point Delta Spirit were considered one of those outfits at the helm of the
Americana movement. With four albums to their credit, a host of film and
television contributions, frequent festival appearances, a committed fan
following, and widespread critical acclaim, they gave every impression that
stardom was all but inevitable.
Then it all came to a screeching halt. Despite the fact that the band’s fourth album Into the Wide brought them their highest chart reach to date, they mutually agreed to go their separate ways. After nearly a dozen years, it appeared to be over.
Not that the individual members didn’t keep busy. Indeed, Matthew Logan Vasquez, one of the band’s most persistent prime movers, found plenty to occupy his time in the group’s absence. He participated in two ad hoc outfits, Glorietta and Middle Brother, each a supergroup for sorts, and released three albums on his own. Yet when Delta Spirit opted to reconvene in 2018 for a series of jam sessions simply for the sake of seeing if a reunion might be plausible, he was happy to pursue whatever possibilities would await.
Fortunately, the chemistry was still there and the decision to venture further paid off, courtesy of a striking new album, tellingly titled What Is There. Vasquez and his bandmates — multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich, bassist Jonathan Jameson, guitarist Will McLaren, and drummer Brandon Young — may have indeed made their masterpiece. It that finds them operating on all cylinders yet again, courtesy of a set of songs that’s powerful, personal and everything their followers would expect after an absence of six years.
Vasquez is unabashedly honest when offering the reason why the group decided to take a hiatus. He admits he had no way of knowing if it would be temporary or last a lot longer.
“At the end of every cycle and every project I was involved in, I would pop my head out of the studio or whatever — or pull my head out of my own ass, so to speak — and ask, ‘Hey, is this band ready to go again? Is it going to happen?’ “ he recalls. “We really had to stop it to save our friendship, and that’s what we did. In 2015, we kind of looked around and thought that the band was going to break up soon anyway. You have a lot of expectations every time you put out a record, and every time Delta Spirit put out a record, we were always very excited. We’d say, ‘This is the one, man!’ It’s like the Wilco experience. Jeff Tweedy said it throughout his entire career — ‘This is it man, this is the one that’s going to make us all famous!’ So I think after that, you’re bound to grow a chip on your shoulder about the whole process, and I don’t think anybody in our band wanted to be bitter about the experiences we had, because they’ve been awesome. But then sometimes someone would say, ‘I just want more.’ But you’d have to ask, ‘What more do you really want?’”
Vasquez says he had his own ideas, and it was that sense of urgency that convinced him to keep his creative juices following, even if it meant channelling them in new directions. “My thing was that it took too long to make Delta Spirit records, and I had a lot of songs backed up at that point,” he maintains. “I needed to have a different style of writing — more journalistic, first person, more ‘songwritery’ — I wanted make a rock and roll record that didn’t sound like it was recorded in your bedroom, more ‘70s sounded, kind of like Jeff Lynne. And it was great. We all had separate interests and we needed to pursue our separate muses to be able to come back with something in our hands that would make us care again. And we did.”
Ultimately it took two years to make the record that would culminate in their comeback. Although they recorded it piecemeal in various locations throughout the U.S., Vasquez insists that the effort was well worthwhile.
“We’re still finding our groove,” he suggests. “When we first started playing together again in 2018, it was like ‘well, we’ll see’ but then we just started playing a bunch of our older tunes from our catalog. That kinetic thing was still there. That’s what made our band so great. We don’t have to have a verbal communication to click in or for it to be great. That’s the power of a real band. It’s just there. Nobody has to dictate when you have that kind of connection. So yeah, it took some time. It took six years, but we were able to get back together and be kinetic again. That told us, yeah we can make a record. We came up with six or seven ideas in two days, and those got recorded, and then Kelly and I wrote lyrics for them, or changed a few chords, but at least we had the drum groove.”
Clearly then, the bond had never been completely broken, so when they reconnected, it was merely a matter of securing the symmetry that had sustained them from early on. The fact that they were working without Tchad Blake, the man behind the boards for several of their earlier albums, added another unknown element to the proceedings.
“We’ve known each other since we were teenagers and we’ve always had the DIY mentality,” Vasquez points out. “We’ve worked with producers in the past, and this is the first record where we didn’t have someone calling the shots and no one else making suggestions. That was cool, and that’s been true since our first record. But where we are now, and with what Kelly’s learned as an engineer and what I’ve learned as an engineer, it’s like we wanted to make a record that’s fun to listen to. And you can’t make that in your bedroom. All the songs are cinematic, and just energetic rock music. It’s different from our last record which had every kind of reverb. Several of the new songs came out of that first jam in 2018. They just lived off that grid and those demos. We could only do it that way, because we were getting together only a little at a time.”
The fact that Vasquez was living in Norway at the time — where he had moved at the behest of his Norwegian wife — created challenges of its own, both personally and professionally. “We were contributing ideas via long distance,” he recalls. “Our band is currently tri-coastal and international, because one of us lives in Montreal. That was crazy enough, but when it was in transatlantic it was even more crazy.”
Delving deeper into the album, it becomes apparent that the song titles reflect the fact that there were relationships, both individually and collectively, were not only in flux, but providing some inspiration within the album as well. When asked, Vasquez agrees to sort out that scenario.
“The title track is asking the question, what is our journey, what is around the next corner?,” he relates. “It’s about each member and what the journey is for them. For me, it’s been pretty tough, especially moving to Norway where I was pretty anonymous. I spent a lot of time on the road touring, and when I wasn’t on the road, my wife was a single mom. Plus, spending time in so much snow is not fun. It’s not beautiful when you’re sliding down a hill because you forgot your cleats. The sun went down at three in the afternoon. So living there and being on perpetual tour — that combination was tough for my wife and me and our relationship. So I was documenting all that journal-style without missing a beat. What I brought to the table writing-wise was very much the other end of discontentment and how we can work out. Kinda like John Lennon with Double Fantasy. That kind of thing. And man, I was not doing so great. Now I’m doing a lot better. The songs Kelly brought to the table had to do with him going through a relationship and how things went the other way. So you have these mutual songs of heartbreak, and some are songs of heartbreak and that’s it. There are also songs about heartbreak and reconciliation, and then there’s are also songs about heartbreak within the band. That song on the album, ’It Ain’t Easy,’ is about that…our band friendship and our band relationship.”
To those points, Vazquez says that his own writing is rarely random, and that he often has headier issues in mind. “I don’t just write songs about love and breakups,” he maintains. “I write songs about life and death, small stuff and bullshit. I just wrote a song about Jane Pauley. She’s so cool! I can’t wait for people to hear that one.”
Despite having the new album under their collective belts, progress is of course stalled at the moment due to the pandemic. For his part, Vasquez says he’s been content to cool his heels while waiting it out. “It would be one thing if it was our’s was the only band that has to sit out 2020. I’d go crazy. It takes practice and acceptance, and to be honest, it would have taken a pandemic for me to take this time off. But I’ve been really enjoying it. I have four year-old son and I got to teach him how to swim this summer, I got him off his training wheels and we’re just having a ball. We have river access and we’re always swimming and fishing — all that stuff. Right now we would have been getting ready to go out on tour, but we had to push it all back. We were thinking it was going to be fun. The band was really going to be on fire by this point. But we’re going to be fine. We’re good, man. It’s going to be okay. And I’m grateful for that. If anyone has an advantage at this point, it’s the band that’s been around for 15 years. I want to see this affiliation succeed.”
Check out our review of the latest album.