Brothers Ted and John Siegel spent more than a decade discovering their sonic identity in the hills of California before a wildfire reduced their home to little more than the concrete foundation and reduced their personal studio to a few working parts. As The Deltaz, the siblings have released multiple albums showcasing a particular mix of West Coast folk rock smoky with blues, sweetened with country, and driven by the kind of harmony that only family can share. The loss of their studio prompted innovation, and after purchasing a decades-old Airstream trailer, the brothers renovated it to become an all-in-one roving recording hub. Relocating to Nashville amid the COVID-19 pandemic, The Deltaz have spent the past year pushing the limits of their creativity. The result is their latest single, “I’ve Been Rejected”, a driving outlaw tale with more than a whisper of ol’ Waylon that grooves with twang and humor.
AI- You guys started The Deltaz in high school. Did you grow up around music? Were your parents players or artists?
TS- Yeah, we grew up pretty early on playin’ music. Our father and our uncle ran a club/restaurant called Charlie’s in Ventura, California, where they had live music. Since we were growin’ up, they were always around live music and performing. Our aunt is a concert violinist, classical violinist, so we’ve got a lot of music in the family. We started playin’ music when we were really, really little. John was first, actually, probably when he was like seven or eight playin’ drums. And I played guitar just a year or two after that. I always tell people we’ve been playing music since we were in bunk beds!
John, I did some Facebook stalking of you guys gettin’ ready for this interview, and I saw so many videos of you turning everything into percussion instruments, from big ol’ hunks of steel to…Did I see you tappin’ on the water heater at one point in time?
JS- Yeah, that was a water tank on our property and… Oh yeah! That was a water heater! And then there’s a water tank. I like big drums of metal!
Is that something that you tend to experiment with when it comes to recording?
JS- Sure, yeah! We’ve used all sorts of found percussion stuff. [To Ted] Remember when we did “Creek Bed”? I used some brake rotors. Like the circular drum brakes? I used some of those. I like to just walk around and find stuff. If I’m in a junkyard, there’s so much stuff there, you know? That’s part of what’s cool about bein’ a percussionist. You can just find random things!
Tell me about The Deltaz’s relationship with Rick Rosas, of him becoming a mentor to you two.
TS- Before we moved to Tennessee, we played music in California for years, and we played for about nine years at a place called The Old Place. It’s like this cowboy saloon steakhouse that’s up in the hills between Agoura and Thousand Oaks and Malibu, way up in the hills up there. They’re still doin’ their thing there, and we played there for years and years. We would see Rick, he would come in when he wasn’t touring almost every weekend and eat dinner with his girlfriend. I went up to him one night ’cause John and I had seen Rick play. We’re huge Neil Young fans, and we had seen him play with Neil at the Hollywood Bowl when we were in our early teens!
JS- It was the Living With War tour.
TS- We knew who he was and he was just kinda low-key at the bar. He would just drink and have dinner. We went up to him and just said, “Hey man, we know who you are. We know you’re Rick Rosas. We know you play bass.” And we just kind of immediately hit it off! He was really nice, really kind to us immediately, and would always come in and tip us and listen to us and tell us songs that we should learn, like deep, back catalog, Neil Young stuff that he liked. Sometimes, when he had too much to drink, we’d drive him home to his house.
JS- He was really positive with us, honestly.
TS- Just very positive and really sweet. We’d go over to his house and he’d show us videos of him bein’ on the road with Buffalo Springfield and tell us stories…
JS- That was like the highlight of his career, Buffalo Springfield.
TS- Yeah, he had some great stories. I think he was a huge Buffalo Springfield fan, so when they reunited and went out on the road and he got to play bass, that and playing on Prairie Wind with Neil, where he got to go and do the Ryman with him for that series of nights, I think was kind of the highlights such as was life. Him and his girlfriend were pretty intense. She was intense (laughs)! They were just a crazy couple! He would say, “Hey, yeah, sure! I’ll play with you guys! But you gotta drive me around– and you gotta deal with her!”
