To look for America

Delta Spirit
with David Vandervelde,
Romany Rye
8 p.m. Thursday, July 8
The Social, 407-246-1419



"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."

It's easy to understand why. The song they chose for the occasion, "Trashcan," is a fantastically catchy, piano-pounding (and literally trash can-tapping) gem of pure American rock & roll featuring lead singer Matthew Vasquez (discovered while busking on a San Diego street bench) belting lines like, "Brothers, hold the line 'til we got something/ The world is way too small to feel like nothing."

"His producer came up to us and said, ‘He never comes out during the sound check,'" says Jameson. "It was cool to make Conan O'Brien's day."

Delta Spirit's knack for altering moods manifests not only in its look-on-the-bright-side lyrics, but as an almost mystical musical sincerity reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen. The result: a group of California 20-somethings (with an articulate bassist who never once utters the term "Americana" or even "roots rock") 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."

The band's take on the business of modern-rock combos (their self-released 2007 debut album, Ode to Sunshine, was recorded in a log cabin in the California mountains) is as evocative of the fruited plains, and as regionally distinct, as the business once operated by Jameson's uncle from which the band only somewhat randomly takes its 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," says Jameson. "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."

Jameson gives a strong sense that he would rather Delta Spirit's success arrive via traditional channels — not from retweets and viral videos, but from packed clubs.

"I think a lot of people forget that Pitchfork doesn't decide what is and isn't music," says Jameson. "I don't mean this in a self-made-man kind of way, but in all reality we haven't really benefited from that kind of blog buzz, or counted on it, because that's kind of like a myth."

Since forming in 2005, things have come up roses for the patriots of American indie-rock: an early tour with Cold War Kids, TV appearance, and now, stellar reviews of their just-released sophomore album, History From Below, for indie major Rounder Records.

"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." A real fan like Conan O'Brien? "Ha-ha … yeah."

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