Interviewed by Derek Walker April 2008
It is easy for people in most professions
to find themselves traveling the grooves of regular habits. For bands who
have traditionally done the album-tour-writing cycle for as long as their
popularity exists, it is a particular tendency. Now that Delirious?
has reached the release of its mountainous eleventh studio release, we
can view the topography of their career and trace its peaks and troughs.
At the beginning, the trajectory of their
rise was more or less a straight line. They began with a head start on
most faith-based bands, as the quality of their appropriately named Cutting
Edge EPs still shows. Such talent rarely stays hidden and their ambitions
spread to making a name in the mainstream. When "Deeper," from King of
Fools hit the British top twenty, even allowing for dwindling singles
sales and a concerted effort by their hardcore fans, they still showed
that their fan base was significant and their music credible in a bigger
With a support slot for Bon Jovi at Milton
Keynes Bowl and regular reviews in music magazines, for a few albums they
were constant contenders. The follow-up album Mezzamorphis was the second
release to break into the top 25 in the British charts and it deservedly
reached second spot in the American Indie chart. They had achieved recognition
– and as a Christian act, they had done so by swimming against the tide
of secularist bias that deems worship bands uncool by definition.
Fast forward to 2006 and the statistics
show that, if they have not scaled higher peaks in terms of mainstream
British and American charts, they have climbed enough peaks in other countries
to earn a reputation as intrepid explorers of rock. During the course of
the year they played in 26 countries, reaching as far as Rwanda, Latvia
and Brazil, and performed to over a million people in Hyderabad.
In between, their fortunes rose and fell.
Artistically, Audio Lessonover (Touch in the States) made some fans wonder
what direction the band was heading in: was the production too American,
the content too unspiritual, the sound too poppy? By trying to appeal to
everyone across the globe, World Service seemed to have given up on any
artistic adventure, settling for a blanding out of what had gone before.
Mission Bell was squarely aimed at the church, so offering a sense of purpose,
but conceding completely on speaking to the outside world that had once
been the focus of their ambition.
This year should see them reach new heights,
because the band's whole world view and purpose has come violently back
into sharp focus.
The last time I had a chance to speak
to the band (August 2007), I passed it by. It seemed that we had said all
that there was to be said. The band had seemed to hit a rut. I even passed
on the early part of their set.
How different things can be after several
months. In April I spoke to Jon Thatcher, bassist and therefore 'quiet
man' of the band, about the new release, because they have been having
volcanic eruptions in their spiritual lives. They have come face
to face with extreme poverty and this seismic experience has started to
work its way into their music. This time, we overran our slot and could
have carried on for some while. What follows is the bulk of our conversation,
Thatcher sounded surprised that I had
been disappointed by the previous two discs, as I asked him to give his
view of the band's highs and lows.
Thatcher: "Every project has warm memories,
obviously, but Live & In the Can was a peak. That felt like a renaissance
for us. Then the treading on eggshells of 'Who are we?' of the King of
Fools days; the boldness of Mezzamorphis and all the excitement of Virgin
Records on board in America ('This could be massive!'). Then the swing
of the pendulum of a record like Glo, which was more church-friendly in
its themes, with tracks like "Investigate," which still stand the test
"After that, to be honest, we kind of
got tarnished by the industry, and maybe even the American scene, making
records that you think people are going to want to hear. I think at that
stage we had probably got good at being Delirious? I think that's a blessing
and definitely a curse.
"With this record, we've gone back in
and we've wanted to re-invent ourselves. We've done that to a degree, but
I think there's a lot more re-invention to come."
Walker: "That's the exciting thing. There
are half a dozen brilliant tracks in Kingdom of Comfort that will still
be played in years to come, but you get a sense that it's not the end;
there is so much more petrol in the tank."
Thatcher: "Exactly. I think it's a signpost
to the future. I'm not sure where that future is, but, as you say, there's
petrol in the tank."
Walker: "I was puzzled by the mechanics
of how this inspiration came. Stu Garrard has written about being inspired
by Rob Bell talking. Obviously, that coincides with the Third World travel
you've done. What I was puzzled by was this: you're a band of five guys,
who've been touring for years. Was this just the trigger that set off what
had been building up for some time? How did it happen practically?"
