The Midwest doesn’t necessarily seem like an obvious spot for an up-and-coming ska band. In fact, Indianapolis is worlds away from the crazy Kingston nightclubs and layered London streets that help craft the genre’s sound. Regardless of what the globes and maps say, The Circle City Deacons have made quite an impression from their Hoosier home base.
The core of the Deacons started playing together in Indianapolis pop-punk group The Latch Key Kids, which disbanded in 2008. Following the demise of the Latch Key Kids, keyboardist Craig Gorsline and bassist Joe Escamilla began to rediscover the off-beat sounds of ska, rocksteady and reggae. Once it was apparent that they had to start playing music again (and that it had to be ska), the band reconnected with Latch Key Kids’ guitarist Patrick Feeney and enlisted the help of Justin Smith on drums.
The band debuted as a hornless four-piece in Indianapolis in 2010. The Deacons had their work cut out for them, carving a niche in an often disjointed and ska-less local music scene. The band stuck it out, however, paying their dues while playing around central Indiana. The hard work paid off, though, as the band developed their sound as well as a fan base.
As the band played more and more, they caught the attention of a few horn-playing ska enthusiasts, namely Heath Schlatter (trumpet) and David Ragsdale (saxophone). With the full line-up and a full sound, the band really started attracting attention. Since 2011, the band has played with national and regional acts such as The Pinstripes, The Toasters, Green Room Rockers and The Slackers, just to name a few.
Musically, Gorsline lays the groundwork for the band’s sound with his gravely vocals laid over his smooth organ playing. Coupled with an adroit rhythm section, the melodious horns form a fantastic sound that melds past, present and future. The island sounds of Peter Tosh and Toots and the Maytals are apparent in the Deacons’ tunes as are the revivalist sounds of The Slackers and The Toasters. While the Deacons have no reservations about acknowledging their influences, there is no doubt that they are pushing forward into a sound all their own.
Sharing a stage with bigger, more seasoned acts has helped the Deacons hone their songwriting skills beyond most expectations. After kicking around a demo for a year, the band finally settled down to record their debut record, Right With Time. Featuring twelve Deacon originals and offbeat, Rocksteady verison of Lee Dorsey’s “A Lover Was Born”, Right With Time is bound to become a cornerstone in the Midwestern ska lexicon.
In 2014, the Deacons came back with their second full length record, Welcome Home. Without letting go of their rocksteady roots, they paid homage to the old school soul of Stax Records fame and the new school revival of Daptone Records. From the light harmonies of Crazy or Yes It’s True, to the laidback groove of Stronger, the Deacons found themselves halfway between Motown and Kingston.
Since releasing Welcome Home, The Circle City Deacons have refined their sound with new members Cristian Riquelme (drums), Joey Moyer (bass), Dan Oberg (aux percussion, toasting), and Clarence John Allen Jones (trombone). Having found their niche, this Indianapolis gem has begun to gain attention of ska fans in the Midwest and nationwide as a truly unique and original addition to the interminable ska scene.