The Rapidian

Vagabonds frontman Luke Dean releases new album, launches tour

Luke Dean of Vagabonds delivers honest lyrics, emotional intensity in his highly anticipated full-album release.

Local musician Luke Dean refers to himself as a nobody. Dean's taste in fashion - a brown checked blazer pulled over a hoodie, skinny jeans, and a fanny pack - certainly blends in with the hipster aesthetic of any Eastown coffee shop. But something about Dean's sheepish grin, self-deprecating sense of humor, and total honesty stands out.

 

Dean kicked off the latest tour with his band, Vagabond, at Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Music, alongside artists Julien Baker and David Bazan. Sharing an appearance with La Dispute at Blood Fest, Vagabonds has shows scheduled through May 27.

 

To cap off the tour, Dean will release his first album in 2017. Not a bad year for a so-called nobody. 

 

Becoming a Vagabond

 

Music has always played a significant role in Dean's life. Dean started playing cello in the fifth grade, and added the guitar and bass to his repertoire in 8th grade. 

 

Upon entering high school, Dean kicked off his first band. The experience was not a success. 

 

"We were terrible," Dean said. "Picture a bunch of kids sitting around a basement, playing Green Day covers for hours." 

 

As college approached, Dean felt torn between pursuing his love of music and school. Despite keeping up a 4.0 GPA and numerous scholarship offers, Dean doubted that formal education was the right path for him.

 

"I love learning, but I needed to learn in a new way," Dean said. "I ultimately chose music because it was the only place where I felt at home."

 

Dean's decision not to attend college did not go over well with his friends and family. Dean was encouraged to hold a rigid view of success: go to college, find a job, and settle down. 

 

The name Vagabonds reflected the feeling of running away from normalcy and toward life on the road. Dean took off on his first tour at the age of 18.

 

"Sometimes, I wish I was braver," Dean said. 

 

From Lansing to Texas

 

Touring for months on end can exhaust any musician. For introverted artists like Dean, tour life can be especially tough.

 

"I love meeting people between sets, but it's definitely not how I recharge," Dean said. 

 

During the summer of 2015, Dean performed every night in any available space: backyards, attics, porches, and coffee shops. Driving across the country with only his guitar and friends met on the road, Dean struggled with intense bouts of loneliness and depression.

 

"Each night, I played hard," Dean said. "I left it all out there, and then I walked away."

 

Between shows, Dean read about Biblical characters who struggled in dark places. Old Testament tales - Jonah running from God and Daniel praying in the lion's den - fascinated Dean. 

 

"There are sad things," Dean said. "It's okay to identify with the struggle, being caught in a hopeless place, running from God. These are things we all experience - they are not just storybook."

 

The tour's standout show took place in a basement associated with Lansing's Straight Edge Scene. Thirty punk kids packed in close enough to touch the microphone stands. When Vagabonds hit the first guitar note, the crowd lost its collective mind. Kids dogpiled on a couch mattress and sprayed cans of root beer, screaming at the top of their lungs. 

 

"It was this moment of euphoric aggression washing out pain," Dean said. "It was the best thing ever." 

 

Dean's favorite moment of the tour came when he met a young fan in Texas, who had recently left an extended hospital visit. The kid pulled off his shirt, showed off the Vagabonds tattoo on his shoulder, and explained that jamming to Vagabonds helped him survive the pain of his leg injury. Meeting one stranger who found solace while listening to Vagabonds made all the rigors of tour life worth it.

 

We are Going to See the King

 

For his first full-length album, Dean gathered songs written from when he was 18 to 20, capturing the most chaotic period of his life. 

 

The album uses a lo-fi production style, leaving in glitches and slip-ups. It features simple, twinkly guitar riffs and harsh vocals inspired by Pedro the Lion and Bright Eyes.

 

Vagabond's lyrics express raw emotion, but end on a redemptive note. One of the album's final lines proclaims, "We are going to see the king, Hallelujah."

 

"Vagabonds isn't a hardcore band, but it brings a similar catharsis that others refrain from," Dean said.

 

For upcoming tour dates and updates, visit Vagabond's website at http://vagabondsmichigan.bandcamp.com/.

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