On a wide-ranging debut album, Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas bring together gripping soul ballads, new wave sheen, throwback Motown vibes, gypsy punk and an amped-up rockabilly.
It's all by design, presenting "Secret Evil" as a collection of the singer-songwriter's Detroit roots and ever-evolving influences.
"I wanted it to be a really versatile record. I tried to make it a bit of everything I've been writing and a little bit of all the styles I've been dabbling in. There are the ballads, the really soulful, surfy throwback stuff, the Motown stuff, the gothic-gypsy stuff," Hernandez says. "The number one thing for me, more than it being a fluid record, was to have all my influences together on my first album and I wanted to leave room for the second record to go a number of different directions."
Hernandez grew up listening to her parents' music, which spanned an interesting range: The Doors, Alice Cooper, MC5 and "lots of heavier darker stuff" for her father and '80s new wave, The Cure and Joy Division for her slightly younger mother. Her own tastes brought in gypsy music and punk later on.
"My influences are so all over the place from my whole life, so when I started writing, I didn't know what direction I wanted to go. I just let it happen and didn't try to write with any limitation as far as genre goes," she says.
Whether a song turns into a revved-up surf-rocker or a slow-burning slow tune is something Hernandez leaves up to the songs themselves, rather than trying to force a particular sound.
"Usually when I'm writing, I'll record it in my shitty little demos in a million different ways to see what feels the best," she says. "It's all song by song. I'll write a song and just build on it, whether I start with guitar or start with piano, build it from there and add to it as far as production goes depending on what that particular song needs."
After moving from Detroit to Chicago to Kansas City, Hernandez taught herself both piano and guitar, and "Secret Evil" shows both sides of her, as a musician and songwriter.
"I definitely feel more comfortable writing on the piano. The ways the keys are laid out, it's easier for me composing music, but I like to change it up a lot," she says. "I have a completely different style of writing when I'm writing on guitar, so I like to split it up equally."
After moving back to Detroit in 2009, Hernandez transitioned from solo singer-songwriter to bandleader, putting together the Deltas and putting together a large stable of songs to draw from for her debut record. Hernandez and The Deltas recorded 15 at Sonic Ranch in El Paso and ultimately chose 11 for "Secret Evil."
"The hardest part was picking the songs. I had about 100 to pick from," she says. "The writing process started so long ago because this is my first full-length. The record has songs written in the past year and stuff from a few years ago. It was cool to be able to go through my catalog of songs and pick what were the most meaningful to me and what I wanted to see on the record together."
From the band's inception through Secret Evil, Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas have evolved a great deal. Before the current tour, they wood-shedded for a few days at a cabin in northern Michigan, writing and demoing songs for a new record, experimenting with writing together as a full band.
"When I first started it was more of a solo thing, I was playing acoustic or piano and would have friends of mine back me. It was an ever-evolving thing and ever tour was a different lineup," Hernandez says. "Over the last couple years, I've been trying to find a solid group to tour with. They're all from the Detroit area as well. We all grew up in the same place and have the same friends and same influences and it just clicked. We've been touring nonstop the last two years together. It's natural for starting this next album to grow with them."
Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas
With Gabriel Sullivan and LOA
7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10
Club Congress 311 E. Congress St.
$8 advance, $10 day of show / 16+