Photo Credit: Cortney Armitage
It’s late in the afternoon at Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles where Matthew Logan Vasquez and his band are sound checking for tonight’s show. Once done, he kindly puts pants on for our conversation.
“Is it true that Snoop Dog just bought Roscoe’s?” he asks somewhere between grabbing a bottle of Miller Lite, banging out a tune on an upright piano and settling into a seat with that Miller Lite.
Pressing societal concerns like this occupy Matthew’s mind. Since TMZ reported the story, chances are above average that it’s true. Plus, that announcement did come BEFORE April Fool’s Day…
The Delta Spirit front man’s brain seems to operate in rapid fire-mode with not a thought or word unexpressed, yet his words and thoughts seem genuinely thoughtful: His is a bright stream of unfiltered consciousness. Like most human beings over the age of 35, Matthew has lived a life encompassing a myriad of experiences that color his world view and were formative to the man he is today. The man he is today drinks less, tries to work out more, is husband to an “awesome, patient wife” named Marthe, father of 7-month-old Thor, and is a musician satisfying that ingrained artistic jones for self-expression. So with Delta Spirit on a mini hiatus (don’t worry, kids; new DS music is already in the works), Matthew Logan Vasquez, solo artist, has been released (or unleashed) into the wild.
In February, he released the solo record, Solicitor Returns, which – if you’ve heard it – caters, simply, to his love of a thing called rock and roll. Grazing guitars, sweeping folk-rock, side trips into the psychedelic and the poetry of written words. With some 45 songs sitting on the back burner that didn’t fall into Delta Spirit’s wheelhouse, Matthew made a conscious decision. “It was like, ‘Oh man, I just want to fucking play rock and roll and I don’t want to put a ton of reverb on it, and I just want to put a middle finger up in the air and feel how good that feels to play music.'” And so Solicitor Returns was born and just like the song “Personal” (the video for which stars Matthew’s mom and her BFF, Cherie, joyfully acting anything but their ages), the project was personal and DIY to the bone. From playing about 95% of the instruments on the record to creating the artwork, pressing the vinyls, packaging and distributing: all Matthew. In his presence, one thing becomes vibrantly clear: he has a wealth of reverence for what he does, the music that he makes and it’s place in the world. This is a guy who wrote his very first song on a Fisher-Price toy piano when four or five years old.
“What music is, is when it’s listened to by people and listened to by masses of people… it’s the holiest of things that humans have been doing for all time. It’s like that and our relationship to dogs.” Matthew reasons. “Those are the two things that are just the oldest human traits, and burying dead people. But I like music the best and dogs second.” So sayeth the guy who admits to preferring cats. “I’m a cat guy. They’re the best. They understand intimacy and that’s what I’m interested in.”
Our conversation is as fluid as his wandering. He’s called Southern California and Brooklyn, NY home, but about two years ago, Matthew and Marthe relocated back to his “spiritual center” of Austin, TX. As luck would have it, it was in Austin during last month’s South By Southwest festival that I had my first opportunity to see this non-Delta Spirit version of Matthew perform. It was on the rooftop of Shiner’s Saloon on the tiniest stage imaginable and no sooner did the word ‘saloon’ came out of my mouth, the words, “Oh shit.” came out of his.
“I didn’t know what to think when I walked in there because you’re so shoved back in that little corner and I was like ‘Oh no.'” he admitted. “I told my mom not to come. I was like, this is going to be one of those shit shows…It ended up being so great.” So great is a bald-faced understatement. You had to be there, but you can get the gist of it HERE. It felt like a watershed performance; one that was the sum total of how Matthew and an audience relate to and feed off one another. And then there was the solicitation of utterly random volunteers from the audience to play guitar during his set…
“The second one was Shooter Jenning’s touring guitar player.” Well, that explains the jaw dropping display of musicianship.
