The Deslondes, formerly The Tumbleweeds, used to be the back-up band to Alynda Lee Segarra’s Hurray for the Riff-Raff, but Sam Doores and Riley Downing have fused their own ability for raw and earnest songwriting. The band reaches across decades of Americana traditions with fresh narratives and cathartic restlessness.Where Y’at sat down on the corner outside of Marie’s to chat with Downing and Doores.
WYAT: Tell me about The Deslondes.
Sam Doores: It’s a five-piece band. We got a drummer, bass player, pedal steel guitar player, and Riley and I play guitar. Everybody in the band sings and writes. We’re all influenced by old soul, country, swamp-pop, swamp-boogie music, pre-war music, older recordings.
WYAT: You met at Woodyfest. Do you feel that was providential?
Riley Downing: Definitely. We were traveling, trying to do the same thing.
Doores: Woody was my personal hero. We wanted to make the world a better place, but we didn’t know how to but through singing. Woody makes you feel like you can do that with a few chords and a good attitude.
WYAT: You used to be The Tumbleweeds, but you changed the band name last year to The Deslondes.
Doores: We started out as The Tumbleweeds but that name was taken. We later became Sam Doores + Riley Downing + The Tumbleweeds, but then we realized we had the worst band name in the world. We opened for The Alabama Shakes with that name. It felt like a math equation. We wanted something easier to say that didn’t imply just country music. Deslondes is also the street I live on in the Lower Ninth, where a lot of our music is created.
WYAT: Was the change in namesake only?
Doores: We also got two new members: Cameron Snyder, our drummer, and John James, our pedal steel guitar and fiddle player. When those guys joined the band that’s when it really felt like we had the band together.
WYAT: How do you share creative responsibilities?
Doores: Usually we play together around a campfire. Whenever someone has a new song that makes you freak out you learn it. We all have different styles. Riley grew up in the country. I grew up singing gospel in the church. John James was more influenced by delta blues.
WYAT: Are you working on an album?
Doores: We are. We’re almost done with the recording process. We still have to mix it and do all of the business side of it.
WYAT: You all have done a lot of traveling, and you can hear it in your music, but you’ve made a home here in New Orleans. Do you write with wanderlust? What inspires your songwriting?
Doores: We got songs inspired by wanderlust and songs inspired by home-lust, wanting-to-settle-down-lust. We’ve done a lot of wandering. A lot of my early songs were about the desire to travel, and I traveled for maybe nine years straight. Each song is inspired by something different—love, travel, and some are about not wanting to travel anymore.
WYAT: On stage, you all have an eclectic rural image. Downing sometimes looks like a trucker or ranch-hand and Doores a cowboy. Are you going for a certain look?
Downing: That’s mostly because I’ve been living out of my bag for awhile. Right now I need a new belt, so I’ve been wearing my overalls a lot.
Doores: We’d love someday to have wild rhinestone-bedazzled suits.
Downing: Anybody who shows up in a rhinestone suit gets in the show for free.
WYAT: A lot of folk music is about collecting story and experience. The tumbleweed image evokes that idea, too. How much of your songs are collected from experiences?
Doores: All of it.
Downing: I could tell you the truth behind every song if you wanted to hear about it. There’s a reason for each word.
WYAT: You played in Jazz Fest last year. What’s special about the experience?
Doores: It’s the reason I moved to New Orleans. I came down here to stay for a weekend to see Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Bob Dylan. A lot of my heroes were playing that year in 2006, but I was too broke to go the last day, so I ended up busking on Bourbon Street the night before and getting a gig at Sean Kelly’s Irish Pub and a free place to stay. And then I just stayed.
WYAT: That was your first time in New Orleans?
Doores: It was. I meant to come for two days, and here I am now.