Past, Present and Future With Martin Smith (LouderThanTheMusic)
Last modified: 08 Oct 2009
Author: Dave Wood
Date: 08 Oct 2009
As the lead singer of arguably the UK's most influential Christian band of all time, Martin Smith has had an incredible 17 year career with Delirious?. But in November the Delirious? story draws to a close as the band call it a day. So what shaped Delirious? into the massive success story that they are today? Where do they go next? From mainstream singles and tours with Bon Jovi, to the slums of Mumbai and the CompassionArt charity. Martin Smith explains it all.
Looking back to those early Cutting Edge days in a hall in Littlehampton, did you ever imagine just what sort of journey was ahead of you?
No not really, and I guess it's probably a good thing that we didn't really know what was going to happen, because I think it would just scare you to bits wouldn't it? I think we just took each step at a time. Saying that, I think we definitely had dreams. When we were together as a team there would be comments of "We're going to do this, we're going to make it". So that was in us, I think it has to be to a certain degree to focus you and motivate you into what you're doing. But at that time we were really dedicated on serving our local community and that was as far as it was going at that point.
When did you start to realise just how big Delirious? could be?
Half way through that Cutting Edge period, which was five and a half years, some of the songs started to explode around the UK. I remember songs like 'I Could Sing' and 'History Maker' were starting to become part of people's lives and that is something you can't ever make happen, I can't even make it happen now! It's just something that happens when God touches a song. Towards the end of that period we were thinking we should morph this thing into Delirious?, into a band. Then let's get really serious about this. Then we started thinking, "Let's release a single, with all this momentum and support". I guess at that stage we thought "yeah here we come, let's go!"
What was that time like, when you were releasing singles?
It was very exciting. I think we were possibly the first band in many many years, even decades, to have had a genuine go at it, and not in a ministry guise as well. [We thought] we are a band, we've got a fan base here and we're going to do this on the merits of people buying singles, not ringing around every church in Britain saying "You've got to buy this because it's part of saving the world". I think that we thought, if this happens it's got to be genuine. So in that sense maybe we were the first in many many years to have gone there again.
'White Ribbon Day' was the first single, it was a good song but there were some distribution problems and not everyone could buy it and it only made 41 [in the charts], but how classic is that? One place short [of the Top 40].
That must have been pretty frustrating!
It was frustrating and saddening and hilarious all at the same time! It was like God was saying, "It's not the time yet boys". Then we thought OK, Deeper was the obvious next single and that went in at number 20 and I think that was just a real shock. We were so grateful to the fans, that they'd gone out all around Britain and bought all these copies of the single. We got in to number 20 and we thought we'd conquered the whole world! It was like, "I can't walk out my door ever again without being recognised!" Of course looking back that was completely ludicrous but to us then it was like we'd made it. We were being played on the radio, it was like, Wow!
Do you ever look back and think, "If only Deeper had gone 'Top 10'" or "If only Radio 1 had got behind us"?
There are always a lot of 'What ifs' aren't there in all of our lives, in a lot of different levels. What if I'd had more children? What if I'd married a different woman? [laughs] What if I'd not met that person? So I'm not the sort of person to really look back and I'm always pretty forward thinking. But yeah, if 'It's Ok' had been a number 1 single, which I think it deserved to be actually - not all the singles we put out deserved to be even played, but if that song in particular was a hit, that would have changed our lives. I think that would have changed a lot of things. I don't know how these things work, but if we trust God, we trust that it was the right thing. So you move on, trusting God for me.
You said some of the singles weren't the right songs, why did you choose the singles you did?
Yeah it's crazy to look back and think that 'History Maker' was never a single. I'm not saying it would have been very 'radio' but for us as a band that song has been 'the song' almost. I think we got caught up in listening to people too much and thinking "oh yeah if we do that then radio will play it". Of course then the tail starts wagging the dog a little bit, and you fall into a little trap of thinking that other people know more about your band than we do. We were a team, we made decisions as a team. We didn't always agree with each other, that's just the way it is sometimes. So yes, I think that sometimes our choices of single were wrong.
In 2001, out of the blue you announced the incredible news that you were going to be supporting Bon Jovi on tour - that must have been an incredibly exciting time for you as a band?
It was completely bonkers to us too! I've never thought actually how that would have been perceived by people. I think we were just like "Wow, Bon Jovi has asked us to go on a stadium tour. Why not?" The crazy thing about that whole week was that it was my sister's wedding at the end of that week and one of the dates got changed, for Milton Keynes Bowl, and it meant me not being able to be at my sisters wedding, which was like the end of the world. So we had to come up with this cunning plan of me leading worship at the church and then getting a helicopter to Milton Keynes and then getting back for the reception. It was just crazy, and then the helicopter broke down and we were late to the gig. I think our set was 25 minutes and we only did 17 of it! We rushed around the back, past the Bon Jovi guys and up we went on stage, [makes a guitar noise] and the crowd went nuts. It was just stupid! [laughs] So we had a lot of fun I think we were just like, "Great, Bon Jovi, let's do it!" and it taught us a lot about ourselves, I learnt a lot of tips from being around those big bands. I think for us it was just a roller coaster.
