We set the timer and snuggle in with our favorite new bands in the Impound’s version of speed dating with a killer-diller soundtrack.Chris Robinson once sang, “Some like their water shallow/ I like mine deep, so very deep/ Tied to the bottom with a noose ’round my feet.” This lyric sometimes pops into my head while listening to Delta Spirit, who are an intense bit of deep water who actively tussle with death, God, creation, capital “L” love and other large concepts. There aren’t a lot of chirpy boy-girl ditties in this San Diego band’s oeuvre, but there are tales of Russian revenge, St. Francis and bleeding bells. When they do delve into romance it has a loft and beauty that touches on the best parts of what two people can do for one another, or alternately, what intense wrong humans are capable of. Broadly, there’s not a lot that strikes one as casual about Delta Spirit, yet their music is infused with the joy Noah must have felt when that dove returned to the ark with a twig in his beak – a small, green sign that the flooding days are over and dry land and sunshine are near.
Matthew Vasquez (vocals/guitar), Jon Jameson (bass), Brandon Young (percussion), and Kelly Winrich (multi-instrumentalist) create a sound that’s intense and alluring, often riding the current of Vasquez’s gorgeously cracked voice, slipping past our defenses and tenderizing us from within. Where their instantly striking debut Ode To Sunshine (2008) overflowed with energy and stomping intent, this year’s follow-up History From Below (released June 8) is a subtler, sturdier affair. Helmed by the band with longtime collaborator Elijah Thomson (Everest) and My Morning Jacket keyboardist Bo Koster, History wanders in lush psychological fields, often taking a gentle hand to heavy things and coaxing surprising revelations loose. Everywhere the band shows signs of growth, and that impression continues on the fab new Waits Room EP (released November 16), which features a couple new numbers, including a searing, raunchy version of “John Henry,” and splendid acoustic versions of History’s “Bushwick Blues” and “Devil Knows You’re Dead.” Taken together with Delta Spirit’s positively apostolic live presence, this band is simply one of the best things going today.
Read on to see what Brandon had to say in his chat with the Impound.
- Why do you think you’re a musician?
- I think all of us just get bored with regular jobs, and there’s a slight bit of ADD in all musicians.
- I think sometimes people get this impression of musicians as quite serious and that answer nicely undercuts that notion.
- There’s nothing serious about us unless we’re in the studio, and that only happens in hour intervals [laughs].
- I do think that one could get the impression that Delta Spirit are serious folks given the intensity and spirituality of your music, which isn’t common to rock ‘n’ roll, especially these days. How do you approach such dense ontological ground?
- I’m glad you asked that because there’s a lot of bands that shun the idea of seriousness. I think there’s spirituality to every kind of music, whether that means you go onstage and preach about Jesus Christ or you go onstage and masturbate in front lf 50,000 people. There’s seriousness in everything, a point you’re trying to get across. For us, we all have way different backgrounds spiritually, non-spiritually, with our families, etc., and there are definitely some undertones of searching or figuring something out in our music. The seriousness with us comes from us just being honest people. We don’t want to go out there and just put on a show or say something crazy in an interview because it’ll get more press. We just want to be a bunch of dudes that play music and that’s who we are.
- You can make music that’s serious without being overly serious in how you approach it.
- Live, you don’t get the same heaviness and seriousness with Delta Sprit that infuses a lot of the studio work. How do you find that things change as you bring the material into the light and play it in concert?
- We always try to do trial runs of songs. There are only a few songs we’ve put on records that we hadn’t played live first. It’s like putting something into a machine and seeing what comes out at the end of it. We can write songs all day long, but they’ll never be a Delta Spirit song until we start playing them live. Jon or I will put in something that wasn’t written and we’ll all go off on that. Playing new songs live for us is actually shaping it into something we’ll end up recording. It’s almost a must for us. Matt and Kelly are the main songwriters but when we bring a song into the live setting or the studio, one of the main goals for Jon and I is to fuck it up as much as possible, to push it to its limits. We’ll say, “That chord sounds great, but let’s try this one that sounds bad just to go down that road.”
- I love that. It shows a real engagement with the material. It’s a very good sign when I can hear something new each time I spin a record, which has certainly been the case with History From Below. That attitude of “messing with it a bit” is audible to the listener. It seems like you guys ask a lot of questions, both of the music and the universe. Are you quizzical, thoughtful people as a group?
- To a certain extent, especially Matt. He’s extremely immature in so many areas, so he’s taking his first steps in so many areas, which is really fun and brings you back to when you were young. But there’s this other side of Matt where he’s like 65-years-old. He’ll read the most ridiculous books, where one day he’s this crazy atheist who thinks we came from weird molecules that grew out of a beetle. So, there’s a constant questioning of what our surroundings are and what our relationships are about and why is music like this. There’s a constant struggle that makes things great. When he figures things out, they become boring.
- What was it like having Bo Koster play on and help produce Heaven?
- Bo is fucking great! He came to us through our guy Eli, who’s been behind the scenes with us since day one. He was just a fan of the band and wanted to team up with Eli to help co-produce the band. He’s such an incredible musician, classically trained, so he can just write up stuff he’s never heard before. We don’t really have that kind of schooling behind us, so it was great to have someone come in and just know how certain chords blend or that a given song works going straight to organ and another has no organ allowed but we’ll do some space age keyboard stuff we’re not used to. He kept pushing us to other dimensions and levels. Also, he’s such a kind-hearted guy, so patient and a lot of fun. It makes things more musical for him to be with us. We’re all huge fans of My Morning Jacket and the approach they take things musically and in the business direction, too. So, it was really, really, really encouraging for him to be with us for those couple of months, holding our hands through things and teaching us stuff. Both he and Eli helped move us to the next level without making things overproduced. I feel he brought out stuff in us we didn’t know we had.
- So, what’s usually going through your head right before you go onstage?
- I’ve dealt with anxiety all my life, and if I get something in my head I have a chemical imbalance where I automatically know or think it’s going to happen. There have been a couple times I’ve almost passed out onstage, either from being dehydrated or something. One time I cracked my nose and was bleeding so profusely I started to black out. I had to walk away from the stage and Matt had to sing 3 or 4 songs by himself. It was the first time we ever sold out the El Rey and I was super embarrassed. So, the first thing that goes through my head before I go onstage is a fear that I will pass out.