Triumph of The Spirit

On a cable car in San Francisco, Matt Vasquez screams lyrics while drummer Brandon Young hits a trashcan lid, and the unsuspecting trolley riders around them observe, bemused. The scene is from a performance video on the music website La Blogothéque from five years ago, and it portrays Delta Spirit at its finest: Vasquez turns the commuters into collaborators, forming an impromptu symphony of backing vocalists, upstaged only by his own voice rising above the din…

The songs that day were from the band’s debut, Ode to Sunshine. In September, Delta Spirit issued its fourth full-length release, made despite a slew of challenges. The California five-piece built a studio in an empty commercial space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and then Hurricane Sandy swallowed it. After they cleared the floodwaters and replaced the gear, they struggled with a broken AC unit, blew breakers, and rehearsed in a rat-infested room.

Forty-five songs. A trip to an Atlanta studio after giving up on recording it themselves. Two years of work. 

And then, finally, an album – Into the Wide – an expansive, polished soundscape contrasting Vasquez’s heartfelt melodies and raw bellowing. I spoke with him before a show in Little Rock on the eve of the record-release celebration in Oklahoma City – playing live, on the road, where the band is happiest.

Into the Wide is an interesting album title. What was your inspiration?

When I was writing the songs, the things that I would think about would be Yosemite and Joshua Tree, and those experiences walkin’ through the woods when I was a kid when I grew up in Austin, and that kind of imagery was really heavy in my mind. And it’s funny, I’m sitting in the most urban environment, but that’s where my mind is at, you know. My body is in one place, but my mind is on those things … being in one place and just using your imagination to escape.

I read that you moved back to Austin recently. What prompted that?

It’s beautiful, just surrounded by deer and nature. And writing this record especially, those are the things I was longing for and thinking about, and I just really missed not living on top of people and having my space. Now two of [the band members] live in California, and two of us live in New York, and one lives in Austin, so we’re officially a United States band. [laughs]

What are your hopes for how Into the Wide does once it’s released?

I hope that people connect with it, that they relate to the music and wanna come see it live and hear the music, you know. We worked really hard on it, went through a lot with the flooding, with Sandy, and just being in a band for nine years and working on the songs together, just continuing to dig deeper and deeper into our relationship and the life that we’ve led together.

You mentioned Hurricane Sandy and the flooding of your studio. Did you ever have a moment of like, “Maybe we should just do this somewhere else?”

[laughs] No, there was nowhere else. I mean, we found the spot in Brooklyn, like to the envy of many other bands … so we were really lucky in [that] right when we got it, it was pretty dangerous, and then in the span of one year – the gentrification was so funny, like the neighborhood completely flip-flopped in Greenpoint. It’s like in the zeitgeist of its nature there. It’s just great.

I’ve read that one objective for the record was making the songs as conducive as possible to your shows. What do you want that live experience to be like? 

The goal in a live show first and foremost is that people are entertained and have fun, of course, but there’s more to it than that … we’re always kind of looking for where people connect with the song, or have connected with the song already, and they have that moment where they get to sing it as loud as possible. You know, not just in their car, but with all these people, and the line of what the stage is and where the audience is, it doesn’t matter.

On the last couple records you sound more and more like a band that was built for bigger spaces, for amphitheaters or headlining gigs at festivals. It’s not necessarily the coolest thing to show that kind of ambition in rock, but are those the things that you pursue as a band?

I think any band if you asked them, “Do you want to be more popular, and play in bigger rooms, and play in front of more people?” the answer, of course, is gonna be, “Yes.” And it’s no different over here. I love playing in front of a lot of people. We all do. The energy of playing in front of a lot of people is insane.

We actually brought projection that’s scalable, so even if it’s in the smallest room it should feel like something really insane and artistic and special. We actually have somebody playing video that they created, but they’re actually editing live with the band so they’re kind of jamming along with it all.

Courtesy kigonjiro/via YouTube

I read the article in Esquire that painted you as a maturing band, which was positive in this article but may not always be an optimistic opinion, given that pop music is often by and for the youth.

I think music is an ageless thing, hopefully. I would like to play music the rest of my life and not pretend that I’m 20. None of us wanna feel like we’re just regurgitating the same bullshit. We always wanna feel extremely challenged by what we’re coming up with, and always digging deep. If we’re not doing that then it’s time to quit. So we’re always just trying to reach and dig deep and find that thing. And that thing isn’t associated with age, you know?

Delta Spirit will play Newport Music Hall on October 10. For more, visit deltaspirit.net.

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