By Gabby Redding | September 9, 2022
The Desk Jockeys achieved two major accomplishments for any musician simultaneously on the evening of September 10th; playing their first show in New York City and completely selling out a venue.
The band members hail from Atlanta, Tuscaloosa, Boston, Connecticut and Kentucky, but they all met when they were students at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. After playing house parties and bars, they gathered a sizable local following and gained a reputation for not only the funky and danceable sound, but also the fun energy they brought to each show. In September of 2021, they put out their first album, Mime is Money, which featured standout tracks like “Fortune Teller,” showcasing the band’s witty lyricism layered between complex riffs and ending with a long, flashy guitar breakdown. “Billy’s Day,” another highlight of the album, is infused with such a heavy soul that it begins to sound like a James Brown track. Despite the youthful energy of the band, they sneak in mature wisdom through insightful lyrics. Only a few months after the release of Mime is Money, they dropped a second album, Live From Deep Ellum Art Co. Vol. 1, in January of 2022, featuring a series of live recordings, including tracks from Mime is Money mixed with covers, getting you as close as possible to experiencing one of their shows live.
To them, concerts feel like “a big happy family reunion,” a description that couldn’t be more accurate. As doors opened to their Mercury Lounge show, fans from all over flooded in. From friends who’ve known the band from their early college days at SMU, or fans from their hometowns in the South or Boston, and even some proud parents. The hometown personal connections were made more apparent when vocalist and guitarist, Nick Cancelliere, recognized one of the musicians from Supersession (the opening band) from Sunday school. Despite how packed the venue was, The Desk Jockeys kept the personal vibes going as they interacted with the crowd as if they were playing for some friends in their living room.
They mixed their original music seamlessly with some familiar covers, including “Never Been to Spain” by Three Dog Night, “Get Down Tonight” by KC and The Sunshine Band, “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John, and “This Must Be the Place” by the Talking Heads. They managed to infuse their own Southern-funk sound into each song, taking different genres and meshing them into a unique blend that worked with their original music. In our interview, the band explained how they might change the setlist depending on the vibe of the crowd. During the show, we saw how with subtle nods and eye contact between band members, they switched it up to play off of the energy of the room.
The crowd danced along, chatted between songs, cheersed drinks, and stayed locked on the band. It felt like a house party in the best way, relaxed, intimate, and ultimately a good time.
Before the show, we crammed into a room underneath Mercury Lounge for the Desk Jockeys’ first ever interview. Spencer Parsons, Decklan Healy, Stephen Ohlemeyer, Pride Snow, and Nick Cancelliere excitedly, and comically, shared the origin story of the Desk Jockeys, how the band felt before this milestone show, how they describe their music as ‘a big pot of gumbo,’ and they answered a few questions for the groovement:
How is it touring for the first time
NC: [Traveling for the show] has been like a satire of all the jam bands we love, and our big movie we pull inspiration from is ‘ This Is Spinal Tap,’ which is a fake rock… but it’s been fun to do those things that a band would do, a touring band. This to us feels a little like that, in a great way. It feels a little satirical, for sure.
Are you coming into tonight with a setlist? Or do you just feed off of each other’s energy?
PS: Knowing that we only play 5-7 gigs, so for our enjoyment we try to vary the set list as much as possible.
SP: Personalize the party! You’re in a different place.
PS: The goal is always to get the set as nailed as we can, with 80% of the songs, as early as possible and then chisel it down.
SP: We’ve been talking about what we want to play for probably 3-4 months?
So let’s say you get up there in front of this New York City crowd, and you notice they’re vibing more to a certain type of sound. Are you ready to play off that?
DH: We haven’t had a single show where we stuck to the setlist, so I’m sure tonight will be different, but we’ve got a handful in the backpocket that we jam together all the time and are super comfortable with.
So now that you are here in New York, how does your pre-show routine differ?
SP: Pointing to Stephen he’s a big pre-show routine guy!
SO: Gameday, the day of the show, there’s a few things I always do–superstition wise–I always run through a few exercises. And the week leading up to the show, it’s checking the set, going through it, and making sure we get it right in one run through.
SP: But he sneaks off, and he gets in the zone!
SO: Yeah, I’ll play Heart of a Champion by Nelly.
That’s your pump up song?
SO: Yeah that’s the pre-show routine. Either that or Taylor Swift, or Slipknot right into Taylor Swift. Lover and Red are my top albums.
NC: We call him (Stephen) the Statistician Jazz Musician, because he was a Statistics and Jazz major.
So you say you all met in college, but did you all meet randomly and organically figure out that you’re all interested in music, or was it more structured than that? How did you all come together?
PS: So me and [Nick] Cancelliere met and were playing around having fun. We had a drummer buddy who lived across the hall who knew Decklan, so we ended up linking up and had our college band that fizzled out for a number of different reasons. But eventually we were looking for something to do. Spencer’s older sister was in a class of mine, where the professor was this crazy DeadHead and loved talking about music, so I would chat about where we were playing next, and then she mentioned that her brother played drums. So when we were looking for a new drummer, Spencer was the obvious choice. And then he played for Stephen once who was like, “yeah this kid’s a fucking beast,” and that’s how it set off.
So how would you describe the sound of the Desk Jockeys.
SP: I see us as a giant pot of gumbo, with as many ingredients as you can possibly include in it, and there’s so much going on, and everyone can just get around that pot of gumbo and feel like they’re in a good place.
NC: It’s warm and nostalgic.
That’s very Southern of you.
SP: Yeah there is that nostalgic component, we play old music, we started in college and linked there.
NC: One way I always describe it is a funky, Southern-rock powerhouse that jams.
DH: Someone described us once as a semi-annual rotating party.
NC: I’ve heard ‘Funk Punk,’ which I kind of like.
SP: Jungle Jams.
What’s your dream venue for the future?
PS: I think the obvious one would be Red Rocks, Granada Theater in Dallas, and Antones in Austin.
SP: Next time we’re in New York, maybe Madison Square Garden?
PS: Carnegie Hall or The Beacon Theatre.
And what’s the next step after this show? What are your future plans?
PS: Probably got one or two shows left this year depending on how things shake out with scheduling. We all have some new material, some we’ll play tonight, and some that we’re going to kind of hold in the chamber. And then we would probably like to get going on album two.
NC: Record more music and do some more fun stuff, like Saint Patrick’s day in Chicago. If tonight goes how we hope it will, maybe people are going to want to know when we’re playing next.
📸: shot by Jill Boyatsis