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TAS in Session: Delta Spirit

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Long Beach's Delta Spirit return with a second album, History From Below, this June, produced by My Morning Jacket's Bo Koster and Eli Thomson. Recently, band members Matthew Vasquez and Kelly Winrich dropped by The Alternate Side to play three songs from that upcoming release - "Ransom Man," "Vivian" and "St. Francis" - and they chatted with our own Alisa Ali:

I really enjoyed the first Delta Spirit record, Ode to Sunshine, so I was very pleased to find out that I'd be hosting them for a session in Studio A. They'll be releasing their sophomore album, History From Below on Rounder Records on June 8.

I'd heard them perform some of the new songs the previous night at Pianos on the Lower East Side, a club far to small to accomodate all their fans comfortably. Delta Spirit tore the roof off the joint and the crowd turned into one sweaty blob of dance. Watching them play live recalls the feel of a church revival and there were even some shouted "amens!"

The session the next morning at our studio was a completely different experience, but nonetheless fascinating. Delta Spirit's vocalist and guitarist Matthew Vasquez (aka Tabasquez) and multi-instrumenatalist Kelly Winrich performed stripped-down, acoustic versions of their new material. And hearing them that way helped me appreciate the thoughtful lyricism of the songs.

The two guys are certainly a couple of characters. Kelly played piano and joked about being a lefty, but when questioned about it, claimed to be ambidextrous. And that "Tabasquez" fellow, who was recruited into the band when percussionist Brandon Young found him playing his guitar on a bench at 2 a.m. in the morning one night, seems to have fallen for a girl he met the night before in Alabama:

Alisa: So you guys have a new album coming out, History From Below. Now how will "St. Francis" sound on the album? Will it be much different?

Matthew: Well, it took a long time to figure out how to do that song right because we've done it live for a long time. The song's like two years old now. It's basically a bunch of people in a room hitting a lot of drums. And then I'm in a different room, which is like this barn room, we recorded the record in this place up in northern California where Tom Waits still does a lot of recording so it sounds very Tom Waits-esque.

Kelly Winrich: There's going to be wood blocks and boiler room banging.

Matthew: Six string bass.

Kelly: A big baritone guitar. Lots of percussion, lots of screaming and counting. Tom Waits' ghost is probably going to be on the recording even though he's not dead yet.

Alisa: Will you have to pay royalties to Tom Waits' ghost?

Kelly: We might. The live version is a lot bigger and so is the recording. That's one of my favorite tracks on the record. We did it live and it has that live energy that's really hard to capture but somehow we nailed it. Matt was in a different room, what they call the Tom Waits room. It used to be a storage room, but when he went in there and recorded some records, he cleared everything out and that was his favorite room to record in. So we put Matt in there with the vocal and our buddy Bo [Koster], he plays in My Morning Jacket, helped us out with the recording. So Bo was in there, and I think Bo was pretty hammered at this point, so he was in the back banging on this boiler or water heater while Matt was singing so a lot of that sound transfers through Matt's vocal mike. And then me, Brandon [Young] and Jon [Jameson] were in the other room and I was playing guitar. Brandon was playing drums and I think John was playing some kind of percussion - there's no bass on the track. It sounds like we're having fun playing together, so that's good.

Matt: That song got written when Kelly played the chords and I said, 'oh, man, that's cool' and he said, 'yeah, maybe I'm going to do an interlude.' And I took the chords and I wrote the chorus and finished the song.

Kelly: I was kind of bummed for a second. I wanted it to be a Radiohead type jam. And then he made it into something a lot more original. It's sweet.

Alisa: So tell me the Delta Spirit story ....

Matt: We've all been friends for a long time and we've all been in bands and the record industry and hated it and did everything everybody told us to do. And it turned out horrible. And so now we don't do that. We almost do the opposite. And it's great.

Alisa: When you say that you did what they told you to do ....

Matt: In the early 2000s, the record industry would basically sign anybody and give them a big advance and then wonder why they're broke now. They figure if we sign everyone, at least it's a tax deduction if it doesn't work out, which it was. And it was one hell of a tax deduction, a $90,000 tax deduction just for me. And then those guys were recording an album with Rick Rubin, but Rick Rubin was recording an album with about forty other people at the same time, so it didn't work out.

