Noise Annoys: Willy Vlautin on The Delines' new album & Irish shows
Acclaimed author and veteran musician Willy Vlautin on the difficult gestation of The Imperial, the new record from his current band The Delines...
THE Delines' new album The Imperial was released last week to the delight of those who loved the Portland alt-country soul outfit's superb debut offering, 2014's Colfax, and indeed the band themselves.
At one point, the group weren't sure their second record would ever be finished: guitarist/songwiter Willy Vlautin and co were left in limbo following singer Amy Boone's devastating 2016 accident, which left the Texas-born frontwoman seriously ill after being hit by a car.
However, after almost three years of uncertainty over the band's future, during which Boone endured a painful, protracted and still ongoing recovery from her injuries, The Imperial is now finally out in the world.
Accordingly, The Delines – also featuring Cory Gray (keys) and Vlautin's former Richmond Fontaine cohorts Freddy Trujillo (bass) and Sean Oldham (drums) – are hitting the road once again.
Ireland is top of the list on the band's live itinerary, which kicks off next week at The White Horse in Cork on January 23 before taking in shows in Galway (24), Dublin (25) and Belfast (26) – the latter engagement at The Black Box brought to us courtesy of the Out To Lunch festival.
"I'm so grateful that this band gets to continue," enthuses Vlautin, who will also be inviting you to enjoy An Evening With Willy Vlautin at Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy on January 22 prior to The Delines shows.
"When Amy got hit by a car a few years ago and had both her legs broken, she was laid up for over a year where she could even barely even leave the house. So we had no idea if the band would continue.
"We had recorded a good chunk of what would become The Imperial before she got hurt, which was really lucky for us, because it gave us something to kind of work on and hope for and hang on to while she got better.
"She's so damn tough – I think she had nine major surgeries and it was really rough on her. But she was brave enough to get on an airplane as soon as she could really walk and come up here and finish the record.
"We're just really excited to get to be in this band again and to get to play in Ireland – everyone loves Ireland in our band!"
The feeling seems to be mutual: The Black Box show is already sold out, The Delines having clearly left Belfast audiences hungry for more following their well-received live debut here at the Errigle Inn in 2014.
That show took place just a couple of years after the band formed, coinciding with the release of Colfax – a record Vlautin, then still in Richmond Fontaine, practically willed into existence along with the band itself.
"Amy was touring with Richmond Fontaine, playing keyboards for us," explains the musician and author, whose most recent novel was last year's devastating boxing-themed Don't Skip Out On Me.
"I was watching her warm up every night and she'd sing these old country soul tunes. I just sat there thinking, 'Jesus, I'd love to be in a band with a really good singer like that'."
With that in mind, Vlautin took it upon himself to write some songs specifically geared towards Boone and her voice: nine months later, he'd amassed an entire record's worth of material.
There was just one problem: Boone had no idea what he'd been up to.
"I didn't tell her about it at all," he admits. "I wrote her a letter, like a thesis, on why she should join up. I sent her a couple of songs – I didn't send her all the songs because I didn't want her to think I was some kind of obsessive freak, which I guess I kinda am – and she said 'This sounds great'.
"At the time she was living in Austin, Texas, so she came up to Portland and – jeez Louise – within a week of practising, we were recording. So it was a pretty experimental situation. Then we started touring and people seemed to like the band enough for us to keep going."
Thankfully, with Boone now able to tour again and a brand new set of songs under their belts, The Delines are now itching to get back out there and show the world how they've thrived in the face of adversity.
"The Imperial is more of a 'real band': you can tell just by listening to it that we've toured and worked the songs out live – it wasn't such a 'studio' record," advises Vlautin of their latest material.
Indeed, fans will notice that the band's sound has evolved somewhat from Colfax, the result of road/rehearsal-honed instincts and harsh fiscal reality.
"We couldn't afford to tour with Tucker Jackson who plays pedal steel for us, so we became less reliant on it," the guitar man tells me.
"So the second record kind of leans harder on soul: our keyboard player Cory Gray is a great trumpet player and is also known as a really great horn and string arranger; he did all the horns [on The Imperial] and I think they're amazing.
"And Freddy Tujillo has always been my favourite bass player and is kind of a legend around our area, so we're really lucky to have him.
"It's a really fun band – but if I didn't write the songs I would have gotten fired long ago, because they're all such super hotshot musicians and I'm like the little kid trailing behind saying 'don't run so fast!'"
Of course, Vlautin is being far too modest, as any fan of Richmond Fontaine will attest. Still, having fronted that much loved alt-country outfit for over two decades before laying them to rest with a celebratory farewell tour, which visited Ireland in 2016, he's now enjoying his new role in The Delines as chief songwriter and guitarist/backing vocalist while Boone takes the spotlight every night.
"Oh man, to be honest it's the greatest thing that's ever happened, " enthuses Nevada-born Vlautin. "I was 13 or something when I started playing in bands as a kid. I hated being in front of people – I was so shy, it used to kill me. But I'd always written songs and I could remember all my lyrics, so I just ended up being the singer.
"I was always uncomfortable doing it: I grew more comfortable with it with Fontaine, but my dream was always just to write songs in the back. I've always wanted to be in a band that played a lot of country/soul ballads too – and now I've got my chance with Amy and The Delines."
:: An Evening With Willy Vlautin, Tuesday January 22, Seamus Heaney Homeplace, Derry. Tickets £12 via Seamusheaneyhome.ticketsolve.com. The Delines, January 23, White Horse, Cork / January 24, Roisin Dubh, Galway / January 25, Liberty Theatre, Dublin / January 26, The Black Box, Belfast (sold out). The Imperial is out now, buy online via Decorrecords.com.