Happiness Interview: DeLa of Slightly Stoopid

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San Diegans have a special relationship to Slightly Stoopid because these guys are our own.  They’re home-grown.  Other states and cities love Slightly Stoopid, but us San Diego kids played their songs at our high school parties more.  All of us had their CDs in our first cars.

For me, their music has always been a mirror to what San Diego is like.  If the city of San Diego were a band, it would be Slightly Stoopid.  Their music reflects the vibe, the feel of America’s Finest City.

Slightly’s saxophonist, DeLa, and I met up last weekend for coffee, and I am so grateful to him for it.  He’s been through adversity that few of us can even begin to wrap our minds around.  He shared with me things that I needed to hear.  Things that we all need to hear.  RyMo also wrote in a few answers, which can be found at the end of the interview.  Thank you, DeLa, and thanks to all the guys for working with me on this.

I was excited when you contacted me about this, because I went through a few things recently that were life-changing, and saving for me.

Really? 

Yeah.  I had a brain surgery two and a half years ago.  They took a baseball-sized brain tumor out of my head.  And so, as you can imagine I’m sure, your perspective on things changes.  Not that I was ever unhappy, but the focuses and the importance of things are totally different.  So that’s why when you sent me the email, and I said let me check out what she does.  I saw what you did, and I liked that.

Thank you.  

Yeah, thank you.

From that experience, how are you changed? 

There’s so much that we focus on that until your life is threatened, you take it all for granted.  I know that that’s kind of cliche, but it’s really, really true.  And not knowing whether you’re going to make it… For example, when I woke up from this like, whatever, 10 hour surgery, I was totally blind.  I couldn’t even see light coming into my eyes.  You know you could feel your eyes flicking around in your head, but nothing.  I had no idea, I had no idea what was next.  And when all that stuff came back, and I could finally get back in the water, and this is a month later or whatever.  Or ten days after the surgery when I got onstage at ACL, and I was able to play my horn, you know?  That’s pure happiness.  You feel like you’re on a mountain.  And that’s because the proverbial wool that was over your eyes is gone.  You don’t see all the stuff that’s in the way anymore, you just see that one thing: and say, that’s so simple, but I’m so happy to be able to do that it again.  So that’s how it changed me, for starters.

That’s beautiful.  I think I kind’ve understand, you know.  I’ve injured myself a bunch and I’ll be out for months and months.  And then I’ll be able to walk and I’ll just be like, “Wow.  Walking is awesome.”

Yeah.  Its so true.  Its so true.  And unfortunately, and I think that this is the happiness inhibitor, if you will, is the fact that it takes something that extreme, it takes loss to realize what you have.  That’s why I like surrounding myself with happiness.  Or things that are simple, they don’t have to be anything special.  It could be the sun on an 80 degree day.  It could be when I get home and my beautiful girlfriend makes me a beautiful meal to eat after being on the road.  Something so simple.  My daughter’s smile in the morning when I go see her.  There’s nothing that you need that’s more than that.  You just have to figure out what those things are to you, and kind of like perpetuate it.

Yeah.  Wow.  Nice.  What is your definition of happiness?

I was thinking about that on the way over here because I saw the interview that you did with Bird, and I was like, “Wow, he’s heavy.  He’s heavy.  He speaks about serious things.  And I definitely feel that, you know, speaking about his whole spiritual side.  It doesn’t have to be Catholicism, it just has to be identifying with a higher power.  And the reason why I say that is because that higher power, in my mind, is all about the thing that happiness is about and that’s love.  If you live with love in your heart, truly, even for the things that you hate.  From somebody cutting you off in a traffic circle to, I don’t know, polluting the ocean, whatever things that you hate.  If you can give love to those people, whether it be through forgiveness, or whatever.  And I think that spiritually, that’s what happiness is about.  

