Americana, soul and a trip to the dark side of life in The States with The Delines at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

The Delines. Picture by Jason QuigleyThe Delines. Picture by Jason Quigley
The Delines. Picture by Jason Quigley
For the past three decades Willy Vlautin has been chronicling the underbelly of the American dream, telling stories in song and on the page, of life on the vast plains of the western states.

Firstly with alt-country act Richmond Fontaine, and then for the past decade with The Delines who trade in a deft fusion of Americana and soul.

But not only that, he has also carved himself a career as a successful novelist – his seventh novel, The Horse, was published last month.

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And when The News speaks with him over a Zoom call he is in Dublin, having just finished a solo book tour, where he was also playing a few songs each night. The Dublin show had seen him being interviewed by Roddy Doyle, an experience which had left Vlautin a little starstruck.

The Delines are at The Wedgewood Rooms on June 15. Picture by Paulo BrilloThe Delines are at The Wedgewood Rooms on June 15. Picture by Paulo Brillo
The Delines are at The Wedgewood Rooms on June 15. Picture by Paulo Brillo

"It was amazing, I'm really lucky. I got his first book, The Commitments, when it came out. My grandmother got it for me and I've been a fan ever since, so it's just crazy to be drinking a beer with him and doing a gig with him. It's just bizarre and tremendously awesome, it was a great night.”

And he was also revisiting some of his former band’s songs at those shows.

"I'm playing songs I don't normally ever play anymore, so I was doing new ones and Fontaine songs. I was trying to do different songs every night, but it was fun.

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"I'm not the sharpest guy and I didn't think that I'd be getting asked so many questions about being in a band, even though I just wrote a novel about a musician,” he chuckles, “and so it makes me, you know, think of Richmond Fontaine's run as a band, and so I started playing those old songs.

Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone of The Delines. Picture by Summer LuuWilly Vlautin and Amy Boone of The Delines. Picture by Summer Luu
Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone of The Delines. Picture by Summer Luu

"It brings back really good memories, I don't have any bad memories of Fontaine. I mean, I have guilt that I wrote such weird songs that the band didn't make more money or do better, because I like those guys so much, but it's just fun.

“When I take myself and the criticism of myself out of it, it was just a really fun life in that band. Doing the songs, it's been really, really nice."

Just three weeks finishing the book tour and a quick trip home, he’s back on this side of the Atlantic for five UK shows around a slot at Black Deer Festival – including our own Wedgewood Rooms.

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“I'm a glutton for punishment, man. I had the book thing ready for a couple of years, but anytime the band wants to work, I'll do it. I'm just a cog in our little machine, and so I'm always happy to do gigs.

“The band's really good – Cory (Gray) on keyboards and trumpet, we got so lucky when he joined up, and then Amy (Boone)'s just the best. She's one of the coolest people ever, and I love her voice so much that, for me, it's just a pleasure every night just to hear her sing.”

Vlautin laughs: "She'll probably fire us all, man, eventually, because she's just so damn good – she'll need somebody younger and better. I could hear her sing every day and be happy, and luckily, I get to.”

The band are now based around Portland, Oregon. Amy moved there from her native Texas a few years ago.

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It’s a city he’s seen change a lot in his time there – Vlautin grew up in Reno, Nevada.

"It's exploded in growth. Maybe 10, 15 years ago, you started noticing tons of cranes downtown – new buildings going up, and whole neighborhoods were getting bought and changed, and condos going up everywhere. It's mind-blowing how fast the city's kind of exploded in growth.

“It's breathtaking. I wrote my (2021) novel, The Night Always Comes, all about gentrification. The housing prices quadrupled when incomes only doubled, and so people can't afford to live anywhere or buy... they couldn't live at the same level they were living. A working-class person couldn't buy a house in Portland very easily anymore. So, I was interested in all that."

Like many big American cities, there has also been a major problem with drug addiction.

