Amy Boone can’t remember exactly how she became the lead singer of The Delines, Portland songwriter/novelist Willy Vlautin’s newest musical project, but she thinks tequila might have been involved.
“According to Willy, I was drinking one night on tour with Richmond Fontaine and told him to write more songs for me to sing,” she says via email from New York recently. “So he wrote a whole record for me. I must have been drinking tequila, because I’m not usually that surly!”
Boone, who with her sister Deborah Kelly sings and writes songs for their Austin alt-country band The Damnations, was touring with Vlautin’s Richmond Fontaine at the time. That’s normally her sister’s gig, but Kelly had a baby due. “I was my sister’s understudy – hahah!” Boone says.
The result was “Colfax,” one of my favorite releases of last year. As per the usual with Vlautin’s songs (and books like “The Motel Life” and “The Free”), these tell stories of lives ruined by poverty, addiction, bad parenting, lousy jobs, and lopsided love. But the characters all still cling to a glimmer of hope, and that wistfulness comes out in spades via the hushed longing in Boone’s gentle voice, and the pining country soul the band floats behind her.
The Delines also include drummer Sean Oldham and bassist Freddy Trujillo of Richmond Fontaine, the keyboards of Jenny Conlee-Drizos of the Decemberists, the Minus 5’s Tucker Jackson on pedal steel, and Cory Gray on keys and trumpet. They play the Triple Door on Wednesday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Scott McCaughey and Ian Moore open.
Since the album’s release, the band has toured mostly Europe, also doing a brief trip to Australia and New Zealand. They’ve played limited gigs in the U.S., and this will be their first time playing Seattle. “We’re still trying to figure out the types of rooms we want to play,” Boone says. “We’re not a party band, so it’s a little tricky trying to get a cozy, intimate room where people like to sit and listen. People over there listen – they’re there to hear Willy’s stories.”
She adds that Richmond Fontaine has been touring Europe for years. “The fellas say that more women are coming to the Delines’ gigs than the Richmond Fontaine shows, so it’s cool that we’re getting some new fans.”
The songs’ characters are painted so vividly. In “Oil Rigs At Night,” Boone sings of leaving her husband for a meaningful life – even if it means she ends up working at a dollar store, “I’m not saying he’s not a good man/I’m just so tired of living my life a lie/I’ve covered up my heart for so many years/don’t even know if it survived.” I ask Boone what she’s thinking about while singing the songs.
“The songs are written in such a straight-forward, real way that it’s easy for me to feel for the characters and what they’re going through,” she says. “On stage, I find myself getting completely pulled into the songs, not just because they are so well-written, but the band creates an almost hypnotic mood. Sometimes it’s jolting to finish a song, open my eyes, and see an audience out there. I forget who I am and where I am.”
It sounds like Boone will remain busy this year, not only with The Delines, who plan to record a second album in October, but also with The Damnations. “The Damnations just finished working on a Ted Hawkins tribute CD that Kevin Russell from Shinyribs is putting out,” she says. “We are also putting out a 6-song EP this summer.”
But she’s thoroughly enjoying touring with The Delines. “These guys are my pals,” she says. “Everyone is so chill and positive. The hardest thing for me is not playing an instrument. I loved being a bass player. Standing up there singing without an instrument in my hand has felt a little awkward. But I would have sung these songs differently had I been thinking about the instrument in my hand. I can play with the timing and phrasing more when I’m not playing the bass at the same time. This kind of music needs to be free from the constraints of time.”