I feel like a lot of the things happiness can be about are the sun on your face, or the fresh snow underneath your surfboard, or whatever it is.  Or going out to Swami’s and seeing perfect overhead sets curling in.  That being said, I think that love, that’s what God is all about to me.  And that’s a source of happiness.  I thought it was also interesting what you said about giving things over.  Like being able to turn over some of the things that weigh you down.  So that maybe it doesn’t take a catastrophic life event to make you realize what you have.  So that if you’re giving over these stresses, like “Oh wow, look at what I can see when I’m free of this, or look at what I can see now.”  Seems pretty simple.

Yeah, but that’s an eloquent way of putting it.  People don’t realize if you deliberately release yourself of the stress, by writing it down or performing an act, it has an enormous impact on you. 

Oh my goodness yeah.  And to take that statement, and make another metaphor out of it, think about what you do when you go surf.  Or when I pick up my instrument.  I’m humbling myself to the ocean.  I’m humbling myself to my instrument.  And knowing that, just devoting yourself to that process, or that activity, it instantaneously makes you not worry about yourself.  It makes you stop thinking about yourself.  And when you stop thinking about yourself, you feel a whole lot happier.  I don’t know, I usually feel a whole lot happier.  Because usually when you’re thinking about yourself, it’s about things you can’t control.  

There are so many things that you worry about when you’re in your own head, it’s spinning around like a hamster on a wheel.  And most of the stuff, its just emotional stuff that albeit, is important to you, emotions are important to the individual.  But at the same time, as soon as you stop thinking about your worries, and give yourself over to something else, whether it be your spirituality, your board sport of choice, your art, your whatever your medium is, you’re at peace.  You know?

Nice, I agree. 

Nice!  I hope you do.

It’s with like rock climbers.  When you’re rock climbing you can’t think of anything else.  

You can’t!  How are you going to think about anything else?  Its over then, you’re dead. Mistake, woops, ahhhh!  You’re dead.

Could you talk a little bit about your history with music?  When did you start playing the sax?    

I have always played the saxophone, like since third or fourth grade.  Always.  Even when my music teacher at the time, and I love you, Mrs. Etra, but she almost tried to force me to play the trumpet.  Yeah, and I didn’t love the sound.  The sound that resonated most with me was the saxophone.  Always.  So, yeah, from an early age, I definitely was playing.  As I developed, I started getting more into improvisation.  Learning about jazz and stuff like that.  So for a long time, I was a big jazz head.  But it’s kind of funny because roots music, like Jamaican music, be it ska, or reggae, or rock steady or whatever it is, has really always been a part of my life.  I was always wanted to think of myself as some jazz player, so I studied jazz, I went to college for jazz.  And I did all that stuff.  All the while, the common thread was roots music, reggae music.  It was just a natural fit.  I was in Brooklyn, living in Brooklyn, and I was playing with some really talented musicians who went on to do a lot of great things in their own right, and we were playing a lot of organ-trio, jazz-funk kind of stuff.  And I got a call from C-Money actually, and he asked if I wanted to be in John Brown’s Body.  Based on some friends of ours that we shared in the Boston area.  Because, as you can see, I was born in Boston.  My Mom’s whole family is from Boston, so it is a very big source of who I am for sure.  Both personally and musically.  So I made connections through that, they got me into John Brown’s Body, and the rest is history.  That was 02′, and I was in that band for like four or five years.  Then we went out on an opening tour with Slightly Stoopid.  And on the third or fourth night, we played Sacramento and Kyle came up to us, and he said, “Do you guys know ‘This Dancing Mood?”  Its that Delroy Wilson song.  From that night on, it was just like we had, excuse the expression, but stepped in some shit.

Have you always wanted to play music professionally?  

Always.  Always.  It wasn’t something that I just fell into.  Because I’m sure, beyond what a lay person would understand, the amount of dedication it takes to be proficient, just proficient enough to improvise… the amount of hours that it takes to get there is more than most people would understand.  More than most people want to give of themselves.  And that’s why I think a lot of people after high school they’re like “Oh, that was cool you know.”  And that’s good, its great to have any musical experience that you can have.  If you can key into that mindset that you can give of yourself, it’s a beautiful thing and it betters your life.    Would you disagree?  Music is happiness for sure.  Or it can be sadness.  It can be your whole range of emotions because music is what’s happening to that person, that artist, at that moment.  It’s what they’re going through, if they’re good at their craft, that’s what it is.  That’s what always drew me to it, how profound it can be.  How a great song, a great song can make you do… it can make you do whatever it wants you to do.

