.High Desert Inspires Psychedelic Honky Tonk Album

Country rockers Noelle & the Deserters release their debut

Noelle Fiore and her band, Noelle & The Deserters, recently released their debut album, High Desert Daydream. The 10-song collection distills the best elements of the classic country hits of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and blends them with the band’s own psychedelic rock ethos. It’s an impressive outing.

“I chose High Desert Daydream as the title because many of the songs were inspired by growing up in Taos, New Mexico,” Fiore said. “Taos is high desert, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Since this is my first album, it’s an introduction to what made me.”

The band—Noelle on guitar and vocals, Graham Norwood on lead guitar, Alicia Vanden Heuvel on bass, David Cuetter on pedal steel and Noelle’s husband, Jerry Fiore, on drums—cut the album in five days at Boxer Lodge in Napa, with Noelle and Vanden Heuvel co-producing.

“We’ve been playing these songs live for years, so it went really fast,” Noelle Fiore said.

David Cuetter’s psychedelic pedal-steel fills introduce “Watching Billboards,” a country rocker. Fiore’s reserved vocal describes her fantasies about a successful musical career as she drives to her day job.

“Our Love’s Got A Cold,” a Bakersfield-influenced tune, opens with a Roy Nichols quote, supplied by Norwood’s guitar. Fiore belts out the verses, telling her beau that the cure to their troubled relationship is a night out drinking in a honky-tonk.

A stomping beat and twang-heavy guitars drive “Some Men.” Fiore’s vocal depicts the hardships of working-class life and the comfort of a loving relationship. It could be a description of the people in her band. “We all have full-time jobs and work hard to make a living,” she said. 

Fiore grew up listening to her mother and grandmother sing. When Fiore was 12, her mom gave her an Alvarez guitar. She taught herself how to play and started performing at house parties and busking, with her friend Bobkid. When she was 18, she met some people from San Francisco and they invited her to come out and visit. Fiore moved to the Bay Area in 2001.

After attending a Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Fiore took banjo lessons and learned Scruggs picking. “I started playing banjo like it was a guitar,” she said, “with some Scruggs style mixed in.”

She played in bands while working various day jobs to support herself. “I joined Sweet Chariot, with guitarist Eric Shea, singing, playing banjo and harmonizing on his songs. As the band became more rock-focused, I just sang harmonies,” she said.

Tim Cohen, from the Fresh and Onlys, asked her to join his new band, Magic Trick, for their live shows. “He encouraged me to get bolder with my guitar playing and weirder with my singing,” she said. “I met Alicia [Vanden Heuvel] in that band, and we became friends.”

Playing in bands made Fiore want to write her own songs, for her own group. Once she wrote a handful of songs, she went into the studio and cut an EP. When she heard the results, she didn’t feel it captured the vibe she wanted, so she never released it. Then Covid hit, and the band’s lineup changed.

“With my new band, we played a lot, like our lives depended on it,” Fiore said. “They were such strange and unsettling times, but we were ready to put our hearts into the music. With Alicia producing, and making the album at Boxer Lodge, everything felt right and I was ready. We made High Desert Daydream, and now we’re ready to promote it.”

When she’s not playing dates with her band, Fiore hosts a monthly country happy hour at Thee Stork Club in Oakland called “Mama Tried.”

“I felt the East Bay needed more of a country community, so I started this session,” she said. “We normally have two or three bands, a DJ and sometimes a Two-step lesson. It’s growing, and we have some regulars. I really love doing it. I’d love to do music full-time but I’m not sure it’s in the cards, given the way the music industry is now. I’m not quitting my day job yet.”

Noelle & the Deserters will play a record release party on June 14 at 9pm at Café Du Nord, 2174 Market St., San Francisco; 415.471.2969. For more info or to buy their album, visit: noelleandthedeserters.bandcamp.com/album/high-desert-daydream. “Mama Tried” takes place on the last Saturday of every month (schedule permitting) at Thee Stork Club, 2330 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley; 510.859.8709. The next show is on Sunday, June 23.


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