’t mean anything, really. We picked it out at the beginning and came to really like the ambiguity of it. That, and it’s really hard to find a band name that isn’t taken.
You wanted to be the Beach Boys, didn’t you?
Exactly. And do you know there’s already a band called the Beatles? Most of the good ones are taken. But this was something that I had written on a piece of paper when I was a kid, making up cool names for bands all the time on a piece of homework or something. I think it was for a computer class or something; a command equals an action. It had some connotation back then, and today it seemed like the right thing at the moment.
A lot of people know you as a sideman extraordinaire, but you’ve been out front once before, in Waxwings.
Yeah, it’s already been six or seven years since I last did that. It feels pretty new to me to be out front again. I had settled into the roles that I had in my last couple bands, so it’s like I’m having the experiences for the first time all over again.
What made you want to step back out into the spotlight at this particular time in your career?
It was really the same thing that happened with all of last year: It was an accident. I just started recording some songs on days off, and eventually we had a collection of songs that seemed like a record to me and also weren’t going to necessarily fit with the other things that I was doing. It made sense. The time was right to do it.
Are you nervous at all about being out in front again?
It still feels a little foreign to me. I’ve only done one show, and it was a last-minute deal. I flew out to L.A. where Troy [Van Leeuwen] of Queens was doing a residency at Spaceland. The last night we were there he invited me to come and play. It was good to just get up there and do it without having a lot of time to think about it. I was able to get back in the swing pretty quick.
You’ve worked with some pretty dynamic musicians in between your two bands. Have you added any moves to repertoire?
We’ll see, man. I’m anxious to get out there and try it again. We recording right now for a new Queens record, so it will probably be here and there. There’s not really time to put together a full tour. I’m anxious to get out on the road and see what effects the last few years have had on me.
During the recording process, were you conscious of any of your other bands influencing the recording process?
We talk about this kind of thing all the time. I think it’s more a case of what I’m being inspired by and what I’m reacting to as a musician. It’s kind of like a situation where you get around different people and talk about different things. The people that I’ve been touring with and recording this album with definitely took me in a specific musical direction. It’s definitely not something that you plan. This record was made so sporadically, with the people that I could round up when I had time to go and record.
Even though the process was sporadic, did you have any particular vision in mind when you hit the studio?
I find music that inspires me every day. I was going through and listening to Alice Cooper records and Deep Purple records. They sound very interesting to me, and this band called The Monotones had a very interesting sound. I want to try everything, but you don’t want to repeat anything. You’re fighting off the temptation to do something again, but there’s always other music informing the sound of the album. I was a ’70s kid, so I grew up on a lot of classic rock — Sabbath and Zeppelin — and a lot of ’60s stuff like the Stones and Creedence. That will always be burned into my subconscious and a part of any music that I make.
When you went in to record, was there a temptation to do the whole thing yourself?
I’ve always been more enamored of the band concept. I like the spontaneity of being pulled in a direction you didn’t think you were going to go in and having to react, and the only way to have that is to be recording with other people. That was one cool thing about the way the album came together. We never rehearsed any of the songs before we went into the studio. I would sketch out a rough outline of the song, we’d play it four or five times, and that was it. We tried to capture a moment and transfer that feeling to a recording.
Being the guy that people bring in to play on the record, how did you decide who you wanted to have play on your own record?
I’ve been lucky to be around and know so many great people, but it really started with Brendan Benson. A few years ago we started bouncing ideas back and forth for his record and my record, and I knew that I wanted him to be a part of the project. Other than that, I was lucky to catch a lot of good musicians that were available when I had time to go into the studio.
How pleased are you with the finished product? Is there anything that you’d rethink, given how quickly you recorded the album?
Every time I make a record, I immediately move past it. I think I would try to make a record a little differently next time, ideally with a band that I’ve been playing with for a little bit, so we can get inside the songs a little but. For what this album is and how it was made, though, I think that it came out really good. It’s exciting to me that it’s opened a door and leaves me wanting to do something else.
On the other hand, what’s something that you’re really proud of on the record?
I think “Parallel” and “Certain Circles” turned out exactly like I wanted them to. It’s gratifying to sometimes get exactly what you wanted from a song.
Why was the album released first in Europe?
There was a lot of stuff that went into that. We’re releasing it on different labels in North America, but a lot of it came down to touring. I wasn’t in a position to support the record, so it wasn’t fair to ask a label to put something out in that situation. I was hoping that I would have a break in my schedule, and I could get out and tour and release the record like a normal band. I’m still waiting for that window, but that’s why the release has been kind of all over the place.
So you’re planning a tour with Hello=Fire?
I’m hoping to get some time in the next year. I’m actually working on the new Queens stuff right now, so that’s priority one. We want to get that done. If there’s a couple of months between that’s finished and when it gets released, I’ll definitely be out on the road.
Have you thought about putting together a live band yet? What’s the process there?
That’s probably the toughest part. I’m playing with a lot of people that I love playing with, but I have to gauge where everybody’s at when I’m ready to go out and do it. The one show that I’ve done, I was lucky to have Brendan, Troy, and Joey [Castillo] as my band. I would love it if everybody could be part of it, but it’s hard to get time where everybody’s available.
Are you ever going to take any time off in the near future? You seem to work all the time.
With the state of the music industry, time off seems like a very scary thing to me. It might be nice to have some time at home and just recording, but not anything? I’m not really interested in that.