California countryblues-rockers Delta Spirit set out to do things the old fashioned way when they released their critically acclaimed debut album, Ode to Sunshine: Win the world over, one gig at a time, no matter how long it takes. But as it turned out, three years of constant touring damn near killed the band, as bandmember Jon Jameson tells Americana UK. But with a new album out, will Delta Spirit be able to keep off the road, or is another couple of years of touring still just a cheap price to pay for living your dream?
Interview by Soren McGuire
Hi Jon. Tell me about the new album, History from Below
We had been touring constantly since Ode To Sunshine came out, so most of these new songs were written on the road somewhere, or inbetween tours. We had written them on acoustic guitars, so when the time came to record this album, we were kinda discussing whether it should be a quiet folk record, or if we should try and mess them a little up and turn it into a punk record.
Which way did you go?
Well, we went half and half. I think there are songs that are heavier and louder than anything we’ve done before, but there’s also a song here that was recorded outside on a single mic with birds singing in the background, you know, a classic folk songs. But I definitely think the songwriting came out great. I think we’re gonna do the same thing next time we make a record.
Did the band feel more mature this time?
I do think so, yeah. This time we knew we were making a record. The last time, we we’re just quietly messing around, trying to make an ep, but we kind of just kept going and ended up making an entire record. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but it came out okay. This time we thought about all the different elements, we knew what we wanted the record to sound like.
What sort of impact did all this touring have on the band?
Back when we weren’t touring all the time, we’d all get together and just play music. But you know, if you’ve been touring constantly for over three months, the last thing you want to do when you come back is all get together and make music. We’d still get along great, but most of these songs are actually written very much more individually and then arranged as a full band. But I also think we’ve reached a point where we won’t be touring as relentlessly as we did before. We will go on some big tours, but we need to make space for the next record, take some time to write. But at the same time, the relentless touring is what made this record what it is, and that’s a good thing.
But what you’re saying is that you basically toured too much?
Yes. When we were doing our second tour of the UK and Europe, we were so worn out. It was a shame, really, cause we were playing all these new, beautiful places, but we were just tired. We had already done two and half years of touring, we’d done a two month headlining tour of the US, and right before that we were in the UK for our first tour. So when we went back over there for the second time, we just hit the wall. The funny thing about it, is that when we got back to the US, we all got a house together! That was kinda ironic, don’t you think?
Definitely. But what’s also ironic, is that you get all these bands who spend months on end on the road building their name and fanbase, and once they get their break, they get worn down and break up. Do you think you might have gone your seperate ways if you hadn’t forced yourselves to move in together right after the tour had ended?
Well, what did happen was that it gave us the opportunity to make this record in a very isolated, commutal way, which was what we really needed to do. You know, we’ve never been a singer/songwriter band, we’re just a bunch of guys who enjoy playing music together, and moving into this house in Long Beach together and turning the garage into a practice area really helped us come together as a group. Yeah, we did stay on the road for a bit too long, but you know, on that final tour of the US we were headlining and selling out big venues.
But you couldn’t do it again?
No, we have a different perspective on touring now, that’s for sure.
What if History From Below suddenly sells a million copies over here in the UK? Then you’d be forced to come over and do another long tour, aren’t you? Are you worried about what the future might hold in regards to the prospect of even more endless touring?
A little bit, yeah. When Ode To Sunshine started rolling, we would take any tour we’d get offered. After touring a month with Dr Dog, we’d get offered another support tour by somebody else, and we felt like we had to take it. I mean, what else were we supposed to do? We didn’t have jobs or anything. But this time we can be a bit more deliberate about how we tour. We’re a live band, so of course we’re gonna tour, but we’re not going to be begging for tours like we would in the past. And that changes your frame of mind, knowing what you’ll be doing in the future.
And still, it’s not the worst job in the world, is it? You’d rather be worn out in a hotel room in Europe than working at a McDonald’s in Long Beach, right?
Were there things that needed to change if History From Below was to end up being a better record than Ode To Sunshine
That’s a good question. The guitar player we had since the beginning decided to quit, basically because he got sick of not making any money. Even though he’s still a good friend, it changes the dynamics a little bit. It’s funny, cause when we were making our first record, we recorded it live in the studio, however, people would complain that it didn’t actually sound like what we sounded like live. People felt we sounded much more impactful live, and that’s sort of a paradox – sometimes, the more work you put into the recording, making everything sound as good as possible, the more you sound like a live band. At first we bought into the idea that in order to sound like you do live, you need to record it live in the studio, and that’s not always the way it works. We were slowly piecing this album together, and it ended up sounding more impactful and energetic.
So tell me about the Delta Spirit Mansion. What happens when you put a rockband in a house together?
It was a pretty funny thing at first. We have a lot of friends in the area, the Cold War Kids guys live around here, just a good bunch of bands in the area, so people would come around and play. Matt (Vasquez), our leadsinger, would be playing standards with these people out on the porch every day and night, and we’d start getting complaints from the neighbours! But it was a great place and it still is. Our drummer lives next door and my wife and I moved up the block, so we’re all still pretty close.
You seem to be walking a fine line between blues, soul and country, but I’m yet to read a review that manages to pinpoint exactly what you sound like. What are your own thoughts on the Delta Spirit sound?
When we first started out, we were definitely pretty intentional about wanting to sound like an American band. There are a lot of American bands trying to sound like British bands, and I’m a big fan of punk and post-punk myself, but that’s just not who we are as a band. We didn’t want to sound like Coldplay, so we were very intentional about putting together an American sound, but at the same time we didn’t want to be a retro country band. We wanted what came natural to us. We weren’t The Killers, we weren’t playing dance rock, but also, we didn’t want to limit ourselves. I guess this record has an Americana/folk sound to it. We’ve been compared to everyone from the Cold War Kids to the Kinks and The Waterboys. There are some funny ones inbetween, definitely.
Delta Spirit’s History From Below is out now on Rounder. For more on this great band, go to Deltaspirit.net