Mission Bell has the hardest
hitting lyrics of any Delirious? record to date. It also contains some
new and innovative spins on some old worship themes. I spoke on the telephone
to Stew Smith the drummer for Delirious? as he was preparing for a concert
in Liverpool England. We chatted about the new CD and how both the band
and the music scene in England have evolved during his twelve year stint
Delirious? debuted different
singles from the album in the US and UK with "Paint the Town Red" crashing
through the sound barrier at I-Tunes in England while "Fires Burn" is sweeping
the American Charts. Smith says the band decided to release "Paint the
Town Red" in the UK because, "We wanted something that was a little more
aggressive and a little more upbeat. At the same time we had been playing
that song at a lot of the festivals during the summer and it connected
with the people. "Fires Burn" was released in the United States because
their marketing and management people felt it would fare better.
"I think it (the CD) is
continuous in terms of the Delirious? sound," said Smith. "In terms
of progression we feel that this album encapsulates all that we have done
over the years. We have kind of taken the cream of who we are and managed
to get that into an album. I think the strong points are the lyrical content.
It is really connecting with people on a spiritual journey level. It's
going down fantastic. The connection with the crowd is just unbelievable."
He points out that Delirious? has a sound reminiscent of U2 and Radiohead
although that has not been deliberate on the band's part.
I asked the congenial guy
who wields the drumsticks about the line "My life is a show on God's TV"
from the song "All This Time." Enthusiastically he replied, "That's a great
line isn't it? I think during the whole writing process and in the studio
as well we felt like it's not important to be in a band. It's not important
to sell records. What is important is who we are and who we are in God's
eyes. That line really does talk about what we are actually doing with
our lives. (It talks about) trying to keep our hands clean and trying to
get up the mountain. That is really what it is about. There are a lot of
hard hitting lyrics on the whole album. I think on the first listen some
of that stuff may be a little bit uncomfortable to people."
He continued, "The album
has been out in the UK for about six weeks and (judging by) the emails
the people who are listening to the album are asking themselves questions.
They are searching. I think that is what we really have to do as a band
is (ask) what am I in this for? Why am I a Christian? What do I believe?
Taking that seriously."
Delirious? has not backed
away from lyrically challenging issues that serve as lightening rods in
many countries around the world. "Our God Reigns" takes deliberate aim
at abortion, the AIDS pandemic and western culture's obsession with materialism.
Despite their views the band's popularity continues to grow within the
mainstream music culture.
Smith believes the band's
credibility has remained intact because, "I think that people like honesty.
Not the lyrics, but the heart was inspired by a band in the UK called The
Streets not particularly a PC (pro Christian) band but they (put) poetry
to music. They really just talk about every day issues, good and bad. Our
gut feeling was that worship music only really just scratches the surface
with what life is all about. We wanted to write some songs about the issues
that people are dealing with. It really is hard hitting stuff."
About "Our God Reigns" he
said, "We sat down, talked about it (and asked) do we want to put this
track on our album? It's probably going to upset some people and yet that
is real life. In the mainstream they may not always like our message in
terms of our Christian faith but I think people respect you for being honest,
truthful and actually not pretending to be something that you're not."
He says over the years he has struggled with where to draw the line in
the sand as far as bridging the gap between Christian and mainstream music
cultures without compromising his values and beliefs. He has concluded
that the secret to being a Christian band and making an impact is to just
be themselves. He said, "We found that really does make a big difference."
Smith thoughtfully answered
my question concerning whether it is easier to take risks with their music
and lyrics now that the band has more significant stature in the music
community than they did even as recently as five years ago.
"That's a good question.
It is difficult because the longer that you go on you feel you know the
ins and outs of different markets a little bit more and the danger is you
try and write music to fit a format. I think we definitely veered away
from that on this album. We went into the studio with no preconceived ideas
that this is how we want this album to sound. We want this to be predominately
aimed at the church. We want some songs that people can sing on a Sunday
morning or Sunday evening at church. We (also) wanted to write something
that was more of a mainstream slant that people can hear more on the radio."
To that end he said, "We
went into the studio and approached the project in a totally different
manner this time. Normally we write and demo the tracks pretty heavily
almost to the point where they are almost finished. Then we go to the studio
and replicate what we have tried to work out. On this occasion we said
let's book a studio for a week, go in with a few different ideas
and see what comes out. The main thrust of that was we wanted to try and
capture the Delirious? energy and spontaneity that we seem to stumble upon
and that God gives us when we are on stage. We came out with fifteen tracks
from a handful of ideas. I think that is what makes Mission Bell totally
unique for us. We have managed to capture something that really is the
essence of who we are musically and who we are spiritually. (We captured)
the message that we feel God is speaking to us as individuals and as a
The new CD will push the
envelope even further as Smith explained, "I think Mission Bell is the
most overtly Christian message that we have come up with."
The band's popularity in
mainstream culture has not been isolated to their recordings or to their
homeland. "In Germany we had quite a big hit last year with a track called
"Inside Outside." I think that had about 12,000 spins on (mainstream) radio."
