Phoenix Blues Rockers The Deadbeat Cousins Are Poised for Their Big Break

The Deadbeat Cousins bring a certain heft and grace to blues rock.
The Deadbeat Cousins bring a certain heft and grace to blues rock. Emma Jaye Velasquez
Sometimes to understand one artist, you've got to first talk to another.

Once in an interview, Robbie Pfeffer recounted the time a friend asked about a promising new band.

The Playboy Manbaby frontman offered a genuine pearl of wisdom: "I'm legitimately excited for their next band," he says. "They're going to be awesome."

Which, as Pfeffer explained, meant that for those members with some actual talent and drive, success would come when they embarked on other endeavors (and maybe kicked some players to the curb). It's a lesson on how the path to rock stardom is often paved with breakups and false starts.

It's a story that Mat Shaker and Jaren Soelberg, the two vocalists/guitarists of Phoenix's own The Deadbeat Cousins, recognize from their careers together.

"Jaren and I have known each other since seventh grade," Shaker says over a recent call. "Both of us had played in different bands throughout the years but never collaborated on any music projects until we started the Cousins."

Part of that delay in their collaboration was due to Soelberg leaving the state for several years. Upon his return in 2017, he called Shaker about playing music together.

"We already had a friendship, but we'd been out of touch for a long time," Soelberg says. "When we started jamming, our friendship kind of blossomed."

Still, don't expect that fairytale ending quite yet.

"We'd actually started a project prior to this with some other guys, which was acoustic," Shaker says, who for several years was in a folk band called Murietta. "And then that kind of fizzled after a few weeks."

The final piece of the puzzle came when the duo, with a little help from Shaker's family, embarked on a new musical direction outside traditional folk or rock.

"We started jamming with my cousin, who's not in the band, and it was more bluesy, more of what we're doing now," Shaker says. "We were getting kind of excited about that, and it was the first time that either one of us had done anything with that kind of blues rock."

Soelberg says that after not playing music for 10 years, blues helped him rediscover his passion.

"I was super rusty on guitar and just started practicing blues scales," he says. "I fell in love with the versatility, but also how, kind of like jazz, every song is the same at its core. So it's super easy, but at the same time, it can be as complex or angry or happy or fast or slow as you want it to be."

It wasn't just that they'd discovered the blues. Both men admit it was the larger collaborative process that gave them the most satisfaction.

"This has been the most exciting project that I've been a part of," Shaker says. "It's now to the point where Jaren and I feel like we're in a groove, and we'll get together and we'll write a song. There's been very few songs that we end up writing fully that we don't end up doing something with."

In their first two years of this new project, Shaker and Soelberg had limited success as The Deadbeat Cousins. They played some local shows, but admit they didn't "take anything serious" until the release of 2019's generally entertaining Get By. That, and a perceived lack of fans, meant they never seized on early career opportunities, including having several tunes, like "Slow Down," featured on Spotify playlists.

Shaker says the band "just barely started to make some good progress" in early 2020. That happened as they added two new members, drummer Jason Roedl and bassist Jess Soelberg, who is Jaren Soelberg's nephew.

"We now have our rhythm section, with Jess and Jason, who are amazing," Shaker says. "Jason is, by far, the best drummer that I've ever played with. Jess ... is just a musical whiz. He's been playing every instrument since he could talk. He has legit perfect pitch."

However, their first shows as a foursome came amid the beginnings of COVID shutdown. The band spent most of the pandemic writing and recording while further honing their sound. 

"We did more of our behind-the-scenes stuff, making videos and recording," Shaker says. "That helped us out, because now that things are opening back up, we have all this content that we're just releasing as quickly as we can."

They've released five songs already from their as-yet-untitled sophomore record, including the excellent "Reverse Engineer." (No word yet on that album's planned release date.) The music, which they recorded entirely live, reflects a ferocious blues rock that's clearly indebted to acts like The Black Keys and Jack White. It also exemplifies what Shaker says is their core approach to live music: "We're loud, and we try to just let the music talk."

But as Soelberg added, the LP is also a clear mark of their collective development and maturation.

"We definitely had a theme for the album, which is kind of reflective of the changes that we're going through in our lives and just trying to make the lyrics more personal and meaningful," he says.

They've already played a few shows, including a sold-out slot at Marquee Theatre. (Says Soelberg, "It was socially distanced, but we'll just put the little asterisk 'cause no one reads the fine print.") Like recording the album, the band says these shows were a chance to further grow as a unit. Not to mention, it let them spin new life into the material by adapting it for the stage.

"One of the things that we do is change it up," Shaker says of performing. "So we'll write little instrumental intros, and then we'll put it into one of our songs. Or I'll change up the lyrics on the fly. We tried to have both of them [the album and stage show] stand on their own."

Perhaps that approach speaks to the band's greatest asset for long-term success: a sense of pragmatism. This measured approach informs both how they work together and how they view their efforts as a relatively young band.

"At our last show, we sold just over 100 tickets," Shaker says. "At the point we're at now, to have consistently 100 people coming out to see us, and that we don't have to beg our family and friends to come see us anymore, is a huge amount of headway from a year ago."

Similarly, the band are looking forward to the future with the same kind of considerate but passionate approach.

"The short-term goal is to break even on our financial investment in the band," Shaker says. "Our long-term goal is just to be strategic about how we're releasing songs. But also how we're working on getting placements in film and television as well as publishing deals."

Because, if they're looking at the big picture, success as a band is attainable. They've been careful in their efforts thus far, which bodes well for the future. Plus, as Pfeffer hinted at, they have the right configuration with the proper skills — all they need is to maintain some of this initial momentum. But if there's going to be a larger career down the road, it'll be on their own terms.

"Our end goal is that we want to be able to provide and make a living while doing what we love," Shaker says. "But we also want to have a life. I think that kind of life [as a touring musician] is romantic, but I don't think it's sustainable. We want to be able to come home and see our kids."

The Deadbeat Cousins support Wyves on Saturday, July 24 at Last Exit Live, 717 South Central Avenue. Doors are at 8 p.m., and the show starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 via Eventbrite.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.
Contact: Chris Coplan