“Deep 6 Holiday is the skinned-kneed orphan of the rock community who was raised by a pack of jazz musicians while spending too much time with its best friend’s classical music family.” Such is the response of singer/pianist/songwriter Tyler Azelton when asked to describe her Los Angeles-based rock band, Deep 6 Holiday. With its ethereal melodies, adventurous harmonies, and confessional lyrics, Deep 6 Holiday’s songs chronicle a colorful and rocky journey that is as uplifting as it is terrifying. Upon listening to their debut album, Awake at the Funeral, it is immediately evident that this is a band that has been to the dark side… and lived to both tell the tale and learn a few lessons along the way.
Comprised primarily of Tyler Azelton on piano and voice, and John Graves on bass, Deep 6 Holiday’s music tells the story of how its members fell in love, the immense hurdles they encountered along the way, and, ultimately, how they learned to embrace their imperfections and own their unique gifts as musicians and as people. This married couple had known each other since childhood, but it wasn’t until Tyler moved back to Los Angeles in 2003 that they began working together musically. “I was living in a hallway in New York,” she recalls. “My life was falling apart, so I moved back in with my parents to clean myself up.” Their connection was intense, often finding them lost in conversation at 4 o’clock in the morning.
A performer since the age of 3, Tyler grew up on a colorful diet of classical music, jazz, musical theater and opera. It may seem peculiar that she would eventually be part of a rock band at all. “I didn’t even listen to rock music until I left college,” she remembers with a laugh. “As a kid I was secretly checking out Stravinsky and Bill Evans while my friends were making up dance moves to Paula Abdul.” Tyler gravitated to musicians who challenged the status quo and asked a lot of their listeners and yet, despite her fascination with them, Tyler found herself strangely void of her own musical ambition by the time she turned 16. “I was depressed,” she says. “I just felt that, in spite of all the piano lessons and choirs I was in, something was missing.” Tyler began writing her own songs on the piano, and in time she began to feel better. She was finally expressing things in her life that were important to her: the need for self-acceptance, the search for ways to forgive others, the willingness to confront her fears. After years of songwriting, such themes continue to breathe life into her band’s music. “I’m learning that loving myself means I have to face what scares me the most,” she says. “Writing music is really just a way for me to finally look under the bed and describe the monster beneath…it’s actually not that scary after all.”
Hailed by the New York Times as a “particularly agile” vocalist, Tyler’s vocal prowess has earned her gigs across the U.S., from the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles to Carnegie Hall in New York. She also sang on studio albums by Hour of the Shipwreck, Elodie Lauten, and Roy Zimmerman. As a member of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, she has sung on movie soundtracks including Click (starring Adam Sandler) and writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. You might even recognize her voice in movie trailers such as The Notorious Bettie Page (singing “Fever.”)
Producer, arranger, and bassist John Graves also has the type of musical vision that continues to land him various gigs in Los Angeles. As a world-traveling bassist, he has performed in Alaska, South America and the Middle East. As a composer, he has lent his talents to several projects including Emmy award-winning Discovery Channel documentaries. John’s work as an arranger and performer involves a staggering number of genres: pop, jazz, classical Arabic, gospel, hip-hop, Western swing, film music, and reggae. This deep well of experience touches both his playing on the album and his intricate, rich arrangements for strings, horns, and winds.
Deep 6 Holiday’s kinetic connection is most apparent on their new album, Awake at the Funeral: a genre-bending collection of songs that blend Tyler’s dissonant harmonies and intimate lyrics with John’s solid bass playing and lush string and wind arrangements. Joining them on the album are guitarist Ian Hattwick, drummer T.J. Troy, woodwind doubler Carol Chaikin, violist Claire Bergen and violinist Yvette Holzwarth.
The album is meant to mirror the ceremonial process of confronting death: the first and louder half of the album is the musical equivalent of a funeral while the second, softer half of the album signifies the wake. The title “Awake at the Funeral” is a play on words, but its meaning runs a little deeper. Tyler explains: “Like other people out there, I’ve had my heart broken--I’ve wrestled with my demons--but I’ve also had some really frightening experiences that made me wake up to reality in a way I never had before.” Such experiences are made gravely apparent on tracks like “Empty Casket,” a song that Tyler wrote after a particularly desperate night wherein she realized that it was better to go on living and get through the pain than give up. “It’s Not Me” is a meditation on self-deception. While these songs are dark, there are other tracks that reflect the happier aspects of the band’s journey. “Falling for You,” for instance, is an almost moment-to-moment account of what it feels like to fall in love. As is the case with life itself, each song contrasts harmony and dissonance—pain vs. pleasure. “Our songs are ambivalent,” Tyler explains. “That’s how life is. The joy comes out of the pain. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says that it is because the garbage exists that the rose can bloom.”
Deep 6 Holiday’s music resonates with listeners because it allows them a space in which they can comfortably experience feelings that are difficult and taboo. The band’s lyrical honesty, coupled with passionate performances, are meant to relay the idea that we are all going through the same types of struggles, and, in that way, we are all instantly connected. From its dark and discordant harmonies to its messages of hope, Deep 6 Holiday’s Awake at the Funeral takes you on a musical journey—one in which you realize that sometimes the only way you can feel at peace is by sitting alone in the darkness long enough.