The Delphines: Warm and fuzzy with a tight foundation
The Delphines have a warm, fuzzy carefree sound. It's sonically blissful while lyrically dark. It drips with that sort of conflicted teenage nostalgia, the feeling of having the whole world waiting for you, while still being internally hesitant and confused. It's all pumped into a single microphone and done in a single take. But despite that youthful glow, the group is knit together, the foundation is strong, and the music crackles with a tight energy.
The Delphines arrived on the Milwaukee scene in late September and have been working hard, playing just about every show they can. But if you haven't gotten out to see them yet, don't take that for granted. Their next show is Friday, Jan. 25 at Quarters Rock 'n Roll Palace, 900 E. Center St., and while there is no plans for it to be their last, changes are afoot.
"You've got a job!?" Jeremy Ault, the Delphines' drummer asked of singer and guitarist, Harrison Colby.
"I go to North Carolina on Monday..." he announced casually.
"What!?" Ault asked, as the rest of the band laughed.
Colby turned to me. "They didn't know until right now."
The prospect of anyone under 30 having jobs in this economy might seem surprising, but the youthful vigor and carefree sound that the band projects betrays their solid foundation. All of them are grad students. Bassist Lucas Riddle is working towards a Masters in German literature and translation, while teaching German at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Singer Jami Eaton also teaches German at UWM and is studying linguistics. Ault is a Trinity fellow at Marquette University, works with an adult learning center and studies history in his free time. And Colby is an art director and set designer in the film industry.
About the Image
"To be honest, I was expecting you to be a lot more like...I dunno...teenagers," I had to admit. "The music has that free, summery..."
"Free wheelin' Bob Dylan?" asked Jami.
"We do have that naive image," admitted Riddle.
"You're not the first to think that," said Ault. "But we're past the part of living off our parents. And that makes it better for us. We can keep everything in perspective and really have fun, and the intentions are good for us. We don't let playing get too big or too small for us."
"If I was still 20 and doing this, I'd be getting drunk every night instead of, y'know, getting work done," laughed Riddle.
The origin story
In September, The Delphines recorded their first album and started playing shows shortly after that, but it didn't take long before they received an ecstatic endorsement from Tom Crawford, the station manager at 91.7 WMSE, on Local Live, a weekly showcase of Milwaukee musicians.
Riddle explained, "We had a show at Frank's and I just shot the station an email right before the show seeing if they could say something about us, or The Ladybirds, who we were playing with. They said they didn't have time, but asked us if we wanted to play Local Live like three days later."
"I thought that was a much better deal," smiled Colby.
"Yeah, and people still came to our show. So we won!"
The band laughed.
There is a sense of ease between the band members. No pretension, just a lot of support and collaboration. Even in setting up the interview they wanted every member of the band to be there to contribute.
"You seem to be in this together," I suggested.
"We hung out a year before we talked about playing together," says Ault. "We really just got together as friends. Initially we would just hang out together and go to each others' open mic nights, so we didn't really have any great ambition. It was just something else to do after school instead of drinking wine."
"Which we still do," he laughs, "But now we do something pretty constructive, too."
Since the formation of the band, The Delphines have released two four-song EPs and a single, and—new this week—a video single as well. They also have a pay-what-you-will recording of their performance at WMSE available for download from their Bandcamp page.
"Do you have any plans to do a proper full length release?" I asked.
"I don't know," smiled Colby wryly. "We were originally saying when we started the band we didn't want to do albums."
The band laughed.
"I don't want to sound like a jerk or anything. All of our songs are so short versed, we wanted to see if we could just do EP's and singles and stuff."
"The Fear EP was very cohesive," explained Eaton further, "When we started writing new songs, they were a departure from that. Still complementary, but a departure. So those four songs went together. But then what if they next four songs are inspired by their own thing?"
Riddle continued, "If they're really good and they fit together really well, but then you want to drag that writing process out into 10 songs, it's more likely that some will just miss."
