Southern California folk rockers Delta Spirit might best be known for their upbeat 2008 track “Traschcan” off their debut album Ode to Sunshine but their unique country/folk inspired soulful melodies have garnered them a loyal following, especially among musicians. The band was formed after singer Matthew Vasquez was discovered playing on a street bench in San Diego by drummer Brandon Young, bassist Jonathan Jameson, and guitarist Sean Walker (who has since left the band), and they completed their line up with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich. Their recent album, History from Below shows how the band has developed after five years of touring and recording.
So I read a little bit about how Delta Spirit started and it actually made me think of Creedence Clearwater Revival because you guys met up in California but you really sound more like a southern band, how did you really get together?
Well basically Matt and I played in a band in high school and that kind of fizzled out, we kind of went our separate ways and then I met up with Matt again and he had started a band which would be Delta Spirit. It kind of came full circle and I was like, shit, I quit your band to go do something else and I completely regret it and now I wish I was still in your band so I started recording as more of an engineer and producer. I wasn’t really in the band, I was just recording, I played bass and piano on some recordings and it worked out, I started going on tour with them and eventually they asked me to join. Brandon, our drummer, did meet Matt busking at a train station, that’s the most interesting part of the story. Now we have a new guitar player named Will from a band called the Willows and he’s this new guru and will definitely change the direction of the music a little bit.
I heard a funny story about how you guys chose your name, wasn’t it the name of a store one of your uncle’s had?
Yeah, it was Tom’s uncle’s taxidermy store that may have even burned down. We try to keep it all in the family, that’s kind of the epitome of that. We were trying to figure out a sweet name that meant something and we thought it sounded good and that it also has a bunch of other meanings to it, obviously Delta Blues, like Matt made some kind of far-fetched like “Nile Delta” the beginning of human civilization, you can get real weird with it if you want but it all comes down to we liked the way it sounded.
The first time I really became aware of you guys was when I first heard the song “Trashcan” which has become one of my favorite songs and I believe it’s called “Trashcan” because you’re playing a trash can on it- is that true?
Yeah, that was one of those situations that was just happenstance. Originally it came from kind of a drunken jam between me and Matt and our other buddy who plays in another band. We have a studio and we were kind of jamming one night, Matt was on piano, I was on bass, and then our other buddy was on drums and Matt just had that lick and I was playing that chugging bass line and we looked at each other afterwards and we were like, oh- we have to remember this and show this to the guys. The next day we showed it to the dudes and Matt started playing the lick but it was dragging, it was 10 times slower than it was the night before and we were like no, it’s gotta be faster. I had been using the trash can during recordings so I just picked it up with a tambourine and set up that 16th beat tempo with it and it just kind of stuck. When we came down to figuring out a name for it nothing was that catchy, we were calling it “trash can song” and then we whittled that down to “Trashcan” for shits and giggles. Originally when we first started playing it we didn’t have any lyrics for it, we had the chorus lyrics, “my love is coming I can barely hardly wait” but beyond that, it’s funny , we were literally making shit up on the spot.
You guys are really an independent band or at least you started out that way. The music industry has changed so much, is it possible to make money outside of touring in music today or do you really need to tour to do well?
Yeah, I think there is definitely money to be made, touring is almost a sure shot as far as guarantees and selling merchandise and we love it but the way to go is publishing, it’s a great way to make money on the side and to still be creative. The last thing you want to do is not have any money and have to get jobs but [with] publishing we get songs on TV shows and movies and it’s a great way to kind of keep us afloat so we can concentrate on making music. I was talking to some friends the other night, they don’t have a record deal yet, and they are going to put out their own record. They are going to license it through a distribution company. They also have a person to go out and find sinks for their music to TV shows and movies [and] they are pocketing all this money straight. They pay their person a percentage for each sink they get but he said they made something like $150 grand on publishing alone and this is with no record label. Now that they have all this money they don’t need a record label, they can pay for marketing themselves, they can pay for the pressing of the CD’s, and they can own their masters and they can still get publishing so they’re set. If I could do it again that might be the smarter way to go but also you want to get to a point where you don’t have all of that on your shoulders when you need someone to kind of head it up for you, that’s the positive part about a record company. It’s definitely a time to be creative in how to be able to have a career in music but not completely sell your soul to the devil which is getting harder and harder by the moment.
When you signed with a label you ended up going with Rounder Records which is an interesting label, sort of this big indie that has these cool folk and bluegrass groups. What’s your relationship like with them?
