Listening to their debut record Transatlantic, you would never guess in a million years that the three members of The Deltahorse have never actually physically been in the same room together.
Consisting of a singer from Belfast (Vadim), a saxophonist from Boston (Dana) and a bass guitarist / producer from Berlin (Sash). The Deltahorse have defied all odds writing, producing and recording their debut album all through the wonders of modern file sharing.
In what only seemed appropriate, I recently caught up with Vadim and Sash via Skype to talk about the inspiration and making of Transatlantic. But in the process, what I ended up being told speaks more to the power and beauty of music itself than about the difficulties of making a record over distance…
Metratone: Hey guys, thanks for making the time so early in the morning.
Vadim: No problems, thanks for staying up so late!
Metratone: Transatlantic sounds like a pretty amazing project to be a part of, what’s the reception been like so far?
Sash: I think the reception has been great so far but it’s kind of funny, heaps of people still don’t believe that the three of us are able to work the way we actually do. Some people just don’t get that it’s actually possible to sound the way we do without having had a rehearsal in the same room together.
Metratone: Well it’s a really unusual way to record an album for sure… How did you guys meet?
Sash: Well actually, I’ve only met Vadim once last year and I’ve met Dana twice. The last time was only last week actually during one of the georgeous Vapors of Morphine shows in Italy. So we have never really been together having a drink or something like that… I hardly even remember the three of us doing a Skype together, maybe only once or twice?
It all just happens you know… you send the music out there and wait wondering what is going to come back, and when it does you just get blown away because it all just instantly works together. It just goes to show that even though we do have these geographical obstacles, we still somehow connect to one another. The ideas seem to be bigger than any distance we have between us and once our three souls get behind it, it just connects in a way that doesn’t matter that there’s an ocean between us.
Metratone: Vadim, how would you describe The Deltahorse?
Vadim: Me? Hahaha I don’t know… you see I always thought that Sash would be better to answer questions like this because to me he is the main engine behind it all. It’s hard to describe… I guess it’s hard to describe anything when you’re part of it, but I always think of The Deltahorse as some kind of really cool dance project… Well at least it’s the kind of music I would like to dance to you know?
The album itself has come out really diverse as well, so it’s hard to put it along the lines of any genre so to speak… well at least for me, so I don’t really know how to describe The Deltahorse.
Sash: There’s probably no genre so to speak but definitely a sound I guess. It’s built from what I would say are three rather strong components. On the one hand you have Vadim’s vocals and on the other you have the low baritone sax sound in combination with maybe my bass lines?
Vadim: Sash… it’s definitely your bass lines.
Sash: Haha… I’m just trying to figure out what it is exactly because none of it was ever really planned you know… it just happened as we went.
Metratone: It sounds like you’re the main instigator behind The Deltahorse Sash, what was the inspiration behind the project itself?
Sash: If we’re talking about inspiration, it started about 15 years ago at my local record store. I was listening to one of Dana’s Morphine albums and the first song I heard just had this tremendously overwhelming saxophone in it, I just instantly felt it all through my body.
I didn’t actually listen to any of the other songs, I just went straight to the checkout and bought the album after hearing maybe the first 20 seconds. It just struck me, it did something to me…
Metratone: Woah! So The Deltahorse has been brewing for a really long time!
Sash: Yeah, if you think about it like that. I mean for years I just let it all work in my brain and in my mind you know, I always had this sound in my head that I always knew I wanted to work with it at some point, but not until finally breaking up with a couple of bands did I ever think about investigating that sound in my head any further.
Even when the time eventually came, I never really had the idea ‘let’s just call up Dana and see if we can do something together’ because to me that would have just been impossible. It was kind of wrong thinking I guess?
I did try to find some musicians in Berlin playing baritone sax and we did do some recording, but it just didn’t really work out… They didn’t understand what I was looking for. So it was around 2011 – 2012 at this time when I met up with a singer songwriter from Sydney actually, his name is T.J. Eckleberg and we worked on an EP together that we actually released before T.J. decided to move along with his own projects.
Vadim: That was the beginning of The Deltahorse!
Sash: Well yes, that was the very beginning of The Deltahorse… But during that time I finally decided to get in touch with Dana on Facebook. It actually took him 3 weeks to recognize my request and I was so close from saying “Ok, that’s just the polite way of saying fuck off”, but in fact he was just on tour so the message hadn’t slipped through. So after he finally did get back to me, it was just like ok, let’s go, let’s work… and it was easy.
