INTERVIEW: The Delines | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Delines were the absolute highlight of last year’s Jumpin’ Hot Jamboree, going on to release one of the best albums of 2014; a country-soul gem full of lush late night sounds and heartfelt novellas for lyrics. Songwriter and guitarist Willy Vlautin formed The Delines (pronounced De-LINES) in time out from his other band Richmond Fontaine and I wondered how that came about.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Amy’s band Damnations,” Willy explained. “When she toured with Richmond Fontaine, me and the guitar player, Dan, would always say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to be in a band where she sang all the time.’ It was true and I think we all felt it. There’s something about her voice that just makes a lot of sense to me. Plus, Amy is cool as hell. Just a great gal. So when we got off the road I started writing songs for her. She had no idea I spent a year writing tunes for her! Then I sent them to her with a sorta thesis on why she and I should start a band. I was like a car salesman trying to sell her on it. Luckily for me she took a chance.”

Willy had a clear idea about how the band would sound – a beautiful, warm, seventies sound – from the start. “I’ve always liked country/soul ballads. I also wanted to have a band that married the pedal steel to the Fender Rhodes. They just sound so good together. I wanted to use the steel not so much as a country instrument but as a soundscape. I thought Amy’s voice fit perfect for that. It’s both comforting and heartbreaking, sweet and world worn… I wanted to write songs that you could listen to late at night, that had stories that could hold your attention, create a world and that world would have a certain feel. A connected feel. Dark and dreamy and beat up. A 2am glass of whiskey feel. As far as influences, I guess to start: Bobby Gentry, Dusty Springfield, Candi Staton, Bobby Womack, and Sammi Smith. Just listing their names makes me happy. I love them all.”

“I wanted to write songs that you could listen to late at night, that had stories that could hold your attention, create a world and that world would have a certain feel”

Amy’s careworn, soulful voice has received a lot of praise but is markedly different from how she sounded in The Damnations. “There’s no doubt that my style of singing has changed. The Damnations played really loud and we were a live band way before we made a real studio record. By then, I had already become a loud edgy singer, just out of habit but also, back then, I thought it was cooler to sing that way. It would be unfitting to sing bombastically in The Delines. The songs don’t warrant that treatment. I’ve become a more dynamic singer in this band because Willy and Sean have directed me and because the musicians in this band are so great that they can play soulfully even at low volume. One of the perks about being older is that I can relax more and be myself without trying so hard. Adult music is cool!”

Vlautin’s songs for The Delines – and some of his novels – are written from a female perspective and I was curious if Amy found his portrayal of female behaviour and internal narratives convincing? “Northline was the first novel of Willy’s that I read, and I remember thinking how good he was at portraying that particular female character. She was so lost but still had to make really big decisions in her life. Willy really did a great job showing how fragile and vulnerable she was. Not all his female characters are like that. The woman in The Free was really tough and took care of everybody at the same time. The lyrics he writes for me to sing are very relatable; not just the female characters themselves, but also the situations they find themselves in.”

Having finally got the balance of players right, Willy’s excited to get back into the studio to begin work on album number two. “We’re going into the studio in late October to record the second record. It’s pretty exciting for us as we’re a real band now. We were flying blind for the first one, I think we’d only had a handful of rehearsals. So I’m hoping it’ll have the dynamics, the highs and lows, that bands who play a lot together get. I think it’ll be along the lines of Colfax in that it will have that country/soul, late night vibe, but hopefully it’ll be more like the Cadillac version.”

I’m curious to know how a group of worldly wise Americans felt playing in a barn in Easington, was it as magical and wild for them as for the Jamboree audience? “Ha! it was the highlight. Half the band lives in the country and so it was a relief and exciting to do that gig. Made us less homesick. You’re right it was magical and wild. The truth is none of us wanted to leave, we wanted to move in and stay. Those are the kind of gigs where if one of the members said they were staying you’d understand. You’d help them unload their gear.” Amy concurred: “The Jumpin Hot Jamboree was a blast, playing in that old barn with all those people up close and packed in was so fun! It was definitely up there as one of my all-time favourite gigs. We all talked about that gig for days after.”

The Delines play The Cluny 2, Newcastle on September 8th.

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