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Delirious? in Discomfort
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 sphere.
 
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, told straight.
 
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 of time.
 
"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, Jon?"
 
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 it all."
 
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.

Derek Walker
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
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