Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sound and Vision: My Interview with Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit

We made the following comment about Delta Spirit awhile back: They really are a barn burner of rock and soul. Delta Spirit will make you dance, lift your spirits, and reveal the beauteous sound that is the top to a metal trashcan.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of attending a Delta Spirit show yet, it’s a lot like an old-timey church revival without the snake handling. Theirs is a stage full of energy, of singing, screaming, dancing, an organized chaos with multiple people playing multiple instruments, a fist full of, well, feeling. I've caught them twice in the last little while, the first time at The Rock and Roll Hotel (Photos), and most recently when they were the middle opening band for Nada Surf at the 930 club (Photos). The RnR Hotel show was good, but the 930 Club show was just flat out white hot. No lie, I haven't seen a band and an audience that "in the moment" with each other like that in some time. People around me were rapturously glued to the band’s every move, and the band was right there with them. It was a true “come to jesus” moment of the best kind.

Delta Spirit’s sophomore record, “Ode to Sunshine,” wound up on just about everyone’s best-of lists for 2008. Hailing from San Diego, CA, the band is a group of five guys who bonded together four years ago over a seemingly simple (but not always practiced) idea: develop a band they were all really, really excited to part of. Guitarist Jon Jameson and drummer Brandon Young knew each other from playing together in other bands, and they'd become friendly with guitarist Sean Walker--but none of them wanted lead singer duties. So when Young happened upon Matt Vasquez and his arena-worthy voice busking in a local train station super-late one night, Young, having ears and not being dumb, got his contact info.

It's probably a safe bet that everyone is really, really glad Young takes public transportation. Vasquez not only came onboard as lead singer shortly thereafter, but when the band decided to record some demos, Vasquez contacted Kelly Winrich, his high school buddy and family friend, to see about using the Winrich family home recording studio. (The Winrichs aren’t professional musicians, no, but they probably should be...let’s just say that the Winrich family gene for musical talent isn’t recessive by a long shot.) The Winrich-house demos became 2006’s "I Think I've Found It,” with Winrich producing. Before long, Winrich was playing with the band as well as producing, so he joined the group full-time as a multi-instrumentalist.

During Delta Spirit’s recent jaunt with Nada Surf, Vasquez and I chatted by phone about the band, the “I Fought the Law and the Law Won” tour, and colored underwear.

BL&L: You've been out on tour with Nada Surf for the past month or so. How did things go this time out?

MV: This time out is really great. It's new for us because we've pretty much known everyone before going out on a long tour. We actually missed our first show because John got arrested. We actually made a film of it, like on a digital camera, and Kelly, our piano player like walked around with it like hidden camera star around the jail. And we did it to the music of Brian Eno's stuff from "Traffic." It's really funny and we're gonna post it, Sean from Daytrotter is gonna post pretty soon.
(Editor's Note: Sadly, I just got word that the film is lost due to theft. The thieves who broke into the band's van in NJ are apparently "Macs" and took the laptop that the film was on.)

And we just got so many tickets. Sean and I outside Minneapolis, we got two $100 soliciting tickets each for having a conversation walking to the van. We stopped for a second and had a cigarette, waiting for everybody, cop rolls up and gives us two tickets. And then uh...who else got a ticket...Kelly got a ticket for making a left turn on some street he couldn't at a certain time because we were following a GPS. This is the "I Fought the Law and the Law Won" tour. (laughs)

BL&L: I read that you are always recording new material as you travel. Your songs are pretty stripped down-do your tracks change a lot from the initial to the final, or have them been ruminated on a lot prior to recording so that what you record initially is the final?

MV:Yeah. It's very like I'll start something or Kelly will start something, or any one of can start something that is just a bare-bones idea. Maybe it's a song structure or a type of structure with lyrics and it's sorta heading someplace, and everybody else just keeps heading that way, and we ruminate together.

BL&L:That actually leads into the next section, how does a song come together amongst the five of you? I mean, do you guys kind of riff off each other and everyone does their own parts? I mean, you've got Kelly who plays about 45 different instruments (laughs), so how do you work him in and whatnot?

MV:Well a lot of times, considering Kelly can do anything, and whatever he feels like doing, he'll usually just do that. And then I'll fill in a gap...we all just fill each other's gaps up. If Kelly ends up playing guitar, chances are Sean will do percussion, and/or I'll play piano, and they both play guitar. Or you have a trashcan lid and you know...