Its true.  Its true.  There’s incredible power behind music. 

Oh!  But to be able to get to that place where you can express yourself in that way, it takes an incredible amount of diligence.  And a lot of people, bless their hearts, will come up and be like, “Oh, you guys are so talented.  You were just born with it.” Pshh, born with it?  I’m like, I want to fall off of that tree.  Wherever that “born with it” tree came from, I want to fall off of that one.  But its not that at all, by any stretch of the imagination.  Its, at some points of my life, 6 to 8 hours a day spent in a little teeny, tiny room.

Yeah, recording?

No, practicing.  Practicing by yourself with a a little metronome, clicking in your face.  Click, click, click.  Yeah, its like that, if you want to do it the best of your ability.  If you want to be able to express yourself as freely as humanly possible.  With the only limitations that you have are how fast you can learn or the fact that you have to take your horn out of your mouth to eat.  That those are the only limitations.  There are very few people like that.  John Colchrane.  The guy would go to dinners with people and bring his little soprano with him because he didn’t want to carry his tenor later on in his career.  Like, “Oh, yeah I’m just going to dinner,” and he had this soprano with him.   They’d serve dinner, beautiful, he’d get a look in his eye and just go upstairs and practice for three hours.  Just overtaken by that giving over.  Giving yourself completely to that.

Do you think there’s like a divine element about that almost?  You know?  People definitely think creativity can be divinely-inspired.  You know, like you’re meant to do a certain thing.  You know what I mean?  There’s got to be a superhuman element to those gifts.  

Yeah, there is, definitely.  And again, and I hate to keep repeating myself but its a common thread.  If you understand already from a religious standpoint to give yourself over, than you have no problem doing that for an art or a sport.  So the answer would be: absolutely.  There’s no other place that it comes from.  Maybe your parents, but I think that ultimately, if you believe in God, your parents are a gift from God as well.  So yeah, its all rooted in divine inspiration, for sure.  But I don’t think in the sense that most people would think.  Again, like, “Oh, God just gave you this.

Yeah, I know what you’re saying.  You’re drawn to work towards it more.  

Yes.  Yes.

Your passions are there, and you find that your talents are there, too.  Right?

Right.

Its like an aligning of those things.  Don’t you think?   

Yeah, totally.  That’s what I’m saying.  It’s kind’ve crazy to think of it like that.

It is crazy.  Its cool you know.  When I first sort of realized it, well, I work as a paralegal and I’m not really sure what I want to do.  So I started to do this blog, and I found that people responded well.  And things started happening, like people saying yes to things like this, and it makes you feel supported by something. 

I think that everybody wants what it is that you do.  How many people have you seen in the past, I don’t know how old you are, but in the past 10 years since people started using computers everyday, on their smart phones and all that stuff.  In the past 10 years, you look on every person’s Facebook or their whatever, and they have those quotes.  But where do they get them from, where do that get the wisdom for that from.  I think that you putting it all together in this neat little package and presenting it… That’s really cool.  I think that’s really cool.

Thank you. 

And I think that people need that.  So you found your calling.  Was it divine inspiration?

I don’t know, I mean I have a mentor.  And she claims to be an intuitive.. I don’t know… she knows more than she should.  And she said I should write.    

Yeah!

So I left that lunch and I started the blog.  So…  

There you go.  There you go.  I think that that’s the other thing too.  We’re being blessed by all things all the time.  Its just the ability to see them as that.  And what if you had just brushed her off, and kind’ve were like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.”  Then you would not have touched as many people as you have.  Its the same for me. If I had chosen, in high school, to go off in the woods, get beer and party with my friends, instead of trying to get gigs somewhere with my garage band, things would have been a whole lot different for me.  But I had the sense to recognize it, as you did.  It’s important.

