“It’s kind of a life-changer, I guess,” says Jon Jameson, co-founder and bassist for rootsy Southern California quintet Delta Spirit, on the band’s 2008 appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. “I mean, a lot of bands get on Conan – or got on Conan – and all the other late night shows. They have to fill that space, but that was an exciting moment. He really ended up liking us. He came and told us later that he was having a really bad day, and then he heard us playing during our sound check and it, like, changed his attitude.”
How could it not? The song they chose for the occasion, “Trashcan,” is a fantastically-catchy, piano-pounding (and literally trashcan-tapping) gem of pure American rock ‘n’ roll featuring lead singer Matthew Vasquez (discovered while busking on a San Diego street bench, of course) belting lines like Brothers hold the line till we got something, the world is way to small to feel like nothing with his powerhouse gift for grit.
“His producer came up to us and said ‘he never comes out during the sound check,’” Jameson says. “It was cool to make Conan O’Brien’s day.”
Delta Spirit’s knack for altering moods is manifest not only in look-on-the-bright-side lyrics, but an almost mystical musical sincerity a la Springsteen.
The result: somehow a group of California twenty-somethings (with an articulate bassist who never once uttered the term “Americana, or even “roots-rock”) is on the verge of, as one right-minded reviewer put it, “bridging the old and new sensibilities of some of American rock music’s most gripping attributes.”
Indeed, the band’s take on the business of modern rock combos (Ode to Sunshine was recorded in a log cabin in the California mountains) is as evocative of the fruited plains (and as regionally-indistinct) as the Birmingham-area business once operated by Jameson’s uncle from which the band only-somewhat randomly takes it’s name: Delta Spirit Taxidermy Station of North Central Alabama.
“Other than it sounding cool, the name is just kind of a nod to our musical heritage,” Jameson says. “We don’t completely identify with being from Southern California, we don’t find ourselves at home in the surf culture so we’re trying to dig a little deeper and find our musical center in American music. There was a trend a few years back of trying to sound really British, pretending you’re one thing or another. But the one thing we agree on is that we’re Americans and we appreciate the American musical heritage that we came from.”
Relatedly, you get a strong sense that Jameson would much rather Delta Spirit’s success arrive via traditional channels — not from retweets and viral videos, but packed clubs.
“I think a lot of people forget that Pitchfork doesn’t decide what is and isn’t music,” Jameson says. “I don’t mean this in a self-made-man kind of way, but in all reality, we haven’t really benefitted from that kind of blog buzz or counted on it because that’s kind of like a myth.”
Regardless, since forming in 2005, everything for the patriots of American indie-rock – an early tour with Cold War Kids, appearances on Late Night and Last Call, and now stellar reviews of their just released sophomore album History From Below – has been coming up roses.
“We’ll gladly accept success where it is, but for us it’s about playing music in front of people and making a real fan as opposed to a virtual fan.”
Real like Conan?
“Ha, ha… yeah.”