The PV Q&A: Matthew Logan Vasquez on the Making of His New Album: "My only job was to wake up and write music and live in New York"

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By Kristian C. Libman

Once a festival darling and a Coachella staple, Delta Spirit is/was a defining indie band of the mid ‘00s, becoming the most well-known platform for vocalist Matthew Logan Vasquez to develop his work. Since the band’s hiatus began last May, Vasquez has poured himself into his latest project, an eponymous incarnation of his prolific output that resulted in Solicitor Returns, a brassy, driving record that’s more grit than polish. It’s a decidedly more rocking side of Vasquez, who’s also done time in indie supergroup Middle Brother, and pays some sonic homage to his Texas roots. We caught up with Vasquez and his band as they were driving through the desert down the I-10, en route to a Phoenix tour stop in support of Solicitor Returns.

PureVolume: I wanted to talk about the idea of musical proliferation with you; what other sides of your artistry have your fans not seen yet? What is it about your solo work that creatively satisfies you in a way that Delta Spirit or Middle Brother could not?
Matthew Logan Vasquez: I think what makes Delta Spirit so special is that it’s a collaborative group and I think it’s a tremendously positive thing. All parts are equally putting in effort and putting in ownership of their part and playing it. You get a special result live because of that, because of the ownership of it. That being said, having a lot of people trying to put their stamp on an idea, sometimes the idea doesn’t come across as pure as the initial thought could be, so sometimes it’s just better to be Napoleon. Not all the time, but there’s definitely that. The other misconception is that Kelly and I recorded Ode to Sunshine together, and the EP, and both of us are gearheads, insane studio rat kind of people, so not being able to do that anymore in Delta Spirit, just because of how the machine has become what it is, it’s nice to be able to just say my piece sonically in the arrangement. Even in just a sonic template, not necessarily a song structure, just a musical direction.
PV: What’s it like going back and visiting these small-capacity rooms like The Casbah (in San Diego) and Valley Bar (in Phoenix), with new guys?
MLV: The last time I played Casbah I drank 20 whiskey [and] Cokes, played D minor for an hour and was carried out. It was insane. My now wife was present at that show, which is pretty insane, and it was five years ago today we got married.
PV: Man, congrats, and you guys are in Long Beach still?
MLV: I’m in Austin, Texas now. Delta Spirit lived in Long Beach for like three years and almost three years in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, so now two of the guys live in New York, two of the guys live in California and I’m back in Austin, where I grew up.
PV: It’s funny, talking about those two iterations of the band, California and New York, and what kind of records they resulted in.
MLV: I recorded Solicitor Returns in a studio that Delta Spirit had built to do pre-production. I had a console in there and all sorts of equipment, so I had recorded Solicitor Returns in there like a month after we had finished Delta Spirit’s latest, Into The Wide. It was like “Here’s all this collaboration and then I have 45 songs still, so what the fuck am I going to do with them?” My mind was still in that lane of recording so it was nice to just be able to do it how I wanted to do it. It has a lot to do with that.
PV: And that was in Greenpoint?
MLV: Yeah, that was in Greenpoint, NY.
PV: That’s what’s interesting to me about Solicitor Returns, it has that California sound, or almost this desert rock kind of thing.
MLV: Yeah, well the rock ‘n’ roll part is what it is. I think it’s just a lot of—somebody reviewed it and said “It’s quieter and it’s louder, at the same time, than Delta Spirit.” That’s kind of like me as a person, so I think it’s a good compliment about it. There’s just less reverb on stuff and it’s mixed really aggressively live and all the effects are on faders, so they’re performed in the mix. It’s only been corrected and mixed a couple times, so it was like if it sounds good then it is good. Stop fucking thinking [about it].
PV: There are parts of the record then that sound like a catharsis, where the final mixes are based less around production notes and more like a shoot-from-the-hip thing, letting the performance guide the song. How did the process of making this album go for you and under what personal circumstances were a lot of these songs written?
MLV: Well, the personal circumstances were that I was fortunate enough to have a band that was doing well, so my only job was to wake up and write music and live in New York, not having to have a waiter job or be part of the hustle, which a lot of musicians in New York have to go through. We were in the position of doing well and being working musicians so I spent the better part of a year waking up, walking the better part of a mile to my studio, and by the time I got there I had a melody in my head and could write in this great solitude, which is a weird thing to have in New York. It was just a ton of solitude and nobody was in my way so I was able to find myself and theorize what I wanted. There was a ton of time. I still have too many songs and it’s a great problem.

PV: You played almost every instrument on this record; when you put the live band together, was that kind of challenging translating your outlook into a live setting?
MLV: I think having the guys that I do, that do what they do, they’ve all known me for a long time and it’s not a lot of pressure there. They know what I want and they all know how to do that. Everybody’s just always looking to make it good and that’s the way it should be, you know? I have the Texas band and the California band and it’s good to play with a lot of the differences, and it’s good, it’s freeing and exciting to have different sets of fills, grooves, tones and vocals.
PV: Where does the honesty of Solicitor Returns rank in terms of past work? Is this the truest-to-you material you’ve produced so far?
MLV: Yeah, it absolutely is. I think there’s a combination of what’s on Solicitor Returns and Into The Wide, there are a few songs off of that record that could have ended up on Solicitor Returns that would have made it a very different record but would have been a lot less honest. I think most songwriters don’t write one type of song, and I get to do whatever the hell I want to do. 

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