You have to pay attention to the little things.  The little choices.  

Those are the most important things.  The little things.

The little clues.  What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Again, there’s a ton of those.  But let me pick one.  Surfing.  Surfing.  Surfing because… there’s a part of music now, that is work for me.  Not that its a bad thing.  Not that its a negative thing, but it can be an energy-consuming thing.  And surfing is peace.  You go and focus on nothing.  You go and immerse yourself in somebody else’s world for two hours and feel about an inch big.  You feel about this tall when you’re in the ocean.

Especially on those days when you have a scary thing happen.  On big days when you come out of the water and you’re like, “I am nothing.” 

Haha, yeah.  When you get tossed on a ten-foot lip.  Get rolled around.  It can be extremely humbling.  I shouldn’t even say can be, it without a doubt will be.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day it will be scary for you.  And humbling.  And make you feel like a speck of dust.  And that’s great for you.  That’s great for your mind.  And where I come from.  My perspective is very much that.  Its important to feel that small.  Because who knows.  Who knows what you are in your life to the people around you.  You need to have that, you need to have that time out.  Just stop the clock and give it up for the sun, or the water, maybe have a couple of your bros from home with you or whatever it is.

Is there a happiness mantra you live by?  Or a particular book that has stayed with you?  

There’s so many things that we look for when we’re unhappy.  You’re basically just looking for an end to it, you’re like, “Please how do I stop this sadness.”  You’ll check any source.  I don’t have one in particular, but more of an attitude, and more of an ideology.  I’d say, just control the things that you can control, worry about those things.  And even about those things, do them one at a time.  And every day, give thanks for what you have.  And I know that sounds generic, but its so true.

Do you know how they found out that I had a brain tumor?  It was growing between my eyes and it hit my optic nerve, and it got so big, that I started to go blind.  I started to not be able to see.  And one thing at a time started getting taken away. Like, I couldn’t see people’s faces coming up to me until they were five feet in front of my face. I couldn’t drive.  I couldn’t read texts without them being huge on my screen.  I couldn’t find the cursor on my computer.  Now, every time I’d send a text or get on the computer, I think “wow, how nice is it now that I can see this shit.  Or when I’m driving, like when my girlfriend moved out here from Colorado and I moved us all the way from Colorado.  And it was so great because I could see the whole road.  It felt like a runway to me.  I could see the whole mountains, see the whole desert. I’m a driving fool now.  Because I’m so thankful.  And if you give thanks every day, you’ll be thankful, too.  And you’ll be happy, too.  You’ll appreciate stuff.  If you have to force yourself to find stuff you’re thankful for, you will be thankful.  

What is “Collie Man” all about?  I have a rumor. 

I want to hear what you think it’s about.

So I used to practice field hockey in OB. 

Okay.  Nice!

Yeah, Robb Field.

Robb Field, okay.

We would go on these runs down to the beach and we would see this guy, this homeless guy with a collie, and we heard this rumor that “Collie Man” was about him.  Is that correct?

I don’t think so.

Haha, I figured not.  

I don’t think so.  Because the words say, “You best not coming around unless you brought my sensi herb.”  Right?

Oh, yeah.  Okay. 

So it’s kind of like when the weed man is always kind’ve kicking it and not coming through with what you need.  I would say there are a couple meanings to it, but that’s the most literal one.  You’d really have to ask Miles about that, but as far as I can say, the literal meaning in the song is don’t come around man unless you got my weed, man.  Because you’ve done some shady shit to me, and I don’t want to chill with you, I just want your herb.

I’m so happy I know now.  Its like this pretty song I remember from high school.  And I never knew what it meant. 

And see again, it’s a brilliant song.  And the power of that song is: that no matter what he meant it as when he wrote it, when Miles wrote those words, it means what it means to you.  However you relate to it.  You know what I mean?

