Faithfully following a GPS navigation unit, the band's van veered onto a dirt road somewhere between Little Rock, Ark. and St. Louis.
"I think we're going to get shot," said singer Matthew Vasquez. "There's a farmhouse, a dog chasing us and a guy in boxers looking at us like we're a bunch of murderers."
It's a relatively safe assumption that neither Vasquez nor the rest of Delta Spirit " bassist Jon Jameson, guitarist Sean Walker, keyboardist Kelly Winrich and drummer Brandon Young " are murderers. Unemployed, homeless drifters, yes. Killers, no.
Assembled in 2005, following Jameson and Young's departure from emo outfit Noise Ratchet, Delta Spirit's soulful indie rock is a far cry from its founders' musical history.
"They were really young in that band. If you're 16 years old, and someone comes up to you and says, 'Hey, man, do you want to go on tour?,' you're not going to think about what the band sounds like," Vasquez said. "They were young guys offered an opportunity to play drums and bass, and not writing the songs. They got in a place where it's like, 'Oh, well, we've been doing that for a while,' and weren't having fun, so they stopped doing it. When they did, we started playing together."
The group gigged alongside Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Dr. Dog, Cold War Kids and other well-known indie mainstays after debuting its "I Think I've Found It!" EP in 2006.
Winding back west after a slot supporting Nada Surf, Delta Spirit is roughly its fifth tour this year in support of the group's first full-length "Ode to Sunshine." Originally band-distributed in 2007, Rounder Records signed the act and rereleased the album in August. The band returned to the road to perform and promote.
"It's a lot more comfortable, that's for sure, compared to our first tour," Vasquez said. "We toured until we sold like 6,000 copies on our own, and then we signed, and it's been doing really great. It's not some payoff, a 'blow up your band immediately,' like The Killers' situation. It's step-by-step, and we have some people working really hard."
To reiterate, then: Delta Spirit " neither killers, nor The Killers, in that any success thus far has been a little less flashy and a little more homegrown. One welcome change in Delta Spirit's touring lifestyle, however, is financial support from Rounder, a comfort welcomed by indie acts in the past, but " at least in this band's case " a necessity.
"When we started touring, gas prices were so low, you could make money being the first (band) of three," Vasquez said. "Gas prices went up this year right around the time we got tour support, which basically saved us."
The return tour finds Delta Spirit as the headliner at several club shows " a welcome change of pace " in addition to a number of supporting slots, including one at September's "Austin City Limits" to an audience of about 60,000.
The act returns to the metro for a 9 p.m. Saturday show at Norman's Opolis.
"In terms of opening, I like it because of the 'you gotta earn it' factor, you know? It feels really good selling a CD because you're playing in front of a great band and trying to keep (the audience's) attention," Vasquez said. "In terms of a 60,000-person place, you can't look at that many people. They can't get drawn into you. I don't know how to affect that many people, so it's kind of like dinner theater. When there are 150 people there to see you, it's really encouraging."
Without day jobs or rent payments to speak of, Vasquez said the band will start working on a follow-up to "Ode to Sunshine" after it returns to Southern California later this year. He said the band brings acoustic guitars on tour and has already written 17 songs, at least some of which he said will likely find a place on the new release.
"We're not done writing. Right when we get home, we're going to sit down and work it out," he said. "It should be pretty good. Hopefully. We're going to do our best." "Becky Carman