We would play with him, and we were getting ready to record a new record, our Like Your Brother record. We had a couple tracks we wanted some bass on and we called Rick one day and said, “Hey, Rick, we’re in the area. Can we hang out and play some music together?” We were just thinkin’ we were just gonna jam with him, you know? And he said, “Yeah, we can jam if you want to. But I think it would be a better use of time if I just came up to the studio and recorded on your record.” And we were like, “Wow, great! Sure!” He came up and tracked on three songs on that record– “You Can’t Leave Here Like That”, “Two Sides”, and “Round and Round”— and he did them all in one take! We’d try and get him to do one more, and he’d go, “What’s wrong with that one?”
JS- I remember leaving the session thinking like, “We didn’t get very good tracks.” (Laughs).
TS- And then we listened back! We were just not used to a bass player like him in the studio. He was such a veteran!
That’s why he’s The Bass Player!
TS- Yes! He’s Rick The Bass Player! But then the album came out, and he was always just tryin’ to help us and connect us with people. Every time we’d come to a show of his, he’d always get us in for free and introduce us to people. It’s really unusual and really cool when an older musician like that is kind to you just because they’re kind. You don’t encounter it that much.
JS- Especially in Los Angeles!
TS- Especially in Los Angeles! Yeah. So it was very special, and we always really valued our relationship with him. We tried to give him some money to play on the record. And he was like, “Ah, just take me out to dinner at The Old Place one night!” Unfortunately, we never got the chance to, because a few years later he passed away, which was really sad. We actually took his girlfriend out for dinner, which was really nice, and talked to her about all of our times with Rick, which was really great. We miss him, miss his presence. He’s really special. John and I, we’re really the band and we play with a whole host of different bass players. And we always tell every bass player that we play with that Rick was our archetypal bass player. If you really wanna know what a good bass player is, listen to Rick. He always had a good tone, he always had a good feel, he never played too much. He said that Neil used to always thank him for all the notes that he didn’t play.
I will kick myself if I don’t ask this question and I don’t want to dive too far off the goal, but what were some of the old school Neil Young songs that he suggested that you get into? ‘Cause I also happen to be a big Neil Young fan.
TS- We grew up listening to Buffalo Springfield with our dad. Our dad is so funny, he was always like, “I didn’t even like Neil Young when he went solo! I only liked him when he was in Buffalo Springfield!” So old school, how he thought of the whole thing! So we’d only listened to that. And then we’d only listen to like ’60s, early ’70s Neil Young, you know? We’d never listened to his later catalog, except for some of his more recent albums that Rick had played on, like Prairie Wind and Living With War. But [Rick] was really into the Comes A Time album.
I love that record! “Look Out For My Love” has got to be one of my favorite songs ever!
TS- Yeah, that’s a great song! He was like, “You gotta learn ‘Comes A Time’!”
JS- And “I Am A Child”!
TS- That was one we knew, but he was like, “You really should learn that one. That would be a great one for you guys to play.” It was cool when he would be in there. We got a lot of that from that nine-year stint we did at The Old Place where we’d have interesting people, especially local musicians, come in and go, “Hey, you know, you should take another look at this song.” ‘Cause we were playing in a thing where people could make requests. You’d get interesting people that had interesting things. And Rick would make comments on country stuff we were playing. Like we’d play a Hank Williams Sr. song and he’d go, “Well, you should learn this one too!”
Moving from one tragedy to another, I want to go back to 2018, to the Woolsey fire, whereas I understand it, not only did you guys lose your home, but you lost your studio. Is that where you had predominantly done all your recording? Your home studio there?
I can’t even imagine how you could have reacted to that. I don’t even have a reference point for that.
JS- It was devastating! Through a chain of events, our studio actually was in a yurt. We didn’t really have any neighbors, and my brother had worked at a camp down the road– and they were getting rid of a yurt. They couldn’t have it, so they just gave it to us! It just sort of fell into place. But we lost the yurt. We had done a lot of work on it.
TS- It had been an ongoing work in progress for years where we had made the structure, this yurt. It had like 15 feet ceilings and 30 foot in diameter, hardwood floors. John and I had built most of it and insulated it ourselves and we had a nice control room and a bunch of equipment. It was where Rick had come up and tracked with us. I remember him being kind of skeptical of it the first time he came. He called me, “You guys have headphones up there, right? Or do I need to bring my own?” I’m like, “Yeah, we got headphones, Rick. Don’t worry.” (Laughs) He was kinda funny about it! But yeah, not only was it our studio, but it was where we grew up and became musicians and spent our childhood. It was just an overwhelming loss and just completely altered the track of our lives. Basically, it ended up leading to us leaving California.
