Matthew Logan Vasquez, frontman of the Delta Spirit, released LIGHT’N UP, his third solo album, in February via Dine Alone Records. Matthew is now on tour, and he headlines DC9 on Saturday, May 18.
In advance of his show, Parklife DC’s Mark Engleson caught up with Matthew to talk about his various projects, the places he’s lived, and Austin music scene.
Mark Engleson: How’re you doing, Matthew?
Matthew Logan Vasquez: Good. We just got done playing Oklahoma City last night and we’re headed to KC tonight. We stopped at a Walmart to buy socks and some gear.
ME: You gotta take care of things like your feet.
MLV: That’s exactly right. I’m actually looking right now at new gel insoles. You can’t have stinky feet. We got caught in the rain last night.
ME: I’m in DC, and I was at a festival. It’s in the city, but since I don’t drive, they’re forecasting thunderstorms, I’m like, I’m getting out of here before that happens, I’m not getting stuck out here waiting for an Uber. It’s not just the rain, the prices are going to skyrocket.
MLV: Sure, yeah.
ME: The first thing I wanted to ask you about is, you have so many different projects you’ve been involved with, you are involved with: there’s Delta Spirit; you had Middle Brother, which has been inactive for a number of years; Glorietta, last year. Could you talk about the different projects that have been, are, their status, and maybe anything else that you might have cooking on the back burner that we might not know about?
MLV: The things that are cooking are all top-secret, but I’ve been in Delta Spirit for 10 years. We started in 2005. It’s been a long hiatus, [and we’re] always looking at when to come back, or is it the impossible with the fact that I’m living in Oslo, Norway, now and the bass player is in Montreal, two guys are in New York, and one dude’s in Los Angeles. We’re all geographically spread apart quite a bit, but we keep in touch.
With Middle Brother, John and Taylor and I remain really good friends, I love them so much, a lot of love for each other. That was kind of a happy accident, that record. It did so well and had stuck with people. The songs just caught us all at the right time in terms of where we were at with our songwriting and how it all gelled together. I’ve been doing my own solo stuff since 2015. That’s been going really great. Super fun. Definitely getting my creative bone. Creative bone’s probably not the right word. I’m scratching that itch for myself.
The Glorietta project, which happened last year, is now done. That was a real blast having — it was just one of those things where I haven’t been in a band for a minute since Delta Spirit’s been on a long break, and I really wanted to have a collaborative experience, inviting my friends out: David Ramirez, Noah Gunderson, Kelsey Wilson, Jason Bluhm, Nathaniel Rateliff and some of the Night Sweats guys, Adrian Quesada. It was just like a house party for a week.
Being able to switch it up and wear a different hat as a producer moreso than even a songwriter — I wrote songs for it, I did that, but mainly I was just creating the vibe for myself and feeling that collaboration in the room. It was amazing. I’m definitely thinking of new projects, but nothing enough to speak of yet.
Stream Glorietta by Glorietta on Spotify:
ME: How’d you end up in Oslo?
MLV: My wife is from Norway, so it’s always kind of been on the table. We have a house outside of Austin, Texas, in a place called Wimberley, Texas. It’s gorgeous. Ray Wylie Hubbard lives there. Moving to Oslo was always on the table. My father-in-law, he was right on the borderline of early-onset Alzheimer’s at 65, and it is pretty tough on my wife and her family and us. We really wanted to make sure that we got to spend some time with him before he slid as far as he’s gone now. It’s been great that we’ve been out there. But, ultimately, we just decided this last winter that we’re moving back, which is great also.
ME: To Austin, you mean?
MLV: Yeah, back to Austin, Texas. But Oslo has been an incredible experience, living in a completely new culture. I’ve lived on three coasts of America and one Scandinavian country.
ME: Where are you from originally?
