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“You need to be the song.” | An Interview with Matthew Vasquez of Delta Spirit

Originally published on KDHX.org

Delta Spirit can be a hard band to get a handle on.

Part of that is because the band navigates comfortably between the margins of folk and rock, blending together a rich style of West Coast daydreams and cityscape rock ‘n’ roll. It could also be because the band is gearing up for a huge, cross-country tour in support of its new album, “Into the Wide.” One of the band’s last visits to St. Louis brought it to the Pageant opening for My Morning Jacket nearly four years ago. As luck would have it, they’ll set off from their new headquarters in New York, and their second stop will be LouFest on Saturday, September 6, 2014.

Bandleader Matthew Vasquez was kind enough for a quick chat to discuss jails in West Texas, St. Louis’ brisket tacos and trying to be the song.

Kevin Korinek: What’s the craziest thing the band has ever done?

Matthew Vasquez: Well, the craziest things I would never share. Ever.

They have to be pretty crazy then?

We’ve done some crazy stuff. Craziest thing I ever did was climb to the top of the ACL — we played the big stage at Austin City Limits music fest — so I climbed to the top of it and I swung my legs out above the earth. That was scary.

That’s pretty crazy. Was that spur of the moment?

Oh yeah, that was spur of the moment. Things like that have to be, or they’re cheap. And I don’t like feeling cheap. John [Jameson, Delta Spirit’s bass player] sat the night in jail in stripes in Sierra Blanca, Texas in West Texas for prescription drugs his mom’s doctor gave her to give to him.

Did he get out?

Yeah, we bailed him out. That’s what that whole city is, basically: highway patrol and bail bondsman people. It’s designed to put you in jail. We had an Obama sticker on our car, and the police officer told us, “Well, we’re not smart city liberals like you guys.” We were actually closer to the El Paso prison, and he had mercy on John, and he said, “I really should take you to the El Paso prison, but it’s just not right taking a guy like you to El Paso.” I mean, Juarez is a pretty serious place, just across the river. And you don’t want to be in holding there. So he ended up being in holding with two guys who kidnapped somebody (laughs) and a DUI guy who had been there three months and was still awaiting trial. Pretty insane.

Are you touring right now?

We are gearing up for tour! That’s why I’m out here in New York, just flew back into town, and we are rehearsing and getting all of our pre-production ready for this tour. And Loufest is actually gonna be one of the first shows that we get to introduce a lot of our new songs.

We’re really excited about it. We’re gearing up for a 106,000 mile tour, two loops around the United States. We’re rehearsing the new songs to make sure that they’re tour ready. We could stand up and play the song, but to own and live in all the parts where it’s just like a muscle memory and you’re able to focus on what the song is about and what you’re playing — because when you see a band playing and you see them thinking, and you’re trying to show what the song is — you need to be the song. And you can’t do that unless you practice.

Do you prefer playing larger festivals or smaller shows?

Festivals are great. We’ve done the rounds of all of them. They’re a great adventure to play in front of people. It’s also super fun to play a big venue in St. Louis. You know, we’ve been picking at you guys for some time now over the past decade, and we’re really looking forward to playing a proper festival and being able to showcase the songs in front of some new folks that haven’t heard us before.

But there is something to be said of doing your own show, with your own night and own audience, and we haven’t done that in over two years. We’re really excited to get back to doing that, but LouFest is definitely going to be a big one for us, just because with all the excitement for gearing up for this tour. We’re gonna see St. Louis within a week of leaving New York.

You guys have been going on a decade now.

Yeah, we’re about nine now! Our next spring tour will be our 10-year anniversary tour (laughs).

Any big milestones you are particularly proud of?

Well, we almost broke 300 shows in a year. That was pretty crazy. We were 260, 280, somewhere in between that. That was quite a feat. But we’re around our 16th U.S. coast-to-coast tour. It’s all very familiar to us. And it feels really good. We feel really privileged that we get to see almost every bar across the country and drink in their establishment and eat their food — your brisket tacos that you guys have there — so good!.

But we’ve had a lot of good friends in St. Louis. It’s like seeing your relatives when you come in. Kind of having those pick-up-where-you-leave-off friendships and having no sustain in eight years is pretty amazing.

You recently moved locations from California to New York but you also changed record labels from Rounder to Dualtone. How has that transition been?

Well, Rounder has a lot of dead people on their record label. Very nice people, have been believers in our band for a long time, there’s really nothing negative to say about them. I think, being with Dualtone, having our new deal, and being a more solidified band, we were able to get a deal that was more artist-friendly. A lot of times, you have to convince the label to do things and they [Dualtone] are kind of a smaller label, so you’re really only talking to a handful of people about doing certain things, and they’re very open to it. So our vinyl is double-white, 180-gram, vinyl with die-cut cover. So, when you get the vinyl, it has a very “Led Zeppelin III” feel in your hands; you can switch out the portrait and the painting, which is really neat. And having a label that’s willing to do all that is fantastic.

The new album drops September 9 and is already getting a lot of praise. It has a different sound and feel from earlier albums.

It’s definitely the most logical move for our band. Kelly [Winrich, piano] and I are really songwriter-type people, where we write the song because we felt like a song like that should exist. Just as simple as that. And then how we arranged it is just finding those moments that we envision playing in front of people and trying to capture that. Where we were at last record versus this record, I think with the last record — at that time, a lot of things were happening in music and culture, one of them being Mumford and Sons and a lot of people picking up banjos and — I mean, we’ve had a huge drum on stage since 2005 — and when certain elements of your band shouldn’t be made commercial and feel like a schtick — we are very much against that — we ran for the hills as soon as that happened.

We didn’t want to be a lottery band, we just wanted to write songs. And the last record is very reactionally towards that, and we also just wanted to not be pissed and create the kind of music that we want and be very ethereal. And this record is more condensed than that. I wrote 45 songs for the record and the ones that ended up on the album are the ones that band truly believed in. And you can still hear, hopefully, the same soulfulness in the music as in the first and second records. Nothing is surprising, other than the quality of our music continues to raise the bar.

Trying to capture the energy has been our biggest problem. Getting the live show and how that feels on a stereo track has been so hard, just trying to get that to fit right. And so far, maybe it’s lip service, but a lot of people who have heard it so far have really been excited about the epic-ness of this record.

What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to the Jesse Marchant record. His other project is called JBM, and his new record I’ve been listening to so much. And EDJ — Eric D. Johnson from the Fruit Bats, his solo record. Where I’m standing right now, down the block, the guy who produced it lives down the block. He used to play guitar in Apollo Sunshine, one of my most favorite guitar players.

But that record, he’s always had a such a great voice and the lyrics of the songs are so good. Specifically those two. I’ve been traveling a lot. I drove a U-Haul from New york to Austin, and those have just been the thing. That and Bill Haley.

Any words for LouFest fans?

We’re so excited to hang with St. Louis and get chillin’ — can’t wait.

LouFest 2014 takes place in Forest Park in St. Louis September 6-7. KDHX is a media partner of LouFest.

Listen to a track from the new album by Delta Spirit.

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