And then Vadim… Vadim was actually the first person I asked after T.J’s departure. He was one of the very first artists I discovered on Soundcloud and I just instantly fell in love with his sound and expression, I could hear the heart and soul in what he was doing. It was just different to what other guys are doing you know. So having already asked Dana to be involved, it was quite natural for me to ask Vadim… I was just like “Hey I have this project going on and we have a sound, do you want to join” and he just said “ohhhh yeah”.
Vadim: Haha yeah pretty much!
Sash: So here we are now, making you wonder how it all works…
Metratone: So you’ve essentially put this band together entirely with people you have just genuinely been a fan of?
Sash: Well yeah, I’ve been a huge fan of Dana’s sound for a long time and even though we had never been in touch I felt connected to this type of sound… and the thing is, it matches perfectly with what I write you know. The riffs he plays and the soundscapes that he creates.
Maybe it was because I got so immersed in this sound it was easy for me to create something with him, I don’t know? It has never really been planned… No one ever sat down and wrote a plan saying ‘ok, it’s going to work like this’, it all just happened very naturally because there is this real kind of connection between us that seems to work like energy, just waves you know?
Metratone: Speaking about Dana. The sax is definitely one of the most integral elements to The Deltahorse’s sound, that deep baritone sound is something that I haven’t really heard very often, if at all. Can you tell me more about the how you’ve used the sax in The Deltahorse?
Sash: I think the combination of having the baritone saxophone with a bass sculpting the sound is not something that new. I mean Dana’s former bands Morphine, Twinemen or A.K.A.C.O.D have done that already. But we don’t sound like Morphine. The grooves are different and the voice of Vadim is different, there is a different soul behind it that comes from three different musicians.
I mean Morphine never got to incorporate that electrified sax sound whereas with The Deltahorse, you have the pure sax and then all these weird noises and soundscapes provided by the electric saxophone… Which by the way, when you hear it live will blow you out of your socks.
But talking about the idea of having the baritone sax as the main instrument, it’s not that new so we can’t take credit for being the first, but hopefully it will return in the next generation with a new sound.
Metratone: Maybe the first on Soundcloud?
Sash: Haha maybe.
Metratone: What do you make of it Vadim?
Vadim: I completely agree actually because whenever I listen to it, and not only The Deltahorse because lately I’ve been catching myself listening to Morphine as well, the stuff Dana does is phenomenal. But what I like about The Deltahorse is that there are parts where Dana doesn’t really do what he usually does. Like on ‘Cinematic’ and ‘Broadcast’ there is more of a jazzy swing to it rather than the sound of the sax that is doing something along the lines of a bass line, which to me is my Favorite part… I like it when Dana goes jazzy, that’s class!
Metratone: So Vadim, how would a new song come to you?
Vadim: Usually Sash would send me some sort of track. Sometimes it might be more or less finished you know, sometimes it might be just a little piece… it takes much more than that I’m just saying. Like for example ‘Easy Life’, Sasha sent me the track and I think it was maybe about 2 minutes long? It wasn’t finished at all.
So I think I just threw down the line with a couple of lyrics and a vocal melody and from that time it just rolled into a finished track. But yeah it’s all different, sometimes I would get the track and be stuck with it for several weeks thinking about what lines should go here or what melody should go there… Then I’d just lay it all down and eventually it will be a full track.
Sasha: You know you’ve mentioned me three times in a row now? You should go and retire for a beer!
Vadim: Have I? haha… But I mean some of the tracks turned out completely unexpected aswell. For example the song on the album ‘These Are My Friends’, which is my favorite track by the way… That song came completely out of the blue!
Initially I had planned the vocals to go on a different song actually, but then Sash ended up using them to make ‘These Are My Friends’, and to me I just love this track. But yeah… It’s hard to say “where do the songs come from”, I mean physically the tracks come from Sash but how does it evolve into a song? I have no idea…
Sash: Well, it’s not really a song when I send the tracks… Vadim is usually the first one to receive a track, which might just be some sort of bass line or a hook, sometimes I wouldn’t even send any chords at all you know.
