17 Aug Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas return to Bend
As anyone who is bilingual knows, translating from one language into another is rarely a one-to-one comparison.
Detroit vocalist and songwriter Jessica Hernandez quickly learned this while making her sophomore album, “Telephone” and its Spanish counterpart “Teléfono,” released last year. Born to a Cuban-American father and Mexican-American mother, Hernandez grew up speaking some Spanish but relied on translators and friends in Mexico City, where she recorded “Teléfono,” to hone the Spanish-language versions of the songs.
“In English, I feel like I totally took for granted the way that we’re able to express ourselves,” she said from her home in Los Angeles a few days before heading out on a mini-West Coast tour, her first since her daughter was born earlier this year (she’s bringing the baby out on the road). She and her band, The Deltas, will perform at Volcanic Theatre Pub on Saturday, their first appearance in Central Oregon since a show at The Belfry in summer 2015.
“A punk band could sing, ‘Baby, I love you,’ and it’s not cheesy, but in Spanish, it’s really hard to not sound over-romanticized and overly cheesy and romantic by being really literal with your lyrics. That’s something that I didn’t really know. And when I was writing stuff, my friends in Mexico City — who are also musicians and they’re my age, and they’re in the same culture, subculture as I am within the music scene — and, they were reading them and they’re like, ‘Jess, you can’t say that.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean?’ They’re like, ‘This is so cheesy.’”
As a result, “Telephone” and “Teléfono” are, at times, wildly different albums.
“Because there’s a sensitivity and a romance to Spanish, it softens the songs a lot,” she said. “And so I wanted the Spanish album to be mixed differently than the English album. If you listen to the Spanish version, the vocals are a lot dirtier; I made a lot of changes within guitar tones.”
“Teléfono” has nine tracks, while “Telephone” has 11, and the song order was shuffled around for each release. Some songs appear on one album and not the other, such as the slinky R&B-meets-Latin-meets-garage “Hombre Cocodrilo” on “Teléfono,” and Hernandez performs some songs exclusively in Spanish live.
Working on the Spanish versions of the songs helped Hernandez reconnect with her heritage.
“I grew up speaking English,” she said. “My dad came from Cuba, but for him it was really important to just be American — he was really proud of being an American citizen. My dad’s like a rock guy; he’s into the Stooges, and he’s into Alice Cooper. He grew up in the garage rock scene in the ’70s, and that’s his vibe, so for him, he was just so proud I was into the music and into American culture; he loved that. I think I never grew up being ashamed I was not great at Spanish, but as I’ve gotten older and got in touch with that side, and getting a closer relationship with my grandparents, I realized how important it was for them.”
Hernandez grew up in southwest Detroit, where her father owns Mexicantown Bakery. Although she sang in choirs from a young age, she also pursued acting and eventually studied fashion design for a few years at Columbia College Chicago. During her first year, she sang on a school project that some music production majors, who lived in her dorm, were working on.
“I go and I record the songs for them, and they were just like, ‘Holy s—, why are you going to school for fashion?’” Hernandez said. “It was one of those moments where I was like, I really don’t know, to be honest. And I think after that, I got it in my head, like, wait a minute, why am I doing this? The whole rest of the year, I started getting more into music, and I started a little band with those guys and I was starting to play open mics. At the time I didn’t play an instrument, I only sang. I decided to buy my first guitar, and I bought a Martin acoustic; I bought my first keyboard, and I started teaching myself how to play guitar and piano that following summer.”
She dropped out of school the next year and created a jam room above Mexicantown Bakery. To her surprise, her parents were enthusiastic about the decision.
“They were just like, ‘Yes, we’ve been wanting you to do music your whole life; we don’t know why you’re in school for fashion,’” she said. “The fact that they were just so excited that I decided to go down that route was an eye-opener for me.”
That was around 2008. The Deltas’ debut album, “Secret Evil,” finally appeared in 2014 after a record label dispute, showcasing a mix of Motown soul, Latin music and the garage rock and proto-punk she gleaned from her father. The band played “Late Show with David Letterman” later that year, earning praise from the host, and has continued to road-hone its sound ever since.
After “Telephone” and “Teléfono” were also delayed due to her record label, Hernandez decided to take the reins herself for The Deltas’ next album. A single, appropriately titled “Baby,” was recorded not long after her daughter was born, and will be released in the fall, she said.
“I was literally doing vocal takes breast feeding,” she said. “I had her in the studio with me for three days, and luckily my husband’s (Kyle Straka) band (The Growlers) wasn’t on tour, so he was able to be there. And we took the B room over, turned one of the studio rooms into a full nursery. … She had her little headphones on in the studio hanging out. It’s such a special thing to have that memory now of recording some of these songs with her in there.”