by Jane Roser
Winters in Nashville can be particularly harsh. Roads and trees are covered in a layer of slick ice and when the salt runs out, potato juice may be brought in as an alternate- although not very effective- tool, turning roads into a slushy soup. But in a town like Nashville, dreary days can begat creative ideas.
“We wrote “California” in late February/early March of last year when it was grey and rainy; there was sleet and snow-it wasn’t positive for a healthy mental state,” explains The Delta Saints’ vocalist/lead guitarist Ben Ringel of what inspired the first single off their latest album Monte Vista. “There’s a webcam that’s live-streaming from a beach in La Jolla, California, not far from Dylan’s grandparent’s house, so for days I would have that up on my computer screen, so even though I couldn’t feel the sunlight, I could see it. It wasn’t an intentional thought-to write a song about California, but it gave a physical form to this feeling I was having, this longing, I guess, to be someplace different.”
Much of that longing came from being stuck in a town with crappy weather, but current transitions in Ringel’s life added to the weight of that moment, including looking to buy a house with his wife. All of those wild hairs pulled at once and Ringel just decided to stop stressing about it all and get away- just go somewhere sunny and warm.
“Dylan [Fitch, guitar], Nate [Kremer, keyboards] and myself were in the studio and I remember that song just showing up after a few lines; what took awhile was the chorus. We wrote the pre-chorus: ‘what do you say we get outta here…’ and we thought that would be the chorus. Our producer Ed Spear [Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Neil Young] said, ‘no that’s not the chorus. It’s a killer pre-chorus, but that’s not the chorus, so that was another month of me beating my head against the wall, and to be completely frank, it’s still up for debate.”
“California” became one of Ringel’s favorite songs because of the balance it has in lyrical integrity and commercial appeal, which he felt, as a band, they hadn’t really been able to find until that moment.
The album title, Monte Vista, is also the band’s homage to California and the street Fitch’s grandparents live on. “It’s like naming a band,” Ringel says, “it sucks- how do you encapsulate an entire album down to one phrase or word? We were going back and forth with it and nothing was working. Then one of us, I forget who, said ‘how about Monte Vista?’ It just clicked and was right in front of us the whole time.”
Recording at the iconic Studio A in Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios, the album was finished within six grueling days. Surrounded by the ghosts of their heroes who’ve recorded there, including Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt, The Delta Saints [which also include bassist David Supica and drummer Vincent “Footz” Williams] hunkered down to approach their short time recording in a productive and constructive way rather than rush it.
“The challenge was mostly time,” recalls Ringel. “We worked eighteen to twenty hour days and just pushed it. We didn’t have the time to second guess ourselves, so we went with what felt right. So much of this album is raw and honest and real. We believe in this record so much. It’s such a representation of who we are and what we’d been working towards, plus we recorded it in one of the best studios in the world.”
While killing time in the lobby one day, Ringel started thumbing through the studio’s schedule book that’s been sitting there since 1969. The first page he opened to dated back to the early ’70s and listed Townes Van Zandt, one of Ringel’s favorite singer/songwriters. “The space there is hallowed ground and it was a phenomenal experience.”
“Space Man”, a memorable track that pays tribute to the late David Bowie, came to life soon after Bowie’s passing. “I definitely was a casual Bowie fan and listener [before his death],” says Ringel, “but I was struck by the magnitude of his catalogue, then you dive in and you really begin to appreciate the wealth of creativity in his work. “Space Man” just kind of flew out. It was a slow Townes Van Zandt-esque song at first, then Ed and the rest of the guys molded it into what you hear on the album.”
The retro, cosmic album cover especially brings this song to life. Described by one fan as looking like a cool “80s Rush album cover”, artist Casey Pierce met Ringel for coffee one morning and talked about a color palette (pastels and sunsets) and how the band jokes that they’re like space cowboys. “He had this great off-the-wall questionnaire he sent us, too, but that was about it. We moved the font around a bit, but the end product had no other changes, which is virtually unheard of- he just knocked it out of the park.”
The Delta Saints are currently filling in dates for their spring and summer tours including stops in New York, D.C., Ohio and Pittsburgh before they head back to Europe in July. “Just rinse and repeat,” laughs Ringel.