It's 10 a.m. on a Friday, and singer Ben Ringel is helping his band navigate to their next show in Bakersfield after a pit stop in Las Vegas. Maintaining a busy schedule with nearly 200 shows per year has become the norm for the Nashville-based Delta Saints, and with their second album, Bones, set for release on August 7 and the recent departure of drummer Ben Azzi, life is busier than normal.
“Being in a band is a lot like being in a marriage, for better or worse,” Ringel says in a phone interview between giving directions. “I spend more time with these guys than I do my own wife.”
Lucky for Ringel, then, that the Delta Saints are all friends. Formed by Ringel and bassist David Supica while studying at Belmont University in 2007, the band went full-time with guitarist Dylan Fitch, keyboardist Nate Kremer and Azzi in 2010, with a rock sound heavily influenced by Delta blues— hence the name.
Despite the early blues influence, however, Ringel says they're leaning away from that in favor of playing a more modern rock style on Bones. Modern rock can mean any number of things, but for the Delta Saints it's a swampy sound with a kick, born of their native bayou surroundings. Bones has its quiet moments, where sleepy tempos match reflective lyrics about environmental tragedies (such as the flooding in “Butte La Rose”) and their own long journey (“Sometimes I Worry”). The real sticking points occur when the band races away with songs like “Heavy Hammer,” as if the rhythmic traditions of their bluesy past are too restrictive to hold them any longer.
Like most long-term relationships, it can be easy for a band to fall into routines, especially when it comes to the creative process. The Delta Saints are used to testing and tweaking new songs for months on the road before setting foot in the studio. It's a system they nailed down on all their previous recordings, a collection that includes two EPs and their first full-length album. They got a chance to try something new for Bones, and headed directly into Nashville's Sputnik Studios to attempt on-the-spot creativity, a daunting challenge for a band used to following inspiration rather than generating it.
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Steering the project was Eddie Spear, a former producer and engineer for Jack White's Third Man Records. Ringel credits Spear with pushing the Saints past their comfort zones to practice songwriting styles they'd never tried. “You definitely get into patterns,” Ringel says. “On this new record we essentially got into it with a year and a half of really hard touring, so we didn't have a lot of time to sit, write and take [the songs] out on the road. It was a necessity that we go into the studio and write half the album, which was a crazy experience.”
A year after they started recording, the band released the album's first single, “Heavy Hammer.” With a driving beat and vocal yelps voicing frustration in lyrics about workplace struggles, it's relatable and entertaining, but it's not Ringel's favorite.
“There's one song in particular called ‘Butte La Rose,'” Ringel says. “I think it was one of the most special recordings we've been part of. That was completely in that moment in the studio, vibing off the creativity.”
In lieu of jotting down song ideas between tour stops, the Delta Saints turned to music and personal experiences for inspiration. The West African band Tinariwen, a Delta Saints favorite, influenced the riffs in the title track. “Dust” started with a Netflix viewing of a Ken Burns documentary about the Dust Bowl and a discussion with Ringel's grandfather, a farmer who survived the drought. Meanwhile, “Berlin” actually did have its start on the road, born during a chance recording session in Germany.
“We all listen to very different music individually and we all bring those influences into the songwriting process,” Ringel says. “The first time I heard the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers, I listened to that record and was so excited at the end of it. I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh: somewhere a group of people made this. Music like this can be done.' All that any of us ever wanted to do was share that experience with other people through the music we're writing.”
Ringel knows that concerts can have the same electrifying effect on an audience. “When I go to a really fantastic show, it's almost like taking a nap, where you wake up refreshed because you're able to just escape.
“It's always hard being away from home, away from your loved ones and all that, but I think we all look forward to being on the road because we have a good time together,” he continues. “We really just want to create an experience that you can connect with and dive into, and hopefully leave feeling some sort of positive emotion: refreshed or excited about music.”