During an extended stay at home with his family, Matthew Logan Vasquez of Delta Spirit talked with QRO. In the conversation, Vasquez discussed reuniting Delta Spirit behind their new album, What Is There (QRO review), growing up & falling in love, getting to spend time with his family in Texas, having to cancel Delta Spirit’s ‘Not Dead Yet’ return tour after the first night, health care, looking at the calendar and imagining what would have been happening, drive-in shows, Bob Dylan, Jon Bon Jovi, CBS Sunday Morning, no longer dumpster-diving at Trader Joe’s, and much more…
QRO: How are you holding up, during all of this?
Matthew Logan Vasquez: Oh man, I’m actually really great.
2020 is the year of acceptance. That’s kind of how I’m taking it. This is fantastic.
There’s been so much time in my life, since becoming a dad. Traveling the world, just touring a lot, having to be away to be creative, or go make money. Having a complete year, and maybe longer – that time off has been incredible.
Especially for the summer. Taught my son how to swim. Got him out of the training wheels…
Mama, my mom, has got him two days a week, so I spend those days in the studio, creating. As the eb & flow of the virus dictates, we open our pod up here & there. Open up a little bit, and then close it right back down. That kind of thing. Where it’s like, ‘Oh, we saw these people, and then we keep it tight for a while.’ And then, ‘Oh, we see these people.’ Just kind of insuring that if, somehow, we are the folks that get it, that we’re not the ones spreading it. Which has been nice.
My wife likes me a lot more, so that’s good. We’ve really been pitching in, and really found a groove & teamwork. I’m never gonna forget this time. I’m loving it.
QRO: You haven’t gotten sick of each other?…
MV: No. I asked Martha to marry me at the end of being on tour with Middle Brother. Her and I were in my 2004 Kia Optima, driving around, chasing Dawes and Deer Tick around the country, as we did our Middle Brother tour back in 2011. And then we got married not long after that.
Anybody I can go on tour with like that, just the two of us, completely not sick, across the continental United States, seeing each other grouchy and sick, from the shotgun seat of a Kia Optima, you know, we’re good. We’re still good. I don’t get sick of her.
We’ll drive each other crazy here and there, but you know, that’s how it goes…
2020 is the year of acceptance. That’s kind of how I’m taking it. This is fantastic.
QRO: How old is your son?
MV: He’s five now. He’s a killer. He’s a sweet boy.
QRO: Where are you quarantining, where do you live?
MV: We used to live in Oslo, Norway. We just moved back to beautiful Wimberley, Texas, in the hill country outside of Austin, Texas. The Airbnb wedding venue capital of Texas.
It’s gorgeous. It’s super-pretty. Most of the people that live in our neighborhood are like over the age of sixty-five and cool as hell.
We are in somewhat Trump country, even though our tiny county went blue. Very proud of that.
QRO: And how are your bandmates doing?
MV: Everybody’s pretty darn good. We’ve got two New Yorkers, a Quebecois…
Kelly [Winrich, multi-instrumentalist] in our band bought a bar in Brooklyn called ‘Maracuja’ the day they closed the bars. [laughs] Which is great, because he had all this extra time. He’s the guy in our band who puts the production together. Builds these giant walls of light, crazy things. So, for him, it was like, ‘You mean I get to get into this cocoon of construction, and make this place really dope?’ And so, he did that.
I guess they opened up dining in the street. They’ve been apparently been doing just fine, even in the midst of this stuff. New York will forever be Disneyland for adults. If you don’t have a kid, you’re going to a bar & hanging out. Ironically, with it closing, ended up being perfect timing.
Our other bandmate, William McLaren [guitarist], they’re keeping their place, but they’re gonna go north, spend some time out of the city.
We all, as a band, lived in New York. For myself, it was like a three-year period. And then we decided to have kids. What’s it like, ‘Growing an oak tree in a thimble,’ was that the billboard by the Highline, that funny guy that always makes those funny billboards?
I grew up in South Austin, and when we talked about going back and having kids, we decided to… The New York call was there for us, and we really enjoyed it. We fell in love in New York; the first time I kissed my wife was in New York. Always special. And forever the coolest city on the planet.
It’s cool, though, that we have two die hard New Yorkers in our band.
And then the other two guys, one lives in Montreal – that’s Jon Jameson, our bass player. And then our drummer [Brandon Young] currently residing in San Diego, but has been living in L.A. for a long time too. Southern California until he dies. Not for me, but I totally get it.
