Spotlight: Matthew Logan Vasquez

Ryan Reed on May 29, 2019
Spotlight: Matthew Logan Vasquez

Matthew Logan Vasquez didn’t exactly go crazy while recording his third solo LP. But for a sane man, he did interact quite a bit with a ghost. “My home studio sounds great,” says the Delta Spirit frontman. “And it may be haunted, so that’s pretty fun.”

It’s easy to understand the mystic communication, given his headspace: The month-long marathon session took place at his lonely home recording enclave in Austin, Texas—shortly after his wife and young son moved to Oslo, Norway to spend time with her father, who’d been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’d finally started squirreling away enough money to buy a house and was feeling the most centered and happy I’d ever felt,” he says. “I’ve been on the run since high school. My whole life, I’ve moved every three years since my dad worked for Lockheed Martin. We always go out to Oslo at least twice a year, and it was really evident that if we didn’t move over there then, she wouldn’t be able to have that time with her dad while he was at least this lucid. We ended up moving out there, and it was tough. Within six months, she got a job. She left the day after Christmas. It was like, ‘Oh, man, here we go again!’”

Vasquez was, naturally, in a dark mood: forced to crank out the nine-track album in his idyllic, yet suddenly empty, home before leaving it behind. Which brings us into the supernatural realm. The building’s previous occupant, Vasquez eventually learned, committed suicide—but he was able to brush aside that fact, along with an ominous brown stain in the living room, until the eerie afternoon he spent writing the record’s folky opener “Ballad in My Bed.”

“I hadn’t seen anybody in a week,” he says, playfully comparing that period to “solitary confinement.” “I start writing the last verse in the kitchen, and I’m like, ‘This song is gonna be so great.’ [The late occupant’s] name is Ladonna, and she’s a creative writing teacher—a pretty radical lady. I’m like, ‘Hey, what do you think about that, Ladonna? Pretty great, right?’ And, all of a sudden, the room temperature plummeted. Then I went to record it, and, at that point, I was speaking out loud: ‘I’m gonna make a demo of this, make dinner, go to sleep and tackle it in the morning.’ It was so insane. I do that, make the demo, get my Chinese food, and I’m watching Vice News Tonight. The hour ends, and I hear my most expensive microphone plummet to the ground out of nowhere. I ended up repairing the mic, and I took the time to horsehair brush the capsule, and it ended up sounding better than ever. I lean on atheist tendencies, but my mom is convinced that my grandma communicates with her. She’s like, ‘It’s proof!’”

Light’n Up reflects Vasquez’s fragile headspace, as the singer-songwriter churns up the angst of endless touring (ironic hard-rocker “Vacation”), gazes back at a turbulent youth filled with religious confusion and family bankruptcy (piano ballad “Poor Kids”), and mourns the American Dream he left behind in Texas (the wintry, fingerpicked “Oslo”). But it’s much more cathartic than depressing—and surprisingly fun, highlighted by several sing-along choruses and fuzzy guitar riffs. The album’s centerpiece, the kooky power-pop anthem “Ball Pit,” may very well be the LP’s least autobiographical, with Vasquez singing surreal descriptions of a “funny gigolo guy” over honky baritone sax. (The song originated while he played a gig at a wild wedding reception at New Orleans venue Gasa Gasa, where the groom got too drunk to attend. The band was deep into a lengthy jam on his song “Everything I Do Is Out,” and he started incorporating a handful of lyrics he’d been clinging to. “It ended up with these drunk people doing a wedding conga line in a trashy punk club,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is going on the record!’”)

“The album was definitely a trying experience, but I feel like I got a lot of victories in it,” he says. “I looked back at a lot of my youth in ‘Poor Kids,’ growing up and having the standard suburban life before my parents went bankrupt, and those fears of moving around and growing up too early—the things I don’t want to do as a dad. I want to provide stability, even though I’m a musician, and that was a big breakthrough. These solo records have been diary-like yearbooks for me—this is so much more personal, even more than Delta Spirit.”

Speaking of Vasquez’s critically acclaimed band, they haven’t released an album since 2014’s Into the Wide—and the singer admits they’ll be facing a “logistical nightmare” if, and when, they record another. “We’ve remained close over the years, and we still haven’t broken up—but not for a lack of trying,” he says with a laugh. “I live in Oslo, Norway, [bassist Jon Jameson] lives in Montreal, two guys are in New York and one dude is in California. But I’ve been married a long time to these guys, so you have that common history and brotherhood.”

For now, he’s grateful for the emotional exorcism he achieved with Light’n Up—ghostly interludes and all. “I’m an optimist,” he says. “I can write about tough times. You get sad, you put a name on your sadness and then you move on.”

This article originally appears in the April/May 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.