We're looking into a tum drum, you know those big drums whose sound is very marimba-like; Tom Waits "Bone Machine" used those. We gutted a CP-70 piano, which has this whole pickup system on it. Using that would be really neat because it's got tremble and overdrive. We're not really sure what the next record is going to sound like, but we were up to about 17 songs before we left for tour. And when we come home from Nada Surf, we start demoing the next one.

BL&L: Do you try out any of this new stuff out during a tour?

MV:Totally. But it's been really hard this time around; actually the last couple tours, just cause we've had a middle spot, we've had zero sound checks. On earlier tours with Clap Your Hand Say Yeah and Dr. Dog, we were first of three so we always had that 30 min before doors to work stuff out until they'd start yelling at us. Now we don't have that. So we more so demo it on Garage Band or an MBox, and save it. Show everyone the song obviously, and say, "Just kind of have this in your head." They then put it into their computers, and listen to it once in awhile, and then once we get back, it's like, "Oh I remember that," and get to it.

BL&L: What do y'all do to pass the time while on the road, are there any "van rules" like "No stopping at Hardess or Bojangles"?

MV:In terms of van rules...we just bought a new van. The van we originally had was this total screwed up van that the Cold War Kids gave us for $2000 bucks, and it had vinyl floors and we could do whatever the hell we wanted in it. It had more than 200,000 miles on it. Before the Cold War Kids had it, it was a mental institution van. Basically you could do whatever the hell you wanted in that thing, people smoked with the windows closed while we drove, it just didn't matter.

Now we have a new van, er well, a pre-owned vehicle. And besides all the other problems with having a pre-owned vehicle-like rats actually living in the engine and ate the wiring out, and all sorts of fun stuff-once we got that all figured out, the inside was pretty clean. So now that we have carpet, we can't just run around and be really crazy. So we designated the shot-gun seat as the smoking seat, and you can't smoke anywhere else. But there's 4 out of 5 of us who smoke so it's basically like, round-robin/golden chairs. We built a bed in the back. But we built it too tall so it's like being in a Chinese prison camp. The dimensions are like, you can't sit up, you can't lay flat, you kind of have to always be in a cradle position, and you can barely roll over. Like it's shoulder-wide you know? It's so funny. We're actually touring with a guy who's a buddy of ours from San Diego. He was a guitar tech for As They Lay Dying, the heavy metal group, or hardcore group or whatever their genre is. And he's this huge vegan guy ...and he's always in that back bed. It's just amazing to me how he fits in there. Not that he's crazy fat or anything it's just this long haired blonde guy who's always back there snoring. And he sleeps so deep! We've probably got in two car accidents and he didn't wake up during both of them. It's insane.

BL&L: Anything else beyond the smoking restriction?

MV:When you're a driver, you can listen to anything you want. Except Brandon the drummer really likes techno and that gives me anxiety, so we ruled that out. And then metal is ruled out too. Especially now, our new roadie, he doesn't have an Ipod or anything, he has a 300-cd folder thing that weighs about 20 lbs. And it's like almost every piece of music you can imagine he has in there, metal-wise. Like every Megadeath record, Pantera, Down...it's very funny. Reminds me of junior high. He put Great Southern Train Kill on the other night and was like screaming....broke the rule, but it was really fun though everyone was like "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" But it was really fun.

And we have a Sirius radio that we bummed from Dr. Dog's tour manager. Since it's Sirius radio, it's Howard Stern once a day. We get the Howard 101 news, the Best of the Week, and the Best Ever, so it's really fun, it always kind of puts people in a better mood. The talk radio really helps, especially when it's Stern, because I mean, you got Eric the Midget, cmon, those guys are fucking insane. Stern's a good life lesson because if Stern can treat people good, then we can treat people good. (laughs)

BL&L: You and I had talked before about your first release, the out of print "I Think I've Found It." The sound of it, like the track "Gimmee Motivation" for example, is, well, poppier, for lack of a better word from the tracks on "Ode." Can you speak some about what changes took place between "Found" and "Ode" that made such a dramatic change to your sound?

MV:With that whole period it was kind of "do whatever the hell you want" and that's what it sounded like. And that's who we were when we did that exactly. And when we did "Ode to Sunshine," that's exactly who we were. And when we do the next one, that's exactly who we are then too.

Sound quality wise, we intended that EP to be demos. And we just put our foot down, like we'll be sick of these songs before we get to a full record, which is mostly true. I mean, that's the reason why we haven't played "Gimmee Motivation" in two years now. I actually really miss that song.

