I’ve seen Matthew Logan Vasquez perform with Delta Spirit a handful of times – in fact, it’s Vasquez’s live performances leading the California-bred band that often motivates me to see them time and time again. But now, Vasquez is out on the road as a solo musician, touring in support of his second release as a solo artist and first full-length album, Solicitor Returns, released in February of this year.
Like myself, many of the attendees of Vasquez’s show on Friday night in Milwaukee were fans of Delta Spirit and the band’s frontman. But before the show even began, they got to see Vasquez in a new light: as a father. Matthew’s wife Marthe and seven month-old son Thor – both joining him on the midwestern leg of the tour – emerged from side stage a little before the show. Matthew walked through the venue’s crowd with Marthe, pushing a stroller in front of him, with an excited grin across his face.
Before we first sat down, Vasquez brought little Thor out for me to meet him – the little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby perched on his dad’s shoulders, grasping tightly to the wavy brown hair on Matthew’s head. I asked what has been the most exciting part of fatherhood thus far, and Matthew obliged willingly:
“Meeting him as a person, and the long wait for that to happen. I’m such an extrovert, that it’s really hard to just watch. Like right when they’re first born, there’s just such a bag of — like, just a bag of bones,” he says, pantomiming holding and looking at a newborn. “They’re just breathing, and shitting, and sleeping, and crying, and shitting, and repeating. And like, now that he can sit up straight, he smiles with his eyes and makes certain expressions with his face and he also has his vision – babies can only see in black and white when they’re first born, and they have zero depth perception. [Watching him] learning depth perception, and seeing what a hand is, and learning how to kiss – which at seven months is just basically an open-mouthed tongue – but it’s like meant to be, or people think, it’s basically them loving on you. So just watching him become human; watching who they’re going to become is so interesting… hoping that we can guide our kid to being a good person.”
With Marthe and Thor joining him on this leg of the tour, Matthew has found a struggle that is foreign to him as a touring musician. “It’s so awesome and it’s also tough… the sleep factor is just crazy. You load in, you play a show, and I’m selling all the merch, and then to throw a baby on top of that at the end of the night is pretty insane. But, it’s just so nice to be able to feel the people you love next to you while you sleep, that makes a huge difference mentally. Like on one end I’m exhausted, and on the other end I’m just so, so happy.”
When the subject turned to music, it became clear that if there’s anything Matthew likes discussing as much as his new family, it’s rock and roll music.
“I’m managing myself, I picked all the artwork – on the t-Shirts and the album art – I directed all the music videos, I edited all the music videos, I manufactured the [albums] and the vinyl myself, packed and stuffed and mailed the vinyl myself. ‘TM-ing’ myself, thus my disorganization [laughs]. A lot of these jobs have just kind of been like, ‘What am I paying you for?!’.
“It’s been 10 years of being in a band with quite a bit of crew to lend a hand and help out. And now I look at things like stuffing a vinyl, and every time I stuff a vinyl I make $3. But you know, it’s like I’m paying myself to do a bunch of jobs but at the end of the day I have five jobs – SHIT!
“Financially, I just have to do this. Two years ago, this was a labor of love, when I recorded [Solicitor Returns]. I made it because I loved it, and I took the risk because I believe in it, and if I didn’t do it now, I don’t know what kind of situation I’d be in… with the baby, and, it takes two years to make a Delta Spirit record but I can turn around one of these in six months so.”
Following the origins of Vasquez’s Solicitor Returns as well as Austin, the 5-track EP released in November of 2015, it was clear that he had been working on these songs for quite some time, allowing them to build up as Delta Spirit released multiple albums. Vasquez shed some light on what spurred the solo venture, and what’s in the cards for Delta Spirit:
“I kind of have a different ethos, and that’s what makes Delta Spirit, Delta Spirit: we all have a different belief in what rock and roll is, and trying to find the common ground on it.
“But I’ve had a very real vision, and I think over time you get more entrenched in the differences than in the similarities. I think Delta Spirit will come back around again… but I think it’s gonna be a while. It’s not like a ‘break up’ thing, we all still love it and we all want to do it, it’s just right now creatively, and financially I have to do this. I’m not bummed about it because I’m having so much fun with friends, and you’ll hear tonight, it’s just – I have so much joy getting to call audibles with people who are willing to go down the road with that, and the bigger the ship, the harder it is to turn.
