- 18 Apr 19
Cult songwriter Willy Vlautin on his band The Delines’ new masterwork, The Imperial.
“I wanted to be in a band with a good singer!” laughs Willy Vlautin. The ever-so-modest former frontman of Richmond Fontaine is talking about current project The Delines, which features former Damnations singer Amy Boone on vocals.
Earlier this year, they released acclaimed second album The Imperial, and are currently preparing for two shows at the upcoming Roots Festival in Kilkenny. They released their first album, Colfax, to rave reviews in 2014, but soon afterwards Boone was the victim of an horrific accident – her legs were crushed by a car which accidentally reversed into her, pinning her to a wall. She is back on tour duty – with a cane – but for a while, the future of the band seemed to be in jeopardy.
“Well, firstly I’m so relieved Amy is okay,” says Vlautin. “But I remember the day I received the call when she said, ‘I think I want to be in the band again’ – I was so excited. She’d had setback after setback; she has been through such a really tough time.”
Luckily, the majority of The Imperial had already been written when Boone had her accident – if it had been otherwise, fate might have taken a different turn. “Three-quarters of the album was done when Amy had her accident, and I think that’s what kept the band together,” says Vlautin. “We had taken a break from recording, and Richmond Fontaine was doing a tour – then we got the bad news. I’d just start hearing these whispers from her and I’d go writing songs. I’ve written her a lot of songs.”
For a while The Delines and Richmond Fontaine co-existed, but the latter released its final album in March 2016. “It’s such fun not to be in front and just to be part of the band,” smiles Willie. “With Fontaine, I felt a really deep insecurity that I was letting the guys down, but they stuck with me for a lot of years. I always felt more responsible for Fontaine and that’s why we left it – when things were good and we were all getting along well too.”
Willie fell in love with Amy’s voice when Richmond Fontaine were touring with The Damnations. They invited Amy to tour with them for the album The High County. “I would listen to her warm up and think how much I would love to be in a band with her!” he says. “And she was warming up with songs I really wanted to do – country-soul ballads. So I went home and wrote a year’s worth of tunes. Then I wrote her a long letter and sprung it on her! I gave her two or three songs at a time, I didn’t act like I had an arsenal of them – which I did! She is a really great person. She is like her voice; wise, sweet, funny and kind of weary too.”
Writing songs for someone else must give Vlautin a certain sense of freedom. “It’s like taking handcuffs off!” he beams. “I would never have the guts to sing ‘He Don’t Burn For Me’ or ‘Waiting On The Blue’ – I would never have written them for myself, my voice isn’t good enough. I couldn’t pull off this big dramatic song. I’ve never liked being in front of people! I was just the guy who kept bringing the tunes!”
The Imperial is out now on Décor Records. The Delines play Kilkenny Roots Festival on May 4 and 5.