-Gimmee Some Motivation_Delta Spirit (from "I Think I've Found It" EP)

We actually found a box right before we left for tour of "I Think I've Found It" vinyl and the cds that we didn't even know existed. So we put it back on sale on this tour and we're just gonna sell it until it's gone.

BL&L: So then do you feel like you'll bring "I Think I've Found It" back in print at some point?

MV:Naaahh...maybe like if, you know, we ever become that band that has a glory days...if we are ever a band that gets to having glory days. We just take it one day at a time here. We're no Joe Strummers...

BL&L: Right, right. Kelly was the band's producer at first. How/why did he move from producing the band to being a member?

MV: Well, I would disagree that he was the producer just because, with the EP, a lot of times, he just turned mikes on and then fell asleep. (laughs) He's really responsible for a lot of drum sounds....it wasn't like he wasn't completely uninvolved. For "French Quarter," he wasn't even in the band but wrote the bass part. And he would do organ tracks and a bunch of things...he'd do good sounds when he was awake. And that was a larger part of the time than when he was asleep. (laughs)

-French Quarter_Delta Spirit (from "I Think I've Found It" EP)

Then with "Ode to Sunshine," he was way more involved. I went to high school with Kelly. We'd played together forever and then when he left, I was super-bummed but he was still a family friend. His parents helped build a a studio with a tracking room and all this great stuff. I've been through so much with him. When Delta Spirit kind of came around and we were getting together demos and stuff, Kelly let us do it for free. His family was obviously totally cool with it. Then things started happening, and he was like "Man I wish I was in your band," and I was like "Are you serious? Are you fucking kidding me?" It was like a dream come true for me. I mean, I love Jon, Sean, and Brandon so much, so having Kelly there too, it was just done for me.

Once that happened, and in terms of production and stuff, he took it way more seriously, and was a whole other thing. And I mean, everyone's opinions and theories about miking and EQs were really involved, but I think Kelly is a huge part of why "Ode to Sunshine" sounds like "Ode to Sunshine."

BL&L: I'm always curious as to what makes people go from appreciators of music to one who has to make music. Can you each speak to your experience with this?

MV:I think I can. It's a crap shoot between my mom and dad showing me a Stevie Ray Vaughn retrospective on television when I was about 5....and I didn't play guitar before then, but I did pick up one and fuck around with it and thought it was the coolest thing on the planet...and then my grandma, she used to work for Fender in '52, she was Leo Fender's sixth employee, so she bought all the boys guitars. I got a Strat. Then my brother's friend showed my brother "Come As You Are" by Nirvana. I learned my first proper guitar song and got crazy into Nirvana and Alice in Chains and Soundgarden and all that.

BL&L: How old were you when you got the Strat?

MV:I was 8 years old, in 3rd grade.

BL&L: Wow it was probably bigger than you were. (laughs)

MV:Yeah actually it was. And it was really fun. It was electric so it was easier to learn how to play. And I learned a bunch of tablatures. As long as I've been playing music, it's been a life lesson for me to not identify who I am with it. You know, I am who I am, not what I do, you know what I mean? For a long time, my whole youth, I always identified with the music I listened to....I always had my White Zombie band tshirt on and all sorts of crazy stuff. In 8th grade, I did a report on Randy Rhodes. I used to listen to Zepplin vinyl in my English class.

BL&L: You must have been a fun kid to have around. (laughs) What music do you recall being played the most in your house when you were a kid? You mentioned Stevie Ray Vaughn...

MV: Yeah Stevie Ray Vaughn, Elvis, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Prince's Purple Rain, Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels Band...that's a lot of my parents' music growing up. The Gipsy Kings...I used to run around my house and...you ever do that trick with the Laz-E-Boys that don't recline, like run up on them and tip them over with your feet? I used listen to that (sings) "Bamboleo, bambolea" [song] and run around in my short shorts, just doing that over and over again. I love the Gipsy Kings! And Charlie Daniels Band, I thought it was the craziest thing because it was the only thing on the radio that said "You son of a bitch" in "Devil Went Down to GA." And I remember going to Little League baseball practice, and hearing that and just being like WHOA!! THAT'S SO CRAZY!!

BL&L: Ryan Roco has done a large number of your press photos...
MV:He's actually with me right now! Him and Josh Ballenger, who does a bunch of video stuff for us, they've both moved to NYC so we picked them up in Brooklyn last night and they're gonna hang out with us. You'll meet them...

