Delta Spirit‘s fourth full-length, Into the Wide, was conceived in what the then Brooklyn-based five-piece called “the Rat Cave,” a Greenpoint studio they had built that was subsequently ruined by Hurricane Sandy. After patching up and packing up, frontman Matt Vasquez, guitarist Will McLaren, bassist Jon Jameson, multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich, and drummer/percussionist Brandon Young headed down south to record with noted indie producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Youth Lagoon) at his Atlanta, Ga. studio.
There, the band members — who have since scattered across the country, from Greenpoint to Austin to the San Bernadino National Forest in California — musically hashed out some dark themes: the memory of Vasquez overcoming a year of bullying when he was 14 years old on “Live On,” McLaren visiting his father in surgery before tracking the title track’s guitar riffs rearing like wild horses. “There were songs that were more light that I wrote, but the ones everyone gravitated towards were these ones, so that’s where the record went,” Vasquez tells Billboard. “All we’ve got is the songs, and meaning as much as we can, and that’s kind of what the band is.”
Into the Wide is by no means Delta Spirit’s most thoughtful effort, but it might be the most sober: after the hard-charging, back-porch roots-rock of their first two LPs (2008’s Ode to Sunshine and 2010’s History From Below), 2012’s Delta Spirit saw the band’s songwriting grow to incorporate bolder song structures and a broader palette of sounds; not unlike a more cross-country, much scrappier version of Kings of Leon circa Because of the Times. “Five guys who are friends, who decide together what the songs are going to be like and what they want to play, it’s kind of unheard of,” says Vasquez.
Read the rest of our Q&A with Vasquez below.
When did you start writing Into the Wide?
Right after the last tour ended. There was like 45 songs and demos and all sorts of crazy shit. We had this ProTools thing, and whenever you have your own ProTools you can end up in kind of a K-hole situation where you just edit and edit the song until you lose the thing, but you’re always trying to rediscover it. Thankfully we were able to find our way out of that. It was just like, “You know the song, you know a billion different ways to play the song, so just play the fucking song.” They’re all my little children. Each one’s like an epiphany.
What kinds of epiphanies?
Oh just shit you realize when you’re young, like doing drugs and being insane or being Christian and then not being a Christian, and getting older. Or like an acid trip I had when I was 14, which was what sent me from Texas, where I grew up, to California. I learned a lot from that specific bad trip. I went to the hospital, drank charcoal, the whole shebang. While I was coming down from the acid, there was a Scottish fireman talking to me with a huge red mustache.
That moment in my life is one of those pinnacle awakenings where you realize how much you’re human — your mindset, your nature, is to destroy as much as it is to create. All the other times I had fun being a very idealistic young kid seeing the beauty in Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. If I could imagine what heaven could be like, or whatever, this ecstasy of good friends and those triumphant moments of watching the sun come up, and then telling yourself to destroy yourself and actually being insane for a time, and feeling what that’s like, and the guilt you feel going through that with your family. (Laughs) Sorry this just got really heavy.
I’m noticing a connection between the idea of destroying yourself and the fact that your studio was destroyed in a hurricane.
We’ve had hurdle after hurdle in our band, and we’ve had a very slow kind of incline. Being friends from some serendipitous meeting on a street corner, working at a guitar shop, and then meeting in New York. Then we all went through the same thing with the record industry when were in our super early 20s, when they were signing everybody individually. We went through that whole process, and then when we started this band we were basically like, “Fuck this,” let’s just play the music that we truly believe in and try our best to be without shtick. It’s hard to sell that kind of thing, so it takes a lot of time to ramp up to turning people on to it.
How do you reconcile that with bringing in someone like Ben Allen to produce the record?
When you’re in a band for nine years, I know how Brandon’s gonna play a fill before he does it ‘cause I can feel the way he hits the kick. I know the things he’s gonna post on Instagram or text his wife in a conversation. I know him in ways better than he knows himself, and that whole thing is reciprocal throughout the band. Everyone’s digesting your intention before your conversation. Having somebody wipe that away — just like, “Focus on the thing that it is instead of all the things that it can be” — that’s what Ben brought.
Where did a song like “Language of the Dead,” which has so many literary references, come from?
It came from the song off the third record, just culturally how pigeonholed the music is. There are a lot of talented bands that get thrown into the folk thing, and there’s a lot of shtick, and that’s what the song is about: fuck the shtick. You don’t need the shtick just be great. Talking about the ’60s and the 19th century and Leo Tolstoy and Robert E. Lee — that was a fun Wikipedia trip. The chorus was actually written a few years ago by Will, and the chords were something Brandon was coaching his wife Heather to play on the piano, and they came up with it together. Then I started strumming it, and Will was like, “I have a bridge, but you gotta write lyrics for it.” So I wrote off of antiquated lyrics [Bob] Dylan might have said.
Going back to New York, did you visit the studio at all that you guys recorded in?
Not on this trip, but we worked out of it to do pre-production for the tour. Kelly cleaned it up a lot. I wouldn’t call it the Rat Cave anymore. We recorded the record in Atlanta but we pre-productioned here. We’re still renting the place. It’s too good of a deal even though it’s kind of a flood risk. We had a setup in California, and I took my half of the studio to Texas, so hopefully we’ll have three studios. We’ll just name the next record Postal Service.
I think you could be sued for that.
Not if it’s the name of the album.
I think you could probably still be sued for that.
Whatever, I’ll misspell it.