When was that? When did you guys decide to trek to Nashville?
TS- We’ve been touring here for years, comin’ through here, but we really started comin’ here seriously, thinkin’ about living here in like late 2019. Last year, in probably about the middle of the year as the summer came to a close, we started spending more and more time out here. By January of this year, we had really moved here.
So by January of 2021, you made it your full-time base of operations. Wow. So you’ve legitimately been rebuilding your career, your studio, and the band for all of the duration of the pandemic.
TS- Yes. Definitely. The one silver lining of it for us is it sidelined us from touring, which is the first time in basically nine years that John and I haven’t toured. So it allotted us this extra amount of time to move and to complete construction on our new venture with the studio. We built a mobile studio inside of a ’60s Airstream. That’s what we towed out to Nashville with us. We saved a lot of equipment from the fire and knew we needed a new space and we weren’t sure where we were going to end up, so we bought this wreck of a ’60s Airstream that was in a field in California, renovated it, and built a studio in it. We towed that out here with the stuff we had. We didn’t have a lot of stuff, you know? Pretty easy to move!
JS- Yeah. Very minimal!
Let’s talk about the Airstream studio. Conceptually, I get it, but I’m havin’ a hard time visualizing the whole thing. When you lose your studio to a fire, I would imagine you say, “Okay, well, I can stop this from happening again. I can put this sumbitch on wheels and take it with me wherever I go.” Was that the idea?
TS- Yeah, yeah (laughs)! That was initially the gist of it, yeah. There’s other natural disasters that wheels won’t save you from, but it was a split-second reaction. We decided to build a mobile studio maybe like a month after the fire. So it was kind of a hasty decision! We’d had a studio of our own for so long that we just were scrambling to have one again.
JS- Our flow of working is we would constantly be writing songs and recording them. So to be without a way, an outlet to get it down was difficult for us.
TS- But basically the layout of it is… John and I have traveled places years ago to mobily record and the hardest thing about traveling to a place, it’s not super difficult to find a good room to record in, the tough part is building a control room where you can reliably listen to things wherever you go. The Secostream, that’s what we call it. Seco means dry in Spanish. It’s like dry stream. The drought in California is what brought the fire, which eventually is what brought us the studio. That’s why we call it that. Essentially, it’s a control room. There’s a heavy, solid core door with triple glaze glass and a partition in the middle of it and then the other side of it is a small overdub booth. It tows around and it’s got carpet on the walls and hardwood floor on the ground, and a little control desk built into the back of it.
JS- The main thing is recording, you can run lines into a building.
TS- Yeah. Off the side of it, we have a 100-foot snake that can then go into a building.
You can just the Seco-stream as your main control room while setting up a larger space someplace else?
TS- Yeah. And then you can do quick overdubs in the little room that’s attached at the end.
Oh, that’s ingenious!
TS- We kinda modeled it off of… There’s a famous one called the LMS that Ronnie Lane built in the ’70s. He built a studio in an Airstream, but his didn’t have an overdub booth in it. We took some of the takeaways from his thing, but we used the heck out of it to record our new record! We towed it up to Oregon and Idaho and Central California.
JS- Our latest single, the cover of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”, we recorded the entire song in there!
I was actually gonna specifically bring that up– your version of “Summertime”– to find out if that was the inaugural release for the Secostream, as you just informed me it’s called.
TS- Yeah, that is the inaugural release!
JS- Everything was recorded in there! Even the drums were recorded in there!
TS- We had just gone on a long trip. “Summertime” was not the first recording we did in there, but it was the first recording we released from there. We had just gotten done going on like a month-long trip where we had told the trailer all around the West Coast recording the record. And then we got back and we had this split second decision with the people that we work with to release “Summertime”. We had already gone on this whole trip to record and we just couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t leave again. We were stuck at home, living up on the slab of our property, where our house once was. John and I were both living in trailers, so we didn’t really have a building to record in. We just decided, “The hell with it! We’ll try and just record the whole single in the Airstream! Everything! We’ll do the drums! We’ll record together! And we’ll see if we can pull it off all in there!” And it way exceeded what we had designed that room for. We thought that it would just be for overdubs and it just totally exceeded what we thought we could do with it. So it was pretty cool to see that all come to fruition like that and see it get used that way. It’s not maybe my preferred way of using it– ’cause it’s nice to have a bigger room to record in– but it worked! And it seemed to turn out really well.
