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Band Notes: Delta Spirit

The California five-piece’s bassist Jon Jameson catches up with us before the band’s 9:30 Club show this weekend.

Photograph courtesy of the band.

Delta Spirit is having a whirlwind year: They released their third full-length album, their new tour kicked off, and they just rocked audiences with a brilliant performance at SXSW. It’s only fitting that the band is cranking things into high gear—their frenetic pace matches the dynamic tunes Delta Spirit have become known for.

Their new self-titled album reawakens the gritty, thumping energy that drove the California-based band to recognition. While maintaining a modern edge, the fivesome manages to pay homage to old-school rock with a bit of soul. Saturday, you’ll get to hear it for yourself at the 9:30 Club, where the guys are playing a sold-out show. If you didn’t snag tickets, you can still catch them at Sweetgreen’s Sweetlife Food & Music Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion on April 28. Amid their hectic tour schedule, we managed to steal a couple moments with bassist Jon Jameson to chat about these upcoming DC shows, the band’s new guitarist, and the crazy light rig they built from scratch that you’ll get to see if you catch them live.

Where are you right now?

We’re in Cleveland—we had a day off yesterday so we kind of took it easy and then drove up here at night. We have an early show tonight and we have to drive after—as soon as we’re done playing, we pack up, hop in a van, and drive straight to Boston.

You had a day off yesterday? What does Delta Spirit do on a day off?

[Laughs] Well, we slept in, for one. We had a one o’clock checkout and found a place that served brunch till the latest time possible. Then we started driving to Cleveland. We’re pretty boring, I guess.

And you guys also just did SWSX?

We did, yeah. We spent two weeks in Austin. We came early and started practicing for the tour and we were building a light rig …

You were building a what?

We built this light rig we’re using. It’s cool. It was mainly Kelly, who plays keyboard and many other things in the band, who had a vision for it, and he flew out a few times and worked with this contractor to build this massive structure. It’s a bunch of six-foot triangles that you can put together with light bulbs on them. I think there are nine of them, so when you stack them all together, it’s one huge 20-foot triangle. It’s pretty sweet.

Did you use it at SXSW?

No, SXSW was way too fast-paced. We barely had time to get checked in, but we’re using it on the tour on all of these dates. Some of the rooms are smaller, so we can only use one triangle, three in others, or five in others. But it’s nice because we can mix and match. But at the 9:30 Club, we’re going to be able to use the whole thing, so I’m excited for that.

It sounds like SXSW was really busy. Were there any bands you got to meet or see?

Yeah, I really wanted to see some bands, and I really didn’t have a chance. I wanted to see ASAP Rocky and I wanted to see War on Drugs and Zola Jesus, but I didn’t get to see anybody. This band Friends played right before us and they were cool, but I didn’t even get to see them.

You guys are touring and performing your new album, which is self-titled. It’s your third full-length—is there any reason you decided to self-title this one instead of your debut?

Yeah, I don’t know a good reason why we didn’t self-title the first two—I guess we just came up with names we really liked and went with it. But for this one, I think we definitely rediscovered what we love about playing music together.

On our last album, our guitar player quit right before we started recording so we quickly transitioned from the basic song structure into demoing, which is cool, but to me, it lost a little bit of magic. This time around, we have this new guitar player, Will McLaren, and we were able to play music together and recapture that excitement we had when we first started the band. It felt sort of like a rebirth—finding what we love about music. It just felt right to self-title it. Someone mentioned it and we didn’t have any better ideas … But it reflects the spirit of what was going on while writing and recording the album.

And what was that like, the writing and recording?

Writing was cool. While we were writing, the four of us lived in Long Beach and Will lived in Greenpoint, in Brooklyn. So, he just came out and slept on one of the guys’ floors—he had a little bed in the corner with a partition and slept there for four or five months while we wrote this record. And we rented a little practice space—actually, a nice practice space—from our friends in Cold War Kids in San Pedro, California. We made kind of a job of it, where we’d go for five to ten hours a day, five days a week and play music together. Mainly, the song ideas start with [lead singer] Matt and Kelly, and then they bring them to all five of us, five very strong personalities. If we can get all five of us on the same page, we know it’s something special.

