“Hey Yuri,” the first single off the self-titled debut effort from the Deltahorse received quite a bit of attention across the blogosphere as the single’s sound was compared by many bloggers to that of the likes of Beck, David Bowie, and others. And although that comparison is fair to some degree, I think that the sound of “Hey Yuri,” and the rest of the EP is probably one of the more unique sounds I’ve heard in some time – it has a swaggering bluesy, sleaziness but with an art rock sheen, all while possessing a cinematic but mysterious sort of feel. To me, “Hey Yuri” and the rest of The Deltahorse EP sounds as though it could easily be the soundtrack of a spy movie set in Europe – in particular, I think of London, Dublin, Berlin, Frankfurt, Moscow – and of the movie’s protagonist being double and triple-crossed, and of packages and money being exchanged clandestinely in train stations, airports, hotels…
What makes the Deltahorse particularly interesting is that the band’s primary members, saxophonist Dana Colley (formerly of Morphine) is based in Boston, MA while guitarist Sash is based in Berlin. And the band’s sound is completed by the then-Australian-based vocalist TJ Eckleberg, who contributes lyrics which possess a sense of intrigue and a novelistic attention to detail, delivered with a wry, almost ironic sort of detachment that is so perfectly suited that the material on the EP feels as thought it couldn’t possibly work without him.
In this Q&A I speak to the Deltahorse’s primary members Dana Colley and Sash about the band’s creative process and how it works with members being across the globe; their collaboration with TJ Eckleberg on the EP; Colley’s and Sash’s influences; and both Colley and Sash offer some practical advice for artists trying to make a name for themselves. Check it out below.
WRH: How did you get into music and when did you know that music was what you really wanted to do?
Dana Colley: I was introduced to music at the age of 3. My best friends were a family of 7 The Blauss-Howland family of Hanson, Mass. Edna Howland the mom and matriarch of the family alway sang and played the piano when we were kids and all her kids were musical. I would have lived at their house If only my mother would have let me. Edna a single mother of 7 kids always said yes. I love her like my own mother. She put me in front of a piano with her son Eric who was a year or 2 older than me. Eric had exceptional talent in everything he did. Music was as natural for him as picking up a hammer and opening a bottle with it. Eric could play anything he was self taught but it was Edna who nurtured this by having her home filled with instruments. I would sit on her couch for hours while the other kids were gone and move my one finger up and down the high E string of her Gibson acoustic. It seemed like a mystery that I wanted to understand. What were Chords? How did it all fit together. My dad always loved music opera and Jazz so my parents were very influential although neither one played an instrument. I initially went to an Art school out of high school but really never stopped playing and wound up gravitating back into music during a very fertile Boston music and art scene in the 80’s.
Sash: Throughout my high school years I was a daydreamer, always waiting for afternoon band rehearsals to start. It was pretty obvious.
WRH: Who are your influences?
Sash: As a kid I felt a strong pull towards lyrical Hard Rock poems from AC/DC. Later, I loved Depeche Mode for their haircuts and Martin Gore ́s lyrics. In the 90 ́s the brilliant Matt Johnson and The The with Johnny Marr on guitar became the soundtrack of my life. I ́ve had one of the most intense moments when I dropped by a local record store and saw the cover of Morphine ́s album Yes. I grabbed the headphones to give it a listen and when the sax intro to “Honey White” kicked me in the shin and my jaw dropped I could feel the sound with my body. I think you experience those kinds of intense moments maybe one or two times in your life, if at all.
DC: I listened to a lot of rock guitar growing up and always molded my approach to that of a guitar player. Hendrix, Robin Trower, Duane Allman, But I loved Coltrane and Mingus, Ellington and Basie, Beethoven and Stravinsky. Influences come from keeping your ears and mind open to sound as its happening. The honed ability to listen and to chose to really focus begins a lifetime of responding to that which you are most effected by.
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
DC: My personal sound tends to start at the bottom in the root and then forms around the rhythm which connects to the voice which spills from the gut. The sound of Deltahorse is a collaboration between three friends who share a common feel for what is interesting in the way of sound and each brings their distinct character to the virtual whiteboard of file swapping. The sound has been a piling on and stripping away of ideas from 3 corners of the world but it feels and sounds like we all break for tea and work out the arrangements in the lounge.
Sash: The Deltahorse can be your soundtrack for an adventurous night ‘out‘ in a shady bar – alone with a glass of whiskey in your hand or with strangers who have no other place to go to.
WRH: With members being spread out across the world, how did you all meet? How does the songwriting and recording process work for you guys? And when do you know that you have a finished song?
Sash: Good one. I‘ve already had Dana’s Saxophonistry in mind when I started laying down first drafts so it feels like I was just borrowing from his spirit. But it wasn’t until I had met TJ that the whole puzzle became The Deltahorse. Dana jumped on board a little bit later. To consider a song finished means all three of us being truly happy with both the song and production process. Working on the EP had its twists and turns and I can ́t think of one song that fits this criteria, but I don’t think it has something to do with working long distance.