I do.  Because its special to me. 

Alright.  See?  There you go.  We hear what we want to hear.  No matter what I told you it meant, is it going to change the way those words make you feel?  Maybe not that much.  Probably not that much.

Is there anything you see people around you doing or saying that seems to add or conversely, detract from their happiness?  Like negative thinking or…?  

Yeah, there’s a ton of that stuff, and therein lies the battle.  The battle that every person goes through.  And let me stress that.  We, as human beings, tend to think that we are the only people that have ever felt what we feel.  Human beings as far as I know, as far as what I’ve seen in art and media as long as there has been art and/or media have not emotionally evolved at all.  We have different stuff, like cell phones and digital this and whatever, its still the emotional range as Shakespeare was writing about.  It’s still the same thought process as Socrates was writing about.  Its the same.

That being said, you are not alone, and when people act like their bullshit is more important than everyone else’s, because they think its just them, that to me is selfish.  And when you act selfishly, it causes a whole lot of bad things.  When you’re unaware of your surroundings.  Be it environment, or humans, or animals, or whatever.  We all have to exist here in harmony.  We all do, and  we’re all going through the same stuff.  Maybe not at the same time, and maybe not dealing with it in the same way, but we are definitely emotionally are the same.  And our needs are also the same.  So your uniqueness lies in, in very simply, how you deal with all that stuff.  That’s what leads to: oh, that ones a surfer, or that ones a musician, that ones a architect, that ones a… because people are trying to follow their path, and be unique.  That quest for feeling like they have significance in life.  Like their life has made an impact in whatever way they want it to.   Its how you choose to get back up.  We can choose how it affects us.  I guess the answer to the question is no, I don’t really let other people’s bullshit bother me.  I try not to.  Sometimes its hard.  Therein lies the problem.  Its hard to control my reactions as a human.  Because of pride, how you were raised, whatever it is.

I think it takes practice.  

Yes, and every day that we’re given is another day that we can try it again.  Another day to try to be extra kind to somebody who is pissing us off.  Because you don’t know if they know how to deal with what they’re dealing with right now.

You guys are a touring band.  You’ve been on the road pretty much non-stop for a decade.  How to you stay happy when you’re on the road?  Are there up’s and down’s?

Of course.  Picture this: you have to work with ten other people for a month, in the space of a very small submarine.  Every night you go to work, they give you x amount of cases of beer and hard alcohol, and you are sent into the fire with those things at your disposal.  Obviously, a few things are going to go wrong.  That being said, I mean, we are blessed.  We get to travel all over the world, reaching all sorts of people with our music.  And the end of the day, none of us lose sight of that.  That’s why we tour so much.  We love it.  We love to play music for our fans.  Because our fans are the fucking greatest.  They come wherever we are to show how much this song means to them, or that song means to them.  Or what this show experience meant to this group of people.  What’s better than that?

I have a story to tell you. 

Please.

So, I have a good friend from high school, and he started a band in Denver.  They’re called Green River Vibe.  

Green River Vibe?

Yeah.  

Okay, never heard of it.

They were all at a Slightly Stoopid concert at Red Rocks and they saw you guys up there, and they basically said, we should do what they did.  And now they’ve played with P-Nuckle, The Expendables, I believe.  You know, sort of because of you guys.  

Well, I need to hear what that band sounds like, so I’m going to check them out.  But that’s the biggest compliment that you can be paid.  That is the highest form of flattery.  And I just say, don’t give up.  That adversity, it’s going to come, no matter what you do, it’s gonna come.  So you might as well do something that you really believe in.  Do something that you really believe in and love.  Because you’re gonna get knocked down by something else, somewhere.  They need to hit now, hard.  Don’t stop now.  Don’t stop.