QRO: When did you live in Oslo?
MV: [laughs] It’s been a crazy…
The band, in 2015, took a hiatus to just kind of take stock, see where everyone’s at, and wanted to make sure everybody’s head was in the game the next time we stepped into a room together, to make music.
It was definitely the case that, when we made our last record [2014’s Into the Wide – QRO review], just after touring, all of these expectations – you know, you can only be told so many times, every time you make a record, somebody’s like, ‘Your life’s about to change. You’re about to be the biggest band in the world.’
And we’ve all been in bands since we were eighteen, and heard that from various degrees of trustworthiness. That sense of, ‘Something’s about to happen, oh my god!’ And then always the deflating feeling at the end of the rainbow… [laughs]
And also, just falling in love with people. Our lives are not living for each other the same way they were. We weren’t dumpster-diving Trader Joe’s, figuring out some guerilla way to go record in a cabin in the California mountains. This band has figured out its own touring business, its own weather, and isn’t so dependent on the economy of, you know, hype, that it was.
But, at the same time, it’s like, we can’t just puke out a record. It’s got to mean a lot to us, and feel challenged. And I think we all needed to do some living, in hindsight, we all did.
And I had a lot of songs left over. A record that was everything Delta Spirit wasn’t, and just needed to scratch all those itches, so I could come back with love and respect towards the end.
Austin was part of that move. Living in New York, having a kid… The geography of our band is now tri-coastal. That’s how we go.
You can only be told so many times, every time you make a record, somebody’s like, ‘Your life’s about to change. You’re about to be the biggest band in the world.’
It’s been cool coming back to it. We stepped into a room in November 2018, so two years ago. We had been talking – and I had been living, like I said, my wife is Norwegian. So, we were actually living in Norway. We had long since ‘saved our friendship’ in the band, and decided, ‘Hey, you know…’
I made three solo records [Solicitor Returns (2016), Does What He Wants (2017), Light’n Up (2019)], and the Glorietta record with a bunch of friends. Doing the Glorietta record, was like, ‘Oh man, I really love collaboration again. I really wanna do this with Delta Spirit, and see if we can make something happen.’
We sat in a room, and within the first day, we had so many chords together, different parts of each song. We had six or eight of those ideas. It was like, laughing, playing the old songs, and just being like, ‘Yeah, it’s rough here, and it’s not as good, but it is there. There is some kinetic energy that is just undeniable.’
And there’s something about when you’re in a band where everybody in the band takes ownership of it. Versus a singer/songwriter thing, which was a really fun lesson. Also, it felt good to rest my shoulders, to be in a room with people that would just unemotionally take suggestion.
But there is real power in that attachment, in each member. And we’ve only got to do that twice so far.
I think we’re gonna call our next tour, ‘Not Dead Yet, Still’ – it’s kind of poignant and ironic.
We did a New Year’s show in Austin at The Mohawk. And then we played at the Great American Music Hall on the first night of our tour… [laughs] Of the ‘Not Dead Yet Tour’ – plenty of t-shirts available! I think we’re gonna call our next tour, ‘Not Dead Yet, Still’ – it’s kind of poignant and ironic.
We played the Great American Music Hall the last night you could have mass gatherings in California. It was so fun in San Francisco.
It was also scary. Because we didn’t know, ‘Is this airborne? What’s up with these masks?’ Will had just gotten back from Burning Man, and so he had a spare mask, so I could fly home with his Burning Man mask on, which was really nice of him, to give me his spare. [laughs] So weird!
But it felt like we were all in Contagion, remember? All the South-by[-Southwest] stuff, watched our calendars dwindle through.
I’d look at the calendar and be like, ‘Oh, Newport Folk Festival is this week. We would have played this afterparty, and I was gonna invite this guy to hang out, and I was gonna see Nathaniel [Rateliff], and we were gonna do this whole thing, catch up, yada-yada-yada…’
I felt like I did them, just by looking at the calendar. Because I know what would have happened. It’s not the first time I played Newport Folk Festival – I love Newport Folk Festival! I would have loved to go back! Oh, my heart hurts, a little bit…
But it doesn’t hurt enough by comparison, when I look at my son, and we just play all day. And he’s just like, ‘Papa, I get to play all day with you.’ And he’s swimming, and learning stuff – things that I haven’t done in five years.
