When Lahna Deering was just a baby and her brother Morgan was 7, their parents Dave and Joan Deering bought a mobile home, packed up the family, and left British Columbia in search of gold. Dave Deering, a mining engineer, took jobs in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico while Joan cooked for the miners and homeschooled her kids.
Along the way, there was always music. But it wasn’t until the family resettled, in the musical town of Port Townsend, that the young Deering siblings began their study of the art that would become a passion and focus for them both.
In Port Townsend, Dave and Joan opened Deering Bed and Breakfast, later buying a small farmhouse. Lahna and Morgan remember family sing-alongs around the parlor piano and family music books that filled three volumes. Lahna remembers her mom listening to lots of Bonnie Raitt, a singer she cites as an influence, and singing while her dad played piano.
“Lahna was always the shy one, if you can believe that, and she started to harmonize with me right off the top -- and it was great,” Dave Deering said.
Dave Deering came from a family of musicians: his grandfather was a music instructor, and other family members played trumpets, saxophones, guitar, violin, ukulele, drums and basses, and sang in church choirs.
Morgan says his dad was key in inspiring him musically.
“My dad was a big influence for me,” Morgan said. “He was in a Beatles cover band so I heard lots of Beatles, he also played old railroad tunes, Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton.”
In high school, Morgan played guitar and was in “Fiddler on the Roof” while Lahna sang in “The Sound of Music“ and was a jazz dancer. Both kids also learned piano when they were younger, and Lahna had a brief period as a cellist before following her brother’s example and switching to guitar. Though she got her first guitar at 13, she didn’t really start playing it or writing songs until she was in high school and needed an emotional outlet after her parents split up. She says their divorce was the catalyst for her songwriting.
“Songs were therapy,” said Lahna.
After her parents’ divorce, Lahna chose to stay at the family’s farmhouse while her mom went to culinary school in Portland and Dave and Morgan went to Brazil to work in mines.
“Lahna wouldn’t go with Dave or I. She didn’t want to pick her mom or dad because she thought that would send a message that she loved one more than the other. That’s just the kind of girl she was,” said Joan, who left Lahna with trusted family friends, Lahna’s elementary school teacher Patty Spencer and her husband.
Lahna joined Joan in Portland later, and after completing culinary school Joan got a job working on an Alaskan bound ship, Cruise West.
“I thought it was my dream job, then I did the first 10-day rotation and it was not the kind of food I wanted to serve, it was frozen stuff,” Joan said. “I picked Skagway and jumped ship.”
In 1998 in Skagway, Joan introduced 15-year-old Lahna to her friend Rev Neil Down. Their musical chemistry was unmistakable. The duo has now been playing together for more than 10 years and are also best friends.
Rev, a childhood musician and songwriter from Washington, learned to play on a cheap guitar with strings half an inch off the frets, making any other guitar he picked up a breeze. Contrary to popular belief, he says his name isn’t an abbreviation for reverend.
“My mom was French and she thought I was so beautiful as a child she nicknamed me “Reve,” which is French for ‘dream’,” said Rev, joking, “We dropped the ‘e’ and now you have to stand back 100 yards and squint before I look like a dream.”
Lahna and Rev currently live in Memphis, and say their road there has been something special.
“It’s a pretty amazing story - how we met - our journey,” Rev said. “Funny though, you don’t see a thing until you see it the rear-view mirror.”
Deering and Down produced their first album, “Coupe de Villa,” at Rainbow Studios in White Horse, Canada in 2001. Then Lahna accompanied Rev when he recorded a solo album, “When a Wrong Turns Right,” in Ireland. Their last two collaborations were “Break This Record” in 2007 and “Out There Somewhere” in 2008, recorded at Royal Studio in Memphis, a place made famous by soul singer Al Green. Green’s record producer, “Papa” Willie Mitchell, worked on horn arrangements and mixing for “Out There Somewhere” prior to his death, and his son, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, co-produced the album.
Deering and Down recently shot a music video with their song “Linda McCabe,” which debuted in Juneau at the Gold Town Nickelodeon.
“My dad said I was going to be struck by lightening for making that video,” joked Lahna of her church-going father.
Set in a church with Rev as a preacher guitar player, Lahna dances around the church belting out the song — liberating and transforming church ladies into “righteous sexy babes.”
In describing Lahna’s vocals, the Memphis Flyer said, “She’s got a voice like Loretta Lynn swallowed Rod Stewart.”
Morgan, a Juneau resident for the past three years, plays in two local bands. He is also a commercial pilot, ferrying passengers, cargo, mail and other things between Juneau and Kake, Hoonah, Skagway, and Haines.
Morgan says his music is a lot like his experience flying an airplane. He is on the edge of caution and thinking about safety while feeling free and looking at the beauty below.
“When I mix those two things together I can be in the present moment and see the leaves change and see the glaciers and feel like wow, I’m actually flying an airplane.”
In addition to his father’s music, Morgan found inspiration in Fugazi, a punk band that formed in Washington D.C. in 1987. Their influence can be heard most clearly in his songs with political messages.
When he first arrived in Juneau from Eugene, Ore., Morgan played with Scott Arnett in Mammoth Bone. Then he was introduced to musician Nick Wagner by local KXLL DJ Jessie Haywood and the pair formed the band Tiger Pilot. Morgan describes their music as punk rock-electronic.
Morgan and Wagner also both joined Playboy Spaceman’s Bridget Cross and George Kuhar to form B Team All-Stars. Morgan says it looks like he will be in the studio recording soon.
“Bridget and George are starting Shadow Island Records and our hope is, and we’ve talked about it, is they’ll want to put B Team All-Stars and Tiger Pilot on their label. The goal is two albums by the end of this year,” Morgan said.
Recently, Tiger Pilot played for the Juneau premiere of Deering and Down’s video “Linda McCabe” at the Nickelodeon. Behind the band, pictures of tigers and airplanes were projected on a screen.
“I really like the old bombers and the intensity of those young men being in those airplanes, teenagers flying huge bombers over Germany - how young they were to be in control of such a huge thing .... I try to play with that intensity,” Morgan said, adding that he writes songs about his feelings about what is happening in the world.
Though Lahna has moved to Memphis, the siblings get to see each other in Juneau in the summers when she comes to visit. Their mother, Joan, is the owner of Paradise Cafe, a popular local bakery and cafe that is about to close and reopen in a new location. (This week Paradise will host a First Friday reception with treats and more information about the move; check it out from 4:30 to 7 across from Marine Park.) Lahna’s Juneau visits usually include at least one performance on a local stage with Rev.
As for Morgan, keep your ears open for Tiger Pilot and the B Team All Stars; for a preview of their music, watch this video of their performance at the KXLL Battle of the Bands last fall: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEB-mqdQ7Bk.
For more on Lahna, visit deeringanddown.com.