Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas are making waves in the Rust Belt music scene and beyond with their gravelly pomp and soul. Saturday night, they headline at Akron Musica on Saturday, March 21 before embarking on a European tour in support of Social Distortion. Midwest Action had a chance to speak with front woman Jessica Hernandez about her hopes and dreams as a songwriter, the band’s roots and where they’re all going from here.
Your musical style has been described in many different ways: Latin psych, 60s girl group pop, rockabilly, hoodoo blues stomps and even queasy carnival music. From your perspective, how would you describe your music?
[Laughing] Honestly, all of those are so accurate from what I already said. It’s funny because sometimes I say people pick up on just from listening. I mean sometimes I say “creepy Motown”, or “dark soul” or “gothic pop”. So those are kind of things I use to describe it.
Your sound has often been described as “gritty” and reflects that of your hometown of Detroit’s musical traditions. Do you agree with this?
I definitely think our music is gritty. I am influenced by Detroit artists like Alice Cooper, and Iggy Pop, The White Stripes. I think from just growing up in the city, you’re kind of in this very run-down blue collar, gritty environment, and so subconsciously it has that impact on your writing the same way a lot of California bands are doing psychedelic surf rock when you’re surrounded by the beach and psychedelic drugs. It’s this cool thing just seeing how all these artists from one place end up creating similar styles of music or even if the styles are different, but the same type of grit and tone.
You left Columbia College in Chicago to pursue your musical career when you were 19. What was the moment you knew music was the career you wanted to pursue or did you always know it deep down inside?
I think I always knew it. I think that by my sophomore year, my desire to focus on it kept growing and growing. Me going to school for fashion was almost a cop out for me being scared to pursue music. By my second year, I had met so many musicians going to Columbia, and started playing in bands, started writing music, and doing stuff that focused on a music career that I lost interest in my major. I don’t know what my tipping point was, but by that second year, I was focused so much on writing, I didn’t care about being in school. So I decided to leave, and focus on that 100%.
Was that scary?
I think I was more excited. My parents were super supportive. I was scared to tell them, but when I did, their reaction really surprised me and reassured me I was doing the right thing. They were like ‘We’re so excited! This is what you should be doing, we’ve known this is what you’ve needed to be doing since you were really young.’ And then they were like “Wow, finally, you’re doing it!” So, when they reacted that way, I was like “OK, yeah, I’m doing the right thing.” If my parents are this supportive and excited about me doing this even though it means me dropping out of college… I’m doing the right thing.”
Tell us a little bit about the Deltas.
The Deltas are all my best guy friends in the trade. A couple of them I met down the line of being in a band. When I first started The Deltas five or six years ago, I had a couple different players with me… they moved on to different music endeavors, but through that, they introduced me to their friends. The music scene here [in Detroit] is super tiny. Everybody knows each other. My drummer, when I was an acoustic act, opened for his band. My bass player works in a studio I recorded at. We all knew each other from the music scene and when I started getting a little bit bigger and wanted to tour full time, I just rounded them all up and said “Hey, I’m going on the road, and you’re my friends and awesome musicians… would you want to do this?” And at the time, their bands weren’t very serious, so being able to tour full time, they trusted that I wanted to do something big with it. They left what they were doing, and joined me.
It was really cool because I’m not a trained musician. I’m self taught and my main focus is songwriting and singing and so I would write all of our songs, and I would bring them a recording. It was the sloppiest basement recording ever [laughing]. I would bring it to the rehearsal and the guys would be like “This is super sick!” They would listen to it once and start playing beyond a way that I could myself. It was the coolest combination of having the rawness and grit of being a self-taught musician and then having them be these trained musicians who are so technical and good players.
Your debut album Secret Evil seems to revolve around themes of the female emotions, surrounded by some noir and all around badassery. What is is that influences the songs that went into this album and what’s your songwriting process?
I write all the time. Every day. Sometimes it’s a stupid idea, and sometimes it’s a good idea. But I think the things that actually end up making it on the record are the ones that are based on circumstance. All of the songs on the record are songs I wrote when something big happened and I either wrote it as a joke or as a response to something someone said to me, or I wrote it because something traumatic happened. All the songs on the record are ones that were a lot more personal, and those were the songs that wrote themselves.
“Sorry I Stole Your Man” for example came about when my now fiancé and I first started dating 4 years ago. We had just started seeing each other. He broke up with his girlfriend, and I broke up with my boyfriend so we could date. I wrote it as a joke! It was my funny way of dealing with it. I was sitting in a studio and it was late at night and I just started messing around with lyrics and I wrote “sorry I stole your man” and I thought that was funny. I recorded this whole idea as a joke, and I played it for some friends, and they were like “Holy shit, Jess! This song is awesome!” Sometimes that’s how my songs start. I write it because I need it, and those are the ones that are usually the best because they have a lot more soul behind them.
When starting your band, what was your vision, and how has it evolved to what it is today? And what is your vision for the future?
Initially, when I was trying to be this solo artist. I started playing acoustically in coffeeshops. I didn’t know where it was going to go yet. I was always a big fan of BIG instrumentation. So when I recorded my first EP, the influences that I had, I wanted to change up what I was doing live acoustically. I love brass and strings and Latin influence, and Gypsy influence. When I first recorded anything, I reached out to a couple friends who produced records and explained what I wanted to do. After that was recorded, I wanted to do it live and have a really powerful show that was entertaining and people could feel the music. That it would translate well from recording to a live show. Now that’s been five years and now it’s transitioned to Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas.
The second chapter is going to be totally different because the guys have been with me long enough. So for the second album I trust them to give them writing input. The first album I was proving something to myself as a songwriter. Here’s who I am and here’s what I want to do and I wanted to put my stamp on it. The guys have been with me long enough now they know what I want to be doing and how I want the music to sound, and what I want people to feel. We’re going into the next record with them having more freedom and I’m excited to see how that grows from where it is now.
You’re going to be traipsing around Europe opening for Social D this summer. How did that come about?
When we played Riot Fest, Mike Ness and his manager were at our stage and watched our set and went back stage and we ran into Social D’s manager. He was like “Me and the guys really loved your band, would you ever want to play some shows with us in support?” and I was like “Yeah that would be amazing.” We exchanged contact information. In my mind I was like “Yeah, we’ll see if anything actually comes of it.” A couple of weeks later, he reached out and offered us an opening slot for New Year’s Eve in California. So we took that show and built a relationship with them. Then they offered us a full European tour. I am so excited. Me and the guys have been geeking out about where we’re going to be playing. Some of the guys in the band have never been out of the country. For most of us, we haven’t gotten to travel that much, and it’s going to be cool to experience that together.
What can the crowd at Akron Musica expect/look forward to at your show on March 21?
A very energetic, heartfelt fun show. We usually keep our live show very upbeat. We love getting people to dance, have fun and go crazy. That’s our live vibe.
Don’t miss Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas Saturday, March 21 at Akron Musica at 9 p.m. with Embleton opening. Tickets are $8 and available here. Also be sure to check them out on their social media outlets to keep up with all the Latin psych, 60s girl group pop, rockabilly, hoodoo blues stomps and queasy carnival music that you can handle.