JS- I’m pretty happy about “Summertime!
TS- Yeah, it turned out pretty well!
The new single, “I’ve Been Rejected”– this is gonna be part of a larger work? You do have a full-length to accompany it down the road, right?
TS- Yeah! We’re gonna have a 10-song record that’s gonna come out. We’re so backed up with material! Between the fire and COVID, we got like two and a half records of stuff (laughs)!
JS- There’s newer stuff that we’ve been writing with people here in Nashville.
TS- Yeah, we’ve been writin’ a ton of stuff here in Nashville, so it’s kind of frustrating to not get it all out in the world faster!
JS- It’s a good problem to have though!
Tell me about the song specifically. Give me the background on it. It’s got a great, funky narrative, full of attitude, fistfights, all of that!
TS- We love outlaw country, especially Willie [Nelson]. John and I listen to Willie on the road constantly. Red Headed Stranger, is one of our all-time favorites.
JS- Yesterday’s Wine too!
TS- We wore those records out! But yeah, we love outlaw country. We always wanted to write something like that and work more in that style within the context of our band and what we do. We used to go out with this guy called the White Buffalo [Jake Smith] in California…
He was one of the first interviews I did when we came back from quarantine after we shut the station down. Great guy!
TS- Oh, cool! Yeah, Jake’s a sweet guy. He’s another one of our friends that we made playing at The Old Place, just like Rick. We got to tour around with him and open for him a bunch, and we got to be friends with him. Anyway, him and his wife used to do these things in SoCal called cowboy crawls where about 15 of us would get together, and we would go on these crawls in the Valley in Southern California in this stretch where there was a line dancing saloon, a titty bar, a Mexican Cantina, and a karaoke bar. We would drink and go from place to place to place to place, and it would just get increasingly more debaucherous as we went!
I think we’d come from the titty bar to the line dancing spot, and John and I were just 10 shades to the wind, you know, having a little too much fun. And I had never been line dancing before! We were out on the dance floor dancing, and I dropped my beer on the dance floor and then I slipped and fell in it! When I looked up from the puddle I was lyin’ in, there was this big bouncer standin’ over me with his thumb out tellin’ me I had to go! When I got up and left, the whole crowd was laughin’, and Jake and his wife, they were having a lot of fun at our expense! Which was fine! We deserved it! And somebody said to me– I can’t even remember that night– “Well, I guess you’ll get a good song out of this one!” So we kinda used that night and some of the things.
JS- The song also has an element of Buck Owens in it too. Like “I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail”.
TS- Yeah! Those are all of our favorite writers, but we used all of the modes of all the different songwriters we like in that genre to write it. It’s a fantasy story. We didn’t live out all things in that. I didn’t punch a bartender that night. John did (laughs)! And we didn’t have a woman that we love pawn our diamond ring or anything! We took some liberties with it and had some fun creating this character. We love Buck Owens. “Tiger By The Tail” is written by one of our favorite songwriters, Harlan Howard, who we really love. The whole, [singing] “I’ve got a tiger by the tail,” that whole pickup, we try to do something like that with “I’ve Been Rejected”.
With the 10 songs, the complete album, is that the direction that you’re goin’? For lack of a better term, ‘outlaw’ country? More of that sound?
TS- There’s a variety of stuff on the record for sure. [To John] Is there any other stuff like that?
JS- There’s some similar outlaw country stuff. We try to be not too eclectic, but it runs from blues rock to outlaw country and then some more folky kind of stuff, classic rock. I guess you’d call it Americana roots rock.
TS- It’s all our sound. We’re always tryin’ to gel this thing between us. We love country music and we love blues, and we really like both of them to be on all of our records. We’re always dancing a line between the two, but we have some slide songs that are almost like ZZ Top on the new record and some really folky stuff that’s almost like Neil Young.
The single comes out on April 23rd. Is the plan to roll out a few singles along the way? Or do you have a release date in mind?
TS- We’re gonna have two more singles come out. We don’t have specific release dates for the rest of it right now. We’re keeping it a little loose ’cause we’re not sure what’s gonna happen with us touring behind it and COVID, so we’re gonna set the rest of the dates, probably, but I would say that the rest of the album should be due out by the end of summer 2021.