Makin Waves with Des and the Swagmatics: Keep on the Sunny Side

Whether playing super soulful funkified originals or making covers by Prince, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and others their own, Des and the Swagmatics got it goin’ on, and they share it with Makin Waves!

  For nearly 40 years, I mainly have written about original New Jersey bands. And in all that time, it’s been very rare to find a band who mix original-sounding covers with strong originals as deftly as Des and the Swagmatics. But then, they can do it all.

  Inflame your heart with a burning ballad? Check!

  Set your spirit free with a soul-scorching groove? No problem?

  Get utterly funky until you feel like you’re dancing on air? Done and done!

  And that’s just on their five-song 2016 self-titled debut EP!

  Vocalist-keyboardist-acoustic guitarist Deseree Spinks and her “guys” — lead guitarist-vocalist Jimmy Farkas, drummer-vocalist Craig Lawlor, bassist Kevin Stryker, and keyboardist-vocalist Raymond Saada — have gotten good ‘n’ funky at their fair share of great gigs. They include performing at a party for Gov. Phil Murphy after his 2017 election, Convention Hell at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, New Year’s Eve with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, and two TV documentaries about Asbury.

  Coming up, you can see Des and the Swagmatics on Oct. 13 at Langosta Lounge in Asbury; Oct. 20, Rockwood Music Hall, New York City; Nov. 9 for the 10th anniversary of Watermark in Asbury; Nov. 17, back at Langosta for the Second Annual Makin Waves Hunger Benefit for Food for Thought with Pamela Flores and Tara Dente; New Year’s Eve at Langosta, and Jan. 10 at Asbury Park Yacht Club with Avery Mandeville & the Man Devils and Nalani & Sarina in a show that is part of the annual Light of Day Festival to raise funds to combat Parkinson’s disease. Also, Des plays solo every other Saturday at SugarHouse Casino in Philly’s Fishtown neighborhood. And if you happen to be in Key West, Fla., about a week before Christmas, she and the Swagmatics will be there too.

  But believe it or not, the in-demand band are a little less busy than usual because they are preparing to record a new single and shoot a video, while rehearsing new material for the soiree in the Keys. Des chatted with me about the band’s plans, as well as their history and her longtime connection to Asbury Park. Enjoy, and then go enjoy her terrific tunes!

Des and the Swagmatics are one of the few bands who successfully combine covers with originals. You seem to especially love to play Prince. Why is he special and an influence on you?

  Besides the fact that Jimmy and I were heavily influenced by Prince in our musical upbringing, the current lineup of Des & the Swagmatics was formed initially to play the very first Dark City Halloween Show at Wonder Bar. We played as Prince & the Revolution.

Another great influence who recently passed is Aretha Franklin. Comment on how she helped to shape you musically and vocally.

  She’s the Queen Mother of Soul Music! Not only being one of the greatest voices of our generation, she was also a musician and a woman of color. But she was so much more: an entrepreneur, a community advocate, a force in her church. Without her paving the way for artists like myself, I wouldn’t be here.

Did playing music in the church also influence you?

  A lot of people assume listening to me that I was raised in the church. And while my great grandmother definitely exposed me to gospel, my parents raised me Jehovah’s Witness for a time, and there wasn’t anything crazy musical about that.

Besides music, do you have any other connections to Asbury Park? If so, what and how did that impact playing music there?

  I have family and cousins that have lived in Asbury their whole lives. My dad lived in Neptune, and when he was a young man, was a photographer for a local funk band called Toogie and the Gang. He’s come full circle! Now he comes to take pictures of his daughter’s funk band.

Were you initially a solo performer before you formed the Swagmatics?

  I was! I got my start making the rounds at the local open mic scenes, specifically Coffee Blu in Belmar, which is no more, and Jamian’s in Red Bank.

