Their most beloved song, arguably, is called “California,” and Delta Spirit’s Cali roots do run deep. But the band has no hometown currently. Spread out in three cities across the U.S. now, the musicians are picking up broader and deeper geographic undertones and merging them in the songwriting process.
spoke with singer Matt Vasquez while the band was performing a run of shows at SXSW in Austin, Texas. They’re eyeing a broader U.S. tour this month and next, and, six months out from the last album, there’s a lot going on in the world of Delta Spirit.
The band came together 10 years ago when bassist Jonathan Jameson and drummer Brandon Young met Vasquez via the Orange County busking scene. Vasquez’s longtime friend, multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich, came onboard to help record the fledgling band’s first EP. I Think I’ve Found It
has that coming-of-age, raucous Americana sound to it, a rougher-around-the-edges portent of what was to come.
This was back during what Vasquez calls the “label apocalypse,” a time when the music industry was shifting dramatically. Job security in the business was low, so the young band formed its ethos around writing songs for themselves.
“I had weird things said to me, like ‘You’re Bruce Springsteen,’ and blah blah blah,” Vasquez says. “It’s patronizing. And that’s a really heavy thing to say to a 20-year-old, and that gets tossed around to a lot of 20-year-olds. Not all 20-year-olds can be Bruce Springsteen. No, we’re gonna be us and we’re gonna play our songs. We have better management now, smart people around us that we trust.”
A fine mix of gentler, more reserved songs and raucous rockers has been a consistent hallmark of the band. They’re songwriters willing to touch on different sounds. Check out “From Now On” vs. “Take Shelter” on the latest album, last fall’s Into the Wide
, for example. Musically, those tunes are quite different. Lyrically and thematically, they cover similar territory: that lifelong need to take stock of what’s come and to determine how to react and move forward.
“I think the goal is cohesiveness,” Vasquez says. “Each record we’ve made kinda has its own voice. We really toiled with the voice of this one, so that when we went into the studio with these songs it only took a month to make.” The band had written 45 songs for the album, stretching their musical legs as they settled into life in New York City.
Whereas the band’s earlier stuff is awash in distinctly southern California tones, Into the Wide
was written in NYC. But back in 2012 the band found themselves, in a sense, in the midst of a national disaster.
Hurricane Sandy struck in the fall of that year, crashing hard into the NYC and other cities along the coast. The band’s studio space was located along the English Kills, a tributary jutting off Newtown Creek and separating Brooklyn from Queens. It’s one of the most polluted waterways in the U.S., rife with raw sewage and spilled oil.
“The storm surge is what really got a lot of us in New York,” Vasquez says. “We just lost stuff. I’ll take that any day; so many people lost so much more. But, you know, we had six feet of EPA toxic water. That was the water that got into our studio space. We were on tour, so we didn’t lose everything. But all the recording equipment was done.”
Thus began a yearlong rebuilding phase and the intensive writing process for what would become Into the Wide.
The album opens with “Push It,” a gently sprawling ballad that conjures freeway visions of passing power lines and pastures. Here, Vasquez shows off his Texicali dialectical roots and proves that he can belt with the best of ‘em. Swirling instrumentation accents his vocal work, and the band succinctly blends near-psychedelic synth work against a more contemporary chord progression.
That sort of structure is symptomatic of broader juxtapositions riddled throughout the band’s canon.
For instance, Vasquez recently cut a video for “Language of the Dead.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek lo-fi romp through outer space, where a giant cat is seen toying with a miniature Agamemnon on the moon and Vasquez is singing the song from inside a bubble. Standard stuff like that.
“The record label gave us $500 to make a music video,” he says. “So that was kinda the challenge: What do I make for $500? I bought a 20x20 green screen off Amazon. I rented costumes and had some friends come over. We shot it, and I edited it for about a week.
“I think we’re generally very funny people, and this is definitely a darker record,” Vasquez says of the contrast inherent in the video.
Later this year, summer tour will continue to mark the latest album’s successes. Vasquez says that this current tour and what’s to come in the summer will involve more intimate settings. “Into the Wide” and “Patriarch” are likely going to see more setlist appearances. The title track off the album is a sweeping, guitar-laden trek — almost prog-rock at times — that should positively shine onstage.
“Giving people their money’s worth at this point is playing the best songs we’ve written,” Vasquez says. “Not all of them are at 11. Some of them are, though, so it’s all about mixing it up and taking them to those places.”
With Avid Dancer and the Modern Electric
8:30 p.m., Saturday, March 28, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $17 in advance, $19 day of show, beachlandballroom.com