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“And then Portland also had an explosion of homelessness – fentanyl and heroin have really taken a hold in so many cities. You're seeing a lot of fringe people living in precarious positions all over the city, which it wasn't like that 20 years ago. There was always a little bit of it, but that exploded as well. It was a pretty interesting transition for Portland.”

Has this given him plenty of subject matter for his writing?

“I never think of things like that. I guess with me, I just started worrying – you're watching the city. I have this little office in a part of Portland called St John's and you start seeing many of the mom and pop stores closing. And if you walk down the street as a tourist, you go, ‘man, this part of town is having a really hard time’.”

But Vlautin explains how a delay at city hall in issuing permits stalled building work, so buildings would stay empty longer than would be desirable.

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“The city's so backlogged with permits that they closed down for a while. The feel of the neighborhood changes pretty rapidly.

“And all the little houses around that area were built for working class people in the, you know, ’20s ’30s, 40s, 50s. Now it'd be really hard for a working class couple with both having pretty decent jobs to afford a house around that area.

"It was just fear of what's going on that caused me to write The Night Always Comes – I was just trying to wrap my head around how a city changed so fast. I never think of things, like, ‘oh, that's going to be good for a story’. I just get worried about stuff or can't figure out stuff or the uncertainty of things in that regard got me to, you know, start tinkering...”

However, back with the music there is a new Delines album in the can – the follow-up to 2022’s critically acclaimed The Sea Drift.

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"Yeah, it's called Mr Luck and Miss Doom and that'll be coming out, I think, January or February.

"I'm really excited about it. It took a long time. I think we worked on it on and off for over a-year-and-a-half. Right before I went on this tour, we mastered it. So I'm really excited that we finally finished it. It was a tough one.

“All the Deline's records take a long time for various reasons, they're always long labours.”

Most infamously, Amy was seriously injured in a car crash in 2016, which put back work on their second album, The Imperial, while she recovered.

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“She's tough. She was really beat up for a good couple years. Severely. She had over nine operations.

"It was really rough and it just shows you how tough she is because she was funny and cool the whole time. She was living in Texas at the time and when she came up to Portland, she could barely walk to finish The Imperial record.

“Just watching her go from barely able to walk to walking with a cane to, well, you see her outside walking all day long now. She's tough and doing great."

Although the album isn’t due out for a few months, they will be road testing some of the news songs on this run of shows.

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Maureen's Gone Missing is one, Left Hook Like Frasier... Don't Miss Your Bus, Lorraine, I think, is the other one we'll be doing.

"There's certain songs that we always try to road test, just to see how they do live. And then there's other ones we save for the tour because we're going to be playing for a good year!”

By Delines’ standards though this is a relatively quick turnaround between albums.

The Imperial was so difficult because of Amy getting hurt, and then right when we did The Sea Drift, everything's going good and then… Covid.

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"This one? There's lot of different reasons [it took a while]. It was in spurts. We started out really strong and we're like, ‘oh, this is an easy one.’ And then it slowly started eating up months where we wouldn't work on it or people get busy.

“Each one's had its own series of delays. With Fontaine, man, we used to knock them out pretty fast." They released 10 albums in 15 years. “We had an outside producer for Richard Fontaine a lot, and then you can only afford them for a brief amount of time, so you really work hard and get it done while you can still pay them.”

Most of the time in the studio, it’s Vlautin, drummer, Sean Oldham and long-term associate, producer John Morgan Askew.

"It's kind of us three sit around for the majority of it. And then and then Cory does all the horn and string arrangements, he's brilliant, man."

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And lest we forget bassist Freddy Trujillo – who was also in Richmond Fontaine with Vlautin – and is also the opening act.

“Freddy’s one of the coolest bass players,” enthuses Vlautin, “but he's an amazing singer too.

“And he's got like an encyclopaedic memory of band's from Chicano LA stuff to old Mexican folk music all the way up, man. He's amazing. He’s got four solo records and they're all brilliant, but (2014’s) Amexica is a really good place to start.”

The Delines are at The Wedgewood Rooms on Saturday, June 15, doors 7.30pm. Tickets £26. Go to

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