The Delta Saints were in Denver Monday night, playing a massive rock and roll show at The Marquis before heading south to The Springs. Before the show, we caught up with Ben Ringel and learned about what made their most recent album release so different from previous music, how life on the road creates exciting challenges, and why holding down a 9-5 is nowhere near appealing.
By Veronica Lee
As the sun is only flirting the beginning of its set, Downtown Denver is buzzing on this hot June evening. With highs in the mid 80’s, the air hasn’t cooled just yet but the shade offers a comforting solace amongst a bit of chaos. Post-rush hour traffic and nearing happy hour wrap up, plans for the night are solidifying. Atop a parking spot cement bump just outside the Marquis Theater sits a patient man. Waves of pedestrians, car horns and intermittent departing busses dare to interrupt, but Ben Ringel is deep in thought.
In full blown summer casual, Ringel is sporting pressed shorts and t-shirt, which is almost still too much cotton for such a warm day. This Nashville based rocker isn’t fazed though and is donning a slick pair of sunglasses; the epitome of the life of a humble rock and roller. Ringel is lead vocalist for The Delta Saints, a fresh rock & soul band who just released their third full-length album, Monte Vista. Taking some risks with the new record, the band is feeling more secure and sounding better than ever, and Ringel is beyond stoked to talk about how his skills and passions collide within this group.
The Delta Saints consist of Ringel on vocals and guitar along with co-founding member, David Supica, on bass. “The band started when Dave, the bass player, and I were in college in Nashville,” Ringel explains. Originally in school for music business, Ben and Dave weren’t positive that being in a touring band was something they wanted, much less was even possible. “I never saw it as an avenue to do professionally until I moved to Nashville in 2007. Looking back, it’s the only thing I’ve ever been remotely ok at.” Yet, over the years, through multiple lineup changes and attempts to hold down steady 9-5 jobs, they found that creating music was truly what was in the cards for them. “We graduated and then started touring more and more, and we had less and less an ability to hold down a steady job,” Ringel recalls. At one point, he had turned in a schedule of availability to a manager at his job, and quickly coming to a mutual understanding that this kind of job just wasn’t going to be a great fit. A one foot in front of the other process that unfolded, now entering into his thirties Ringel is prepared to take things to the next level. The current band lineup has held a steady run and have hit their groove with Dylan Fitch on lead guitar, Nate Kremer on keys and Vincent Williams on drums. “We’ve had this lineup for just over two years, it’s been awesome, it’s the best it’s ever felt.” And the band is the best they’ve ever sounded.
What has changed for The Delta Saints, besides its members? “I really think almost everything has changed,” Ringel confides. “We’ve been a band for 9 years, I was 20 when we released our first EP. Now we’re all late 20’s and early 30’s, you grow so much in that time.” He explains that for the band it has felt like a very organic process (though he hates the cliché term). Along with age comes different tastes and aesthetic appeals, interests, and even influences. He goes on to say, “The sound just naturally progresses, I don’t listen to damn near anything I did at 21.” The new members do add to the diversity and growth of the band as well, bringing in their own preferences and influences, which help guide and mold the most recent collective creation.
The new album, Monte Vista, is a very different record for them, and Ringel feels it’s even slid them into a different genre entirely. “We started out very roots based, blues, and I think now I think it’s flip flopped. Where I think rock and roll was a smaller influence at first, now I think the vast majority of what this band is now.” Modern, that’s the word that Ringel uses to describe their current trajectory. For him, this record represents something new and current, utilizing the things they already do well, but pushing themselves to grow in terms of production, songwriting, and melodies. “I think this record we just released is the most modern thing by far we’ve ever put out.” Radiohead, My Morning Jacket, even radio current rock and pop music are more of what Ringel draws his current songwriting inspirations from now. Most of all, specifically pointing to The Beatles as being the major influence on this album.
This next step in the pathway was very intentional, from writing the songs to pre-production conversations with producers in the recording studio. Vocals and drums, stacking harmonies and creating depth as well as a somewhat formulated hook, this was going to be different than they had approached their music in the past. “There was a huge desire on our part to pull it a little closer,” as Ringel describes it, it’s as though there was a sound the band was striving for but hadn’t quite gotten to it yet. The music the band was writing didn’t quite reflect what they were listening to and passionate about, it was time to pull it closer and make it more personal.
Choosing to challenge themselves, ultimately questioning why they felt obligated to stay within the bounds of a genre or category at all. Ultimately, don’t they themselves get to define what they are and how they sound? “We’re the ones making the music!” Ringel exclaimed, and that’s when it was realized that there are no rules. More popular artists and top 40 radio hits seeped their way in, applying melodic hacks to their still evolving sound. This was just the key to open the door to the modern rock and roll sound that they were striving for. The passion of writing music collided with the passion of being a fan and a listener, finally it had been accessed. “I know that I can hear that excitement in records that I love, that the band was excited about,” Ringel explains, and is pumped that they have been able to provide that in their live set as well.
