Written by Kathryn Savage
"Hang on a second!" The Delta Spirits' Jon Jameson yells into the receiver followed by a series of muffled, gurgling noises.
"There, sorry." He's back after a frantic pause. The San Diego bassist explains that he's driving to Long Beach and a cop rolled up, "I had to put my headset on."
In contrast to Delta Spirit's raw, hungry vocals, impassioned instrumentation, and soul-searching lyrics, I'm struck by Jameson's unabashed cheerfulness. But maybe his good mood has nothing to do with making music. It's friday after all, a sunny afternoon in California, and he's heading to his girlfriend's place.
For a band with roots firmly planted in Southern California's beige suburban landscape, Delta Spirit (as their name implies) has laid their musical foundation elsewhere; someplace mud-caked, yellow-tinged, and damp. "Our sound is American," Jameson explains. "Which means it can contain a lot of other sounds because America is such a broad and diverse place. We have sort of a backyard American sound."
Don't be fooled--Delta Spirit isn't a case of sun-kissed youth trying on Paul Bunyan flannel, it just happens the music they make well doesn't sound very...beachy. Listening to Ode to Sunshine, the ruckus, soulful, debut album that sent Delta Spirit on a blitz of tours including a kickoff with the Cold War Kids, makes you think of fanning flies away from sweaty brows not surfing. "We don't really connect with surfer culture." Jameson says. "We've surfed a little, but it's not a big influence."
The band is composed of brotherly 20-somethings, but their sound could be the invention of unshaven, ponderous 50-somethings. Jon Jameson and drummer Brandon Young--after years of playing together, hooked up with guitarist Sean Walker and met vocalist Matt Vasquez singing his heart out on the San Diego streets in the early stretch of night; Vasquez was only 19. They wrangled Kelly Winrich, a skilled multi-instrumentalist, and headed to the hills--literally, recording Ode to Sunshine in a friend's mountain cabin. "It was hot as hell, and I pretty much overdid whiskey." Jameson says with a laugh. "No more whiskey."
From a recording standpoint, the cabin in the San Diego Mountains proved to be an ideal setting, encouraging their music making process which is already "pretty collaborative." On some tracks, they sound like a gang of barefoot troubadours doing Beatles covers: the rhythm is catchy, the lyrics are romantic, the guitar chords are gentle--but there's always something lurking beneath the surface. Vasquez sings like a prep school Jack White--even when he's serenading the listener there's a cracking, screaming, anxiety beneath it all. While Delta Spirit can't draw inspiration from lonely childhoods on windswept plains they didn't share, their songs surge from a broken center and hint at aged heartaches and a time before iPhones. It's the kind of music you want to listen to at a cabin.
You could even go so far as to say Ode to Sunshine is a playful tribute to ghosts. Maybe you'd be borrowing from your own memory bank: your own longings, fugitive loves, and shy dreams; dumping your demons on their sound, but maybe that's just fine.
History has afforded Delta Spirit at least one gift already, borrowed from Jameson's great uncle. His "Uncle Red", who worked as an Alabama flight control operator owned "Delta Spirit Taxidermy Station of North Central Alabama."
"Yeah," Jameson says with an air of pride. "We stole the name from him."
The Delta Spirit plays with Nada Surf and The Jealous Girlfriends on Friday, November 28 at the Fine Line Music Cafe. 18+. $20. 8 p.m.