Photo credit: Sean Mathis
Change has been a constant in Matthew Logan Vasquez’s life. Since his days as frontman in Delta Spirit and then, with the band on hiatus, a solo career, the Austin-born musician settled in Long Beach, California, Brooklyn, Austin and Wimberly, Texas. His current address? Oslo, Norway.
A family emergency by his father-in-law led him to the Nordic country. Finding a little bit of home, he said, “I lucked out to find that Oslo has a handful of really good Mexican food restaurants. Surprisingly. It ain’t cheap but they fly in cactus, do sopes, enchiladas, that kind of thing.”
Before he could join his wife and son overseas, he needed to complete his next album before losing access to his studio.
Living alone in his newly-refurbished house in Texas, Vasquez turned his melancholy mood into the songs that would make up Light’n Up, his third full-length album. Longtime fans would recognize that this isn’t the first time Vasquez explored his dark side. He did that on the lo-fi burner “Solicitor Returns.” It’s just that this time the approach became intensely personal. As he told me in 2017, “Part of it is that side of my songwriting that’s always existed and very rarely showcased in Delta Spirit. It just got to a point where, “Man, I need to make a record like this or people are going to think it’s not true.” It know it’s contrary to commerce, sometimes, to complicate the scenario with a bunch of stuff but I grew up listening to Nirvana, Neil Young and Marilyn Manson.”
While the lyrics may be dejected, as demonstrated by opening acoustic number “Ballad In My Bed” and heavy-hearted “I Love My Boy,” overall, the music softens the effect. The first single, “Trailer Park,” rushes by like a driver ignoring all speed limit signs on an endless desert highway, the hard rocking “Vacation” as it laments the lack of depth in relationships while the key line in the pulsating rhythm of “Ball Pit” can be taken as a boast or desperate confidence boost.
With his latest solo work and tour occupying his mind the possibility of a return to Delta Spirit remains on hold. “We haven’t broken up. It’s just one of those things where everybody’s doing their life. It’s certainly not for lack of trying. Not broken up. Not over. Just very very dormant and hopefully not dormant anymore. As soon as we can be, we will re-emerge.”
Until that happens, there’s much to enjoy from Vasquez’s misery; songs to put a lump in your throat, stir your ass to shake or cause your fist to pump in the air.
JPG: How are you adjusting to living in Norway?
MLV: I’ve been there since last March. It’s fucking cold. (laughs) The lack of sunlight really did a number on me. I survived a few New York winters but it’s definitely a lot more extreme than that. Like any place, it has its pluses and minuses.
JPG: Did you use a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lamp to help you deal with that?
MLV: I’ll go to a botanical garden, sometimes, and stand near a cactus. Get in a humid room. That tends to help. I filled my schedule up pretty thoroughly from here on out until July. Then, I won’t have to deal with it quite as much.
The summertime’s nice. It’s like Chicago in the summer. It’s very clean. People are pretty nice.
JPG: Are you playing gigs around there or are you more of a homebody?
MLV: Delta Spirit didn’t really tour in Scandinavia very much or at all. We didn’t play there at all. I spent the last three years touring through Europe. I mainly played in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. I’m pretty anonymous out there. But, I have shows. People show up. It’s really fun. It’s not the same energy as the U.S. Definitely gonna move back as soon as possible. (laughs)
We moved out [to Oslo] because my father-in-law got Alzheimer’s. We had a pretty crazy time where we bought a house, renovated this old house in Wimberly, Texas, outside of Austin. I made a joke while I was hanging drywall that we’ll move as soon as we’re done renovating. That’s exactly what we did. So, it’s just one hurricane after the other for me.
We decided to move in June (2017) because it looked like he wasn’t going to be too lucid for much longer. I’m glad we moved when we did but it was really really hard. I spent last January making this record. I was pretty lonesome because the day after Christmas because my wife and son left. We gave up our cat, and I was in this house completely alone making this record. Things are much better. (laughs) I’ve got friends in Oslo now. That’s been a big difference.
JPG: Rolling Stone described this as your “darkest sounding effort.” I thought it was melancholy in spots but I didn’t think it was that dark. Maybe it’s just me.
MLV: Well, I guess it’s dark for an optimist. I don’t know. I’m not without hope…ever. But it was definitely a trial, writing within a trial.
JPG: One of the sadder songs ends the album, and that’s “Oslo.” Why place it there?
MLV: Functionality being that was the last song that I wrote for the record. I had spent a month out in Oslo and settling in, taking my son to daycare and not being able to get out of the driveway. My feet are planted and I’m just sliding down an icy hill in the snow and screaming, “Fuck this country!” (laughs) Being like, “I can’t deal with this.”
There’s a very A to B about my solo efforts. It’s been very much a diary and that’s where I left off the diary. That was written in Oslo. That was the only song that wasn’t recorded in January in Wimberly. Everything else was recorded in Texas.
JPG: The song does has the feel of someone sitting along in their living room.
MLV: It’s very much…that’s exactly where I recorded it. Funny you said it. I was in my living room and cut it. Then, I had the Parkington Sisters do the string arrangement.
JPG: Before that, did the album end with “Character Assassination” but you added “Oslo” as a nice way to tie things up?
MLV: Yeah. I got to that point with “Character Assassination” and knew that the album wasn’t finished. I had the record and I had a big question mark at the end of it. I wanted to tie it all up and to the place I was because the record is very much about the transition of life, always being on the run, about to feel settled and then being on the run again. Also, it really tied that up for me in terms of the story I’m telling.
JPG: Is it enjoyable in a way or cathartic to be so vulnerable on a record or is it a burden of being an artist?
MLV: I’m always looking at myself in the mirror as the 13 year old kid that is playing guitar. What am I supposed to become? And you’re holding true to the idealism of being a songwriter. It’s about honesty. It’s about trying to love the craft. For this record, especially, it’s very much putting my own life story into the music.
JPG: Listening to this, I can’t imagine it being a Delta Spirit record. It has to be a solo album.
MLV: Yeah. It’s not like I haven’t done that with Delta Spirit. It has songs like “House Built for Two” and “People Turn Around,” “The Wreck,” “War Machine,” “Yamaha,” all of those are very diary-written kind of music. The nature of what Delta Spirit is…definitely Kelly the other songwriter is more a fan of the vague. Things lean that way within Delta Spirit because of that. He’d always challenge me to be more relatable.
But I look at it like life is ugly and truth is stranger than fiction, those kind of things, especially with this solo effort and how things have become. The people that continue on the journey with me, it’s very much a closer knit, awesome thing where I feel like I’ve been able to be more myself and get a very different experience. It’s really fun.