MLV: I was born in California, but I spent half my life in Austin. My dad worked for Lockheed-Martin. We moved every three years, at first all around southern California, and then Austin, all through the ’90s. And then, my dad ultimately got laid off from Lockheed-Martin in 1997 and we moved — my dad tried to stick it out the best he could. Went through a bankruptcy. Then I dropped a bunch of LSD, went to high school, and moved to back California. I was there through high school and a little bit after. When Delta Spirit started, and all of Delta Spirit moved to New York. Moved to Austin, and now to Oslo. My mom is still in Austin, Texas, and my dad is in California.
ME: Does your family have any sort of musical background? Are they music lovers?
MLV: Yeah, they’re music lovers. My mom loves Janis Joplin and told me if I’m going to sing, sing like her. My grandma on my dad’s side was actually the sixth employee of Thunder Guitars.
ME: Oh, wow.
MLV: She was there before it was a proper building. It was just a chain link fence. There was no bathroom there, you had to use the gas station caddie-corner on the block. She worked there on and off because my grandpa was in the Navy. She worked there for some time, and then they go’d to Guam, and then come back, and work there a little bit more. Pretty cool. She gave all her grandsons guitars. I got my first guitar when I was seven years old, a GNL, the later company that George Fullerton and Leo started together. Still have it. Been playing since I was seven, and that was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I still love it so much. The only way I can kind of communicate.
Stream Light’n Up by Matthew Logan Vasquez on Spotify:
ME: I know you’ve been away from it for a little while, but could you talk a little bit about the music scene in Austin?
MLV: Oh, yeah: the greatest music scene on the planet. It’s diverse for what it is. It’s maybe a million people that live there and you have hip-hop, you have punk music, you have all the folk stuff, you have Whiskey Shivers, some pretty insane pure bluegrass, all the while just being normal people. They don’t have to dress up to do it. Everybody’s just kind of within their own skin and really comfortable. I think the thing that makes the music scene even able to exist is the culture and the community of Austin and the music fan. Because people will go see a Big Freedia show on Monday and then go see Wild Child on a Thursday and go see sludge karaoke on a Saturday. People don’t care; they just like music. They go out and support it.
So for bands that largely play for each other a lot of times and kind of have that local community where you’re really playing for your friends have them think you’re cool, that vibe is definitely alive and well. I didn’t have to slug it out there. I slugged it out in California with Delta Spirit. My comings up were San Diego and Orange County and Los Angeles and doing residencies and earning it that way. Those are really tough on you. But I love Austin’s music scene. I mean, you have all those things working together, and you KGSR and KGX, the radio stations that play local music and curate events that get people involved. You have rich people that are patrons, so it’s great.
ME: If I remember correctly from the year I spent in Austin which is, I’m dating myself now, going back to 2003-04, a lot of it was not incredibly expensive compared to a lot of a places.
MLV: It’s changed a lot. I think in general, everything has got more more expensive. In the early 2000s, Austin was still very much my Austin as a kid.
ME: It was still less than 700,000 people when I moved.
MLV: It was tiny. My pal Charles has an opinion, I kind of agree with — what do you think? Because he grew up in Austin and his grandfather owned Zilker [Park] or something. It’s more like, you just can have everything you want now, too. It’s not just the small city. In the ’90s, all the bands I wanted to see were playing Dallas and skipping Austin, and now it’s the opposite. It’s more expensive. The food is great. The culture of health food and tasty food has been there; Whole Foods is from there. Instead of the punk gal with purple hair selling you your organic food it’s just a different brand of hipster. A lot of that stuff’s still there. You can still get healthy food and tasty things and your great music. Comparatively, to most big hip cities, it’s a lot cheaper.
ME: I remember when I rented — you know where? If I told you 27th and Guadelupe, would you know where I’m talking about?
MLV: Yeah, sure.
ME: Near the university. I rented an apartment there, a one bedroom, 700 square feet, it cost me a dollar a square foot.
ME: I made the mistake of getting a place without a dishwasher, which sucked, and then I moved to about 45th, over the by the H-E-B, and I had to take the shuttle to the university. I was in graduate school, studying philosophy. The second place, the $700 included utilities. When I moved to DC two years later, the change in price was phenomenal. I was paying as much to rent one room in a two-bedroom apartment.
