The flat, fertile plain of the Mississippi Delta has given rise to some of the most recognisable music to come out of the American continent over the past 100 years. Hardship, poverty and toil informed the Delta blues that flowed from the guitars of Charley Patton and Son House, bringing a release from the years of enslavement and oppression that America’s cottonbowl had forced upon them. So, what is a 26-year old Biology graduate from Wavertree doing plundering these memories? “Cos I’m fascinated by it,” explains DELTA MAID, the singer-songwriter whose channelling of a variety of blues artists has taken her on a whirlwind journey from hospital trainee to major label starlet in the space of three short years. “It’s crazy isn’t it?” she chuckles, a warm smile spreading across her face as she ponders the imminent release of her debut album Outside Looking In on Geffen next month. “It’s a bit cheesy to say but I never really thought that I’d make it in music, I didn’t really actively pursue it.” It’s a good job for us then that someone did.
Poring over her parents’ record collection and soaking up inspiration like a sponge, Delta Maid’s musical style is like a finely embroidered patchwork quilt of influences, out of which the distinctive style of Rory Block comes through the strongest. Far from being revisionist though, Delta Maid has used these influences to help her shape her own style of vintage, countrified acoustic pop; rootsy and bluesy yes, but based on her own experiences too. “I’m trying to write songs myself and convey the influences in a different sense, but I don’t really like being classified as a country and blues artist. I’m influenced by it but I just wanna do what I’m trying to do.” Her unusual, self-taught playing style, an amalgamation of a pick and a strum, was also born out of these hours sat listening to her favourite songs and trying to replicate the magical sounds that engulfed her. Considering she isn’t a six-string virtuoso, does that still qualify Delta Maid as a bona-fide blues artist? “The main thing that I’m trying to get across at the minute is that I don’t really see myself as a purist in the true sense,” she explains. “I view the guitar as a means to portray the songs. I’m influenced by country blues but I don’t play it in that pure sense.” In a similar vein, her heartfelt croon has been lifted pretty much from the same group of influences, shot through as it is with golden Patsy Cline-like highs, and Rory Block-esque growls, showing just how much the songs of her heroes have seeped in to her mind. “Sometimes it’s perceived as like an impersonation. I don’t wanna make up excuses for it anymore! I can’t help it: that’s the way I sing.”
Blues music is all about a journey and discovery, and what makes Delta Maid’s journey all the more remarkable is that she only played her first live gig in 2008, just as her song writing skills began to flourish. You’d naturally assume then that some Robert Johnson-style conversion had taken place, but Delta Maid has made no pact with the Devil: instead her journey down to the crossroads took her to one of Liverpool’s most celebrated musical venues. “The turning point for me was the charity gig that my Mum put on at The Picket,” explains Delta. “It was the first live event she’d ever done and she asked me to go on first to open up. I’d never played live before but I’d always sung at family parties and things, so I took some persuading! But I went on with my brother and played some blues covers, and I couldn’t believe how much I loved it.” After this baptism of fire she was encouraged by friends and family to record some songs and put them on Myspace, which she reluctantly agreed to. Within a matter of months Delta had been contacted by a publishing company expressing an interest and wanting to see her play live, and that’s when the whirlwind really began. It must have been quite exciting then that things took off over such a short space of time? “Yeah it was amazing,” she enthuses. Pause. “I don’t really like to say it…but I never really had to make much effort, which was brilliant. I think I’m quite a pessimist as well: I don’t think I would have really tried to make it in music without that kind of interest, because it was like a real confidence booster that other people liked the songs. I didn’t really gig so I didn’t know if people did like what I was doing.”
The roller coaster has barely had time to stop since then, finally checking in at Parr Street Studios for work to begin on recording her first LP. Full use has been made of the facilities to flesh out some of the tracks with accessible, poppy hooks, notably on Spend A Little Time and lead single Of My Own. Delta has retained co-production duties on the album with Chris Taylor, making sure that the songs don’t become lost in over production. Importantly, her naturally smooth vocals and guitar plucking still drive the likes of Running On Empty, and the plaintive Outside Looking In, making the album a stripped-back, warm testimony to Delta Maid’s Merseyssippi blues.
Another smile begins to break across her face as she weighs all this up, and I am struck by her modesty and how she is genuinely bowled over by how people have taken to her music. “I do feel very privileged that it’s happened so quickly.” The privilege, I believe, is all ours.
Delta Maid’s debut album, Outside Looking In, is released on Geffen Records on 9th April.