Into The Wide is Delta Spirit’s escape record.
Buzzing with pent-up energy, the record stands in restless and defiant contrast to its origins, conceived and written in the band’s windowless, hurricane-flooded practice space in Brooklyn.
Dubbed the Rat Cave, Delta Spirit’s Greenpoint studio was to be a freewheeling counterpoint to the California cabin where the band recorded their 2007 debut, Ode to Sunshine. The band started writing for the new album about two years ago, right after finishing a long touring cycle for their self-titled record (which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart), but then Hurricane Sandy hit, sending floodwaters from Newtown Creek into the studio, ruining most of the band’s recording gear.
Undeterred, Delta Spirit dug in, renovating the space better than ever, and “just kept writing songs and writing songs,” says singer-guitarist Matt Vasquez. Writing and rehearsing for another year in the studio let the band soak up the confinement of the space, fueling the cabin-fever yearning and restive creativity that came to define Into The Wide.
“There’s the theme of escape in a lot of the songs, and escape in a lot of different ways—escape from New York, escape from the city and to hear the Earth again—and there’s also just escape from your own comfort and the things that you can get settled in and trying to find that way to have compassion again,” Vasquez says.
Delta Spirit’s first—and only—album as a New York band is thoroughly informed by the city, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of being dominated by gritty, urban imagery, the record uses that landscape as the foil for the outside, the longed-for, the dreamed escape, creating a tension that propels Delta Spirit through its best album yet.
“Cities, they have this thing that they do to you. Living on top of people and people living on top of you in New York, being in that space made me think about the outer world, like national parks of California, Yosemite, Sequoia and Joshua Tree,” Vasquez says. “There is a lot to glean from every place you are. Sometimes your best vision of a place is when you’re not in it, when you think back to it.”
A California-born band, Delta Spirit’s experience in New York was partly a self-imposed challenge, partly an embrace of the time-to-move-on, exploratory spirit that’s guided the band’s sonic evolution.
“The more you live and the more you travel, the idealism that you have when you’re 18 or 16 either gets stronger from the hindsight, or you have an adjustment and you start to see hopefully more clearer,” Vasquez says. “That’s where these songs come from compared to our earlier work.”
The album’s first single, “From Now On,” is a bombastic, soaring rock song that hinges on what might be a simple pledge: “from now on, I’m gonna be a friend.” But as Vasquez sings that chorus, it’s with a spirit that hearkens back to every friend of his who’s ever mattered.
“It’s such a pop-sounding song, but its content isn’t boy meets girl,” Vasquez says. “The friendships you get happen in the strangest places, where your best friend is the person you almost got in a fight with the first hour. You just somehow happened to crash into each other, and those are the friendships that last forever. All of my favorite friendships are like that.”
Delta Spirit’s inception exactly fits that mold.
“I was busking in San Diego and our drummer came up, a one-in-a-million chance, walks up and says ‘Hey man you’re good.’ We randomly ran into each other a second time and then we just hung out for a week,” Vasquez says.
“‘From Now On’ is a good one to lead with just because on this record cycle we’ll have turned a decade old and we’re still kicking at it. We’ve been holding onto this relationship and treating it as best we can to make it work out and have fun together. We just had the first band baby this last year, and everybody’s starting to get married, so we’re not the same punk kids as when we started the band. We’re a little more well-read and we’ve just been through the shit together, sleeping on floors and doing all the most insane things.”
Vasquez wrote about 45 songs in the year Delta Spirit worked on the record, turning over past experiences in his head, thinking of the future, testing his ideals and letting New York, California and his hometown of Austin wash through his thoughts.
“By the time we finished pre-production, we had the songs on the album. It’s the ones everybody loved the most. It’s awesome, like having a greatest hits of your year,” he says. “All that rough stuff and the creative differences that you have comes down to the common denominator, and you have to make sure that the thing that goes isn’t that watered-down NATO agreement of the song, but the version that everyone feels passionate about and wants to up it instead of whittle it down.”
The band (Vasquez, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Kelly Winrich, guitarist Will McLaren, bassist Jon Jameson and drummer Brandon Young) initially wanted to self-produce Into The Wide, but ending up working with producer/engineer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter). Allen brought Delta Spirit to his Maze Studio, where the big windows and natural light poured over the songs’ claustrophobic beginnings, bringing a new expansiveness to the songs that made everything click.
“He was a breath of fresh air,” Vasquez says. “He said ‘You guys are overthinking shit, just get back to the basics.’ We left New York in the middle of the winter, went down to Atlanta and had a great time.”
The conversation with Allen in Atlanta centered on how to make Into The Wide a record that harnesses the live energy that Delta Spirit has been known for, Vasquez says.
“We’ve been trying our whole career to figure out how to play so that it gives the sensation we have playing live. That’s been our greatest challenge. We’ve kind of gotten this rep of being: ‘Great live band, the records are OK too,’” he says. “We’re reaching out as far as we can to go our own way. [Into The Wide] is the closest it’s been to the live thing and that makes me very happy.”