That was the process of writing, and then after spending like three months on innumerable song ideas, we finally found 11 we all completely loved, and pretty much that was the record. We flew to New York and found this place upstate, an old church that had been converted into a studio. Chris Coady, who produced the album, had some experience—he did the Beach House album there—so we knew he was comfortable with it. And we always like the idea of getting out of town and away from distractions, so we headed up there and made the record.

It sounds like it was all really collaborative. Did any band dynamics change with the new guitarist coming in, or did he fit right in?

Yeah, he really did. It’s always a learning curve when you have someone new and there’s a give and a take, like in any relationship. It takes a little while to get used to that, but really quickly we knew what he had to give was essential to where the record was going, and he’s just a great musical mind. It took us a few months, like I said, trying lots of different ideas and figuring out the direction of the album, but once we found it, things really came into place. And Chris brought it completely together into one harmonious, unifying sound that may or may not have been there if we’d done it with someone else.

If you had to describe the album, how would you do?

To me, I think it has an excitement and an energy that reflects our live show. And I think it has a freshness, too. People have a hard time saying what it sounds like and that’s always been a little bit of our problem. Not to say we completely reinvented the wheel, but I think we’ve brought something that’s unique to the table. I think there’s a little bit of an enigmatic, exciting sound that people are trying to put their finger on.

Your shows are known for being super high-energy. How do you maintain that energy during your sets?

For one, I think we get really excited when people respond to the music. If we give energy and it comes back from the crowd, it gives us that much more energy. Sometimes we have to hold ourselves back and say, “Oh yeah, we need to play these songs and make them sound good.” So we’re trying to find that balance of energy and getting the songs to come across correctly. It’s just always been a part of our band—it hasn’t quite been a part of our albums, because it’s hard to capture what happens in front of a crowd of people. But I think we’re a lot closer to it on this record.

What part of the process do you personally get more excited about, the writing or the performing?

To me, it’s all one huge whole. We have to make amazing songs that we all love and are going to be happy to play countless times in front of people for the rest of our lives, probably. And we have to bring something new to the table that we’re excited about and that will excite our fans, so that has its own concept—stress, excitement, and beauty. To me, it really comes to its full culmination when we play in front of people and they respond.

Do you prefer smaller, intimate audiences, or do you guys get pumped for the space and energy that comes with a bigger festival like Sweetlife?

We’ve played some really big festivals and most of them we’ve played during the daytime—we’ve never, like, headlined a national festival, so once we get to that point it’ll be an interesting and exciting thing in and of itself. But there’re different kinds of nerves that come there, when you’re proving yourself in front of people and trying to make new fans, and that’s great. But at the same time, when you’re playing at your own sold-out show, whether it’s in front of 200 people or 2,000 people, that feels like home. That feels like where a band is supposed to be. But who knows? Maybe one day headlining Austin City Limits or something will feel like that too.

Are you excited about coming to DC?

Yeah, we love DC and we love the 9:30 Club—we’ve always had great shows there. We’re super excited for that show and just to get to the East Coast.

What else can we expect from you Saturday? Any other surprises besides the giant lighting contraption?

[Laughs] I just think it’s going to be a fun, exciting show and hopefully bigger and better before.

And for Sweetlife? ASAP Rocky will be there, so maybe you’ll finally get to see him perform.

Yeah, and Zola Jesus! Honestly, I haven’t looked into it too much, but we got the list of bands and we got the offer, so we’re thrilled to be playing. And any excuse to come back to DC is great!

Delta Spirit plays the 9:30 Club this Saturday, March 31. Tickets are sold out.

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