Nick Delffs is a seeker. He’d never identify himself that way. He’s unassuming and self-effacing, careful to discuss song meanings and biographical details without indulgence or melodrama. Delffs cut his teeth playing basement shows in Portland a dozen years ago, just before that city’s cover was irreversibly blown. It was a time when being musically ambitious meant impressing other local musicians. You were a joke, in that world, if you proclaimed yourself an artist or promoted your band with any zeal. So Delffs would probably find “seeker” a rather grandiose title.
But Nick Delffs is, in fact, a seeker. He’s an old-school rustler of the human condition; a tireless navigator of social and spiritual landscapes; a genuinely curious and wide-eyed, mankind-enthusiast. Soon after meeting him, one gets the impression that Delffs could be dropped in some far corner of the Earth and he’d not only survive, but he’d make a lot of friends—maybe even start a new band. In both casual conversation and his songwriting, Delffs gravitates to the universal. That’s his search. His life’s work is in the identification and removal of our shared illusions. And that is, largely, what Delffs writes songs about. Songs come to him when he’s “feeling detached from the world but totally in love with it at the same time,” he says. “Mostly they come when I am patient and I don’t need them or care about them too much.”
They happen to be pretty catchy songs. Delffs first emerged in 2003 as the frontman for the seminal Portland band The Shaky Hands, known for their jangly, pulsing and introspective songs and their high-energy live shows. The band would sign to the venerable Kill Rock Stars imprint and tour internationally with bands like The Shins and Meat Puppets.
The Shaky Hands went on hiatus in 2011, and the changes came fast and furious for Delffs. He released a stripped-down, self-titled EP as Death Songs. He became a father. He relocated to Idaho. He took odd jobs and worked as a landscaper. All the while, he was strengthening his musical chops by collaborating with artists like Luz Elena Mendoza (Y La Bamba) and Ali Clarys—both of whom play important roles on his new LP, Redesign.
Living in Boise, Delffs remained a beloved figure throughout the Northwest—traveling often and moonlighting in friends’ touring bands. Slowly, through collaboration and time off, the pressure of being a full-time songwriter subsided and a thrilling new confidence emerged in Delffs’ own work.
“I like to disassociate myself with being a songwriter,” he says. “I like to forget I even do it. In the past that would have freaked me out, but I have a healthier relationship with my songs now. It’s less codependent.”