2014 was a busy year for The Delta Saints. The band played a major tour with Blackberry Smoke in support of their record, “Death Letter Jubilee.” They released an E.P. called “Drink it Slow,” and a live record called “Live at Exit/In.” The whole time they were doing all of that, they were also writing and recording a brand new studio record. With just a few weeks off, the boys are getting ready to hit the road again to do what they do best…play some good rock n’ roll music. The band’s lead singer and resonator guitar player, Ben Ringel took some time to talk to us here at The Music Room about 2014, the evolution of the band’s sound, and what 2015 has in store for this hard working band from Nashville, TN. Without further ado, here is what Ben had to say…
The Music Room: I think of myself as a long time Delta Saints fan, but when I look back it has really only been just a year. I think that is because you guys had such an eventful 2014. There was “Death Letter Jubilee,” the Blackberry Smoke tour, the “Drink it Slow” E.P., and the “Live at Exit / In” record… you guys had a jammed back year…
Ben Ringel: Man, it was busy. I think the last show we did was December 12th, and that was the hometown show in Nashville. We were all like…you know, we had a great year, and we’re really excited about it. We’re super thankful for the opportunities we got and were super humbled by the response we got, but we were limping at the finish line. We were ready for a month of sleep, good food, and a familiar feeling bed. I feel like it’s the way to end the year, you know?
TMR: What do you attribute the busy pace to? Was it the Blackberry Smoke tour getting you guys some traction, or just out of necessity?
BR: I think it’s all of the above. One of the things that the band has always tried to do, and I attribute this to any success we’ve had so far, there is this huge drive of creativity on the forefront. We always want to be growing as musicians and growing as song writers. But there is also a huge part of the band that has a business drive. We’re split down the middle where some are more business minded and some are more creative minded. There’s an understanding that if you create a good product and you know how to market that product…you know for us that product is music. I think we create the best music that we are able to and the business side of the band is able to focus on the business side of it and make, what I think have been pretty smart decisions so far. So this year was approached as knowing that we did not want to be in the same spot that we were last year. We had a couple of things on the checklist that we wanted to do last year. One was a major support tour, which we got to do with Blackberry Smoke. We played 53 shows coast to coast, so that was huge. So that was a check mark. Then we also realized that with “Death Letter Jubilee” we had pretty much squeezed out every ounce of an album cycle with that one. At this point it’s been about two years since we released a new studio record. We felt that so we were able to take a step back and look at the successes and failures that we experienced with that record. It was a great record that took us to where we wanted to be, but we realized now it’s time to do something else. So we essentially wrote and recorded a brand new album last year. Then we were in that awkward interim period, which we are currently still in, between your old studio record is a few years old and your new one’s going to come out in how ever many moths….what’s in between to keep people satisfied? We did two sold out nights in Nashville and it was a great opportunity to do a live record, which is typically something more for people who are a fan of the music already . Then we had the cool opportunity to do three music videos in a local brewery in Nashville, and one of the tracks ended up on the “Drink It Slow” E.P. So 2014 was very much about trying to grow in ways that we didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to in the past.
TMR: You guys had a little bit of down time since the last show. How did you spend it?
BR: We all went to our separate corners. Today we actually have a weekly business meeting. Today was the first time that all five of us had been in the same room since December 12th. The long holiday was awesome. I hung out with my wife’s family for the holidays. Our guitar player went to Jamaica with his family. I can say that we all collectively have the Holiday hangover. We’re use to being busy. We tour as much as we can. We always try to have things on our plate.
TMR: You guys are getting ready to head out on a mini tour here in January. I think we are the second stop here at The Soughtgate House. What’s this run going to be like? Are you going to be testing out the new stuff?
BR: Yeah, so we have this new record that we just got the masters back from like two weeks ago. The record will be ten songs. I think we’ve played four or five live. So a lot of what the next couple of months will be is honing in on how to play the record cohesively as a live band. One thing that is really exciting about this new record is that it’s challenging. Not that our previous records haven’t been, but this is challenging in a new way. Actually, after this phone call I’m heading to rehearsal. We know how we did it in the studio. You can overdub and stack 50 organ tracks, but how do we do it live. I’ll be honest, there are a couple of songs on the record which I am really interested to see how we do live because I have no clue. I think that’s what the next little while will be. It’s a fun time for us and I hope for the people who come to the show. You’re kind of getting a view into the underbelly of those moments of “how is this going to work?” You play a song one way and see how the audience reacts. So it’s really a cool moment in the live shows where the audience essentially gets to shape how songs are played live.
TMR: Let’s talk about the new record some more. I saw a post you put on Facebook that said something to the effect of “New Record, New Sound.” I am curious, will there be a large departure from what you’ve done with the two E.P.’s and “Death Letter”?