DC: We met through FB and after hearing Sash’s work I was surprised that he wasn’t a[n] international sensation…yet… His production on this record is the real story. He sent me rough mixes with my baritone parts sampled. He sent me charts to go along with the first tunes. I took what he sent and listened and really had to approach it as work. It was Sash had written great parts, parts I would never in a million years thought up to play. So I had to bring my sound to his way of thinking about horns, which I took as a real challenge. As the project progressed I had a lot of freedom with what ever else I wanted once the horns were established so I threw a lot of junk at Sash and this is where the production comes, he sculpted a lot of information into a very soulful body of songs.
WRH: The material on the EP manages to be seductive, mysterious and in some way mournful. The mood is enhanced by TJ Eckleberg’s vocal style and novelistic imagery. I can’t quite imagine anyone but him as the vocalist for this particular effort. How did Eckleberg get involved? And did it feel as though it clicked when you guys started working together?
DC:TJ had the hardest task of all in my opinion. Basically given a song in parts that is in need of direction that can only come in the song as we know it from the vocal. It needs to tell a story, here is where TJ begins and where he takes you brings the entire track along for the ride. He is slinky sexy the listener can’t imagine who this is? I know because I have never met him.
Sash: TJ and I had met in a hip recording studio run by a hotel chain. The people there were putting together a pool of composers to pitch for opportunities, but it seemed like it was going to be another unpaid gig, as usual. Like “hey, we’ve paid a shitload of money for this brand new SSL console here and everything but we don’t think we should pay you for your time and work until we make money out of it.” It wasn’t a good deal but at least TJ and I got to know each other. We met again, I bought him some coffee and he listened to my demos in return. When the coffee cups ran dry I didn’t have to read the coffee grounds to find out TJ dropped the melodies. Fair enough, I told him he could do whatever he wanted to the songs. From the very beginning I loved his lyrics – they take you places. TJ’ ́s a great storyteller and we were happy to have him on board. He ́s about to move to Japan, and it ́s time for him now to focus on his new solo album. I wish him the best for his musical endeavours. The Deltahorse will continue its ride and you can still place your bets on it. It ́s still a running horse.
WRH: “Hey Yuri,” the EP’s first single and “The Guy Who Walks Away” are two of my favorite tracks on the EP – “Hey Yuri "strikes me as particularly mysterious, while "The Guy Who Walks Away” is incredibly seductive. What were their inspiration?
Sash: As far as I’ve learned, TJ actually used for “The Guy Who Walks Away” an old song he wrote about ten years ago in Sydney about a break up – though now there’s a lot of different things going on in that lyric, so it’s become more about abandonment and failures and how you pick yourself up after setbacks.
WRH: How did you guys come up with the band name?
Sash: This Horse Is Broken was another option but I can ́t stand things with a soul to be broken. I want this one to be of good health and feeling complete.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
Sash: Spinning right now on my mp3-turntables is Bombino ́s song “Amidinine”. If you ever feel like listening to a blend of Garage Blues and Nigerian Soul give it a try. Such swagger. Unfortunately, I can ́t understand the lyric. I assume he ́s singing in his native Tuareg language but so what – I can feel it. And that ́s what matters in music.
WRH: As mentioned a little earlier, the members of the band are in different locations, and as most people would presume that would make touring quite expensive. Have you found it difficult to promote the band and the EP without the ability to tour, like other bands?
Sash: Yeah, not touring makes it more complicated to promote our music. And with bloggers receiving hundreds of emails every day it ́s also difficult for artists to cut through for a spotlight. We’ve teamed up with the good souls from Team Clermont, a publicity firm from Athens, GA. They were running a brief campaign for us, and it ́s been a signal rocket for this project.
WRH: The band’s sound is difficult to pigeonhole. Is that intentional? And have you dealt with people who just didn’t get what you were doing?
Sash: Another great question! A lot of people on the lookout for something deep and fresh have responded very nicely to our sound. I wouldn’t call it intentional; we didn’t plan our sound. It ́s an energetic sound with a strong sonic foundation created by the low end, Dana ́s electric baritone saxophone and TJ ́s delivery. The ballsy bass and sax driven sound is like a perforated canvas for singers. Whatever colors you throw at it – dark, bright, mellow, jarring – they will be mixed up with the dirty layers on the filthy canvas that is the Deltahorse.
WRH: What advice would you give to artists trying to make a name for themselves?
Sash: Down here on this beautiful learning planet everybody has a different mission in life, different tasks to solve so I don ́t feel like I should be giving advice to anyone else than myself.
DC: Never has it been easier to do it yourself. Be persistent. Consider back up plans for financial security.