“He was so shy of coming up and then he got up and he played. There’s like a solo mode that you use when you play a major chord. There’s a pentatonic blues equivalent to that, and it’s very much a Texas thing. It’s like Stevie Ray Vaughn takes soul songs and makes them blues songs, and Albert King fucking perfected it for Jimi Hendrix and all those people. He went into that mode and I was like…that was good.”
The 10 tracks on Solicitor Returns (from the stockpile of 45) equate to the sound of a life of exploration and realization, both internal and external. In song, Matthew has always been honest and downright revelatory via his off the wall personal subject matter. But one of the record’s best moments takes almost 18 minutes to fully experience: the sprawling, epic oeuvre affectionately titled “Austin.” It’s practically a chronological and autobiographical compass, directing you to and through key junctures in his life – right up to the present day. No wonder it’s an 18-minute song.
“The reason why I wrote it was because I have so many songs that confront that period of my life when I was 14 and 15 and I was dropping LSD, going to school and being a fucking crazy human. Then getting in trouble and being a misfit. Written about that a lot. That’s a huge topic in my songwriting.”
“The other is moving from Texas and not having money. My family went through a crazy bankruptcy and I lived with my grandparents…both sets over different periods of time. That has a lot to do what I think about the world. There was a lot of epiphanies within all of that stuff and my self-destructive nature and all that as well. It taught me a lot about self-sabotage. I’m so thankful for that lesson in my life.”
What Matthew thinks about the world isn’t especially complex: everything from ObamaCare to racism to the fact that, “We have a fucking, weird world ahead of us the next four years.” is bundled in his real world perspective. As is faith and religion – or the lack thereof because there was that period of time in high school when he became a devout Christian.
“That got me out of a lot of trouble.” he admitted, laughingly. “But then later in life, I became an Agnostic atheist because people wrote the Bible – people that don’t necessarily like women wrote the Bible. People that don’t necessarily like other people like them wrote the Bible. But there are really cool, beautiful stories in the Bible, like Psalm of Psalms. It’s just Solomon telling this slave girl how much he loves her, and she’s like, ‘What? My tan skin? I’m so sun burned.’ He’s like, ‘You’re beautiful. Your tits are like apples.’ He says that a few times. It’s so hot.”
If your biblical perspective is now forever skewed by the thought of anything in the Good Book being considered “hot,” insert the proverbial non-apology apology here: just like the songs, it’s three chords and Matthew’s truth. “I get to get it all out every night and put it into something else and try to turn it into positivity. You just have to have faith in whatever, but you just need faith and belief.” Matthew’s belief and faith in the music is seemingly unshakeable.
Tonight’s set time is 11pm and joining him onstage and for the duration of this tour are his “California band” aka different from the guys he played with in Austin to include Dustin Lovelis, Jeremy Black and Reverend Baron. And just for the hell of it, My Morning Jacket’s Bo Koster (who played on Matthew’s first solo record as did Father John Misty’s bass player, Eli Thompson) is even sitting in on keys tonight because, obviously, the guy’s got friends.
“Name drop, name drop, name drop.” he shamelessly utters.
When Matthew and company finally take the Bootleg stage, things get ridiculously kinetic: Southern California will always lay some claim to Delta Spirit. Aside from the beauty of experiencing live music sans any weird affectations such as synths, backing tracks or back up dancers, Matthew has the luxury of mining not just his solo works, but that like Delta Spirit’s “California” and “Blue Eyes” from his folk rock super group, Middle Brother. Communication being key, the audience is encouraged to be especially vocal with their love. Repeatedly screaming “Oh yeah, baby!” at the top of our lungs at him is required as if the price of admission wasn’t enough. We’re into it; it’s fucking comical. It’s also satisfying and rock and roll elemental. Part of me wonders if there’s some residual acid trip that his brain is and will permanently be on and, if that’s the case, it’s kind of beautiful. Someone in the room lit up a joint amid the head banging. All the while, Matthew thrashed his musical diary, demons and dialogue out onstage in what can only be described as the pretty damned righteous results of his unapologetic youth.