By Brian Wise
Formed by Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin in 2012, The Delines have created an immediate impression with their beautiful debut album, Colfax.
Now, just a few months after he was in Australia for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival to promote his fourth novel The Free, Vlautin is back with his new band which features the vocals of Austin, Texas based Amy Boone (The Damnations), along with keyboardist Jenny Conlee (The Decemberists), Tucker Jackson (Minus 5) on pedal steel (but not accompanying the band on this tour) and fellow Portlander and Richmond Fontaine member Sean Oldham on drums.
After hearing Boone sing Vlautin was inspired to write an entire album of songs and subsequently built a band around her. The album, which is replete with Vlautin’s trademark lyrics and high lonesome sound was recorded in Portland, though Boone is still base in Austin, which is where I caught up with her for a chat about The Delines and the forthcoming Australian tour.
“I’ve been here for a really long time,” says Boone when I ask how long she has been in Austin, a city that seems like a giant magnet for musicians. “So I’ve spent most of my life here, but I wasn’t born here. I was in New Mexico before that. I have a Mom who lives in New Mexico and a Dad who lives in upstate New York. All over the place really. I’ve been in Austin since about, well, the early ’90’s.
“I moved here from New Mexico because my sister Deborah came down here to play music, and I followed her and we started a band together called The Damnations. I was in a band with her and my brother-in-law for quite a while, and we played around here and we toured together.”
“It seems kind of crazy to try to be in a band when you’re not living in the same city,” responds Boone when I ask her about the formation of The Delines. “We do a lot of MP3 sharing. We’re working on some of Willy’s songs for this tour, because we’re going back to Europe again too. So we don’t want to play the same songs, so he’s written some new songs, and I’ve written a couple.
‘We do a lot of things long distance. Then we’ll get together and practice maybe a couple times before we go out on a tour or something.”
Boon mentions that the band will not be able to bring pedal steel player Tucker Jackson with them on this tour and adds, “I still think it sounds really cool without it but the record to me is so infused with that beautiful singing instrument. It’s so heartfelt. I just love the pedal steel. Even though everybody makes it sound great without it, I kind of miss it.”
While the pedal steel is certainly an evocative instrument on The Delines album, it is set against Willy Vlautin’s always-atmospheric compositions.
“Absolutely,” agrees Boone. “The songs that I’m singing, they’re just different. It’s like I’m singing a mini-short story. I feel like he’s so good at fleshing out characters and giving characters dimension, that even though a song might be three or four minutes – or in his case, sometimes over six minutes – that you feel like you’re singing a short story. It’s just so fun to almost play a role or a character role.
“Sometimes when I sing a song I’m just singing the lyrics but I’m not really playing a role or something, I guess is what I’m trying to say is that on his songs I actually feel like I’m a real person. The emotional part of it, I feel a little bit more attached to it emotionally.”
The album title ‘Colfax’ refers to Colfax Avenue in Denver, which is mentioned in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road.
“I didn’t know that that was a street in Denver,” admits Boone when I mention the literary reference. “I thought he had made it up. I asked him, I said, ‘Is Colfax, is that just a made-up place?’ Him and Jenny, they just started swapping stories about being on that street and touring in a band. It was fun to just sit back and listen to those two share road stories about being on Colfax Avenue in Denver. It wasn’t until then that I even knew that that was a real street.”
Vlautin is currently balancing his involvement with The Delines and Richmond Fontaine, who are due to record a new album shortly.
“He gambles in a way that he just likes to keep moving artistically and being productive artistically,” explains Boone, “and sometimes it comes out in books, and sometimes it comes out through his music and his stories.
“Now he’s trying this thing out where he’s got a woman singing his songs. I like his artistic spirit of just trying things and being open to things. I don’t know how he juggles that. It’s kind of amazing to me.
“As far as the Delines, I don’t know where that’s going to fit into everything that he does. I think just because we’re older now, none of us really necessarily see ourselves being on the road all the time. Maybe it’s going to be something that we do twice a year. I guess we’re just all playing it by ear and seeing how the record does and what the response is to things.
“I know that we’ve already talked about making a second record maybe in May. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s the best recording experience I’ve ever had. It was really fun, and it seemed like because everybody is such a good musician in that band, it seems so fun and easy. “
The Delines are appearing at Out On The Weekend and also playing some sideshows with Nikki Lane.