From left: Kelly Winrich, Jon Jameson, Matt Vasquez and Brandon Young (photo by Samantha West)
I can't see Jon Jameson through the telephone, but I can tell that he's beaming. Recently married, he and his new bride are hard at work moving into a new Craftsman-style house in Long Beach, and his excitement is palpable. The word “stoked” is coming up a lot in conversation. It makes sense—the members of Delta Spirit have a lot to be stoked about.
They've come a long way in the last five years. It wasn't so long ago that drummer Brandon Young happened upon a teenage Matt Vasquez singing on a bench by a trolley station and recruited him into the band, the final piece of the puzzle rounded out by bassist Jameson, producer / multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich and (now former) guitarist Sean Walker. Since then, a word-of-mouth whirlwind and relentless touring with Cold War Kids and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have helped launch Delta Spirit into the buzz realm.
Now, the band is taking a much-needed vacation, having just put the finishing touches on a new album, History from Below.
Delta Spirit handled their own finances for their first full-length, Ode to Sunshine, taking over a cabin in the mountain wilderness of Julian. This time around, signed to Rounder Records, they had a bigger budget. “But we ended up recording it in this converted barn,” Jameson muses, “so we didn't get that close to a real studio.”
Actually, that converted barn is Prairie Sun Recording Studios, a serene Sonoma County farmhouse speckled with chickens and the workplace for an impressive roster of clients—everyone from The Mountain Goats to Paul McCartney have recorded there, and Tom Waits practically set up residence in its so-called Live Chamber.
“It was nice,” Jameson says, “because it seemed very remote—when you looked around, you saw cows and open fields, and it was really beautiful—but, at the same time, it was a 10-minute drive to Santa Rosa, so if we needed stuff, there was a Trader Joe's nearby. So, it was the perfect mix of the two, you know—seeming like you're in the middle of nowhere, but still being able to get a 12-pack of beer if you need it.” (“Not a six pack, but a 12-pack,” he adds, laughing. “Make a note of that!”)
Such serenity seems, at first glance, a stark contrast to the contents of History from Below—its title derived from the literary term for a narrative portraying historical events through the eyes of everyday people. It's an album written largely on the road, a detail that comes through in lyrics that observe as much as they introspect. The result is a snapshot of the country through the scope of melancholy, from quiet, personal heartaches to loud cries of universal disappointment.
Not every song is straightforward about its sorrows—album opener “911” is a light and freewheeling slice of Americana-pop, with bitingly cynical lyrics that make it the perfect mixtape anthem for a summer built on unemployment and disenchantment. The loneliness portrayed in “Salt in the Wound,” on the other hand, is visceral, not just in its lyrics but in its hauntingly hollow softness, while “Ballad of Vitaly”—the true tale of a man seeking revenge for his dead family—swells like the end of a Western movie even as his retribution leaves him empty. Even the danceable beat and bright guitars can't mask the trembling sadness in Vasquez's voice as he uncovers the burdens of a broken heart on “Bushwick Blues.”
The band's instrumental creativity also makes an appearance on the album. It's not that they go out looking for weirdness—when asked about the trashcan that brought Ode to Sunshine's breakout single (“Trashcan”) to life, Jameson says, “Our drummer kept playing the song too slow, so Kelly just picked up the trashcan lid and started hitting it to get the tempo right.” Still, when weirdness inevitably finds them, they wear it well, using woodblocks and pipes in an explosive frenzy of machine-gun percussion on History from Below's “White Table.”
Though History from Below may cast the world they've seen on the road in a dark light, things are great right now for Delta Spirit. Months of touring loom on the horizon, but it's starting on the band's home turf, and Jameson is optimistic.
“It's gonna be a long one, but the new songs are sounding great live, and we're just stoked to get the album out and play in front of people again.”
Delta Spirit kick off their summer tour at Belly Up Tavern on Tuesday, June 8, with The Romany Rye and Ezra Furman & The Harpoons. History From Below is slated for release that same day. deltaspiritbydeltaspirit.blogspot.com