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Mitch Dean Biography (2020)

Evocative storytelling, rich musicality and the heartfelt conveyance of human emotion. Those are some of the hallmarks of Holding Back The Levee, the exceptional debut solo album from Melbourne songwriter Mitch Dean. After the success of his Suburban Speakeasy EP (2017), Mitch has delved deeper into his creative well and crafted an album that blends soulful Americana from its key components of country, folk and the blues.

Mitch’s musical journey began with acoustic guitar sessions with his dad, in the shed of their Mornington Peninsula home. That experience piqued his curiosity and led to the realisation that he could write and primitively record his own early attempts at songwriting. From there the world opened up as Mitch dove headfirst into the heady rush of rock ’n’ roll, initially with garage-rock band The Marzies and then, in 2005, a swing down the dusty road of country-rock with The Distance – the band in which Mitch would find his feet and gain his alt- country bearings over the ensuing decade.

Both bands allowed Mitch to experience collective songwriting, recording and touring, all of which contributed to the continued refinement of his own writing. Playing with The Distance solidified his standing in the local scene, brought him into contact with heroes and respected contemporaries and planted the seed that allowed him to grow into his role as a solo artist.

Mitch recalls that when he began writing the songs for Holding Back The Levee, he was enthralled with Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album. “I just remember being really taken with how he could just use four chords to illustrate a story so well. A part of me was aiming towards that kind of direction for most of these songs and I purposely kept all of them very simple in terms of structure.”

Holding Back The Levee sounds like an album that has been crafted by a songwriter who knows the importance of allowing songs the space to breathe and their melodies and phrasing to shine. Mitch has clearly studied the masters and has a strong admiration for songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Gary Louris (The Jayhawks), Neil Young and Kevin Bennett. As such, it was clearly a thrill and honour to have Bennett sing guest vocals on the album title track.

“We (The Distance) used to support his band The Flood when they’d come to VIC for shows, and if we weren’t supporting we’d still go along to see him play. I’ve always kept in contract with KB over the years, he’s a great supporter of the next generation of songwriters and performers and he’s always been so encouraging. Years ago I asked him if I ever did an album would there be a chance he could sing on it and even after all these years he stayed true to his word and made it happen for me, he’s an absolute legend!”

That song is a mid-album anchor of grit and grace – the centrepiece that rocks and rolls a little harder than it’s surrounding songs. It’s a sign of the range that Mitch, producer Colin Leadbetter and the musicians were able to bring to the album. They recorded primarily at two Melbourne studios (The Aviary, EOR Studio) and utilised a number of home studios for vocals and piano.

On album opener, and first single, ‘A Face In A Long Line’, Mitch’s keening, high and lonesome voice takes centre-stage – supple and soulful like an Antipodean Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes). Elsewhere he invests just the right amount of six-string bite and shimmer in the tragic tale of ‘His Father’s Gun’, picks up the pace with freight train drumming and bluesy harmonica on the Dylanesque romp of ‘It’s In The Stream’ and testifies to the power of keeping an open heart in a strong relationship on ‘Let It Fall’. ‘What Can Go Wrong?’ throws caution to the wind with optimism, silver linings and a killer guitar solo, while ‘Please Don’t Wake Me’ is perfectly cast through a dreamy, cosmic country lens.

These are songs that unfurl with economy and endless, instantly hummable melodies. Combined with the gentle gravitational pull of the rhythm section it’s the sound of lazy Sunday afternoons and a custom-made soundtrack to rolling down sun-kissed ocean highways.

Mitch Dean Biography (2017)

So often in life things come full circle. The same can be said for the creative arc of a songwriter and Mitch Dean is at that point of his life as a musician. Early musical explorations playing acoustic guitar with his dad in the shed of their Mornington Peninsula home led to the realisation that he could write and primitively record his own songwriting attempts. From there the world opened up as he dove headfirst into the heady rush of rock ’n’ roll, initially with garage-rock band The Marzies and then, in 2005, a swing down the dusty road of country-rock with The Distance – the band in which Mitch would find his feet and gain his alt-country bearings over the ensuing decade.

Both bands allowed Mitch to experience collective songwriting, recording and touring, all of which contributed to the continued refinement of his own writing. His time with The Distance solidified his standing in the local scene, brought him into contact with heroes and respected contemporaries and planted the seed for the next stage in the evolution of his music.

“It was due to a build up of material that wasn’t looking like seeing the light of day anytime soon,” explains Mitch. “The Distance had started to slow down, as bands do after 10 years, and the guys suggested I should do something with those songs rather than let them go to waste. I thought I’d dip my toe in the water and try to record a few songs on my own. Making a little EP to call my own was something I’d always wanted to try for a long time but never really had the reason to do so.”

“I write everything on my acoustic guitar, so in one way or another the songs lend themselves to this simple presentation. The test of a good song are the one’s that still sound great and still connect with people even when played in a solo setting.”

An admiration for singular acts such as Bob Dylan, Kevin Bennett (The Flood), Tom Petty, Gary Louris (The Jayhawks) and Neil Young encouraged Mitch to step out on his own and now, in 2016, Mitch is hard at work on a debut EP (released Feb 2017) that will herald the arrival of the solo artist. In many ways it’s a symbolic return to those nights in front of the 4-track recorder but now with many years of experience, a richer set of influences and a deeper well of ideas and stories to draw from, Mitch is able to fully realise his own alt-country and Americana-styled songs.

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