|courtesy Rounder Records|
A version of my interview originally appeared at nctimes.com/entertainment
Last October, after a performance at LA’s Gibson Amphitheatre, Delta Spirit got a quick glimpse of what stardom entails. Upon heading to a nearby In-N-Out, the San Diego-bred band ran into Jaden Smith and Justin Bieber.
“When people are screaming ‘Justin Bieber’ through the drive-thru window, you know there’s something wild going on,” bassist Jonathan Jameson said from a tour stop in Salt Lake City.
While Delta Spirit’s folk-leaning, alt-rock music has yet to inspire feverish reactions by young girls, some expanded sonic terrain on the new self-titled album should intrigue longtime fans.
The quintet - which also features lead vocalist/guitarist Matt Vasquez, guitarist Will McLaren, keyboardist Kelly Winrich and drummer Brandon Young – “tightened up the drum sound and brought them up front. There’s definitely more layers.”
“This time, we explored the percussive elements of synths and used more keyboards, pads and multiple (types of) percussion,” Jameson continued. Those sounds were usually suggested by producer Chris Coady (…Trail of Dead, Beach House), who brought a homemade synthesizer into the studio. “It was all relatively new to us.”
Over the course of three albums – including 2010’s acclaimed “History From Below” - the musicians have placed an emphasis on rhythm.
“Even the way I play bass and how vocal melodies are written has a lot to do with percussion. That especially comes across live,” when everyone bangs on drums and trash can lids at a certain point in the show.
Those who attend the band’s Belly Up concerts can expect to hear plenty of new material. Jameson said he looks forward to spending more time with family while in town.
Keeping with the usual modus operandi, Delta Spirit used a Woodstock, N.Y studio housed inside a converted 116-year-old church.
“We’ve always done the rural, escape from everyday lives” recording method. Yet Coady’s 5 p.m. ‘til dawn schedule took some getting used to.
“Only in a setting where you’re completely isolated from the world can you get way with that. It was a beautiful thing to finish when the sun is coming through the stained glass windows in an old church in the middle of nowhere. It was really special and I think it has a big impact on the feeling of the album.”
Released this past March, the strong “Delta Spirit” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Along with steady airplay at college radio, the dense guitar driven single “California” is top 20 at Triple A stations – a first for the band after mostly non-commercial NPR-type support in the past.
“Just the fact that it is getting played and people are really starting to learn about us is really exciting.”
Standout tracks - the reverent “Yamaha,” inviting “Time Bomb” and frantic “Money Saves” - have an atmospheric quality.
“We’re huge Brian Eno fans,” admitted Jameson. “The music lifts a song to a different place. If you do the stripped-down stuff all the time, it can get boring or repetitive.”
Then there’s the psychotic rocker “Tellin’ the Mind,” where Vasquez sings like a man possessed.
“First it was just a straight ahead rock song. Then we wanted to make it progressively weirder. It’s really out there and one of my favorites. We’re still sorting out how to play it live because there’s a lot of dynamics” involved.
Delta Spirit formed in ‘05. Jameson, McLaren and Young are all local natives. “When I was a kid, all the bands I wanted to see were at the Casbah,” recalled the bassist.
Early gigs were held at friends’ houses in San Diego; the group cultivated a large fan base through tours with Cold War Kids, The Shins, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and My Morning Jacket. A few years after 2008’s “Ode to Sunshine,” the quintet moved to Long Beach and lived in the same Craftsman style house (four of the guys have since relocated to Brooklyn).
McLaren (ex-Cults, Willowz) is a more recent recruit and joined after “History” was recorded.
“We never really had a serious guitar player,” Jameson said. “He brought the melodic perspective to a whole different place. That’s part of the reason why the album is self-titled: we finally feel like we have a whole band and the whole picture now.
Upcoming tour dates
May 11...Fonda Theatre, Hollywood, CA
May 12-13...Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach, CA
June 3...Observatory, Santa Ana, CA
June 7-10...Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN
For more shows and info, go to deltaspirit.net