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Adelitas Way frontman reflects on his musical journey

Rick DeJesus is right back where he started, and he couldn’t be happier or more excited.

Free from the constraints of a major label, DeJesus and his band, Adelitas Way, are hard at work on a new album, one that was funded entirely by fans through a Pledgemusic campaign. Pounding the pavement again, so to speak, the Adelitas Way founder is once again putting his music directly in the hands of people, just like he did when he first moved to Las Vegas. A transplant from Philadelphia, DeJesus came to Las Vegas more than a decade ago in search of a better life, and he found it.

“You know, Philadelphia was just a really bad situation for me, man,” DeJesus recalls. “I was getting caught up in some of the wrong things. I think at some point, you get guided places. You get guided out of trouble. I firmly believe that there’s guides in life, you know, and something kept telling me: You need to get out of Philadelphia, or you’re going to end up like a lot of your friends. And a lot of my friends, they were dying, man. They were getting murdered. They were in the wrong kind of game.

“I’ve always had a West Coast mentality. I’ve always been real laid-back, real easygoing. I’ve always had a real positive energy about me, and the East Coast isn’t like that, man. I’ve always wanted to come to the West Coast, and finally, one day, I woke up and I made the move, and I took some risks, and I drove across the country to Las Vegas.”

Sure, there was an element of risk in moving here, but it was more of a calculated gamble. Although DeJesus, then 19, lived in his car when he first arrived in Vegas, his story is not as hardscrabble as it sounds. The cramped, makeshift accommodations came about only because the singer was so excited to start a new life here that he hopped in his car with a friend and showed up in town two weeks early, before the job he had lined up was set to begin.

He couldn’t help himself. Not long before that, he had made a scouting trip of sorts, scoping out Los Angeles first before making a stop in Vegas, where he felt an unmistakable pull, he says. Something just told him a new life awaited in Las Vegas. “I was interested in Los Angeles,” he remembers. “I knew I wanted to be an artist. When you’re all the way from the East Coast and you’re 17, 18 years old, you think the only answer is New York or L.A., because that’s what everybody tells you your whole life, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be from Hollywood. You go to Hollywood and you become a rock star.’ For me, it wasn’t like that. When I did a pit stop in Las Vegas, even before I decided to 100 percent move here, the city was so infectious to me, the city was so … it was calling my name. It was like, this is where you’re supposed to be.”

DeJesus indeed ended up here not long after that, and the way that happened is a story in itself. Back in Philadelphia, he got a call from a friend asking him for a ride to try out for a reality show. The buddy had reached out to DeJesus mainly because he was the only one he knew who had a car. Although the singer was just tagging along to the audition, he instantly attracted the attention of the producers.

“I was this young, 18-year-old kid, always in the gym working out,” DeJesus says. “And when I walked in, they immediately were like, ‘You, come here.’ I was like, ‘Me?’ I walked up and they interviewed me on camera and asked me all these questions. I was just myself, the same crazy guy that I am.” DeJesus didn’t think much of the audition until the day the producers showed up with a bunch of cameras and whisked him away to his future in Los Angeles.

“My mom and dad were in on it,” he recalls. “They knew it was going to happen. They packed a suitcase for me, and they took me to Los Angeles. I was on this TV show called ‘Strip Search.’ I won the entire TV show, which was based in Las Vegas. You win the show, you come to Vegas. So I won the whole show, and then when I got back, I just got very excited, so I moved to Las Vegas.”

Taking home the title on “Strip Search” earned him a slot on the cast of “American Storm,” the all-male Las Vegas revue, which DeJesus immediately used to his advantage. “It was just a catalyst to get me here,” he says. “I realized it wasn’t for me. … Yeah, there was screaming women every night, but I saw a bigger picture. So I used that as a catalyst to save every cent that I could — every penny that came in, I saved from doing ‘American Storm.’ I sold the car that I drove out from Philadelphia to Vegas in, and with the money between that and selling my car, I made my first demo that got me a record deal.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. Armed with his self-financed recordings, DeJesus made the rounds all over Las Vegas, hustling self-burned copies of the disc to everyone he could. “I did this four-song demo,” DeJesus says. “I had these CD burners at my house. I burned 10,000 demos and handed them out to everybody at gas stations, on the Strip, at the mall, anywhere. … And the good thing is, people loved the songs.”

The persistence paid off for the singer, who eventually landed a major record deal. Drive and determination are only part of it, if you ask DeJesus. The secret to his success is the same now as it was then. “Songs,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I wrote songs, man. You know, I want to say that there are more people out there. It’s much more difficult nowadays, but it’s easier for an artist to be heard. Back then, the record industry was still a record industry. There were still a ton of people out there looking for talent.

“The first person ever to discover me was Robert Reynolds,” he continues, mentioning the name of the man responsible for first leading the charge to Las Vegas through the Killers. “Not only is he one of my best friends today, but he’s been my attorney for almost 10 years now, nine years.”

It was the caliber of DeJesus’ songwriting that attracted Reynolds’ attention, and everybody else’s. “The minute I met him,” DeJesus says, “the minute I saw him, I knew this guy was going to be influential in my life. And from that day on, he got me a record deal, he got me everything I have, really.”

One of the discs he handed out, somehow made its way into the hands of the influential lawyer, who came out to DeJesus’ first show at Rainbow Bar & Grill. The show was sold out, attracting A&R reps from a number of labels, including Interscope, which eventually offered him a development deal, thanks to Reynolds and Brian House, who also helped the band. “You couldn’t even get into the place because I handed out so many demos around town before we played,” DeJesus says.

When the development deal didn’t pan out, Adelitas Way ended up signing a deal with Virgin Records and had a prosperous relationship there until the team that brought the band over eventually got shown the door. The staff that followed unfortunately suffered the same fate, and that, coupled with the imprint’s persistent desire to push the band in more of a pop direction, caused Adelitas Way to lose momentum. That led DeJesus and his bandmates to seek their independence.

Eventually, the act was able to get released from its contract, which has allowed it to take the music directly to fans with its Pledgemusic campaign. After raising enough money to finance the album on its own, the outfit returned to Chicago to record with its original producer, Johnny K. Likewise. The band has put together a team that can leverage all the muscle of a major label without all of the bureaucracy. This is essential when it comes to progressing to the next phase of the group’s career.

“You need a team,” DeJesus says. “But there is a way in today’s climate, where you can have ownership of your masters. I hired the guy who worked my radio for my entire career at Virgin Records. He’s the head of rock at Virgin. He runs my radio department now. We’re going hard with my new single, ‘Bad Reputation.’ It debuts on Octane, exclusive world premiere on December 13.”

Speaking to DeJesus, you get the sense that he’s one of those people who has never forgotten where he came from. The same guy who was handing out CDs on the Strip is the same one you’ll find today. And he’s got nothing but love for his adopted hometown.

“I’m very pro-Vegas,” he declares. “Eleven years later, here I am, and I’m very proud to be from Las Vegas, and I’m very proud of this city. Whenever I’m out on the road touring, I go on these long speeches, even onstage sometimes, about how great Las Vegas is. I tell people, ‘I tour all over the world, man, and there’s a reason that I live in Las Vegas, and it’s because it’s one of the greatest places on this Earth.”

— Read more from Dave Herrera at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at dherrera@reviewjournal.com.

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