Once self-released blog-buzz darlings, the ragged, folky rockers of Delta Spirit are now the youngest retro-sounding act on Rounder Records
Delta Spirit front man Matthew Vasquez has a confession to make: “I wrote my first love song in, like, 10 years—since I was in high school. It probably sounds emo.”
Talking from a tour van via an unruly cellular signal, he asks his band mates for their thoughts on the song, which Vasquez penned after the material on the new Ode to Sunshine.
“You can actually tell you have a girlfriend,” one of them chimes in. Vasquez seems to appreciate that.
“I’ve been pretty jaded on that whole topic for a long time,” he says, “or at least I didn’t know how to word it.” That’s not his only songwriting feat of late. “We actually invented a song, finally, that has no minor chords in it, which is a huge success for us.” He also sees the new material as “more rhythmic” and with less “Ray Davies song structure.”
But Delta Spirit won’t start recording another record until at least the fall, as they are busy touring behind Ode toSunshine. Self-produced and self-released a while back, the album was rereleased—with a major push—by Rounder Records, fabled home to everything from Allison Krauss’ prized bluegrass to the late Alan Lomax’s influential field recordings. The San Diego quintet’s raggedly hooky, folk-flecked rock is a good fit for Rounder, though the partnership won’t do anything to stop all those “retro” accusations.
“I think part of that is not using computer programs so much and using as few mics as possible,” Vasquez offers. “As far as songwriting goes, we all listen to old music, and we all listen to new music, too.” Straying from the common practice of recording piecemeal via ProTools, Delta Spirit put their songs to tape mostly live. “There’s tons of bleed [between tracks],” says Vasquez. “So there’ll never be techno remixes.”
As for signing with Rounder after garnering so much blog buzz from the self-release of Ode to Sunshine, he says the band feels great about it. He lovingly calls everyone at the label “a huge music geek” and notes that Rounder A&R rep Dave Godowsky is in a Guns N’ Roses tribute band called Mr. Brownstone with members of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Takka Takka.
Besides, Vasquez doesn’t mind Delta Spirit being the young hotshots on a label full of aging legends. “Kathleen Edwards is the youngest person after us,” he says with a laugh. “We’re the only ones in our 20s, which is awesome. It’s a lot to learn from everyone there, at least from their catalog.”
Coalescing in 2005, the band—Vasquez, Jon Jameson, Brandon Young, Sean Walker and Kelly Winrich—debuted the I Think I’ve Found It EP a year later. After touring like mad for as long as they could, they found time to record Ode to Sunshine during a week in a secluded cabin in the mountains. “It’s not a new idea,” says Vasquez of getting away. “We have this studio-rehearsal space right by the ocean, but repetition wears it out of you. And we wanted a bit more space. There was no pressure.”
That looseness and freedom shows in the album’s 11 chunky pop nuggets, whether it’s the instantly familiar single “Trashcan,” the achingly reverby “Streetwalker,” or the harmonica-spiked busker strum of “People, Turn Around.” Even on the slower numbers, Vasquez strains and projects his voice as if his life depends on it, adding a rough-hewn urgency forged in the live show, where the members change instruments with startling regularity.
“There’s a lot of multi-instrumentalists in our band,” he says, “and a lot of wannabe multi-instrumentalists. [Trading instruments] makes it exciting for everyone to play. You can look forward to that other avenue of playing the music.”
Likewise, at any given moment, the boys will break into a cover of Bill Bush’s “I’m Waiting,” learned from a compilation of Northern soul rarities. They played the tune for their second session on the Daytrotter site, and they’re considering all covers for their upcoming third session. Among the choices thus far are songs by bands they’ve befriended and toured with, from Richard Swift and AA Bondy to Dr. Dog and Mazarin.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Speaking of covers, the circa-’60s image adorning Ode to Sunshine shows Winrich’s uncle in mid-laugh as he holds up a glass of red wine while taking his own picture. (Decades before MySpace, mind you.) Another picture shows him playing Chinese checkers in the bathtub with his wife. Like Delta Spirit, there’s something quaint and old-fashioned yet grabby and exciting about them. “They’re pretty funny,” Vasquez agrees.
Delta Spirit, Dr. Dog and Hacienda perform at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Fri., 9 p.m. $12.