And that’s kind of like all of us. Yeah, we’re ready to get back to it. And it’s coming back – come on, Pfizer! Big Pharma, let’s go! You’ve been price-gouging us for years, let’s go, it’s your turn…
QRO: It’s a little weird rooting for Big Pharma…
MV: Oh my god it is! It is crazy. The whole thing is insane, our medical stuff is. I guess we’ll see what happens.
We have a COVID baby coming along, which is really exciting.
And just thinking about, still, to this day, we still have to call to find out, you know – I did check, and I found out that our anesthesiologist is in our network. I had to call and find out if our pediatrician is still in our network. You have to do that. That’s how insurance works.
This is the age that we live in. This happened to us our last kid, and this happened to enough people now that it’s a bipartisan issue we’re still waiting to have solved.
Everybody agrees with that, the same way that everybody agrees that like schizophrenic people should not be allowed to have guns. Yet, there’s no way to find out if that person’s schizophrenic. These are common sense things.
I’d hoped that a guy as crazy as Trump could get that done, and obviously, he hasn’t. [laughs]
Hopefully people… I’m an optimist. We’ll see. Something’s gonna happen, you know?
Austin, Texas is the best place for musicians to live.
QRO: I’ve interviewed people in Canada, Europe, and they’re mystified by what we have to go through with health care.
MV: Oh yeah. A child will at least cost my family, at minimum, eight thousand dollars. More like fifteen thousand dollars. I’m basically buying a really fancy used car, than have a kid.
We saved up. And that’s part of it. The other end of that is, hey man, I’m not paying the tax that people in Norway pay.
But it’s all rolled into – there isn’t a Norwegian citizen, not a single one, that’s completely bankrupted by their medical bills. And that’s impressive. And that’s a different society, right?
QRO: And I deal a lot with musicians who a generally self-employed…
MV: We’re all Affordable Care Act. It’s insane.
Austin, Texas is the best place for musicians to live. I’ll say that until the day I die – or until it’s not the case, how ‘bout that?
We have HAAM [Health Alliance for Austin Musicians] here, for musicians, and it’s incredible!
QRO: Yes! I’ve been to a few of their South-by-Southwest events (QRO recap)…
MV: They’re the most helpful people. They walk everybody through…
That’s a COVID sad thing, that I’m missing hanging out and seeing like – I ran into Bobby [Perkins], who plays with Topaz, Ian Moore, a bunch of Austin legend dudes. You just like run into that dude, and all walks of life of Austin musicians.
They’re all in there. Have a meeting with somebody to walk us through our health care website. Which is pretty self-explanatory; I can do that part. But sitting with somebody and helping you fill it out, is definitely a load off. And then them turning around and covering half if not all of your health insurance, or a quarter of it. It just depends on how much they’ve raised and been able to do. I mean, what a godsend to so many of us.
I will humble myself into a job, no problem. But it’s one of those things where it’s like having a group basically say, ‘Hey, we see you. We know you don’t get paid enough, and you work your ass off, and you make all the reason why this city is fun to visit.’
It’s not just cause the F1 track is here – that’s once a year, dude. [laughs] You can go to a show for pretty cheap and see incredible local artists play, all the time, writing amazing songs, play circles around anybody else in any city.
Especially if we’re talking proficient punk. Or blues music. Or Tejano kind of stuff. Here, it’s just the shit. It’s so fun.
That’s what I’ll say about HAAM… [laughs]
QRO: When did you make What Is There?
MV: We made it through 2019.
QRO: So, it wasn’t during the pandemic…
MV: No, definitely not.
There are a couple odd parallels to that, that were just convenient. We kind of steered clear of it.
And I’m steering clear of it now. All the music I’m writing is completely void of this. There’s no Republican/Democrat conversation, there’s no BLM conversation, there’s no pandemic conversation.
I’m an avid CBS Sunday Morning watcher – and I love Face the Nation too. Margaret [Brennan, Face host]! Jane [Pauley, Sunday Morning host]! I actually wrote a song about CBS Sunday Morning; that’s about as political it’s got for me so far. How chicken soup for the soul – it just seems like we’re all a little bit less separated, a little less in disagreement, when they interview folks. It’s a little bit more easy to digest. They go pretty softball.