MLV: Shit changes, and everywhere you go. The process of life. It’s actually slowed down in Austin now.
ME: Less people moving in?
MLV: I think so, or more people leaving. It’s settling a little bit, which I think is a welcome respite for a little bit. [It] gives people a chance to save up money and buy their house instead of renting. That’s good. [Laughs] It’s still the hippest place on the planet other than New Orleans. I love living in Austin, because when you in Los Angeles, you have San Francisco, but when you live in Austin, you have New Orleans.
ME: I wanted to ask you about The Walking Dead. You had a song that landed on that show. Were you a fan of the show?
MLV: [Laughs] No, totally not. I didn’t know anything about the TV show, other than they shot it in Atlanta, and I like Atlanta. I later watched it. That song has become really popular. That song I just had. I just like the practice of writing different types of songs and that’s a murder ballad. Really, I wrote that some from hanging out with A.A. Bondy a lot and him teaching me how to fingerpick. It’s just kind of an exercise to practice and see what I can do with that craft. I wrote that song, I made it a long time ago, and it never turned into anything and we had that possibility of doing The Walking Dead, zombies. I just blankly thought, “Hey, let’s go do this.” We tracked it in Chicago; we did it in an afternoon. I was really impressed with everybody getting it done so quick. I didn’t build that one to suit it. I just kind of wrote it.
Listen to “Running” by the Delta Spirit, which appears on The Walking Dead sountrack:
ME: Do you have a regular routine for writing?
MLV: In terms of my time and space is tour, and when I’m home is get settled into my role as a dad and a husband. Once that settles back in, I wake up every morning, drink a lot of coffee, and just start trying to write songs. I’ll write lots of bad stuff. I accomplish a song every other day usually, and then use certain things I liked from other things that were average and just trim the fat as I go. Once I get enough of those ideas, they finish themselves pretty quickly.
ME: It struck me what you said about writing a lot of bad stuff. My theory is that all good writers have to be able to not vomit at their own terrible writing.
MLV: Definitely. It’s a process. When I was young, I thank my lucky stars I got signed to Interscope when I was 19. I wasn’t writing good songs yet. It took my A&R guy, this guy Jeff. Jeff took me to music and was like, “Have you heard this Bob Dylan record?” I’d never really listened to the acoustic Bob Dylan. The Scorsese documentary didn’t tell me that, because it didn’t exist. Getting hip to the Velvet Underground’s first record, Tom Waits’s odd career once he started doing Rain Dogs and the Black Rider and Frank’s Wild Years. He kicked me around and, on Interscope’s dime, bought me a shit ton of records, and I started listening to those. It really formed me. Spending a lot of time in studios and with other songwriters, people like that. It just takes time. Artists, painters, tend to paint with other painters to become better and learn different ways. I never went to college, so that was kind of my college.
ME: I first saw you opening for Shovels & Rope at the 9:30 Club. How was it touring with them?
MLV: [Laughs] So good. They are my family. Our wedding anniversaries are like a week apart, and our children are one day apart. Love the hell out of Michael and Carrie’s songwriting and their voices. Been fortunate enough to do three different tour legs with them, and we call each other all the time. Especially now as parents, different phases of life. I met them at the first Shaky Knees Music, when they were just getting started. I saw Carrie Ann singing, and her whole attitude reminded me of my grandma, who should’ve been actress, the way she had a certain spark. She’s so fucking special. She just is. She’s like Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton level in person. She’s got a real powerful spirit. Michael’s ability, especially in this current scene of music going on, with how popular “Americana” is, his ability to use that vernacular, in still an interesting and effective way, and make me cry, or get me pissed off in the right kind of way — he’s a real gifted guy, a great producer.
ME: What’s the last good record you listened to?
MLV: Let me look it up. I just got a tattoo in Berlin. It’s not super new, it came out a few years ago. I’ve been listening to Streetworms.
Thanks to Matthew Logan Vasquez for a great interview! See him at DC on May 18.