BL&L: So Ryan has done your press photos in addition to some odder ones that prove you and Brandon like colored tighty whities...(laughs)

MV:Ahh, they're just cheap Hanes. Go to Target you know! It keeps you sorted out (laughs)

BL&L: I was talking more that he photographed you in them, but that's beside the point. (laughs)

MV:We feel pretty comfortable with Roco-san, he's pretty great. Kelly and Ryan went to high school together, my rival high school. And they've done about everything in terms of getting in trouble. There's actually a whole crew of them. Josh does all the video, Roco does the photos, this other guy Brad "The Jew"...this is a random story but way too funny so I have to tell it-he decided to be a lumberjack and went up to Washington State, looked up on Craigslist for a job. First job offer right, he shows up and the next thing he knows there's a camera on him. And he's on that axe show (Axmen). Ryan is that kind of person too, he and Kelly always do these crazy adventures like fly to Vancouver, take a bus to Whistler to go snowboard. He just got back from Africa....We're all part of the same family just doing different stuff, and sometimes we get fortunate enough to hang out together. He's just so great.

BL&L: That's cool. It sounds like you guys are all very close knit so it's interesting to see that you keep so much like "in the family" if you will.

MV: Well you know, you stick with people you trust. You can handle when someone close to you says some shit to you. It's like, you always know that they're "there."

BL&L: So what's next for you guys? What's happening in the new year for you?

MV: We're very much looking to hang out with our family after this tour, just enjoy not running around. Even though I love running around. It feels way too awkwardly normal these days.

We were going to do a show in NYC for New Years but we just decided to stay home and keep recording and do nothing. I dunno, I might decide to drink a Sprite or something. (laughs)

2009 is going to be really busy. We have an El Ray show the 17th, and we leave for Europe the 18th, for like 10 days. Then we come back home and do a whole February headlining tour. I "think" it's going to end up being Other Lives as the main support band. And then the other opening band is a friend's band we've been promising forever that we'd take out, and finally we have the means to do it. They're this band called Dawes, they're really great. They sound just like The Band if a young Billy Joel that you could really believe in sang. And the drummer is this 18 year-old guy who plays like Levon Helm. The piano player learned bass from Rick Danko but he plays piano, and he's insane. He plays at this speakeasy in LA...they're just these crazy guys. The singer and drummer are brothers, and their dad is the only white singer in Tower of Power, so it's in the family. So that tour is gonna be great. Then we go back to Europe again, then record a record.

We're looking for a place to record actually.

BL&L: Really?

MV:Yeah, Catskills [Mountains] would be great. We really wanna do it on the east coast, out of the way of everything. Maybe not a cabin, maybe just a studio out in the middle of nowhere. So if you own a chic cabin and you're really rich, anybody....(laughs)

Delta Spirit 2009 Tour Dates
Delta Spirit 2009 Tour Dates:
01/16 - Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
02/04 - San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of The Hill
02/05 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
02/06 - Seattle, WA @ The Tractor Tavern
02/07 - Vancouver, BC @ Media Club
02/09 - Boise, ID @ The Neurolux
02/10 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court Gallery (Early Show)
02/10 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge (Late Show)
02/11 - Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive [Buy Tickets] $10
02/12 - Lawrence, KS @ Jackpot Music Hall
02/13 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
02/14 - Chicago, IL @ Double Door
02/15 - St. Louis, MO @ The Gargoyle Club
02/16 - Columbus, OH @ The Basement
02/17 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Brillobox
02/18 - Ithaca, NY @ Castaways
02/19 - Albany, NY @ Valentine's
02/20 - Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Downstairs
02/21 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
02/23 - Charlottesville, VA @ Gravity Lounge
02/24 - Charleston, SC @ The Pour House
02/25 - Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
02/26 - Mobile, AL @ Alabama Music Box
02/27 - Houston, TX @ Walters on Washington
02/28 - Austin, TX @ Emo's (inside) [Buy Tickets] $11
03/01 - Dallas, TX @ House of Blues
03/05 - Santa Barbara @ SOHO Music Club
03/06 - Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up Tavern
(Delta Spirit is also playing SXSW this March in Austin, TX.)

-Strange Vine_Delta Spirit (from Ode to Sunshine)

1 comment:

Bethany Kellen of bunnypicnic said...

i loved this interview! i saw them at bottom of the hill, along with three times before this (with dr dog and matt costa) and this interview is definitely one of my favs.