But speaking about softballs, they did a whole thing on Jon Bon Jovi – he made a protest record! Once Jon Bon Jovi has got something to say about society, I’m gonna start writing about some other stuff. He writes the catchy stuff – I just can’t compete with that. I’m gonna write about other stuff, life experience.
I don’t know exactly why [Bob] Dylan wrote Another Side of Bob Dylan and then didn’t go back to those kind of songs, but I relate, in a way, where I, for myself, know from when I was twenty-three-years-old, I was writing like “People Turn Around” and these songs I wrote, obviously influenced by that man and by those opinions, and being under George W. and having people my age going off to war for bullshit reasons (as history shows these days).
There’s definitely a point in your twenties, when you’re so self-assured. You’re also the center of your own orbit, your own universe, you know what I mean? There’s kind of an attitude where you’re like, ‘Hey everybody! You guys are fucking up! Get it right! This is the idea! This is the thing!’ That is for people 18-25 to do that, I feel like. In a really powerful way. I feel like it’s more powerful if the youth can do it, than it is for me to do it.
Cause when I do it, I just feel like a curmudgeon. Where it’s like, ‘Oh, it didn’t go my way, man!’ I said what I had to say, and I still feel that way, what I said – I just have other experiences that I would rather write about.
I’ve spent this much time in the songwriting world for myself, in the crafting ideas of songwriting, where it’s like, one, I don’t need to make every song about myself. I can write a love song that’s actually happy instead of heartbroken. Or if I write a heartbroken song, I can [laughs] use less ‘well-trodden vernacular,’ how’s that? Where it’s just like, ‘Brother, cousin, sister, whiskey’ – try to steer clear of those types of stuff.
Once Jon Bon Jovi has got something to say about society, I’m gonna start writing about some other stuff.
QRO: How was returning to making a Delta Spirit record, after having done all the solo records?
MV: Oh man, so good! [laughs] So interesting…
Three solo records, plus this Glorietta thing. The first one was everything Delta Spirit isn’t. The second one is literally called, ‘Does What He Wants.’ Cause that was actually a thing [laughs] in the band that I people would say about me, ‘Matt just does whatever he wants.’ Yeah, you’re right.
Me working out all of that. Where it’s like, ‘What is Delta Spirit?’ It’s whatever we decide to play. A lot of those songs could have ended up being Delta Spirit songs, but it was just kind of like raw, free and open. Where it was like, ‘Yes, this could have been a Delta Spirit song. It could be this or it could be anything.’
The third one was this journal that was a really tough point for me. My wife’s dad got Alzheimer’s. I’d been touring my ass off to get us to a really stable place in life, which we got to, and I’m really grateful for, but at the same time, that kind of all got thrown out the window when we moved to Oslo to be close to her folks, kind of investigate the ex-pat thing. It was the record where my needs in life became secondary to my family, digesting that stuff. Had to go on tour, to make enough to survive in that very, very expensive – and wonderful city.
And that kind of carried over into this record, from that standpoint, where those songs were sitting. It was kind of a continuation of what I brought, lyrically & topically, to this record with that.
And then the other thing was that collaboration. Being able to find consensus, and being able to lead without being an absolute asshole, Napoleon jerk, you know? Carry myself with enough confidence about what I’m bringing to the table also, where it’s just like, ‘Yeah, I know this is great, but it will end up on something else.’ If a song is good, it’s gonna end up on something. It doesn’t have to be this one, this time, today.
Bruce Springsteen is great with that. He’ll resurrect a song from the eighties.
And that’s kind of the attitude I’d like to take at this point. Where it’s like, ‘Man, I got a lot of songs.’ Everything, I’m super-proud of, and so stoked on.
With this, it’s just like, ‘Let’s find the ultimate way of finding consensus without letting the initial idea be sacrificed.’ And we did that. And it was cool.
Being able to find consensus, and being able to lead without being an absolute asshole, Napoleon jerk, you know?
You know, a lot of demos get created and then get destroyed, and it takes a lot of work. Record a whole song and then be like, ‘The tempo’s too slow.’ And then not having availability of the band to vary-speed it, so you chop the whole thing into bits, virtual, and speed it up, five BPM, and that completely changes the song.
There was a lot of that kind of ‘due diligence’ on these tunes, five different sessions, something like that, before we finally went into the studio, and just kind of played clean-up with what we had been working on.
