by Michael Thomas
What does a typical day on this planet look like to someone who hasn’t lived on the planet since birth?
That question is one of the ideas that led Charles Tilden of Parks & Rec to bring together the solo blues project known as Delta Will. “A few things all happened at once,” Tilden says. First, his blues obsession has grown over the past little while.
“I spent a couple months making regular trips to the library, picking up books and crate-digging for old blues records,” Tilden says, “because I wanted to dig further into the history of it than I ever had before.” His crate-digging gave him a new respect for country bluesmen, namely Lead Belly, Son House and Blind Blake.
His love for the blues dates back to his childhood in Ottawa. His father and father’s friends always used to crank up the blues, and family camping trips would always feature campfires soundtracked by, you guessed it, the blues.
Second, Tilden was inspired to use a loop pedal. “I resisted doing that for a long time, I saw people do amazing things with it, but I found it to be a little gimmicky,” Tilden says. “Then when I started playing around with it, I was pleasantly surprised how much fun it was.”
The idea for Delta Will, an alien from another planet, came from the idea of writing from an outsider’s perspective, something that Tilden says Kurt Vonnegut’s writings inspired him to do.
Delta Will (the alien) hasn’t been on Earth for too long, but he’s already found at least one thing about humanity to be pretty amazing. Tilden explains it best: “It’s gonna sound corny, but it’s definitely this amazing thing humans have called love, that’s his favourite thing,” Tilden says. “Doesn’t exist where he comes from. Where he comes from, the people are incredibly efficient at making widgets, being productive, contributing members of their society, but they don’t have this unifying bond, this ability to care for each other and empathize the way humans do. But he’s also worried that they don’t always make the best of it.”
The observations of Delta Will have translated into a wonderful live show and the recent release of the EP Transcendental Visits. It’s a seven-song collection that features Tilden fusing the old blues sensibilities with a modern touch, namely the use of a loop pedal that adds surreal new layers to the form. He took a rather interesting route to promoting the album with the help of vintage and vinyl store Of a Kind.
After some discussions with some of the staff there, Delta Will “discovery stations” appeared in the store for a few weeks leading up to Delta Will’s release party last week.
“We dreamed up this idea of a listening station that would be interactive and hopefully aid people in this process of immersing themselves in the Delta Will perspective,” Tilden says. “That became this View-Master audio/visual box.” The box involved the oh-so-classic View-Master armed with slide reels of what Tilden/Delta Will considered captivating images of Earth: deserts, forests, cityscapes, all those kinds of things. The View-Master was installed in a gold box, which itself was on top of a CD player. Then there were headphones, in fact the same ones Tilden used while recording the EP.
As well, Tilden started the #deltawilltv hashtag, with a couple of his friends contributing. The idea is to literally or figuratively put on Delta Will’s glasses and make observations about what’s happening on Earth from an outsider’s perspective.
While Delta Will is thrilling as a solo endeavour, Tilden isn’t ruling out the possibility of it being more than a one-man band in the future. “I do definitely love the challenge of making all these layers of sound myself, but I also miss the dynamic of jamming things out and exploring the full dynamic possibilities,” Tilden says. “The energy of playing with a band is one of my favourite things.”
Delta Will will soon be embarking on a spring tour in support of Transcendental Visits, most likely with Toronto band Ptarmigan. Tilden is also currently writing new material, some of which he hopes will include influence from other acts he loves other than the country bluesmen, acts like Caribou, Four-Tet and Dan Deacon.
Catch Delta Will on Wednesday, March 20, 9 p.m., at the Supermarket, as part of the Tag Showcase at CMW.