“When you have lots of production you can’t just go like, “let’s play this song!” – if you have a bunch of projections behind you, you can’t exactly do all that. [Delta Spirit has] had some incredibly talented people involved with us over the last four tours. We built a 25 foot triangle, we built 25 foot slats that broke down and into 5 foot slats and projected film on it, and had someone live-edit that… so we could jam if we wanted to. Then we had crazy LED rigs and we bought our own lighting rig that Nathaniel Rateliff is borrowing right now, which is 24 different channels of Edison bulb lights put up around the stage.
“It’s nice to just play a “no production” rock and roll show, where your body is the fucking production. You know what I mean? Just play a good show.”
No matter what was behind Delta Spirit during a live show, or what lighting gear was being used, Vasquez was always the constant that drew people to a DS show. He’s such a different animal on stage than he was talking to him in person, but the energy and enthusiastic personality are there regardless. As we began talking more about his solo tour, I asked if any of his antics or energy are different being on a solo tour, and if there’s anything he fears while on stage.
“I’m always me on stage,” Vasquez says with a smile. “I just want to convey the spirit of what I think rock and roll is, and this project, and me being me now, standing on my own name is really just… well, I just want to play all the types of music that I like, especially all the types of rock and roll music.
“I try my best to be the music when it’s happening, and try to be in that moment and in spite of everything be the best player I can be, and just convey the message. And help people get out of the way of themselves and have a good night which is not the easiest thing to do all the time.”
I tell him that I was expecting something small, like yawning on stage… “I like, spit in the air [on stage], I don’t care,” he replies laughing.
For the midwestern leg of the tour, Vasquez is backed by drummer Jeremy Black (formerly of Apollo Sunshine) and Daniel Garcia on bass. Garcia also opened Friday’s show as Reverend Baron, performing his stripped-down folk songs with just a guitar, and telling the tales behind them.
“We are kind of doing this power trio thing in the midwest, which at first I was really afraid of, but we started doing it in Missoula and it’s really evolved and definitely pushed all of us to fill in the spaces and become better musicians. Which is great, it’s a scary thing to stick your neck out and really play guitar solos. Especially when everything I am doing onstage is pretty much improvised, the chords are there, and then there’s a really loose guide, but all the fills in between shit and especially at the end of songs, or a guitar solo section, I want it to feel new and immediate, and I want to give that to people.
“It is [liberating], to get to play; to get to jam – and attempt to do jam music: fuzzy and without a G&L and Floyd Rose Bridge and try to make it not like Joe Satriani or Umphrey’s [McGee] – which just isn’t my thing. I like loose, heavy, fuzzy rock, and I like when [the music] just decides that it’s going to do something for a time. Like we went into [Nirvana’s] “Negative Creep” in Madison and that was just for fun. Getting to do that kind of thing is just great.
“The songs don’t have really complicated arrangements,” Vasquez states. “There are some production moments in there, but it’s a really straight-forward rock record. The ability to give [those songs] to anybody I know that’s ever played in a band and that can figure those songs out in an hour or less. Like 3 times through and we’re doin’ it.”
In fact, when Vasquez opened for Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, the band actually backed him up, learning the set’s songs during soundcheck.
The songs on Solicitor Returns play heavily on classic rock influences, Vasquez states:
“You’ll hear some country, in it, but it’s more just straight-ahead, no-frills rock and roll; just Beatles, and Floyd, and CCR… some Replacements. “Personal”, the single, is a very midwestern, no bullshit rock and roll song.”
And he’s right, Solicitor Returns is an incredibly straight-forward record; one of those records that sounds great in headphones, but it was born to be played live. The song “Personal” that he mentions is a stripped-down acoustic track on the album, but when Vasquez and his band played it that night, it was loud and clear, a pure rock song, in the vain of The Replacements that Vasquez alluded to.
Matthew Logan Vasquez has seemingly always approaches lyrical songwriting from a narrative standpoint. We discussed his songwriting approach, and while it’s not always from a personal standpoint, he lends himself to every song he writes, whether it’s for Delta Spirit or his solo material.
“Everything I write comes from [storytelling] that’s kind of the goal, that’s the bar and I don’t really go below. I don’t really write for a “purpose.” I don’t fucking know why I write what I write, you know?,” he says with a chuckle.