He feels this is a fan base that Delirious? can continue to grow in the
The music of Delirious?
has also transcended mainstream concert events. The band toured with Bon
Jovi performing for crowds as large as 75,000 people. They shared a concert
stage with Bryan Duncan in London England's Hyde Park.
"We pretty well stay with
the same set. I think the only difference is we are talking about thirty-five
or forty minutes for a support act (which Delirious? was). We will use
tracks that fit that process. There's nothing better than being in that
environment while playing songs like, "History Maker" and "My Glorious"
as the fans have their hands in the air. I'm thinking I wonder if there
is any connection spiritually (to their hands in the air). It's an interesting
forum to be in," he said.
Smith told me there really
is nothing magical about how the invitations to join Duncan and Bon Jovi
came about. "It really comes down to commerce in a way. When we go on tour
we sell tickets. They had a tour (in England) that they were promoting
and they wanted to bring us in to help sell some tickets. We did a five-gig
tour with Bon Jovi but we probably sold twenty or thirty thousand tickets.
That really was the invitation. I don't think there was any thought that
these guys are Christians and it will be an interesting dynamic for the
show. I think they knew our faith and background but I think they were
impressed with the music. I think they were happy that we had great music
and the thought we could sell tickets for them."
I found during our conversation
Stew Smith was always careful to use words like grateful for the opportunities
their career has presented to the members of Delirious?. He continued with
that theme when discussing the chance to perform with the aforementioned
artists, "That has been a great experience for us to get out there and
play in the arenas with those guys. Whether you like their music or not
they are professionals and they are just unbelievable. That was a good
opportunity for us. We will continue to look for those opportunities."
The experiment seems to
be working judging from the reaction of concert goers. "You never know
how you are going to be accepted on those kinds of gigs because you are
a support band. At the end of the day people aren't coming to see you."
He said, however, judging by the emails they received the response has
been positive from people who prior to those concerts had not heard of
Delirious?. He noted, "What they have come back with is they went away,
bought the album and discovered that there is a different message. We have
quite a few emails from people who said I have got involved in the church
as a result of that (concert). You only really hear a few of the stories
that have gone on but that (the mainstream gigs) was really a good thing
for us to do"
As far as interacting with
mainstream artists Smith said, "If they like you as a person and respect
your music then we have only had warmth. I think that is the same thing
we have (experienced) with radio and DJs. We've tried to go in there and
not bash people over the head with this is what we believe. We go in and
try and befriend people and to be who we are. People will listen to what
you have to say a bit more openly."
Stew, do you find that you
present your music differently to the UK market versus the North American
market because of cultural differences? "That's a good question.
If you had asked me about four years ago I think I would have been more
confident in feeling that I knew the American market. I think the Canadian
market is different. It feels like we (the UK) are more on the same wavelength
musically and the whole heart thing. In America it has been generally quite
hard work for us. Stuff that we have released in the past like World Service
which I thought was a brilliant album just hasn't sold huge amounts of
units (in the US). In the UK people are definitely hungry to explore the
Christian faith a little more and in particular the young people. Music
is really there to inspire and motivate. They ask questions. In the UK
those people have been on that journey with us for ten to twelve years.
That is what they expect of us. It's funny when we come over to Canada
we get a very similar reaction to the UK which is fantastic. It definitely
"I think Australia is a
very interesting place. It is definitely closer to the UK market. It is
very British but it has all the nice bits of America. Musically they are
a lot more in touch with the UK music scene. We made quite strong connections
with the Hillsongs Church in Sydney. It is a great place to go and play.
It is a beautiful country as well. They are doing some great stuff and
our music seems to be making a real impact there as well."
Smith wanted to make one
thing clear and that is the basic message Delirious? is delivering remains
unchanged no matter what country, venue or stage they are sharing. "One
of the tracks (on Mission Bell) is called "Now is the Time" and the foundation
or the basic message is let's sort out our lives. Let's take this God thing
seriously and try to make an impact."
In speaking about the UK
tour that they were engaged in at the time of our conversation he said,
"If there are five thousand people that come to see us tonight and we all
got our hands dirty, go out there and really believe the gospel we could
make a huge impact. We as a band are really in that place of feeling like
our communities need people with great morals and that is the job of the
church. I think we as individuals (in the band) feel that is part of our
job and we are trying to inspire a generation to (embrace) that.
I think that message is a global thing and not for the UK or any other
Delirious? has been able
to fight off the urge to get caught up in the hype of their own success.
How have they managed to do so? Smith said, "Truthfully I don't think we
have found it that difficult at all. I think it has been good for us not
living in America and particularly Nashville. We come home to our little
seaside fishing village on the south coast of the UK and it is not the
hub of the music business by any stretch of the imagination. I think generally
we feel so thankful that God has blessed us that we don't feel any
sense of wow we are successful. As time has gone on we have felt more grateful.
We feel that we have only just scratched the surface. We will be carrying
on as long as we feel God has given us something to say and sing great
music to back that up with. We'll keep going. Success is a funny thing
isn't it? What is success anyway? I think if it all stops tomorrow
for me success will be that hopefully we have inspired a generation of
people to take God seriously, to take their faith seriously and by doing
that they start changing people around them."
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.