Rengal specifically recalls an “Ah-ha!” moment during writing the song “California.” He felt all the right things click in to place, and he knew the band stepped in to the next level. “The pre-chorus, that was one of the strongest melodies we’ve ever written. When that came out, it was like ‘Oh, man…’” Yet, there is one song in particular that he feels significantly attached to; a song titled “Space Man” off the new record. After listening through the entire David Bowie catalog shortly after his passing, Ringel felt torn between seeing this as an impossible feat and feeling inspired to take risks. “He (Bowie) was vigilant with his creativity and accepted nothing less than his vision being fulfilled.” During this time, there was something ruminating within his subconscious that was finally ready to break free. “I was sitting on the couch, and this song just came out from somewhere,” he recalls, with astonishment still. “When that happens, it’s the holy grail of experiences, I’m able to not get in the way of it. That was a really phenomenal moment in my work as a songwriter.”
While there is an extreme sense of accomplishment once the song is written, there is a price to expelling creativity on that deep of a level. “I get really depressed after. It’s one of those where you do something that you perceive as beyond your ability, and then the panic sets in. You think, ‘Well, you’ll never do that again. How will you ever do that again.’ It’s the bittersweet part of it.” The acknowledgement of a job well done quickly followed by sliding head first into self-doubt and fear of failure to replicate. He finds comfort and solace in knowing that perfection isn’t actually attainable, though, the current success is to be celebrated but never rested in. “I like the idea that you’re never done. I hope I’m never content,” he confesses. And it’s clear that this notion is well translated from songwriting to life and work on himself as a person. this constant challenge and growth isn’t something that he feels applies just to music. “At times when I’m bored and feel like I don’t have something to learn and work towards, I know I’m generally a miserable person. At that point, you’re just existing.”
The Delta Saints are doing more than existing, they are seeing their fan base grow at every show and have hit over one million listens on their track “Sometimes I Worry” on Spotify. Though, a healthy amount of perspective is added to each accomplishment they achieve, “You get your day in the sun but life is so quick to remind you there’s a lot more days in the sun that are going to go to a lot more people, and after your day you gotta get back in the hustle.” And so, the hustle continues to be strong and these guys are stoked to tour the new record and continue to see success get redefined.
The guys are really looking forward to this night in Denver at The Marquis Theater specifically, they have quite a few friends and family right here in town and Ringel even has a friend flying in from LA for the show. The band has made this Denver pitstop the first of three Colorado shows while on their current tour; well, this tour “We’re kind of just perpetually on tour…” Ringel admits, with a bit of a laugh and a sigh. Coming off an East Coast tour just a week prior, Denver is merely the third stop of the West Coast tour, which will last a couple weeks, before a four-day break and then a jet to Europe.
This time visiting Colorado isn’t so bad, though, Ringel is sure to explain. Denver, to Colorado Springs, to Fort Collins, over the next three days is nothing. “One of the last times we were in Colorado, we literally went from Ohio to Telluride, a 36-hour straight drive to a festival we had to play.” The band members, 5 in total, drive in shifts yet find that still doesn’t help the time go by any faster. “You’d go to sleep, and you’d sleep for like 5 hours, and wake up and go ‘Oh, we’re still in Kansas…”. And most of the population will never experience driving from one side of the state to the other, with nothing but flat lands ahead and short pit stops to refuel.
The road can be tiresome and at times monotonous, yet Ringel looks at each night as a unique opportunity to provide fans with an experience that is unrepeated and fresh. There is a somewhat strategic formula to the set list the band creates, yet it is adjusted on a nightly basis. “You figure out a certain set of songs are all awesome openers, and you know there are a few songs that are killer closers.” And, since The Delta Saints have technically been a band for 9 years, they have built up quite an impressive catalog of songs. It hasn’t always been the case, though, the problem of too many songs to choose from. “As a band we write slowly, for the longest time it was hard to be able to vary the set list. It was like ‘Dude, we gotta play everything we’ve got.’ It’s really cool now to have enough music we’re really in love with where we have the opposite problem.”
“It’s really fun for us because we get to tell a different story every night, get to cater it to the crowd.” Each venue and each crowd gets a different part of the story, and the song choices they understand, are extremely dependent on the venue and atmosphere they are creating or supporting. Most often, the set list is chosen by sound check, which then allows a necessary reconnection and bonding time for the band before the show. Ringel heads backstage for the casual ritual of vocal exercises, instrument warm up and general shooting the shit, which could actually be the most important time of the night. “Being in a room with everybody, listening to music or just talking, because you’re about to go onstage as a unit. It’s nice to have a 30 minute lead up to that. There’s something about when we don’t get that, the show is a lot harder.”
And as the guys get up to play, the connection of passion to play and the comradery with one another is unparalleled. Eye contact amongst all on stage, cheek to cheek grins and effortless communication weaved through the set as they played tracks from their first two albums. But, it was the newer music, songs like “Am I” and “California,” that really stood out. Not only as great songs that were executed to damn near perfection, but as a testimony that the intentional hard work, the personal challenges and the musical evolution of The Delta Saints is propelling them to the next level.
See the slideshow from The Marquis Theater with The Delta Saints, We’s Us and Dayton Stone and The Undertones.
Read the album review of Monte Vista HERE!