Alisa: So that's why you decided to put out Ode to Sunshine on your own?

Matt: Yeah. We planned to make an EP but were having a lot of fun and we had enough material for a record, so we just decided, let's just do the album. And we did. We put it out ourselves and sold about 6000 copies and then we got a pretty good advance for a $2000 record that we made that I think sounds pretty good. I think we did good.

Alisa: So then it was rereleased on Rounder?

Matt: And they put it out and we toured on it again. Not everybody got to hear it and it didn't get a fair play.

Kelly: There's a certain point that you can go self-releasing. You can only go so far and then you need an extra push. We got to that point that we needed help.

Matt: Rounder has been great. We been able to do what we want. Even with this new record, we pretty much didn't show them anything until it was almost done. And then we finagled extra money from them to get Tchad Blake to mix the album, who has done Crowded House, Peter Gabriel, Los Lobos and Tom Waits. We did the production. Bo from My Morning Jacket, our buddy Eli [Thomson] who is killer and who mixed the first record and then all of us. And we put our heads together with the record. It was a ton of fun and there was no ego head, like 'I'm the big boss' honcho ever, and if you wanted to explore ideas, there was a real 'yes' attitude.

Kelly: "Ransom Man" is one of my favorite [songs] live. We changed it on the record to a full band version. It's about Stockholm Syndrome.

Matt: Reverse Stockholm Syndrome.

Kelly: Yeah, the kidnapper falls in love with the kidnapped instead of the kidnapped falling in love with the kidnapper.

Alisa: On this record, what happened differently than on the first one?

Matt: We were in an actual studio.

Kelly: The first record we tried to do more of a live thing throughout and [though] did so some songs live, like "St. Francis" and "Vivian," the rest we built in pro-tools and did some pre-production stuff and then took it to the studio and re-recorded it or stripped a lot of stuff away. It was more of a layering idea ... and a few songs that came up at the last minute. Like "Golden State" - an ode to California and an ode to touring. The story of us touring for the last three years and sleeping on people's floors. Having a lot of fun but still going back to California.

Alisa: That's the whole beauty of it, going home.

Kelly: I'm ready for it. We go home tomorrow.

Matt: I'm not ready to go home! I still want to tour! I fell in love with this girl from Birmingham last night. Well, I think I did. Let's get married, I want to have children. I just looked at her and she looked at me, and that was it. I found the one. We'll see.

Delta Spirit North American Tour Dates

June 8 - Solana Beach CA / Belly Up

June 9 - San Francisco CA / Independent

June 10 - Portland OR / Doug Fir

June 11 - Seattle WA / Neumo's

June 12 - Vancouver BC / The Venue

June 14 - Boise ID / Neurolux

June 15 - Salt Lake City UT / Urban Lounge

June 16 - Denver CO / Bluebird Theatre

June 17 - Omaha NE / Waiting Room

June 18 - Minneapolis MN / Varsity Theatre

June 19 - Chicago IL / Metro

June 21 - St. Louis MO / Firebird

June 22 - Indianapolis IN / Radio Radio

June 23 - Columbus OH / Basement

June 24 - Cleveland OH / Beachland Ballroom

June 25 - Pontiac MI / Pike Room

June 28 - Boston MA / Middle East Downstairs

June 30 - New York NY / Bowery Ballroom

July 1 - Brooklyn NY / Music Hall of Williamsburg

July 2 - Philadelphia PA / First Unitarian Church

July 3 - Washington DC / 9:30 Club

July 5 - Carrboro NC / Cat's Cradle

July 6 - Chaleston, SC / Pour House

July 7 - St. Augustine FL / Cafe 11

July 8 - Orlando FL / The Social

July 9 - Atlanta GA / Masquerade

July 10 - Birmingham AL / Bottletree

July 11 - Haittesburg MS / Thirsty Hippo

July 13 - Little Rock AR / Juanita's

July 14 -Tulsa OK / Cain's

July 15 - Dallas TX / The Loft

July 16 - Houston / TX Mango's

July 17 - Austin TX / Emo's Outside

July 20 - Santa Fe NM / Santa Fe Brewing Co

July 21 - Tucson AZ / TBD

July 23 - Los Angeles CA / El Rey Theatre

July 24 - Santa Barbara CA / Velvet Jones