BR: You’ll still listen to it and it will be…it’s not like we’re going to start playing adult contemporary or polka music. I think people will be able to see the evolution of it. I think it’s a strong evolution. This record doesn’t have any harmonica on it. The blues influences are still there, we’re still the same band. A lot of times a band can evolve certain parts of their sounds. Typically the easiest parts to evolve are the top parts…the non-foundation type spots. I think with this record we focused on evolving the foundation of the band into a more modern thing. There are moments when it gets psychedelic. But it’s still coming from the same place. We’re still a band that’s trying to do a modern interpretation of the bands we love like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who …who are all again rooted in the same place. But when you listen to Zeppelin you don’t say that’s a great blues band, you say that’s a rock n’ roll band. I think taking out the harmonica, which we did a year and a half ago, that in itself kind of forced an evolution. I think we took that momentum and ran with it. People shouldn’t be worried about it being 100% different or not satisfying. I hope that people listen to it and are surprised but also satisfied and stoked on this thing that we’ve built for seven years.
TMR: Do you guys have a name for the record, or is it too soon to talk about?
BR: We do have a name…I think I can announce it. If not, whatever. It’s called “Bones.”
TMR: What time frame are you looking at for releasing it?
BR: Man, we were just talking about that today. We don’t know. It will be this year, knock on wood, unless something crazy happens. We talked about doing it in the fall of 2014 and that didn’t come together. Then we said maybe winter of 2015. Here we are, it’s winter and we’re still nailing down everything. Artwork, promotions… I would say mid to late 2015. Not late like December. Maybe middle of 2015.
TMR: What about touring plans? Do you think you guys will be on the road as much this year as you were last year?
BR: I hope to be on the road as much, if not more. I think what we’re focusing on as a band is doing things efficiently and paying attention to the important details and not just flying by the seat of our pants. We want to focus on certain markets, certain cities and certain venues and really grow them like we have seen a lot bands that we look up to do. You know, like figuring out how to make Charleston incredible or Cincinnati. You can play a city a hundred times, but if you don’t take care of that market by putting effort into social media and meeting people and really creating an impact with people, those hundred shows don’t really matter. A big part of this year is making every show as good as it can be while taking care of the people who come to the shows and put on the shows.
TMR: You kind of already touched on some of your influences already, but when I first heard you guys I heard places. I heard New Orleans. I heard Chicago. I heard the Deep South. Is that intentional? Do you get inspired by the places you have been, or was it just a natural thing that just happened?
BR: Yeah, absolutely. Coming from a lyrical perspective, I try to make everything based on some type of honest experience. There is a huge part of songwriting that is storytelling and you can create your own stories. You don’t have to live in misery to write a miserable song, or be the happiest person to write a happy song. I think every good story is rooted in an honest experience. For me…I was born in Louisiana and New Orleans is just my heart. I love that city so much, just everything about it, both the good and the bad. So that influences a lot, especially on Death Letter. And a place like Chicago, as a band we’ve had a lot of fun there. Our first time there was just a very romantic and memorable time that caused us all to have a love for Chicago. So places like that, New Orleans, and Kansas oddly enough, there is so much love that we’re all on the same page with the cities. While we may not come out and say “lets write a song about New Orleans,” it’s a common love for everybody so we don’t even have to think about it. Places are huge. When you tour 200 to 250 days a year, we are frequently in places other than our home. You experience people, food and culture. So I definitely think that’s a huge addition to our creative process.
TMR: Let me ask you about home. You guys are now based out of Nashville, TN. For a long time Nashville was considered to be the Country Music Capital of the world. It seems like that while the country music coming out of there today is the worst thing being made, there is also some really great things happening there. It seems like a real bipolar scene there right now. Can you explain what it is like for you as a band?
BR: There are three or four little worlds here man. It’s like Vegas. You’ve got country…I will say that there have been some spectacular records in the country realm. Jason Isbell’s “Southeastern” …I mean, find me a record in the past ten years with that much depth and songwriting. It’s fantastic. And coming up is a guy named Chris Stapleton who actually has the same producer as the Jason Isbell record. It’s the kind of music that just makes you want to quit. So, there’s some good country coming out. And while Sturgill Simpson may not be from Nashville, I put him in that same group with really good throwback songwriting.
TMR: Exactly, I mean, you have that crap like Florida Georgia Line, but then you have people like Isbell and Sturgill and I don’t know if your familiar with Hannah Aldridge, but she’s one of our favorites out of Nashville. But that’s what I mean, there is just two different sides of that city.
BR: You know, there’s surprisingly a huge rock scene in Nashville too. You’ve got The Black Keys, you’ve got Third Man Records, and Kings of Leon are from just south of Nashville. There is a big scene for it. I think it’s still kind of figuring itself out. There is that saying that misery loves company. Not that anybody’s miserable, but when you’re just hoofing like us and so many other bands in this rock n roll scene, it’s cool to see your friends around you are kind of doing it with you and finding their successes here and there. It gives you encouragement and hope as your kind of doing the same thing right along with them. So I would say Nashville is a pretty good place to be rock n roll wise. All things considered, we play rock n roll for a living. I’m not getting shot at and I’m not cutting people open.
Check out The Delta Saints when they play The Southgate House Revival Room this Thursday, January 22nd!!!