Delta Spirit Find Strength in Friendship and Fresh Takes on Old Tunes
Photo by Matthew Pandolfe
Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit is a consummate professional who doesn't let anything get in the way of the task at hand, even as he's hopping up and down on one foot and howling in pain because a bee decided to be an asshole.
Vasquez — whom fans know as Delta Spirit's cackling Cheshire Cat of a throat-flaying frontman — is easily excitable, a dude who hardly just stands there and sings behind a microphone. He jumps, he skips, he stage-dives, he belly-flops onto the front row, and his hands are raised above his head and clapping when they're not going to work on his guitar at any given tour spot. He's an excitable dude who favors motion over anything else. It's no surprise, then, that when Vasquez gets stung by a bee in the middle of a thought, he hollers for a minute — the cartoony exclamation points at the end of his "OWWWWW!"s are practically sprouting up through the phone's receiving end in 2-D comic-strip conversation bubbles — and then he calls right back. He may be taking a breather and going for a dip off the shores of Lake Michigan before Lollapalooza and getting stung by a goddamned bee on the beach, but he's got things to do, stories to tell and songs to sing. He's gotta keep moving.
Currently, Vasquez and Delta Spirit are hosting a traveling party of sorts, a tour that serves as a roving residency where the indie rockers invite various musician friends of theirs to join them and perform a short set in the midst of their own. Aptly titled "An Evening With Delta Spirit and Friends," the tour — which stops through the Warsaw on August 7 — has coaxed members of the Violent Femmes, Dawes, and Deer Tick, plus other like-minded amigos in rock, to come up and approach Vasquez's mic as he sidesteps into a supporting role. It's a natural move for Delta Spirit, in that they've always been a band that enjoys the company of their friends on the road: When Vasquez teamed up with Deer Tick's John McCauley and Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith for Middle Brother, the indie supergroup that released a self-titled album in 2011, all three bands hit the road together in support of the collaboration. Middle Brother tunes still make their way into Delta Spirit sets on occasion — "Blue Eyes" made an appearance when Goldsmith hopped onstage for the Delta Spirit and Friends performance in Los Angeles back in June — so why not go with the flow and get other friends involved? After touring concluded for their latest album, Into the Wide, late last year, Delta Spirit wanted to try something different, and a new approach to the live show with buddies in tow made the most sense.
"This is kind of our ten-year anniversary tour, also," Vasquez says of their Delta Spirit and Friends jaunt. "We already did the rock production tour in the fall and had so much fun doing that, of course. But all of these radio performances that we have been doing with stripped-down instrumentation or a different presentation of the song — we really wanted to build a whole tour around it. The 'and Friends' was just another idea on top of it — we thought, 'Why don't we get our friends to come?' Jonny Fritz, Robert Ellis, Jessica Lea Mayfield — it's been so much fun. It's made the tour. Everyone's on their best behavior, too, because we're all traveling together. It's been really fun."
Delta Spirit reworked every aspect of the show to mark the occasion, and created a new stage setup to match this new penchant for softer sounds. One of the most breathtaking moments in their current set is when Vasquez waits for the venue to quiet before he launches into an unplugged "Vivian," the somber lullaby off 2010's History From Below. While the song itself is enough to force even the chattiest of concertgoers to fall silent for a sec, the D.I.Y. lighting operation complements this beautifully, as Delta Spirit crafted a constellation of caged Edison bulbs and microphone stands to illuminate them in an intimate way.
"I think we've been getting better at it, especially with how these arrangements are," says Vasquez of Delta Spirit's softer (and more softly lit) side. "It requires a lot from our audience. Normally, we're this crazy, rockin', loud party band. To do the other thing, we have to give people that from us."
From here, Delta Spirit will continue to tour with their friends and dole out surprises in the hours they take over any given stage for their soiree, but the changeups don't stop there. Vasquez's immediate plans involve finishing up this tour, returning to Austin, where he resides, and heading back out on the road in support of new solo material he'll release before the next Delta Spirit record is in the works. "I finished an EP I'm going to be putting out this fall, and then I'm going to put out an EP called Austin on vinyl," he reveals. "One whole side will be the song 'Austin,' and it's eighteen minutes long. It's an autobiographical song about growing up in Texas, living in California, living all over, and falling in love, hating God, doing drugs, and coming back from all of that and moving back to Austin." He laughs. "That's what the song's about. I'm doing a residency in California in November and one in January in Texas. In the springtime, I'll probably be back in New York for that. As that’s going on, we'll be writing and recording the next Delta Spirit record."
His solo stuff moves in a different direction — "If it sounded like Delta Spirit, it'd be a Delta Spirit record" — but the strides to the side keep Vasquez writing, both on his own and with Delta Spirit. "Everything [on the solo EP] is straightforward rock 'n' roll with very literal songs," he says. "I'm going to go tour while doing this so I can go work out other songs. For the last record, I wrote 45 songs. This next record, I want to make sure that our next Delta Spirit record is something everyone really appreciates and likes. I love [Into the Wide]. We always put so much into the album. But I also want to fuckin' play rock 'n' roll music sometimes, the regular kind, the cheeseburger-tasting kind. Broad, stereo, sweeping, epic sounds — instead of that, I want to make sounds from a band that sounds like it belongs in a bar."
But that's the beauty of Delta Spirit: Whether or not they're making "cheeseburger-tasting" rock 'n' roll that serves as the soundtrack for Vasquez's belly-flopping, crowd-surfing, screaming-himself-hoarse antics or patiently waiting for the din to die down before breaking three hundred hearts with "Vivian" alongside their pals, they're at home in motion. They're present in the moment, enjoying the company in the room and making something great out of what they have in front of them. And not even a dumb bee can get in the way of that.
Delta Spirit and friends take over Warsaw on August 7. For ticket information, click here.
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