Brooklyn via Southern California band Delta Spirit have certainly spread their wings over the course of three studio albums. Managing to go from the lo-fi, alt-country stylings of their 2008 debut, Ode to Sunshine, to their new, shimmering, self-titled offering while still sounding very much like the band that banged on trashcan lids for percussion in Long Beach is pretty impressive.
While the overall product has indeed been glossed-up a bit, the cerebral, emotive lyrics of lead singer Matt Vasquez and multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich haven't been simplified or condensed for the masses. The album has a couple tunes that fall into the category of "love songs," but even then, as Vasquez explains to us from the band's rehearsal space in Austin just prior to both SXSW and the release of the new album, the meaning behind even the simplest lyrics pack quite the punch.
In anticipation of Delta Spirit's show at the Granada Theater on Saturday, April 14, Vasquez spoke about the cliché of a band moving to Brooklyn, the Barefoot Bandit and why he really wants there to be a God in heaven.
So many of your songs are inspired by California. Aside from the fact that you called California home for so long, what about the state did you find inspirational? I actually spent a few years growing up in [Dripping Springs] Texas, but for a decade and a half of my life growing up, I was in California. I would say that coming from the outside and getting inside of California's culture, I noticed that it's very much a sponge-like culture.
A sponge-like culture? Yeah. I had this Australian roommate for a few months, and when we'd go out to a bar, he'd meet someone and start talking with them. When the people would leave, they would always says something like, "OK, see you later, mate!" It's such a sponge. In Long Beach, where we lived, you had the beach and all, but in the rest of the state, you have a bunch of crazy-rich Republicans and then all of this pot growing up in Humboldt County. It's like its own country, and it's a really crazy place. I think, musically, it's a sponge culture and having that around you all of the time, things and sounds get mixed together. We're of the the thought that the more you mix, the better.
Now, you've moved to Brooklyn. It seems that every band finds their way there at some point these days. What's the big deal? I love New York City. I actually met my Norwegian wife in Bakersfield, but we fell in love in New York. We moved there to have a new experience. Even though I have a ton of close friends and family in California, we wanted to experience a new energy together. We have some mutual friends in New York, and it's only a six-hour flight to her home in Norway, which is a lot closer than it was in California.
You're an avid reader, and many of your lyrics carry a literary feel. Is that something you aim for? Literature is a format that's older than Christ. Homer is the man when it comes to all of that. Oral histories, storytelling and songwriting have been hand-in-hand all along. As for telling stories, the new record has a song called "Tellin' the Mind," which is about Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit. He was this kid from Washington state who stole airplanes from the time he was eight until he was arrested when he was 18. He had all of these fans on his Facebook page and everything. He stole an airplane in the Midwest, flew it to the Caribbean, crash landed and was caught when he then tried to steal a boat to get away. He never hurt anyone or killed anyone. He's this hyper-intelligent, lonely, wild-ass kid and I thought he needed a theme song.
There is also some instrumental evolution on the new record. "Yamaha," with its electronic vibe, wouldn't have been on Ode to Sunshine, would it? Oh, no! But more importantly, it was the last song we added to the record. I had just had a tough talk with my other half, and she was all, "You're not even thinking about me while you're gone!" Of course, I would say, "That's all I do is think about you!" So, we were at the studio, and I started writing the song at midnight and finished it around six in the morning. I rolled it out to Kelly and he said, "Well, that's on the record." I feel like that song will be close to me on this tour because it's about me missing my wife. It feels good to sing it and I think people will be able to tell that I really mean it.
Spiritual themes and imagery have also played a big part in your songs. What's your relationship with faith and religion? I think that death is a pretty important topic, considering 100 percent of us go through it. So the "what's it all mean?" question has a big relevance to song, poetry and prose. Personally, the last five years, I've struggled with that in a good way. Because if I want anything, I want God to exist and I want even Hitler to go to heaven. Regardless of what I think, and getting outside of what I want to believe, if grace and forgiveness exist, then we'll all be faced with infinite right and infinite goodness, and what you were in life and even more so. How humble will we feel?
To the other end of that: There's dying and that's it. The earth will be consumed by the sun and Homer, the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, Hemingway and Dylan will all be wiped away and all memory of humanity will be gone. Understanding our lives and humanity as a whole is the greatest expression of art that we could ever be a part of. I go back and forth between what I want and trying to live a life with what could be. I will always want God to exist. I want to believe there's a place of infinite mercy. What an amazing thing that would be.