A Band Grows in Greenpoint: American Nomads’ Roots and Revelations
American Nomads are a Greenpoint-based Americana group whose first single, “A Revelation’s Gonna Come,” reached number six on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. The follow-up, “Dogtooth Bend,” was released last month. The band grew out of a studio project called DRW, a name derived from the first initials of its founding members, guitarist/banjoist Dante DeLemos, lyricist Richard Humann (a published poet), and accordion and keyboard player Walter Kenul.
When it came time to take the act on the road, they added Susan Darmiento, who shares lead vocal duties with Kenul and DeLemos; Joseph Humann on harmonica; guitarist George LaGrange; bassist Jay Rivera; and Joe Conoscenti on drums and percussion. All but Conoscenti also perform background vocals. The band members have individually played on numerous hit singles, including more than 15 Gold and Platinum records.
American Nomads’ brand of Americana grew out of Kenul’s love for the great diversity of what he calls the “musical heavyweights” of the 1960s and ’70s. Kenul, who started playing music at 10 years of age, cites among his many influences the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, as well as the “great R+B artists like Al Green and James Brown. There was much to be inspired by.”
Speaking of inspiration, moving to and settling in Brooklyn was a personal and professional turning point for Croatia-born Kenul. “It’s such a melting pot of so many different cultures. It exposed me to a brand new array of music across a wide cultural spectrum,” he tells Brooklyn Roads.
Having resided in Greenpoint for more then three decades with his wife, Janet Rutkowski, a metal sculptor who doubles as the band’s publicist, Kenul has a pretty good idea of why Brooklyn has nurtured so many talented musical artists. “It started with creative people looking for affordable housing and studios and Brooklyn was a logical and attractive choice with its unique industrial and living spaces. From there it’s grown into its own phenomenon,” he says.
“As far as I’m concerned, Brooklyn is the now place,” he adds. “It’s what Manhattan used to be. When I travel, everyone tells me they want to come to Brooklyn.”
Ironically, except for the closing night of what was then Peggy O’Neill’s in Coney Island in April, American Nomads have found themselves mostly playing such Lower East Side venues as Rockwood Music Hall and Drom, where they’ll be performing on September 20. The band does, however, have its sights set on playing the “many wonderful venues in Brooklyn,” Kenul tells us. “We’re located in North Brooklyn, so we have Brooklyn Bowl, Rough Trade and the Knitting Factory, just in our neighborhood alone. The list goes on and on, neighborhood by neighborhood. Oh, and let’s not forget the Barclays Center…someday,” he says.
One song Kenul half-jokes that he wishes he had written is “Happy Birthday,” because, although it is now in the public domain, “It’s the highest-earning single song in history, with about $50 million in sales. If I had written that, I could open a recording studio and performance space for every Brooklyn musician to come to,” he tells Brooklyn Roads.
Regarding American Nomads’ own songs, Kenul would loved to have had one of them covered by Johnny Cash “with that stripped down Rick Rubin sound. He was a true American treasure,” he says. One fellow Brooklynite he imagines doing a cover would be “Barry Manilow – just for the heck of it.”
Kenul also tells us that his dream collaborator would be Robert Plant. “Along with having one of the best voices in all of rock history, his music runs the musical gamut from blues to rock and now Americana. He’s an amazing talent.” While Plant would be a nice addition to the American Nomads lineup, the band will likely have to be content to keep making fine, rocking, rootsy Americana music all on their own.