Des and the Swagmatics performed this summer in Springwood Park on behalf of Makin Waves-sponsored Asbury Park Music Foundation. PHOTO BY HARVEY SPINKS

How did you get together with the Swagmatics?

  My guys. I’ve known each one of them individually for many years. Jimmy and I used to tour together with the Latin-rock band deSoL well over 10 years ago. Ray and I met doing theater even longer ago. Craig and I met at a live band karaoke that Jimmy was actually running. And Kevin and I met during the Souper Groove jam shows. For each of them, it just started as asking them if they felt like playing a show or two with my band. Now they are the band!

So you had a great summer playing Asbury Lanes on the Fourth of July, the rooftop of the Biergarten, in Springwood Park, at the Asbury Park Press’ Storytellers concert. And you were to headline one of the Oysterfest dates, but it got rained out. How does it feel to be such an in-demand act in a nationally recognized music scene and why?

  It’s wild, amazing and surreal. We get to do what we love in our hometown, and people dig it. I’ve been recognized on the street by complete strangers, and it still catches me off guard. Obviously, we can always be bigger and better. We steadily try to break outside of our little bubble, but all in all, I’d call it living the Dream.

Avery Mandeville, left, and Deseree Spinks are pictured in March at Danny Clinch’s Transparent Gallery during a tribute to influential gospel great Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Des & Avery will perform together again on Jan. 12 at LOD@APYC, part of the annual Light of Day Festival to raise funds to combat Parkinson’s disease. PHOTO BY BOB MAKIN

I want to thank you for playing two shows for me on Nov. 17 at Langosta Lounge with Pamela Flores and Tara Dente and Jan. 12 at LOD@APYC with Avery Mandeville and the Man Devils and Nalani & Sarina. Comment on how and why Asbury Park is brimming with talented women and how it makes you feel to be a part of that?

  I am so in awe of all these fierce females dominating the scene of Asbury Park. I adore our little girl-army!

  Earlier this year, I had the honor of working with some of these women. My band threw a show at the Stone Pony to raise money for Planned Parenthood and awareness for issues facing women. We had 13 local female singers on that stage with us singing their faces off and putting the world on notice: we’re done sitting still and lookin’ pretty. It was a cause that was very near and dear to my heart.

Deseree Spinks with Sen. Cory Booker, who once told her that she “had the voice of an angel.” PHOTO COURTESY OF DESEREE SPINKS

Did you get any feedback from Gov. Phil Murphy when you played for him after he got elected?

  He said, “I love the band! You guys sound great!” And he shook my hand and took a CD. My other favorite political story is Cory Booker saying I had the “voice of an angel!”

My favorite track from your self-titled debut EP is Sunny Side, which is such a good vibe musically and lyrically. Given the political climate we are in, do you have any new songs that take a similar positive approach, particularly to that political climate? If so, what are they, what specifically inspired them, and do you plan to play them live soon?

  We have a newer song we play live called Back to Blue that is a crowd favorite. Its message is very poignant but simple: Things are bad now, undoubtedly, but these cloudy skies will come back to blue if we can all just come together to communicate and fight for the rights and needs of everyone.

When and how will you follow up the EP with a new record? How is the writing and recording of the follow-up going?

  All of my songs grow out of my brain organically. I’m not a terribly prolific songwriter, so it’s hard to tell when the next album will be available. But we’ve currently got four new songs we’re woodshedding and adding into the mix, so it shouldn’t be too far out! Our next releases will include a single and a music video or two! 

While the Swagmatics are very funky, I’ve seen you perform solo material that is much more soul ‘n’ gospel-oriented. Do you think you’ll ever make a solo album along those lines?

  I think that when you all finally get to hear the new songs that that music is as much a part of the Swagmatics as it is of Des.

What else is going on with you and the band that you want folks to know?

  We’ve booked our first show in Key West this December (12/14-16). We hope our Florida friends and family will join us!

Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?

  Check out our Spotify!

Bob Makin is the reporter for and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at And like Makin Waves at