Name: The Delines
Interviewee: Willy Vlautin
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Current release: The Delines' new album Sea Drift is out via a network of different labels across the globe: decor records in the UK, Europe, Asia; Jealous Butcher in the USA and Canada; Love Police Records and Tapes in Australia and New Zealand. Find the right store for you here.
If you enjoyed this interview with Willy Vlautin of The Delines and would like to find out more about the band, visit their official homepage. They are also on Facebook, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
All that stuff plays into it. I write personal stuff in stories, sometimes about relationships or politics.
Say with The Delines LITTLE EARL, it came from when I was a kid and used to run into mini-marts and run out with 12 packs of beer and would get chased by the owners.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I usually start with a story idea.
SURFERS IN TWILIGHT started as a story and then I put the music to it and tinkered on it until it started working.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Because I’m a novelist I got over most rituals. Novels take so long that you’d go crazy having to go through a ritual everyday.
My main ones with writing are I have to feel good, I can’t be hungover, and coffee and donuts help. With songs I have to feel good but I can be hungover and out of sorts. Coffee and donuts help then, too.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I usually start with a story idea. The music comes when I think what sort of music fits the idea of the story. After that I think about lyrics, how to fit the ideas of the initial story into the form of a song.
A perfect example on THE SEA DRIFT would be DROWNING IN PLAIN SIGHT. It started as a story idea and I changed the melody a few times before picking that one.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Lyrics are always my favorite thing to work on. Usually I’ll get a rough draft of them down and then tinker on lines as you would a poem. I put one line in, pull it out, put in another and then another until it starts, hopefully to work.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
That’s a tough question. I mean sometimes a line like, “I want to be your dog“ says it all, sometimes,“Be My Baby“ does or even a single line, “Tequila“ and sometimes Bob Dylan’s, “It’s alright Ma, I’m only bleeding“ says everything that‘s ever needed to be said.
For me personally I love story songs, songs that transport you to a different world so that’s what I try to do. Write a song that hits you emotionally and lets the listener go to a different reality.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Usually, once I get the music and lyrics then I’ll bring it to the band. By then the lyrics are 95% done but the music I leave open to have the band mold and fix or change. I’ll have the melody, the verse and chorus, and usually a bridge or two and then as band we go through it and see what works.
A lot of changes go on during that part of the process. A good example of that is HOLD ME SLOW. We rebuilt that one a few times before settling into it.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
A little bit of both. For me it all depends if its working and the only way I know if it's working is if I don’t worry about it. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night worrying about a song that is working but I do wake up when a song isn’t.
I’ll mess with the narrative aspect until I feel good about it. It’s a toss up if the story directs you or you direct the story.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
You’re right you might start a project thinking certain things are going to work but then those certain things don’t work but something else does. When writing novels that happens a lot. A side character might work a lot better than a main character so suddenly you move the side character more into the light. Usually I just follow what’s working.
Sometimes with an idea that’s not working you just need to move it a bit here and there so you can see it in a different way and then it’ll work. And sometimes, sadly, you just have to scrap the project entirely because it doesn’t work no matter how hard you try.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Usually if I feel good physically and I have an idea then I’ll run with it and not think too much about it, I’ll just work on it. I try never to stop myself from exploring something. The big thing for me is to try and keep my confidence up. That’s an ongoing, neverending struggle.
All bets are off if I lose my confidence. Usually when that happens I just resort to drinking, watching movies, and listening to records.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I’ve always tried hard to finish projects. There is a real danger to never finishing. The perils are that you change it so much you ruin it and eventually abandon it. That can easily become a habit.
With a band it’s easier because often you have monetary constraints so you work with in that framework. Plus with a band, you have to get a project done so the band can work, tour, sell the record.
With books I just tinker on a novel until I start thinking about another one. When I get to that stage I know I’m done with the one I’m working on. The goal for me is to always finish a project.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I do that with songs before I bring them to the band. I tinker a lot, but once the band gets ahold of the song then it lives and dies by the band’s opinion of it.
When writing a novel I’ll let a draft sit a month or so and I’ll start something new and the go back to the novel when I’m not in love with it anymore and see what I think. I’ll usually find a few things then I missed before.
But after that phase I never look back. I don’t assess a year or two later, I just move forward.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I don’t have good enough ears to be involved in mastering but I’m there every day for the recording and mixing. I hate missing any aspect of it. My favorite thing to do is edit stories and mix records.
Now with mixing records I have a lot of help. Sean Oldham, The Delines drummer, is there and he has perfect pitch and is a trained musician so he can really articulate things better than I can and also the producer, John Morgan Askew, who has great great ears as well as a brilliant asthetic. And of couse John Askew knows how all the knobs works and me, I don’t!
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Sure it’s hard. You’re basically dropping something you love off on a street corner and telling it you hope it makes it out in the world okay. People might love it or hate it or maybe it just gets ignored. That’s a tough time. That’s why I always try to have something new I’m working on when a record or a novel comes out.