Some people were made not to be broken, and on this nerve-stretching Monday night of high wind gusts and movie-set-like rain, the heartiest of Seattleites seem to be clustered inside the chummy quarters of Hattie's Hat. While a good portion of the city's population is probably safe and dry at home with Ally McBeal, the Ballard bar is humming with the good-natured noisiness of a family reunion in Kentucky. Parini singer Lisa Orth is discussing the finer points of mixology with Hattie's staffer Emily Marsh—who also drums for local pop outfit Faster Tiger—as music community staples swarm in and out of the cramped bar area. A sharply dressed Krist Novoselic is shuffling down the hallway to the back dining room, where he's holding court with a group of about 30 record-label affiliates, many here to celebrate the midnight on-sale of the new Built to Spill album, Keep It Like a Secret.
The four members of the Delusions are hunkered down in a booth near the front door, their collective equipment stored in a corner for a late-night trip to their practice space. They, too, are highly expectant of the forthcoming Built to Spill record, but for more personal reasons: BTS guitarist extraordinaire Doug Martsch personally tapped them as the opening act on the exhaustive Keep It Like a Secret tour, which will begin in Seattle on March 10 and wrap up in June. The Delusions are also trotting out their fluid melodies at the South by Southwest conference in Austin this month, sharing the stage at Spin's party with Built to Spill and the Old 97's, not to mention their idols the Flaming Lips.
Crocodile, Wednesday, March 10
Showbox, Thursday, March 11
RKCNDY, Friday, March 12
Lanky bassist Denise Maupin is full of nervous energy, fervently discussing the quartet's newfound attention. "We've already decided that once people start booing us and chanting for Built to Spill to get on stage, we're OK with that," she claims, jabbing at a plate of fried potatoes with her fork. "But Doug has been totally cool. I think his refusal to play the game allows him to do things like take bands like us who are nobodies on the road, and convince his label it's OK. I don't think there are many bands who would do that for anyone."
Maupin's reaction is more a self-defense mechanism than reality-based fear. The Delusions have released one of the year's finest slices of local rock in the form of I Hope It Dies on a Sunny Day (My Own Planet); with or without Martsch's endorsement, the album's brisk, Byrds-toned melodies should reel in a sizable amount of Built to Spill fanatics. Guitarists Dave Keppel and Jim Roth choke unbelievably clean chords out of their strings, offering an updated version of the widely loved Minneapolis sound produced by the Replacements, Hsker D, and Soul Asylum. La-las and doo-doot-doos pepper steel-tinged tracks like "Go for a Ride" and "Drug-induced Ego Trip," transmitting the Delusions' euphoric pop vision into solid songwriting that's sure to invigorate the masses waiting for Martsch to take the stage.
Just in case it doesn't fly, though, the Delusions have learned a few BTS rarities that won't be heard on the tour, in order to tease their fans a little. Roth, a war-horse musician with close-cropped hair and a calm smile, drags on an American Spirit and mentions that he already knows the Built to Spill set list—which at this point is rumored to include Keep It Like a Secret in its entirety and just four songs off 1997's Perfect from Now On.
Roth is getting ready to fly to Boise, where he'll have his second intense week of rehearsals with Built to Spill in as many months. The guitarist is pulling double-duty on this tour: For each show, he'll steam through the opening set with his band, then return to the stage to back Martsch and company on lap steel and guitar. "The old-school people are going to be pissed," he says with a twisted smile. "Here they have this useless new guitar player, and they didn't even play anything old that they liked."
The rest of the band (including Keppel and drummer Matt Marti, who are both so well-prepared for the shitty weather that they look like the MacKenzie brothers from Strange Brew) snickers at this, catcalling fake song requests for "Car" and "Charlie Brown."
As the buzz surrounding the Delusions grows, the band members have been working hard to keep humble expectations and a continual passion for making music. They seem a little perplexed by the attention, or as Maupin puts it: "It's like when you're a teenager and some guy hits on you—you don't know if he just wants to fuck you, or whether he really thinks you're a nice person."
She pauses and takes a deep breath, and a softer tone replaces her nervousness. "It's like we won a lottery somewhere and got this amazing gift from another band," Maupin continues. "But what comes with that is that you're skeptical whether you have a fan base or not, and I guess we'll see if that lasts beyond Built to Spill bringing us on tour."