Matthew Logan Vasquez can’t stop. Writing songs, recording multi-track instrumentals, overdubbing vocal harmonies and drum kicks. As the 32-year-old puts it, while nervously drinking iced coffee in his makeshift Texas Hill Country studio, “To sit around and not make music is a non-option for me.” The talking continues — about his wife, Marthe, their son, Thor Ulysses, and Vasquez’s mom’s boyfriend, who graciously lent Matthew his trailer to repurpose into a studio. About the foreclosure in Wimberley that used to be owned by a masseuse that Marthe and Matthew got for a steal. About how this part of Texas, where he spent a big chunk of his childhood, grounds him and keeps him honest.
Most of all, Vasquez can’t stop talking about all the twists and turns his career has taken since Delta Spirit, the alt-country/neo-folk outfit he helped launch in Southern California in 2005, stopped playing together last year. “At our height, we could compromise and collaborate really well, but when you have too many cooks in the kitchen, it can take a really good idea and dull it into an average one,” Vasquez tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “And I just don’t want to do that anymore.”
Folio Weekly Magazine: So what’s new, Matthew? Writing a second solo album and touring the rest of the year, right?
Matthew Logan Vasquez: That’s right. Me and my band — Jeremy Black, Dustin Lovelis, and Spencer Garland — did a lot of prep leading into the Newport Folk Festival [last weekend]. It will have a lot of guitar — I want to show off that side of my musicianship because I never really have — I’ve always been in a band with a guitar player who’s way better than I am. Now I’m just sitting in [the studio] wailing. I’m also doing songs like “Redfish” that’s about my brother’s imagination of our cousin in their college years, drinking Texas-style Mexican martinis and fishing and trying to steal money from the gambling table. It sounds like Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” mixed with an ’80s interpretation of dub reggae. Just total lunacy.
Your solo material seems to have a strong sense of personal perspective to it, yet the songs you wrote for Delta Spirit felt more universal.
Later stuff like “Yamaha” and “California,” our most popular song, were personal with a lot of generalization. Or the illusion was so broad that it transcends. But [my first solo album] Solicitor Returns was totally defiant. I did the thing everybody said I couldn’t do, and nobody could stop me. I really liked the record because of that. What I’m doing now is going back to just making music for music’s sake. A lot of these songs I wanted to put on a Delta Spirit record, but that just hasn’t panned out because of situations in life: babies, moving, proximity. A lot of the reasons why Delta Spirit is inactive right now are on me and my creative and financial needs. I just want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Smaller ships can steer quicker.
And, in a way, probably end up doing more for your career, right?
I’ve never had more fun and made more money for doing less. I’ve also never worked harder and slept less, because of having a baby and all. But it’s such a trip to watch a human grow — it makes you want to do better. Quit smoking, drink less, work out more, save money, buy a house. All that stability stuff has changed my writing. The next album has so many songs about being a dad. So I’m curious what people’s response will be. I made Solicitor Returns with zero direction, and I loved it. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve made a record as a collective thing that will glue it together. There’s MGMT in there, along with weird Van Halen, Beck, and Shins stuff. I was thinking it might sound like Neil Young or a folk-y songwriter record, but I just don’t know how to do that. At the same time, I’m not throwing a lot of paint at the wall — I want there to be space on the record because it’s full of prose and good story songs. That song I was playing when you came in is about a guy from Oklahoma confronting the fact that he grew up with a shitty dad. You can blame that person for why they have such a troubled life, but you eventually realize that you have to own up to your own things. Which is a tough lesson … that I learned.
Are those storytelling impulses stronger now that you’re on your own?
No — that part of my gig has always just been about solitude. If I wasn’t doing this now and was instead making a Delta Spirit record, I would have sat alone and made a demo with the same song and story. So it’s a vibe and a feel thing. None of us knew what we wanted when we were younger, and now we all know that we want specific things. Songs like “From Now On” and “Live On” could have been cooler on record, but we nailed them live. And those moments are the reasons why I love Delta Spirit and genuinely want to it to work again. When we’re all present, it’s the real thing.