The Father, Son and Holy Delta Spirit
By Heather Seidler
Since their debut album, Ode to Sunshine, was released in 2007, San Diego quintet Delta Spirit have seen their fair share of accolades and international touring; opening for Cold War Kids, The Shins and The Walkmen, while also appearing on a host of prestigious late night television programs, including Carson, Kimmel and Conan. Still, these monarchs of indie folk-blues bliss, may very well be one of today’s best undiscovered bands and genuinely everything music should be.
Delta Spirit, comprised of Matthew Vasquez, Jonathan Jameson, Brandon Young, Kelly Winrich and William McLaren, are finally starting to register on the radar of the preoccupied tastemaker elites of the ‘new music world’. In 2010, the band emerged with their soulful, folk-tinged sophomore album History from Below then followed with The Waits Room EP, released last November. Both recorded at the landmark Prairie Sun Studios, best known for being the rustic place where Tom Waits laid down some of his masterpieces. Inside the studio grounds there’s a gutted closet where Mr. Waits himself records to this very day and out of which The Waits Room was borne. The EP includes five exquisitely deconstructed, harmonious raw riffs, thrown together with everything but the kitchen sink; five pared-down songs fit for enjoying on a decrepit old porch in the South while sipping warm Scotch. Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket) was also along for the ride, providing some Wurlitzer and rolling the tape.
I spoke with frontman Matt Vasquez about the new EP, the new year and his newest side project Middle Brother. “You never want to feel like you’re just doing the same old shit and I think we proved that with our album,” Vasquez says. “When it comes to writing, every cord change in the book has been used already, every melody, every harmony and the combinations of those things have been put together and there’s nothing new under the sun; but there is always a new way to write a song, always another guitar, piano, organ, accordion, mellotron, upright bass, clarinet…anything. As long as you hear a melody and you just chase it down, then you can figure out what you want to say with that. As long as you’re saying something then you have something—it’s always meaning first for me. What good is a band if you don’t mean what you’re saying?”
The honesty with which Delta Spirit construct their pastoral brand of rock and the rapture which Vasquez radiates when he sings, is evidentiary proven within their records. On The Waits EP, they had a week to capture spontaneous backwoods magic in that closeted Waits room. The band takes the listener with them into a room of echoes, concurrently sounding like a bunch of guys sitting around a campfire on a mountaintop. “I did some vocals in that room and it just had this really strange vibe, a really great natural vibe,” describes Vasquez. “We played on a level where we could all hear each other and that was the sound of that. The room and the moment were great.”
The kinetic vigor and sincerity of Delta Spirit’s live shows are indisputable despite playing over three hundred shows just in the last few years. The band is dedicated to a ‘do-it yourself’ approach, putting everything into their free-wheeling performances, right down to constructing their own homemade stage lights. Vasquez sinks his teeth into each song with an almost biblical fervor and passion. “Everyday you’re asked to play a song you’ve written years ago,” Vasquez imparts, “It becomes more a thing of muscle memory—and once you have that muscle memory there, you can remember what the song was about and convey that and that’s never old.”
Their approach to songwriting is a collective venture, “Just having everyone in a room and feeling our democracy, we will work our way to our salvation,” explains Vasquez, “It’s not a song yet until everybody puts it together and everybody has that [sense of] democracy, our own brand of conversation; it’s not a Delta Spirit song until everyone lays their opinion into it. Because of those opinions it leads to all of us meaning it when we play it. That’s the most important thing to our band.”
Though there are familiar elements in their sound, what first struck me about Delta Spirit was how undeniably indefinable they actually are. When it comes to musicianship, they will always be on the outside, looking even further out. “As a band we are always trying to do as much as we can with what we got and we promise we will continue to do that,” Vasquez says. “Once you realize that something is a status quo in our group then it just becomes immediately unacceptable. There’s always something more, better songwriting, better production—because people deserve it, because there’s a lot more shining shit wrapped in shiny boxes of shit to sell people.”
Vasquez also has an impressive side project, the super-group Middle Brother, which began in 2009 with John McCauley (Deertick) and Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) inviting Vasquez to join them at a cabin in Nashville to record. The three frontmen consummately blend their talents, each playing to their own considerable strengths. “I came out to Nashville and we had a week together in a studio,” Vasquez recounts, “I landed from the plane, cracked a beer and we tracked three songs the first night and it just kind of went on like that. Except there were more songs every night, we kept going later into the evening and by the end of the week of recording, we had done twenty songs.”
The self-titled album was recorded mostly live, “A lot of us had leftover songs or songs we wrote up there and we just hammered them out,” he says. “There was no thought process or production really—it’s almost all live.” Middle Brother’s debut record was released March 1st, on Partisan records and will be supported by a US tour.
In the following months, Delta Spirit return to the studio to track some new material, as well as being one of the acts to play at Coachella Music Festival in April. No matter your taste in music, Delta Spirit has an elicit way of producing music with a sentiment for the dreamers discontented, dreamers frustrated with the nature of their world—they may invariably bring out the spirit you think you might have lost.