"That's what I'm saying," clarified Eaton. "When I get into an artist I listen to the first four songs and get super hyped on them. Then I listen to them on repeat for two weeks. Then I'm like alright, now I'll listen to track five. Then it's two through six, then four through eight. Then when I reach nine and ten I just think, 'Ew, what were they doing?'"
"Jami and Harry write lyrics that we want people to pay attention to," said Ault, "So when you present it in shorter bursts you can really focus on everything."
It's an attitude that recognizes changing trends in the way music is processed by the public at large, particularly with younger listeners—aka, the iTunes generation.
"If you're talking about old 60s records," said Colby, "they'd release single, single, single, single, single, and then at the end of the year, just compile them all onto an album. For the iTunes generation that's actually a pretty cool way to go about it. It's coming full circle. The '70s and '80s were more album oriented, but compare that to Elvis, who doesn't really have 'an album' until later in his career. For him it's more about the songs."
"But," argued Riddle, "Those greatest hits compilations are kind of like taking your favorite chapters from many books by one author and throwing them together into this weird compilation. You don't know what the f*ck is going on."
"Unless," countered Eaton, "it's an anthology of short stories."
"Hey, that's what we're doing," said Colby, as if coming to a revelation.
"Yeah, very short stories," said Ault. "Some of them a minute thirty-five."
The band laughed.
"But with all that being said," admitted Eaton, "I still want to do a full length LP. It's not out of the question."
"We're actually excited that Harry is leaving [for North Carolina]," said Eaton.
"Yeah, the first thing that I thought when I heard Harry got a new job: new songs!" said Riddle.
"The last EP was all written when he was gone, too. We write better when he's not here. We write alone and send each other stuff. We can never sit and write together, it just doesn't work."
"Our album 'God Help the Delphines' was all done over the phone," said Colby. "Not recorded that way, but written that way."
Riddle offered a glimpse into the process. "Harry would leave a voicemail on my phone that says, 'So this song is 8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8, 6-6-6-6-6-6-6-6...'"
As far as inspiration goes, "Al Pacino has factored in for me. And that's no joke," Eaton says.
I joke back, "I could tell by the song called, 'Oh-la-la, my dreamboat, Al Pacino <3 <3'"
"Yeah, we just changed the name to ''71.'"
"There is an obvious '60s garage rock influence," said Colby, "but we're also into '80s music. That Factory Records stilted early new wave stuff."
"Lifestyles of the mid-20s," said Ault.
"Grad school," said Riddle.
"We're the nerdiest band around!" laughed Colby.
"We don't use any external microphones. It all goes into the internal mic on the Mac," revealed Colby, "And I don't know how we get it to sound listenable doing it that way. The process is: we record a whole song, and then we scrap it, then record it again, then scrap it again until it sounds good. It's like the worst process ever."
I'm a bit surprised (but then again, I know nothing about music engineering). "So it's all just personally recorded? No studio time?"
"The only thing was doing Local Live at WMSE," said Ault. "When we walked into the mixing, they had recorded a sound sampling. I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is what we really sound like?'"
"Yeah, they had real microphones and head phones," said Colby. "I was like, 'What's this?' It's not like moving a guitar away from a computer.'"
The band has a working calendar for the near future. Their next show is Friday, Jan. 25th at Quarters Rock 'n Roll Palace in Riverwest, where they'll be playing with Is/Is, Toxic Shrews, and Cousins.
They plan to release a cassette soon and are hoping to play South by Southwest.
"We're also super stoked about Look Out Weekend, which is a big garage rock and psychedelic fest. Bands from all over the world are coming to places like Linneman's, Circle A, Jackpot Gallery, and Quarters. Bands from San Francisco, Greece, and Montreal," said Colby. For those who are curious, a streaming compilation is available at the Lookout Weekend Bandcamp page.
"We're also playing with Peach Kelly Pop on April 2. It's just the two of us and it's going to be like the biggest wad of chewing gum." Colby continued. "It's going to be awesome!"
The band will also get it's chance to play to a wider audience by opening for Deerhoof at Lincoln Hall in Chicago.
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