I love that you said that because he says, “You know, some days…”

Yeah.  You know, its hard.  When you’re touring with a band, and haven’t had money for more than one hotel room.  Never mind that, when we started out back in the day, we’d get up on the mic and say, “Glad you guys liked the show… anybody got a floor we could sleep on?”  Or sleeping in the van.  Eating cold Chef Boyardee out of a can.  Because you don’t have no money to get some food somewhere else.  But you’re out there, you’re doing it.  You’re performing.  And you do it because that’s what you love to do.   And that’s why we still do it.  Things are a little bit different at this point, which is largely due to the fact that all of us have families now.  Or have families, or are married, all that stuff.  So not that priorities have changed, but that there are additional priorities now.  Its not just about that we want to go have fun.  You know we have to be at home too, now.  Its a little bit different in that respect.  So there’s different considerations, but yeah, they need to do it.  Anybody out there: you can’t lose.  Like Mr. Miyagi said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

What’s something you know about happiness now that you did not know at 25 years old? 

I hate to tell everybody at 25, but at 25 you don’t know anything.  I’m sure at 45 I’m going to say the same thing to my 34 year old self.  If I could say anything to my 25 year-old self.. I was always driven so that was good, but the getting caught up stuff was a waste of energy.  That being said, you have to walk before you can fly.  Like if you could just all the sudden be mature without having to learn about what that actually entails.  If you don’t put in the work its just like anything, its just like everything we’ve been talking about.  If you don’t put in the work or the experience or the time, you’re not going to get it.  You’re going to get to it eventually.  To my 25 year old self, I would say you’re doing the right thing, but keep doing more of it.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? 

Being able to live a happy life and provide for a family through music, and only music.  That was the highest goal that I had ever set for myself.  So now its kind of funny because here I am thinking, what’s the next goal?  What’s the next thing to work towards?  That being said, that’s one of the greatest achievements.  But more along the lines of something that you wanted to hear, like the people I’ve gotten to play with, the amount of legendary musicians I’ve gotten to play with and record with.  Karl Denson has been a major inspiration in my saxophone playing.  To about two weeks ago being in the studio with Toots.  Reggae legend, you know?  He’s a reggae icon.  Sitting in with Cyprus Hill.  Having Snoop Dogg sit in with us.  We are so lucky to get to share the stage with people we’ve been listening to our whole lives.  Aside from being able to live a good life music, the list of people that I’ve shared the stage with, that we and Slightly Stoopid we’ve shared the stage with.  Its incredible.

I can’t imagine.  To me, it would be like an out of body experience. 

When you have Robbie Shakespeare, one of the most famous bass players in the world, him with Sly recorded as the most recorded drum and bass team ever.  As a huge reggae head standing on stage next to Robbie and him showing me on the bass what he wanted me to play while we were playing, I was just like I don’t know what to say.  I just give thanks and say please let me, whatever I’m doing, let me keep doing it so I can keep doing this.

Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time, but thank you so much. 

Yeah, of course.  I’m bummed that we all couldn’t go grab a surf.  Its supposed to be pretty good today…

Insights from RyMo:

What’s your definition of happiness?

My definition of happiness is doing what you want when you want because you enjoy doing it.   I love to surf and play music and if i can do one or both of these things I am happy.  happiness is making music and surfing.  Two very similar things that give an amazing natural high.

What do you know about happiness now that you did not know at 25 years old?

I was struggling at 25 much more than now in certain ways.  I was questioning my career path because I wasn’t where I thought i could be…   many things in my life seemed temporary and I was much less grounded.  I’m 36, married to an amazing woman, expecting a baby girl, and recently bought a house in San Diego. things are good, and i am full of gratitude.
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3 thoughts on “Happiness Interview: DeLa of Slightly Stoopid

  1. This was a very engaging interview, certainly one of your best articles thus far. The depth of the conversation was very insightful and inspirational. You were able to draw out so much more than just facts and events, but true depth of feelings and purpose. Congratulations.

  2. Great interview!
    I think what he was talking about near the top (where he was also talking about rock climbing) is focus, so intense that it takes up all of your consciousness.
    And it’s a great feeling, whether it comes during climbing, or surfing, or even just walking down the road.

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