Some things off of our demos survived from the very outset. Like the autotune vocal on “How Bout It” is Will singing into a Roland voice effect box, like a techno pedal. He was singing into that, into his super-reverb. It just was cool.
That was kind of nice to have those elements of everything along the way, things that that could make it onto the record. Not just some polished, over-thought-out thing, but it was just kind of like, ‘What feels right here?’ Not everything’s picked the same day.
We had Jason Kingsland engineer, who’s such a trusted person. We were definitely really fragile in the studio. We hadn’t toured [laughs] – and we were really looking forward to being on tour, getting everything up to snuff in that sense, but I think we’re gonna start working on another one at some point here, and kind of be forced to do the same way.
Which is great. I think it’s a cerebral way of making music. Our mix prep, and all this stuff, our parts get written, and then they get comped & edited and put together on the thing, and sent via e-mail, text chain. Literally go, ‘What does everybody think?’ Or like, ‘Here is Will wailing on a guitar solo. Which one is your favorite?’ [laughs]
And that’s just a way of consensus that is so twenty-first century, that has just never existed before. It would cost a lot of money, and a lot of tape, to mail to each person, you know?
QRO: I know you said that you’re loving this time at home with your family, but are you still also bummed that you haven’t been able to immediately tour behind the new record?
MV: Yeah, I’m not crazy dude – I miss touring!
I miss playing in front of people like crazy, but I’ve gotten to do it.
I live in central Texas, so we have some motivated, amazing people in this town that are non-musicians, that are just killer patrons.
There’s been this group, Love & Light, that have put on these drive-in shows. You play to like 800 people or whatever. There are these park spots, everybody parks their car facing away, opens up the back of their SUV, puts out their folding chairs, got their Yeti cooler drinking White Claw and living the dream. And we get to play loud as hell.
I got to do two of those. I did another one for the Hill Country Conservancy, which is like our water protector, natural protector of this region.
Having not played loud for that long, doing it for the first time just felt like flying. Literally, that moment where Robin Williams in Hook just remembers his happy thought, “Oh my god!” [laughs] That’s definitely the moment.
And it’s been cool, my son has been moshing in the front space, just losing his mind. That’s been great. His favorite band is ZZ Top, great.
Delta Spirit’s video for “How Bout It”:
QRO: How was making the video for “How Bout It”?
MV: Oh, Michael Parks Randa – he is a total stud.
I met him through social media, Facebook, whatnot. And he was like, ‘Hey man, I want to make a music video for you.’ Solo stuff, he made one music video, and then after that we became really tight. I had nothing to do with that video, and then we became friends, went on tour together. He’s just an incredible dude.
And when the idea of making a new Delta Spirit video came out, he was obviously the first call. Everybody in the band immediately fell in love with him.
The initial treatment for “How Bout It” was something about a dog & his owner both eating mushrooms and having a whole thing. We decided that was a bad idea and we weren’t going to do that, and then COVID happened, and it was basically like, ‘Well, we have only one option.’
In previous music videos that he’s made, he’s just been really gifted at getting strangers and other people to find a common goal. Reach out to people from all sort of walks of life, crowd-source stuff. He’s done that a couple times, in the videos that he’s made for myself and other projects. This is definitely the “November Rain” of him doing that. [laughs]
There was something like thirty DPs [director of photography] on it. With a DP filmmaker, he’s watching the shot get done through FaceTime. Like, he didn’t come to Texas, but he basically coached how it was going to get shot, on every shot. Such brilliant footage, and then he put it all together. We had so much extra that we made all these lyrics videos. It was really special.
[Doomsday Entertainment], the company that did [Childish Gambino’s] “This Is America”, they hired him the day after that video came out. They’re like, ‘You are just the greatest. Let’s go!’
I can’t emphasize enough how gifted a builder he is, of people.
QRO: During this time, have you picked up and/or accelerated any bad habits? Like I only recently got my first pandemic haircut…
MV: I quit smoking.
I definitely gained some weight. When you buy a big bag of Halloween candy, and then you don’t have anybody come pick it up, that’s gonna happen. But that’s on its wait out…
I actually mostly picked up good habits. Getting on a morning routine of meditation, calling dudes, checking in with friends and making sure people are connected. I think there has been a lot of those things.
Delta Spirit playing “California” live at Irving Plaza in New York, NY on November 27th, 2012: