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The Empire Strikes Back - the return of The Delines

In June 2014 The Delines seemed to be on the verge of breaking into the big time. Nationally recognised in his native US, writer Willy Vlautin had already tasted a degree of sustained success with his band Richmond Fontaine, and with his novels. With the release of debut album ‘Colfax’, Vlautin and his new bandmates seemed poised to put The Delines on the international music map. Reviews were universally positive, with Uncut Magazine noting “this is probably the richest collection of songs Vlautin has written”, and The Line of Best Fit declaring Colfax “resembles best of Richmond Fontaine’s work: unassuming, deceptively simple songs that gradually gain the resonance of a great short story that happens to be accompanied by great music.” Vlautin’s reputation as an acute observer and masterful songwriter remained intact, but a huge part of The Delines’ critical success was due to the effortlessly languid tones of singer Amy Boone. ‘Colfax’ was written around Amy’s voice, Vlautin explaining that “with The Delines I write bigger songs because I think Amy can sing anything. I don’t have the courage or ability to pull off a lot of songs she can.” Amy’s involvement was somewhat fortuitous, she having temporarily replaced her sister Deborah on Richmond Fontaine vocal duties for a tour, whilst Deborah took pregnancy leave. A second album was written and would soon satisfy the eager anticipation of a growing fanbase. But then the good fortune quickly turned to bad, when in 2016 Amy suffered horrific injuries in a car accident, putting The Delines’ future in doubt.

Not quite three years after their momentum was so rudely interrupted, the band will finally release 'The Imperial' in January. A UK tour will shortly follow, including a date at Gosforth Civic Theatre in Newcastle. Ahead of the record release and tour we caught up with Willy Vlautin and began by asking how close to complete had the album been before the incident involving Amy. "We’d done one long session and most of The Imperial came from that. We took a break, Richmond Fontaine began touring again, and then Amy got hurt. We did another session after that and did 'Eddie and Polly', which made the record and 'A Room on the Tenth Floor', which didn’t."

I wondered, had the album been released in late 2016 as planned, how different would it have sounded compared to the imminent release?

"I don’t think the horn sections would have been as fully realized. We all knew Cory (Gray) was a hotshot keyboardist and trumpeter, but with the extra down time he arranged full horn sections. And man oh man is he a great arranger. We sure got lucky when we met him. Also it gave us more time to mix. We’ve all made enough records that I don’t think we were worried we’d ruin the record by tinkering, so we tinkered. We remixed a lot. 'Holly the Hustle' was cut from the record for a long time and then the producer, John Askew, did a mix of it that finally figured the song out. He saved the tune, it made the record, and now it’s one of my favourites on the album".

I put it to Willy that the aftermath of the accident must have been a very difficult and uncertain time, both for Amy and for the band.

"It’s been rough on Amy. Her whole life went sideways. She was in the hospital for a month, had eight major surgeries, and after two and a half years is still walking with a cane. She’s tough as hell and she’s doing good but you’re right it’s been difficult on her. We were so relieved when she still wanted to be in the band. She’s so damn cool and I love her voice so much that I was worried as hell she wouldn’t be able to do it and we couldn’t be a band. But now she’s living up here in Portland and we’re a band again."

Willy Worte all of the songs on 'The Imperial', but his usual M.O. was ditched, and characters that have previously frequented his songs, and novels, were left behind. "What I try to do is listen to Amy. See where her head is at, what she’s interested in singing about, what she doesn’t like singing about. Granted its filtered through my messed up head but I try. No characters from older records or novels are in this one.At least not that I can recognize. But I’m sure people will tell me."

The Delines are a seven strong outfit in the recording studio. I asked about The Delines as a live band, and whether they'd toured the UK previously.

"We’ll be touring as a five piece. I wish we could afford seven! It’s tough touring with a bigger band, even five is tough but it’s one of those bands where everyone plays a huge part in the sound. I’ll probably be the first guy to get kicked out!" Willy continued ...

"The band has played in the UK and Ireland and parts of Europe. We all love touring over there. Me, I always look forward to the small gigs, the country gigs. I’m hoping we get a few of those."

The Imperial is released 11th January via Decor Records. The band play Gosforth Civic Theatre on 28th January.

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