Thatcher: "Unanimously, we experienced
a lot of the same things with our trips to India. That's been a catalyst
for the record. We were visiting rubbish dumps and red light districts
there, and so that's been something that we all experienced together. I
think our reactions to that have all been very different. We all digest
it at different levels and react to that at different levels. Obviously,
you're aware that Martin's gone on to do the CompassionArt project as the
outworking of that."
Walker: "How did it affect you personally,
Thatcher: "It's affected and is still
affecting me. I think the obvious thing is that the record has been part
of that digestion. I think it's affected me in a way of looking extreme
poverty in the eye, then hopping on a plane back to little Rustington on
the south coast, knowing that your life has changed, and you don't know
how it's changed yet. I was talking this morning about the life of Ghandi,
that cause he had, and that he was willing to die for it. It feels like
we've got that in our veins again, pulling us in the right direction and
we're ready to die for this cause. It's hard to know what the actual flesh
looks like. It's easy to get caught up in issues, to miss the point of
Walker: "You've been going around the
world so much. How had you missed this before? Was it a case of airport
– hotel – gig – hotel – airport?"
Thatcher: "In the past our major territory
has been North America and Europe, so the developing countries hadn't been
part of our mindset. Then, to make it even worse, when we do visit these
developing countries, the contrasts are so extreme. You're picked up in
an air-conditioned vehicle and taken to your five-star hotel and then in
an afternoon you go on a nice afternoon trip to a rubbish dump, where seven-year-old
children are trawling through the rubbish to try to earn their tea for
that night. Then you go back to your hotel. Those extremes have really
wrecked us. And also, with the world being so small, knowing that in the
morning you can be in a slum in Hyderabad and that afternoon you can be
back to your table in your semi-luxurious England."
Walker: "I don't know whether you came
across Rhidian Brook when you were at Greenbelt last year? He is a writer
who was involved in an amazing story, where a Salvation Army woman had
a dream that several major players – including Rupert Murdoch – were sitting
around a table discussing AIDS. The dream came true and Murdoch bankrolled
Brook and his very young family to go and live in several of the world's
toughest AIDS hotspots for eight months. Rhidian understood how Bono and
Geldof felt when they were in Arica. He said, 'You go there and it makes
you angry'. I get the sense that you feel the same way."
Thatcher: "Exactly. But it also makes
you feel frustrated. You wish you knew the answers. You wish that selling
your house would actually change the word. Maybe it would, but it's finding
out what your role is and what your contribution is, and not just a knee-jerk
reaction that just makes you feel better."
Walker: "I am among the many commentators
on the Christian music industry that get very frustrated by the way that
its worship side is going. Singing along with the album this morning I
found myself changing the title line in "We Give you Praise" to "Work in
my Life" because it felt more real, practical and meaningful than the proper
words. Repetition of certain key phrases in worship music has effectively
rendered them useless. It is because the industry has so many issues that
I hope this disc will make a change, given the huge influence that Delirious?
has exerted over the years among those players. Do you think that this
disc might make that difference or do you have to experience poverty first
hand for it to affect you this way?"
Thatcher: "No, I hope that this will be
a trip to India in a CD case. The things that people can pick out from
the themes and messages should be challenging and you shouldn't be able
to listen to this record, put it away and not think about it again. It
should actually crawl under your skin and at least make you ask a few questions."
Walker: "...and having four essays in
the liner notes should get people thinking, too..."
Thatcher: "They're all questions that
we are living with. We don't know all the answers, but we know there's
got to be more. Singing, "We give you praise" isn't good enough anymore.
There's got to be more to it. There's got to be some kind of action or
some kind of servant response."
Walker: "Can I go back to a couple of
things that I want to clarify? Did you – as the press blurb predicted –
play to four million people in four nights in Mumbai?"
Thatcher: "No. In Mumbai we played to
about 100,000 to 400,000 per night. It was probably just shy of one and
a half million over four nights."
Walker: "So who makes up the audience
– ex-pats, Christians, locals? How do you get so well known over there?"
