The Delines: the road to The Sea Drift

The Delines’ atmospheric blend of country soul balladry and hard-luck tales has reached stunning new heights with their latest album. Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone tell us more

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Several years ago, singer Amy Boone was in her garage apartment in Austin, Texas, when she got a letter from the songwriter Willy Vlautin. Boone knew Vlautin well – the pair had toured together in their respective bands, The Damnations and Richmond Fontaine, and bonded over late-night green room conversations and a shared love of Tony Joe White records.

The letter from Vlautin was hand-written and several pages long. “‘I just wrote a bunch of songs that I specifically wrote for your voice and for you,’” Boone quotes today, walking around her new home in Portland, Oregon. “‘And here they are. You pick what you like, and what you don’t like, don’t do.’” Boone still has the letter.

At the time, Boone had put music to one side and was studying for her teaching certificate at Texas State University. She had a mind to teach biology. But when the letter arrived and with it, an opportunity to form a new band with Vlautin, she immediately quit her studies. “I was blown away, I was so excited and flattered,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘I can stay in college or I can go travel the world.’ I didn’t hesitate at all.”

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Back then, Vlautin was growing weary of fronting Richmond Fontaine, weary of being the focus on stage, weary of writing for his own voice. When he happened to overhear Boone singing for herself one day, unaware she could be heard, he was struck by the promise of a different quality he heard in her voice. “I remember listening to her singing these kind of country ballads, real soul-y, and sad,” he remembers. “And I was just like, man, I want to be in a band like that before I die.”

The type of band The Delines have grown to be is a rarity. Theirs is a sound that evokes the swamp-soul of the late ’60s and early ’70s, that is lugubrious and perceptive and downcast and romantic, but somehow, remarkably, never strays into pastiche. On their latest album, The Sea Drift, with its tales of convenience store robberies gone awry, lovers arrested for unknown crimes, and finding a person who makes you feel like the world isn’t so cruel, the songs seem marked by a startling authenticity that rests on the unique relationship between Vlautin’s songwriting and Boone’s voice. “Willy’s the real deal,” says producer John Morgan Askew. “He’s dusty and he’s got that purity in him. She’s the real deal, too. That’s the thing, I think.”

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