Its Just Rock N’ Roll, An interview With Deli Kings

by | May 22, 2023 | MUSIC, ROCK & INDIE

The Village Cafe at 6 PM on Saturday nights is not, not known for its quiet atmosphere. Regardless, I had made the decision to interview the band Deli Kings at that place and time, and guns must be stuck to. I showed up 10 minutes early, and the place was packed. As I waited outside, the first to arrive was Deli Kings’ singer, Nick Morrison, looking particularly grungy in his blue flannel. We go inside to escape the cold just in time for bassist Jake Montague to enter, presenting an air of wisdom in his button-up and sport’s coat. As we are about to be led to our seats, guitarist Gray Stephenson pulls up in a denim jacket, yet missing the bolo tie that I had seen in many pictures of him. Last to arrive, as we were sitting placing our drink orders, was drummer Nate Kidd, looking very relaxed in a red sweatshirt. The band proceeded to “point and laugh” at the tardiness of their friend, who joined in before he introduced himself and took a seat right next to me. A round of beer was ordered (except for Kidd who ordered a whiskey ginger) just in time to catch the end of their happy hour. Working on a buzz, our conversation could begin in earnest.

Deli Kings by Joey Wharton
Photo by Joey Wharton @joey_wharton

When I first asked Morrison, raised in Midlothian, about his training, the reaction I got was a mild chuckle. More pointedly, I asked him about his background to which he admitted to “learning shit on YouTube really,” beginning with guitar as a teenager before putting it down and learning how to make electronic music in FL Studio. Montague, having been born in New York but grew up in Richmond, had a familiar story, telling me he had been playing music his entire life focusing mainly on strings. Coming from a family of guitar players, it was his main instrument for a while, but he originally joined Deli Kings as the bass player. Stephenson cut his teeth in the band circuit of suburban Indiana and originally learned about his singing ability through performing in theatrical productions at a young age before moving into small rock ensemble work in his middle school years. Stephenson moved down to Richmond having visited many times due to extended family in the area. Kidd, who also grew up in Richmond, having forgotten exactly when he began playing, was also inspired by family members. When his younger brother acquired a drum kit during childhood, Kidd co-opted the instrument and started to learn for himself, eventually playing it in his school’s band program.

The band’s formation was slow and gradual over the course of a few years, beginning with Morrison meeting Kidd during an English class at Virginia Commonwealth University. Morrison, who states he was clad in a leather jacket and rode into class on a longboard, was immediately approached by Kidd with the question, “do you play music?” They agreed to jam in the near future, and eventually formed a band together in 2015 called The Hoodoos. The pair then met lead guitarist Nicky Michon after seeing him around town and began playing more music with him as time went on and officially formed Deli Kings in 2017.

Deli Kings by Joey Wharton
Photo by Joey Wharton @joey_wharton

The band began playing shows with a band called Night Creature that featured Stephenson on guitar, and after disagreements with the guitar player they had at the time, they invited him to join. In 2018, Montague met Stephenson while attending a show at The Camel and befriended the members of the band Night Creature, which Stephenson was still in at the time, but quickly moved on to playing with the Deli Kings. Montague, after attending a performance by the band, fell in love with the group who just so happened to find themselves down a bass player. Having been asked to join, the group finally consisted of the lineup that still stands to this day.

In late 2019, the band was on a hot streak of touring and playing with the possibility of an album on the horizon, but when COVID hit the United States hard in March of 2020, everything stopped. What killed many small-time bands actually pushed Deli Kings in the writing room, and two of their most recent songs, “Foolin’ in July” and “Simma,” came out of this period. Coming out the other side of COVID, the band began performing and touring again, culminating in the release of their self-titled EP, Deli Kings, last November.

Being interested in band name origins, I inquired into theirs. Morrison, again laughing, said, “I was afraid you were gonna ask that.” Describing the god’s honest truth as, “I just liked the way it looked written down.” This admission didn’t seem to phase the other members of the band as Morrison relates that “we just don’t like to take ourselves too seriously.”

And speaking of not taking themselves too seriously, the group has a history of theatrics. Deli Kings has gone through a number of different on-stage gags but have all but given up on their schtick of wearing bloodied aprons to appear as if they had just retired from a long shift at the local deli. They haven’t abandoned the theatrical nature of the act entirely, though. In 2022, the band produced a short film titled Skull Fuck, in which Morrison fights his way through a number of foes to get on stage at The Camel to perform a show that night with his fellow Deli Kings. Although music videos remain very popular among musicians of all genres, it is rare these days to see a whole short film made for the featuring of a single song like Michael Jackson’s famous “Thriller” video.

The music of Deli Kings is, at its core, rock and roll. With only one official EP that’s released on streaming platforms – and an old demo with a different lineup on their Bandcamp – the group still has a lot of places they want to take their. That EP, released in November of last year, combines recognizable guitar licks with earworm-style vocal hooks and a spacey reverb applied to everything. All of this comes together to present a fresh riff on the sometimes monotonous indie rock sound. Their first demo released back in 2018, hilariously titled Cold Cuts, sings a bit of a different song. With a much rawer, heavier sound, and notably more intensity, their old music is almost indicative of artsy, post-hardcore groups like Fugazi. With that being said, Morrison’s vocal hooks still reek of pop catchiness, and it is clear the direction he’s being pulled in. Though their sound isn’t necessarily consistent across the demo, as that heavy post-hardcore sound shines in songs like “Runnin’ from the Dogs,” but the very next track, “Silver Plane,” almost verges on psychedelia with intense guitar delay and far-off surrealist vocals. The group, surprisingly, tends to avoid these songs at live shows, with Morrison saying, “they just don’t speak to our sound anymore.”

Deli Kings by Joey Wharton
Photo by Joey Wharton @joey_wharton

In pursuit of that sound, Deli Kings have worked up an interesting solution for a practice space. Today’s bands often find themselves renting out storage units in friendly complexes or cramming into musty basements of hundred-year-old homes; not Deli Kings. Montague and Morrison, who work together at a landscaping company, acquired permission from their supervisor to use the warehouse where they operate out of as a makeshift practice space after business hours. Not only that, but they actually spent several days last year recording their self-titled EP there.

Although Deli Kings have worked with others on recordings in the past, they prefer to keep everything in-house as much as possible these days. It makes it easier when multiple members have at least some background in digital audio workstations. “We all set up mics and stuff,” said Morrison on the recording process. Although recording seems to come easy to them, that album that was in the works doesn’t appear to be coming anytime soon. “I feel like we’re still finding our own kinda thing,” said Montague, “but it’s getting more cohesive.” It can be difficult for a band to ruminate on their sound instead of rushing into a record, as it can often feel like the ultimate goal for a band. Deli Kings want to take their time to find their niche before they put anything definitive on record, and it feels like they might be honing in, as they admit that they do have some music coming in the future.

Deli Kings by Joey Wharton
Photo by Joey Wharton @joey_wharton

Having survived COVID, putting out multiple EPs, and still changing their sound around, Deli Kings are certainly a group to watch. These guys have been around the block, slowly creeping their way to the front lines of the Richmond music scene for the last six years and don’t appear to be disappearing from venue marquees anytime soon. You can find their EP, Deli Kings, just about anywhere you get your music.

Give Deli Kings a follow at @omgdelikings
Main photo by Joey Wharton

Andrew Bonieskie

Andrew Bonieskie

But you may call me Bones. I'm the Associate Editor of RVA Mag, and a writer and musician living in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in music and a minor in creative writing I have gone on to score feature and short films, released a book of poetry, an album of original music, and perform lead vocals with the band Pebbles Palace.

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