Interview: The Delta Riggs
Written By Alana Mazurke
Blues (Music) a type of folk song devised by Black Americans at the beginning of the 20th century, usually employing a basic 12-bar chorus, the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords, frequent minor intervals, and blue notes. Psychedelic (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) having the vivid colours and complex patterns popularly associated with the visual effects of psychedelic states. Incorporate the two and you have what results in one of the finest debut albums I have come across in a long while – Hex.Lover.Killer by Melbourne and Sydney based band The Delta Riggs. It is more than refreshing listening to a band who are wholeheartedly focused on making their music; simply moulding multiple styles into the one relatively profound folk rock sound yet in a way that not only makes for exceptional listening but one that can be communal amongst a broad range of listeners. It’s even more compelling to listen to an album with lyricism that equally shines with the music. One of my favourite lines comes from the punchy prog rock track “Perfume & Lace” ‘I don’t really take cocaine, but if you say it’s pure I guess it’s all the same, don’t try to save me.’ If you can imagine a collaboration album between The Black Crowes and Mercury Rev then, respectably you get Hex.Lover.Killer.
I recently had a chat to Michael Tramonte, bassist and vocal contributor to the band informally known as ‘Monte’ about the upcoming LP Hex.Lover.Killer set for release April 12th. If you hadn’t previously heard of The Delta Riggs then his epic description sums it up a lot better than I ever could; “It’s a sonic landscape of ups and downs and ins and outs and you know, different moods; it’s mysterious, it’s spooky but it’s bright but it’s happy, it’s kind of like a, a struggle between two lovers. It’s kind of a bit druggy – not that we’re druggies I’m just saying…that bit of a darker vibe in certain parts…that’s how I would describe it; a struggle between two lovers.” When speaking of notable influences to the album during the time of writing and recording there was your usual suspect of past genres at work “we all grew up through our youth listening to punk rock, the 70’s rock and roll, blues and hip hop…Elliott is really into NERD and Jurassic 5… [influences] kind of all over the place I guess”. In regard to the recording process the band “…recorded the entire album ourselves. Alex who’s one of the lead guitarists is a gun producer/engineer, nerd/wizard he takes a lot of inspiration from that whole New York minimal recording technique”.
For a first album it’s quite remarkable that the band opted to self record and produce the whole thing. Even more so with the fact that it sounds exceptionally made; fluke or no fluke the quality of the record is noteworthy “we wouldn’t have done it any other way; I mean it was the way it was meant to be obviously, we didn’t have a label on board, we didn’t have any money so we had to do it ourselves. After the recording we played it live and sonically it stood up quite well.” “There are pros and cons, but at the end of the day we’re the closest to the songs and we know how we wanted it to sound like. It’s our first record so we ultimately wanted it as something we were proud of and could listen to in ten years or twenty years and think that was awesome – no matter what anyone else thought of it.” As I’ve stated, there is a predominant bluesy rock sound and yet the album features many instruments throughout creating a more in depth if not louder sound on the album; the band recorded and played everything you hear on the album apart from a few external horn players who were brought in on a few tracks. “Elliott is an amazing musician; he played a lot of the drums on the most of the songs as well as the whirly, organs and the harmonic. And the piano parts are also him as well. Rudy (Alex) he’s a multi instrumentalist who can play a myriad of things and you know I can dabble a bit here and there but more guitar based and kind of piano…”
If you’ve yet to see the film clip for the first single off of Hex.Lover.Killer ‘Rah Rah Radio’ then you’re certainly missing out. It’s definitely not your typical boy meets girl type situation (or is it nowadays?), however, there is a boy and there is a boy dressed like a girl. “The concept of the idea was to originally do an animated clip but that was going to cost fucking ten grand so I came up with the simpler idea about a karaoke bar with a drag queen as a singer – kind of like how the black keys did that lonely boy video which really only had the one guy; really forward and engaging. So we sourced out a drag queen (Christina Dior). We originally thought to get one of our friends who are a suit in there to make for a real awkward vibe. Yet one night we were having a beer at this pub in Surrey Hills at the Strawberry Hills hotel, it was karaoke night there and we heard this guy singing Frank Sinatra who sounded pretty good. We peered over to see this old dude [aptly named Gary] in a sharp three piece suit, nice white shoes and hat; he was just ripping and we thought ‘fuck this is the guy!’ so we told him what was going on, asked if he would be keen and even through smashing a VB out of the bottle he was like ‘yeah, yeahhh’ [slurred drunk voice]. We gave him the bits and at first we were afraid he wouldn’t rock up but there he was on the day of filming and they really made a great pairing in the end.”
One of the features I’ve noticed from the album is that not only are all the songs in one way or other relatable, (that being you can depict your own morals to each song on some kind of level) it’s that a lot of the songs are commercially friendly. Now I don’t want to take anything away from the band when saying that, it’s not, not a compliment, just meaning that a listener of alternative music or indie or psychedelic or shoe gaze could all enjoy at least one song off this album. I asked Monte about the process of choosing a single to release “…It’s one of the things I find really ‘wanky’ about choosing a single; people come in with their opinions but fuck if it’s a good song then play it. Realistically it doesn’t really matter; one out of these three will be on the radio eventually which one it should be at the time, isn’t what matters. Triple J has been really behind us, we give them a couple of songs and they’ll say this one will do really well with air time which helps too.”
“There are songs that are my favourite which may change over time, one of the last tracks called “I was profound tomorrow”, I really like “better” the last song on the album – it’s just a really nice resolve to the record, I really like “perfume and Lace” it’s just like a real big stoner riff with this like really sweet melody over the top…”
I was so intrigued with how honest Monte was when it came to making this album; he shed light on some aspects you just wouldn’t really consider. You have five people in one band – that’s five personalities and opinions all forming to create one desired result and when self producing, it would be such an understandably tedious process. “It’s really hard to be objective after a while…There’s a few tracks there where we all write closely together but most of the time I prefer Elliott writes everything, that is, unless he’s having a creative block because then it stays a really personal thing.”
After listening to the album a few times over I was interested in knowing more about the writing processes of the songs themselves. I’d spoken to bands that often use universal truths or narratives about past experiences and this was seemingly the case with The Delta Riggs. “…it’s a lot of social commentary, but again a lot of its based on love and relationships (without being overbearing on the cliché) but then there are a lot of songs with themes along the lines of when your with somebody and you often fall into a real dark place it becomes this thing, like this monster; most of the songs are based around that feeling. The track “Better” is a song about writing this letter to a loved one but then there’s that throwaway line ‘but I didn’t send it’. It’s kind of just like there’s always this underlying tone – but it’s not very obvious is what I’m trying to say; it’s not like all those pop punk bands that just sing about the loves of their lives – had a girl that got away etc.”
“Elliott came up with it at one point and kind of threw it at us and it was like yeah, this is really kind of cool. But then when you read into it a bit better you know ‘hex’ is like that real mystical magic spell kind of vibe and then ‘lover’, being basically what the themes are about, and then ‘killer’ – there’s the whole paradox between lover and a killer. All the words together just make sense ex lover, Hex.Lover.Killer – it all just sat really well and created that kind of mood for the album. Elliott threw it out there and it just stuck.”
The Delta Riggs will be performing their album launch at The Northcote Social Club on Saturday the 20th April. “We’ve played there a few times it’s a great venue…it does pack out a lot and it’s got a good little vibe there. The people behind the bar are awesome and it’s not too far out of the way for people to come either.” It may not compare to the likes of The Palace where the band had the opportunity to play support for the likes of Primal Scream, but this will definitely be a show not to miss.