Well it’s interesting, that was what was more exciting about Rounder, their back catalog and the fact that they didn’t have any young bands on the label. It felt like that was enticing for us because we thought maybe we’d get more attention than the other bands they have but they did that Allison Krause and Robert Plant record that like cleaned out the Grammys so we knew there was money there to be spent. We weren’t really sure if they knew how to break a younger band like us and now we’ve done two records and it’s a little bit more apparent they either don’t know what they are doing as far as breaking a band or it just takes a little bit longer for us. We were all really excited about this record and unfortunate things happened as far as publicity went. It wasn’t set up in time and a lot of people who came to our shows didn’t even know we had a new record out which was baffling so stuff like that you wish you could really control. I think there’s still time for this record; it’s not like the cycles over. With this tour we’re in the process of getting new management and we’re trying to get back some control we never lost but that we did relinquish, I think we are going to try to make it a little more DIY.
Well I should mention that you guys have a new EP, Live from the Waits Room, coming out next week, right?
Yeah, we do. The interesting thing about that is that we had to bootleg our own vinyl because the record label couldn’t get it done in time. We called in a favor, we didn’t personally but our managers called in a favor to Jack White, he has his own vinyl record printing plant and he expedited these vinyl’s for us so we will have them exclusively for this tour. We’ll have 300 copies and kind of spread them out for each show and make sure everyone has a chance to get at it.
I was just listening to it and the EP definitely has a more alt-country feel but you also have a real interesting cover of the classic folk tune, “John Henry,” which ironically has a Jack White-Tom Waits feel to it. It’s interesting because all the other songs are so folksy and then you have this almost punk rock version of John Henry. What made you guys decide on that sound?
Well [we] were just like let’s have some fun and see what happens. We recorded an alternative version of “Bushwick Blues” and “The Devil Knows You’re Dead” and then we recorded the song “The Flood.” Originally it was going to go on the record but then we decided not. Matt has a new song which was the last song on the EP called “My Dream” which is a great song and it might even end up on the next record with a little bit more production. We wanted to record “John Henry” for the record but we didn’t and we actually hooked up back at the studio and were like, alright let’s do something crazy, we love that cover song, we wanted to just kind of make it fun and a little more punk rock like you said.
Speaking of genres there’s definitely that old school 60’s folk feel to many of your songs and I also happened to read the description of your band by Sean Moeller, who runs Daytrotter, who mentions The Newport Folk Festival in his description of the band, have you guys ever played Newport?
We are playing this year, 2011. That’s another thing, this last year as far as the festival was concerned, and unfortunately the timing wasn’t right for our record coming out at a certain time. A lot of these festivals were picking bands that were kind of like building on their record cycle and we hadn’t even started ours yet, we wanted to play Newport, we wanted to play Sasquatch, Coachella, you know, but we’re going to do all that stuff next year. We’re on Coachella next year and then Newport and then a couple of other festivals so were pretty excited about that
I’m glad to hear it, you know, there’s sort of a growing folk and Americana scene that you guys seem to be part of along with bands like: Elvis Perkins, Dr. Dog, The Dawes, and The Avett Brothers and so on. Do you get a sense that there is something building there musically as an insider?
Yeah, for us I feel like it might be a blessing and a curse but I don’t think we really want to stick to one genre, you know? Where Dr. Dog, they have a very distinct sound, very Beatles/Beach Boys, Dawes, same kind of thing. When you hear a Taylor Goldsmith song, you know it’s a Taylor Goldsmith song. They are in this The Band meets Creedence meets like Jackson Brown. We toured with these bands and you kind of pick up what these guys love to do and it works great for them but for us it might be as simple as- we haven’t found exactly what we love yet. We like everything so much that we want to incorporate it all so as far as that new age folksy scene, we’re friends with all those dudes but I think, we really don’t want to be stuck there.
How successful do you guys feel as a group? Or you personally, are there big ambitions you have specifically or are you just sort of letting it go organically?
That’s the most comfortable way to do it, to let it go organically, but there’s also measures you can take to kind of expedite the process and get to the next level, obviously we want to have a career in music but I think first and foremost we want to make music we all believe in, as cliché as that sounds. We welcome success but it’s just difficult to say how we get there, it may be a slow burn like say, My Moring Jacket or Wilco, they started off and then later on in their career they had a critically acclaimed record so you know, it just depends. We don’t really know exactly how it works because I can’t really read people’s minds but I think if we just keep making music and write songs that we think are amazing, that’s the most important part to us.
Absolutely, I know you guys recently played Webster Hall in New York, last time you were in town at Piano’s you had Gordon Gano from The Violent Femmes come up and play with you, which was awesome, was that planned at all or did it just kind of happen?
Yeah, we were freaking out, he is a fan of the band and he got in touch with our booking agent and said he wanted to open a show for us and we were like, hell yeah! We are all big Violent Femme fans when we were younger and there is a YouTube video of us playing that song with Gordon and you can see my face the whole time and I have a dumb grin on my face just like staring at the guy like there is no way I’m playing with Gordon Gano. It was awesome, it was just one of those once in a lifetime things.