[Reaches for his guitar] Like for example when you have the guitar you just play a few chords and that’s what you get… you start building your melodies on top of that. But when you get the tracks I’m sending Vadim [Picks up the bass and plays a few notes] you have some stuff like this, you don’t really have any chords so you just have to build from something that’s not really existent…
You don’t know if it’s minor or major, is it Jazz? Is it Hip Hop? You just figure it out and you have to come up with melodies that are in-between… It might not be major or minor, it’s just something…
Then you start putting some saxophone around it, making sure that everything is tonal and not dissonant and that’s how the tracks get their feel and sound. They’re not limited to piano or guitar chords… Vadim can make it whatever he wants, so it’s a bit different to usual songwriting I would say.
Vadim: And I’ve chosen Hip Hop! [Jokes]
Sash: Haha! But then there are tracks like ‘Broadcast’ which has no beats, no grooves… It just happens, it’s really just a complete remix! On that song I asked Vadim if he could send me the vocals by themselves so he did. Originally I had just wanted to have the vocals and create something around it that would built up a little bit more than it does now, but the way he had sung them originally was perfect! There was really nothing I wanted to change or add to them, so everything you hear now has been built on his pure vocal line without any chords behind it or any instrumentation, it’s just like a remix.
Metratone: So where does Dana come into all of this?
Sash: Once I have Vadim’s vocals I put some guitars underneath, some vocals to make it sound more like a track and then I send it to Dana. You know, you throw a boomerang out there and when it comes back it slaps you in the face… or it just… well it usually slaps you in the face if I’m being honest. So we are really a mix of remixes and ideas that come from sounds.
Vadim builds a story around the ideas I send, because they don’t come with a story when it’s just some bass line or beat. But I mean hopefully those beats bass lines are strong enough for Vadim to create something that makes the song bigger, then Dana is usually number three. He is the master of inventing all the moody stuff and he makes it complete, that’s usually the way we work.
Metratone: It sounds like something completely different, I can’t even fathom starting a project like this let alone finishing it.
Sash: Well you haven’t tried it yet!
Metratone: I guess not… How long did it actually take?
Vadim: Yeah! I was about to say, it did take I believe… I want to say around three years.
Sash: I don’t know…
Vadim: Yeah I think about 3 years.
Sash: I don’t know… You see we have worked out more tracks than we have on the album now. So it’s always kind of ergonomics… how much energy have you got to finish it up?
I mean this time around we had to deliver to our backers in the crowd funding so we had to complete it, but now that we are about to start work on the next album we’ll probably still follow the same workflow.
We honestly don’t know what we’ll come up with… we don’t know what sound it will be, we don’t know the genre or the style it will fit in, we don’t know anything yet! But one thing is for sure, it works the way we do it and I’m pretty sure that if the 3 of us were to meet in the rehearsal room, we wouldn’t sound any different to what we sound like now.
Metratone: It would be amazing to hear you guys live! If you can pull off a record like this I actually can’t imagine what you would sound like live… It would be HUGE!
Sash: Unfortunately at the moment we only know how to make it work like this. You see on the one hand there is a strong longing for a life here on my end and I definitely know about Vadim’s too.
Sash: But then on the other hand how do you make it work? How do you get three people from two continents together and make a show? It’s not the easiest thing. But it will happen one day and in the meantime we will hopefully be making a second album which is even better than Transatlantic, with better songs and more music… it’s just what you have to do!
Metratone: Do you think you’ll do another full length next time or do you think you might take on a bit of a smaller work load?
Sash: We haven’t really spoken about that… There is this kind of idea on the internet where instead of releasing an album you separate it so you can release one or two tracks every four weeks. But the truth is, no one gives a fuck if you’re trying to catch attention by releasing one song. No one is going to write about it and no one’s going to pay attention because they don’t understand what the full picture is you know.So releasing an album is the full picture and I still believe this is the way you have to do it, even though it’s a bit strange these days considering that the time people give it attention is very limited.
Vadim: Yeah but I also think that now because we’ve done it before and we already have that debut album in our hands… I think we are ready to pull out a second. I think there will be less work involved this time around because we have already been through this process and learnt bits and pieces along the way… so yeah, second album. Weeww!
Metratone: Thanks heaps for talking with me guys, it’s one hell of a story.
Read our album review of Transatlantic here…
The Deltahorse – Transatlantic is available for purchase now via Bandcamp