Thatcher: "It's been a really interesting
journey for us. We've been going out there with a lady called Joyce Meyer,
who is an American evangelist of the TV variety. So that's been a really
interesting partnership for us, because there are some styles and flavors
that we might not fully embrace or understand. But she's really quite hands
on. She's setting up orphanages; she's actually getting her hands dirty,
and she's in the center of these slums, actually making a difference. So
that's where it kind of makes sense for us. That's where the God we believe
in is bigger than nations, and bigger than agendas. She's taught us about
the gospel through living it – although I still might not be able to sign
up to the prosperity teaching."
Walker: "The church seems to have purists
on one wing, who want everything to be as holy and unsullied as possible,
and those on the other wing, who say that for us to work with the disadvantaged
and live out Christ's message, there will have to be pragmatism and messiness.
On the album, you talk about working shoulder to shoulder alongside those
with whom we don't see eye to eye."
Thatcher: "Exactly. People like Geldof
have really challenged our way of thinking. You look at someone like that,
who may not necessarily fit into your traditional church box, but look
at the fruit and the work that they are doing and they are the hands of
Jesus. You think, "How come they're doing that and we're not?" That's really
challenging, really inspiring and quite frightening."
Walker: "We're good at talking, but not
so smart at doing. Just talking about this area is so emotional. Music
seems secondary in comparison, yet that's what you've been called to do.
Does that feel odd?"
Thatcher: "That is a strange thing. That
could be a product of Christian music: you don't do interviews and talk
about guitar tones and how you recorded the drums down a corridor that
was 50 metres long, or anything like that. You go straight into the lyrics.
But I think that's a part of our responsibility as a band. People don't
just want to be entertained. People want to be educated and want to be
challenged. I think it would let the lyrics off the hook if we could write
an album that was just nonsense. That would be quite liberating. We could
get quite artistic and that would be a lot of fun. But there is a requirement
of us as a band to actually say something that's of worth."
Walker: "Isn't there room for both? Some
songs on Audio Lessonover were just songs without heavy lyrics. We don't
only listen to songs with deep lyrics. Is it the industry that won't let
you do that or do you as a band only want to do weightier stuff?"
Thatcher: "I think we are re-addressing
our vocabulary and I think we talk much more about 'one world' than 'Christian
and non-Christian,' because I believe that's what God has created. It's
actually quite divisive to separate it like that, and quite ungodly.
We feel in our bones that we don't want to water down our message, but
we want to write songs that connect with people. I think that's where –
poverty and injustice – anyone can embrace that. As a band, it's not trying
to shy away from our roots, but it's trying to be more inclusive than exclusive;
it's finding dreams and finding language that are meaningful, yet not divisive.
But I feel we're not quite where we'd like to be. There's still some alienating
language on this record, but hopefully it's just another stepping stone."
Walker: "I'm quite excited about this
direction. With 'Our God Reigns' you were investigating making songs about
issues, but fell back into default mode with the chorus. It was like you
were struggling. But with this album you have just gone out and done it;
you've written songs with lyrics that anyone can relate to – and they work.
They're whole, cohesive songs. That's what excites me about your future."
Thatcher: "That's encouraging. Thank you."
Walker: "America is the richest nation
on earth and massive consumers, yet great fans. How do you think they will
react to the anti-consumerist message?"
Thatcher: "I'm not sure how it's going
to be heard, to be honest. It's going to be about the fruit, really. Even
in our own lives we've experienced this first hand, and it's still settling
in us. We still don't quite know how we should be reacting. It's not a
message of judgement, by any means. They're questions: 'How does
this make sense? What is my reaction to this?"'
Walker: "Just quickly, to finish: there
are half a dozen classic songs in this disc. How do you fit what you want
into a live set now?"
Thatcher: "We're getting to the stage
of two hour sets, so that's a good thing! It is the sign of a strong
album when you get down to the stage of your set list and working out how
many you're going to axe. This stuff has been going down amazing live.
There are certain songs, like 'My Soul Sings' that soar live, as does 'Kingdom
of Comfort,' where you look down at the set list and get that warm feeling
inside, like, 'Hey, we get to play that song tonight!' whereas sometimes
you look at the set list and go, 'Oh, man! Two more songs and I get to
play something I'm into!'"
We could have talked about many other
things, including the new dynamic, now that they have changed drummers.
Time ran out, but there is clearly no sense of running out of energy with
Delirious? Even after eleven studio albums it looks like they have begun
their biggest new beginning yet.