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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 with Delirious?.
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 band."
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 future.
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 is different."
"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 specific market."
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 rights reserved

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. 


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