Matthew Vasquez might have grown up to be anything – an actor, a politician, an investment banker – if only it hadn’t been for his grandmother.
The Delta Spirit frontman’s gran was the sixth employee hired by electric instrument pioneer Leo Fender when he began manufacturing his designs in the 1950s. So when the time came to pick gifts for the grandchildren, the choice was obvious to her – if a little sexist.
“She bought every boy a guitar,” Vasquez told Pollstar. “And every girl a sewing machine. I got a Stratocaster when I was 8 years old and I’ve been playing it ever since. ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana was my first song.
“Since then I’ve stolen almost all the other guitars from the boys in my family who haven’t played them.”
As a matter of fact, the band’s co-founder, Jon Jameson, plays a bass that Vasquez appropriated from his cousin.
Delta Spirit came together in 2005 when Jameson, drummer Brandon Young and guitarist Sean Walker decided to get serious about starting a band of their own. Young met Vasquez when the singer was busking late one night in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, where he’d gone to escape the confines of his family’s cramped living quarters.
“I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with my parents, my brother and my sister,” Vasquez explained. “I didn’t really have a lot of places to play music. I’d just gotten a new car, so I decided to drive down there and play.”
A second chance encounter with Young at Jameson’s apartment a few days later resulted in a week-long jam session that convinced everyone involved they were on to something.
The group’s fifth component, Kelly Winrich, started out as Delta Spirit’s producer but quickly became a full-time member of the band.
Calling Winrich a keyboard player or Walker a guitarist is actually misleading. Every member of the group plays more than one instrument, which Jameson said makes recording and performing interesting.
“There are four of us who are drummers in this band,” Jameson told Pollstar. “We have one song where three of us are playing percussion at the end. Whoever gets to the instrument first and comes up with a part gets to keep it.
“It does sometimes complicate things because although all of us play multiple instruments, not all of us play all the instruments. So if Kelly, who normally plays keys, and Matt are playing guitar, Sean’s stuck because he doesn’t play piano. It kind of leaves people out, but they just figure out something they can do like grab a shaker or a drum or sing a harmony. Usually it ends up being a creative situation.”
The multi-instrumental tendencies of Delta Spirit’s members came in handy when it came time to record the band’s debut, Ode to Sunshine. The group headed for the hills and holed up in a borrowed cabin, improvising with whatever was handy, including a trash can lid, to make up for the instruments they didn’t bring along.
The result is an album that combines sunny California rock with a hard-driving blues swagger and successfully captures the spontaneity of a live Delta Spirit show.
Paradigm’s Jackie Nalpant was introduced to the band when they opened for another act she books, Cold War Kids, and was hooked right away.
“The first time I saw them, they were just incredibly soulful,” Nalpant told Pollstar. “Matt’s presence just set them apart from a lot of other bands that one sees around the circuit.
“It’s not pretentious. It’s not trying to be indie or precious. It’s just pure in what it’s trying to do, which is great songs with great players. It’s pretty hard to walk away and go, ‘Eh, that was adequate.’ People who love music love them.”
Another strong supporter of Delta Spirit is Monotone’s Brett Williams, who was familiar with the group’s members from other bands they’d been in and came on board early, even though that meant not getting paid for a while.
“When we first started, we did what we thought we were supposed to do,” Jameson explained. “We played any show that was offered to us and did as many residencies in Southern California as possible.”
Williams, who also manages Cold War Kids, thinks diving into touring headfirst even though the money wasn’t always great was the right choice.
“They’ve probably played 300 shows,” he told Pollstar. “They’re a really experienced band and you can tell that when they’re doing a show. Compared to a buzz band that’s played like six shows, you can really tell the difference. They’re all incredible musicians.
“If I had to make a model of a band’s career, Delta Spirit would be it. You have to hand it to them. They’ve worked hard. They haven’t really gotten a lot of breaks. They weren’t a buzz band or critic’s choice or media darlings. They’ve really just gone out there and worked hard and ground it out. Now they’re reaping the benefits.”
Recent benefits include the band’s just-completed run of its first European dates and an in-progress, sold-out headlining tour of the States, along with some of that elusive media attention.
Speaking of Europe, while Delta Spirit was in Amsterdam, they stopped by the city's Paradiso to do this live webcast for our friends at Fabchannel.com who loaned it to us to share.
After an appearance at South By Southwest in Austin in March, Delta Spirit will head back to Europe, followed by stops at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza and more U.S. headlining dates.
Williams says things couldn’t be going better for the hardworking quintet.
“So far this tour has been really exciting. We used to get text messages every night from the band about how bad the show was and now we’re getting texts about how great the show was.”