There’s myth and then there’s what passes for reality, and Morgan Delt is surprisingly willing to separate the two when he picks up the phone at home in Topanga, California.
On paper—which is to say, whatever one is able to dig up on the Internet—the late-blooming psychedelic alchemist has been portrayed as being somewhat off the grid. Blame this partly on the dearth of information about him in the public domain; in an enthusiastic review of Delt’s self-titled debut album, Pitchfork spent as much time talking about his lack of an online profile as it did about his music.
Hell, the singer-guitarist doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page—Google “Morgan Delt + Wiki” and you eventually get an entry about a character in a 1966 U.K. film starring Vanessa Redgrave. (For those curious, said entry states: “The eponymous hero is working-class artist Morgan Delt [David Warner], obsessed with Karl Marx and gorillas, who tries to stop his ex-wife [Vanessa Redgrave] from remarrying.”
The few profiles that have been written paint Delt as something of a recluse, a man of few words who’s happy living in the mountains, working on his retro-druggy music with no outside help.
Some of that is true. And much of it obviously isn’t.
Not only is Delt wonderfully chatty and thoughtful on the phone, he isn’t exactly living hermitlike in the mountains. In fact, when asked about life in the middle of nowhere in Topanga, he laughs and responds: “I’ve lived here for about 10 years, but it’s not really that much in the middle of nowhere.”
It turns out that Topanga is home to around 8,000 people.
“Where I live is 15 minutes from the city—it’s right outside of L.A. in the hills,” Delt says. He laughs again, and then adds: “If you read that I was in the middle of nowhere, that was probably written by somebody in L.A. To them, Topanga is just an unfathomably long distance from the city.”
It’s also a decidedly more low-key place to get things done, which suits the songwriter just perfectly. Delt describes himself as someone who takes a while to get things right, that perfectionism paying off handsomely on Morgan Delt. The record is fabulously fucked-up in the best of ways, its songs heavily top-loaded with reverb-drowned vocals, hypermanipulated guitars, backward-looped percussion, and layer after layer of tape delay. From the Beatles-meet-the-Buttholes creepiness of “Barbarian Kings” to the wickedly acid-damaged “Make My Grey Brain Green”, it’s potent stuff. It’s also the kind of record that makes it seem crazy that Delt, who is in his mid 30s, is only now launching a career.
“I’d put stuff online before and sent it to people to try and get their opinion,” Delt says. “A lot of it was radically different—I used to make more electronic-y stuff. It was when I first started out making sort of psychedelic stuff that I realized, ‘Hey, I’m actually kind of good at this.’ ”
Calling Morgan Delt simply “psychedelic” does not, however, completely do the album justice. Looking back, he figures that the genre has always been on his radar, for no other reason than the Beatles practically invented it with songs like “Strawberry Fields”.
Delt started out a child of the ’80s, went on to join a surf band, and then embraced punk and garage, which led him everywhere from the Cramps to the 13th Floor Elevators to the Doors. “I grew up listening to a lot of ’80s pop music—synth-pop,” he recalls. “I also listened to a lot of electronic music. At the same time, my parents listened to the oldies station, so I heard a lot of music from the ’50s and ’60s. Then, by the time I was a teenager, I still listened to a lot of electronic stuff, but I also got really into older psychedelic music and old punk.”
Those genres all surface, in one manipulated way or another, on Morgan Delt. The beautiful thing, however, is the way that Delt takes everything and recasts it as something original. To cue up “Chakra Sharks” or “Beneath the Black and Purple” is to follow the singer down his own paisley-splattered, cellophane-flower–strewn rabbit hole. What you’re ultimately hearing, he suggests, is a guy who finally realized that it was time to get serious about what he was doing.
“Part of it was making the decision that, to really do something good, I was going to have to stick to it and finish what I was working on,” he says. “In the past, I would get 75 percent there, and then get lazy and not finish things.”
That’s not an option these days. Delt has made enough of an impression with his debut that he’s landed a deal with Sub Pop, and a full-length, on which he’ll once again work solo, is due for the label later this year. He’s also scored invites to such prestigious showcases as Austin’s Psych Fest, which required him to put together a band last year and then learn to play live.
“It was hard for me to get things to where I wanted them to be,” Delt says. “Austin Psych Fest was scary because it was only maybe our fourth show, and my adrenaline was going crazy. I messed up a lot. Watching that back was cringeworthy. I usually feel fine when I’m up there, but later when I watch it back it’s cringeworthy. But I’m starting to feel a little better about it.”
Those live gigs have, of course, served another purpose, namely getting him out of complete isolation—a good thing, considering there’s nothing else to do when you’re a hermit living in the remote mountain village of Topanga.
Morgan Delt plays Electric Owl on Friday (February 6).