“But when I start writing it I like it, and I finish it. It’s like half intellect, half gut… but it’s not like, ‘I’m gonna go write a catchy pop song that everyone is going to like,’ or like, I’m not gonna go write a song about agoraphobia… which, I wrote a song about agoraphobia, but I don’t know why I did! You know? It just came out.”
That evening, Vasquez placed his songwriting technique on full display, particularly when Black and Garcia left the stage, leaving him standing alone. Vasquez played renditions of “Vivian” and “The Ballad of Vitaly”, two songs from Delta Spirit’s History From Below.
“The Ballad of Vitaly” was an impromptu addition to the set, and was prefaced by the story of Vitaly Kaloyev, the Russian man who lost his wife and two children in a plane crash, and would later murder the air traffic controller responsible for the crash (the story is actually much more in-depth and captivating than I’ve given it credit for here – listen to the Delta Spirit song here, and read the story of Kaloyev here). “Vivian” followed, and as Matthew prefaced the song with the story of his grandparents who inspired it, you could see the emotion in his face.
The two performances were a perfect example of Vasquez’s ability as a storytelling songwriter: one song deeply personal, and the other written as a true narrative. But each song’s story holds an incredible amount of meaning to the man who wrote them, and he displayed the power held within each. The room went quiet for these stories and songs, a remarkable feat considering the energy in the room no more than fifteen minutes prior.
I ended our chat with a simple question: “What’s next?” making sure to clarify that I wasn’t looking for an answer to a subliminal “what’s next for Delta Spirit” question. I asked if there were still 100 more songs in his head.
“There are a lot of songs left,” he says laughing. “I’m going to start recording another Matthew Logan Vasquez record in July; probably put that out next year, and spend the rest of the summer touring and opening.
“The other thing about doing what I’m doing, and there are a bunch of reasons why I did this, but a) was to be small again and b) be exposed to people I normally wouldn’t be exposed to. Like when you play a big club, it’s a different kind of draw. Where people would just spend $15 on a whim, and to go play in a more intimate club, I feel like I can make a bigger impact.
“I’m kind of built for this shit,” he closed with a smile. “Built for the Bowling Alley.”
After the “tape” was turned off, we talked candidly about some random things, but one in particular was our grief over the passing of Prince, who died one day prior, just two days after Matthew Logan Vasquez performed at 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. The news of Prince’s death came when they were making the trip from Madison to Milwaukee. He would carry that grief with him to the stage, where in the midst of some intermediate talking with the crowd between songs, someone yelled, “Play some!” to which he replied quietly, “I don’t know how!” He then treated the crowd to an improvisational version of “D.M.S.R.”, playing a funky guitar hook and shouting “DANCE! MUSIC! SEX! ROMANCE!”
At one point near the end of the show, after a set of highlights including Solicitor Returns tracks “Maria”, “Personal” and a fantastic rendition of the Delta Spirit song “Bushwick Blues”, Vasquez yelled, “ROCK AND ROLL, FOREVER!!!”
After speaking with Vasquez that Friday evening, I can assure you this: he fucking means it.
You can purchase Matthew Logan Vasquez’s solo album, Solicitor Returns via his Website, and make sure to catch him out on tour this summer – Full Tour Dates below
4/25 – Columbus, OH @ Basement
4/26 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Bag
4/27 – Toronto, ON @ Drake
4/29 – New York, NY @ Mercury
4/30 – Boston, MA @ cafe 939
5/1 – Providence, RI @ Columbus Theatre
5/3 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
5/4 – Pittsburg, PA @ Club Cafe
5/5 – Washington, DC @ DC9
5/6 – Durham, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
5/7 – Asheville, NC @ Mothlight
5/9 – Knoxville, TN @ Pilot Light
5/10 – Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar
5/12 – Nashville, TN @ Mercy
5/13 – Atlanta, GA @ SHAKY KNEES MUSIC FESTIVAL
5/14 – Hattiesburg, MS @ Thirsty Hippo
MLV WHOLE LOTTA SWIMMING HOLES TOUR 2016
7/16 – OKC @ 89th Street Collective
7/17 – St. Louis, MO @ Duck Room
7/18 – Covington, KY @ Madison Live
7/22-7/24 – Newport, RI @ Newport Folk Festival
7/25 – Portland, ME @ One Longfellow Square
7/26 – Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
7/27 – Asbury Park, NJ @The Saint
7/28 – Charlottesville, VA @ The Southern
7/29 – Charleston, SC @ The Royal American