With each new release the members of Delta Spirit felt that they were on the cusp of taking their career to another level. Instead, incremental advancement led to unbearable frustration.
“A decade-plus spent in close proximity can take a toll on any relationship, especially if it’s in the creative sphere,” frontman Matthew Logan Vasquez explained to Billboard.
Despite a small, devoted following and radio hits such as “California” and “From Now On,” the band went on recess to their respective hometowns – Austin, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Montreal– scattered in order to refresh.
“We hit pause, and thankfully saved our friendship. Our lives needed to grow independently in order to return to a more collaborative place,” he said.
Vasquez released and toured behind three solo albums as well as recorded as a member of Middle Brother and Glorietta. Multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich launched a career as producer, while bassist Jonathan Jameson, guitarist Will McLaren, and drummer Brandon Young collaborated and toured with Sam Outlaw, Mikky Ekko and Muna.
The quintet finally got together for a jam session in Brooklyn in 2018. Reigniting their musical connection encouraged the longtime bandmates to record what has become its fifth album, What Is There.
For a band trying to resurrect during a time when rock ‘n’ roll artists already struggle to get a foothold in the public’s consciousness and marketplace, a global pandemic cutting short its 2020 tour didn’t help. But Delta Spirit remains undeterred and released multiple music videos to promote the new album and has performed several livestream sessions to remind fans — old and new — the power of the group in a live situation.
Vasquez discusses the reunion, band dynamics, songs off the new album, his return from Norway back to his home just outside of Austin and life as a constantly creating musician.
JPG: I read that you’re always writing? Is it sketches of songs or full-blown demos with lyrics like what Pete Townshend does?
MLV: I take things as far as I can get them but, sometimes, I get stuck with…I have this one that’s this really sweet mix of early Sigur Ros and Beck’s “Sea Change” record. Been really into those early 2000 atmosphere simple, simple, simple, simple records.
And I have the best fucking verse and chorus hook. One of the best things I’ve written in a long time and I can’t get past the verse and the chorus ’cause that one idea is so great. There’s so much production built around it (laughs) and I have to stop.
I make them and then they sit on the shelf. Sometimes, they come back around. There was a song I just finished that was when we were doing the Delta Spirit fourth session and I was in New York and I had my little UAD Apollo mobile thing. I was holed up at Will McLaren’s, our guitar player’s, apartment and I wrote this really cool melody. Built a Matthew Logan Vasquez choir (laughs) around this acoustic fingerpicking thing and then I didn’t write the lyrics to that for months. I post things in big Dropbox folders and listen back to them, and then I go, “Ah, I really like that.”
JPG: Maybe that other thing just wants to have the verse and the chorus repeated and that’s all.
MLV: Yeah, maybe. It doesn’t matter. The creativity begets creativity even if the idea sits, like what you’re saying. It might inspire another thing that makes its way to being a fully made concept. Speaking of Pete Townsend, he’s the master of the concept album. He actually completes the idea all the way through to Broadway.
JPG: I love listening to his demo albums.
MLV: I continue to be impressed by them and was never like super-insane about The Who until I saw their performance on “Rock and Roll Circus,” and I was like, “Oh, that’s why that didn’t come out. They mopped the floor with everybody.” Oh my God! The power of that band, like everybody is a pillar in that band. The amount of passion when they’re all in it together. That is the punk aesthetic, where everybody means it as much as the singer.
JPG: We talked several times in the past. Back in 2019, we discussed your last solo album, Light’n Up, and as usual I asked about Delta Spirit.
MLV: Didn’t I cop that we were talking about making a record. Did I tell you about that?
JPG: No, that’s what I was going to say. You were kind of evasive. You just said…Let me find the quote. You said, “We haven’t broken up. It’s just one of those things where everybody’s doing their life. It’s certainly not lack of trying, not broken up, not over, just very dormant and hopefully not dormant anymore. As soon as we can be, we will reemerge.”
MLV: After every one of my little projects, my solo records I was making and the Glorietta project, all of which is really fun, and I needed to exert that or flex in that right to feel the security of being able to know that I could take things to completion. After each one of those projects, I would pop my head out, see where everybody else was at. This is the time.
Fall of 2018 was the first time that we got together and there were six months of planning before, like the first jam. It was awesome. We had five days together and got into this room. We had all been tight for sometime in terms of our friendship blossoming to a new dynamic. We were communicating really well and it was just basically, “Is this cool?” It was like being in a relationship with somebody for a really long time and then not, and then coming back to that but that person got counseling. (laughs) You’re not codependent.
JPG: Delta Spirit is the opposite of the entire VH1 “Behind the Music” series because just about every one of those bands featured, it was always the same thing. They toured too much, quickly got back in the studio, never took a break, then hated each other and broke up.
MLV: Yeah. “Whatever happened to those guys? I really did like them.” And then it’s like they’re in their 60s by the time they’re able to work it out. I’m glad it took five years. A lot of it’s our age and what we’ve accomplished and what we haven’t accomplished as a band together. The feeling for us from our perspective, from the get-go, it always felt like it was on the cusp of some sort of next level. It continued to do that until it didn’t. Then, you turn outwardly to blame and you turn inwardly to blame. You look at yourself and just go, “Ultimately, we didn’t make the right record.”
I’m really proud of the record we made, the last one, “Into the Wide,” I think it’s really good. But, in terms of the band’s health and ego and vibe about how we were carrying on, there was something missing from that moment. Our creative chi was off. We needed to grow and to see if that electricity was still there after a period of time. And, it was.
“Well, where do we start when we’re sitting in this room together?” And we just start playing “Strange Vine” and then start playing “California” and a bunch of our older songs and not playing them terribly. There’s these communications that happen between people that have been doing something. It’s like muscle memory or psychic connection. Those were still there and that was cool, not the same way that they would be after like a week of tour. It was like one of those things where, “If there’s a week of tour behind this, it would be incredible again,” and that felt relieving.
JPG: You spoke in the past how it’s like dealing with five contrarians.
MLV: Oh, yeah.