The Delta Saints | Shaking Up the Algorithm

deltasaints sqWe have a Southern, blues rock sound, but now it’s getting blurred as we stretch it a bit more.

 

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PHOTO: Alysse Gafkjen

The Delta Saints drink deeply from the deep waters of American Music: the Blues, jazz, zydeco, country, and R&B. The Nashville-based group continues to build a loyal audience, album by album and show by show. There are no shortcuts for this band.

After a bit of a scheduling snafu, I finally got to speak with Ben Ringel, the affable, articulate, and engaging Delta Saints vocalist, songwriter, and front man. He and the band had just returned to the States after an extensive European tour.

 

How were the dates in Europe?

We just got back days ago from a long tour, and we’re still recovering from jet lag.

We played dates all over Europe with the tour, starting in Sweden. We’ve been going over there for four years [eight tours], and it’s growing for us. We’ve built up a rapport with the audience, so we kind of know what to expect.

Are there any differences between American and European audiences?

I think, because of the age of their culture; they appreciate art and music more. I think they give music a bit more time. In America, we all consume media so quickly. They’ll listen to new music or albums more than a few times before passing judgment.

 How did you meet Chrissie Hynde?

Serendipity at its finest. She’s from Akron, and we were playing there on a random night. She happened to be in town promoting her new book [Reckless: My Life as a Pretender]. Her friend who owned the venue we played at invited her to our show just to hang out. We met her before we even went on stage. David was still making the set list, and in walks a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. [Laughs] We thought there was no way she’d hang out for more than a song. She was there until the end of our set, and she was maybe three rows back from the stage.

Later, she invited us out for three or four hours for some drinks. I texted my wife and said, I don’t know if I have the brainpower to process this. She told us all kinds of stories about the good old days. She’s no frills: just down-to-earth and loves talking music. It’s pretty unbelievable.

Since that moment, she’s opened a lot of doors for us. She helped us in the U.K. We still email her every few weeks. She was on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live and mentioned our name. Even my grandmother watched that show and called me after hearing our name. It was a proud moment for me as a grandson. [Laughs]

What’s has been your strangest show?

We played a political party in D.C., and there were all kinds of dignitaries, politicians, major network owners—but we can’t tell you who. Our friend invited us over to play and promised us a big surprise. Turned out the surprise was Max Weinberg. Our drummer about lost it when he saw Max. We played our set and Max is talking to us afterward. We did an encore, and Max asked to sit in. We played “Statesboro Blues,” and I remember turning around and seeing Max drumming and thinking, That’s the guy that backs Bruce Springsteen. It was just surreal. He’s a really nice guy and had so many great stories.

You record a lot in Nashville. How does that affect your music?

It’s a unique city, but not as famous as L.A. or New York. It still seems like this weird secret, even though Rolling Stone called it a great scene. We’ve got Jack White, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, and all the great country people. The country world is full of really professional talented guys. You have to bring your A game to every single show; the guys in the audience can play better than you. It’s a real shark tank, and we’re trying to grind out our spot. I’m glad we learned that early and have been exposed to such talented people.

I think the Nashville scene sonically influences, but it’s also out of place enough to be unique. We’re trying to incorporate even more influences into our music, like Pink Floyd. We’re trying to maintain what’s unique about our music. We have a Southern, blues rock sound, but now it’s getting blurred as we stretch it a bit more.

Do you receive much airplay, and where do you fit?

With this record, we pushed harder for radio traction. We’re getting more than we previously did; I think we have more traction this time around. We’re taking something that’s already known and making it more modern. We’re trying to kind of follow the Alabama Shakes way of doing things. We’re in a place where we’re really excited to record another record. We’re trying to figure out what the next step is and make it more modern, but also make music we like.

I think it’s become too comfortable with the algorithm. The labels can’t figure out the formula for making money. Spotify says if a song doesn’t hit the hook in the first 12 seconds, it’s not a hit. That’s restrictive and doesn’t really reward great songwriting.

What role does social media play in your audience?

Social media is singlehandedly the most important tool in the belt, after the music itself. Our van got broken into, and we lost everything except for one guitar. That day, while our tour manager was with the police, David, our bassist, made a PDF of all our gear and posted it to Facebook. We asked our fans to keep an eye out for our gear. That one post was shared by 1,700 times in short order, and we had a 250,000 total shares and pass-alongs. The power of that is something. We’re nobody, just working for our money and every inch of progress, yet we can reach millions potentially. In 1995, how would any band do that?

Did the Paris attacks affect your Spanish dates?

One of the guys in our crew got the news via a friend [in Paris] on social media and it really hit home. Yeah, there was more security in Spain, but there was also a sense of shared emotional place or experience in the air. We were all mourning in our own way. It was also in our minds that we’re playing in front of 300 people, but to have that thought in the back of your head sucks. Then again, they’re not going to stop of us from making and enjoying music. Our booking agent is about an hour from that Brussels, so it’s affecting the music scene and his city.

Have you played St. Louis before?

Yeah, we have. In the early days, we toured with and opened for Blackberry Smoke. They’re carrying the torch for Southern music. We had some great shows there. And we’ve started to play Blueberry Hill, a legendary club and Chuck Berry playing there makes it just feel good. St. Louis has gone from a thing we couldn’t quite figure out, to a market we know, and one where we’re gaining some momentum and new fans. | Doug Tull


The Delta Saints will be appearing in St. Louis at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Saturday, December 5, 2015. Visit
www.blueberryhill.com for more information, including show time and ticket price.

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