Did you actually get to meet the band?
Yes, we met the band and Heather Locklear and met the Matchbox 20 guys. All good guys. It was just a great experience because it didn't really mean we entered their world of Rock n' Roll, we were just a support band and we'd turn up and do our slot and come back. So we weren't really a part of the whole Rock n' Roll world, it was just a great thing to look at it for what it was and realise we had a part to play in it. I still believe actually that people like Delirious? should be in that world.
Do you think it gave you extra credibility and opened doors for you?
I guess with the media it was like "Ok, we know they're a Christian band, there's the whole church thing linked to it but now they're on tour with Bon Jovi. Maybe we should take a second look at this". Maybe it did reinforce that we weren't about to just fizzle out and leave, that we were here to stay. And funnily enough, all these years on we still haven't disappeared. OK we didn't release many singles after that period, for many reasons, but we have still stayed true to who we are.
Which do you think is the best Delirious? album?
Wow! [long pause] I think in terms of heart and rawness and lyrics, then King Of Fools is probably still a good record. In terms of innovation and the fact that we changed the rule book, then Mezzamorphis. I remember for a lot of the American Christian bands it really was an epiphany, "Oh my gosh someone has gone and made a record like this, that we've all dreamed of making. Delirious? have gone and done it." You can follow from there that there was a change in vision for a lot of people, the bar had been raised. That's not me being arrogant, I just think that God gave us the right set of songs, the right team. The mix guy in LA was unbelievable, the whole thing just sounded larger than life. A lot larger than a church band from Littlehampton! I think that was a major step, but of course that didn't sell very well in America because of the style. They were expecting the next singalong worship record and it really wasn't that. Then there were a couple of lyrical issues as well. The line "She's as pretty as hell", which is about the girl that we met that had just tried to commit suicide, was taken out of context and one huge chain of Christian book stores wouldn't sell the record. Just stupid, stupid stuff you know? But you have to keep on pressing forward.
What are your proudest memories with Delirious?
Opening the medical center in Mumbai. For me that was just incredible that our whole journey had come around again, we were in a good place. We'd used our fan base, our people out there who had supported us over the years, that bought records, bought t-shirts. It wasn't just that we were doing a charity concert, we were actually putting our heart and soul into something and using our people to help make a difference. So I was really amazed at that. There was a royalty off the Kingdom Of Comfort record that helped build that medical center out in Mumbai. I think it was a really proud moments for us all. Maybe that's our finest record.
Last year the band announced that they would be ending later this year after you asked to be released from the band. What led you to that decision?
Well of course these things are a culmination of a lot of events and it's not just one thing, but I've got six young children and I just felt that I couldn't do everything. There was a point coming, where the two eldest ones are about to enter the teenage area. I just couldn't see that I could do it all, and do it well. So, what one do you pick? So it's a really really difficult decision. I felt as well that the work of Delirious, that season, was coming to an end. I felt that we'd done what God had asked us to do. I felt released from it. I gave the guys the opportunity to carry on without me, but I just knew for myself that it was time.
How did the rest of the band take the news, were there any bad feelings?
No, you're talking about great guys, very gracious men. We are a band of brothers. I can't pretend that it was easy. I think that it has been difficult for all of us. I've had to go on my own emotional journey with letting Delirious go because, let me make something very very clear, Delirious is and has been the most fantastic thing to happen in all of our lives. It still is a great band, it's getting better, it's unique, it's one of a kind. So it wasn't without great thought and a sobriety that it was time to let it go. So I think it has been difficult for us all and then it throws everyone's futures into question. Without the band what do I do? Where do I live? Where do I go? So it's been a big year of soul searching.
Is there anything else you wish the band could have achieved in your time together?
I wonder what would have happened if we'd have become a little more part of the fabric of the mainstream scene. A little bit like Athlete have done in many ways, or the Bedingfields. But then you only think of the positive things that could have happened if you'd had more success, more influence, more record sales. But maybe God protected us from it. We will never know. Maybe our marriages wouldn't have sustained that sort of profile and I'm sure we would have been away more. I'm sure we would have more interviews to do, more TV, more press, been in the studio longer. I'm sure everything would have doubled, and maybe we just weren't built for that. I don't know. I can't answer that because we just don't know, but I only look back with thanksgiving really. It's been the most amazing journey and a generation of people have come out, especially in the UK, thinking bigger, believing bigger. We used this saying a little bit glibly but believing we are all History Makers. I think that has been really important.
Talking of History Makers, next month you release 'History Makers: The Greatest Hits'. Was it easy choosing the songs for that album, from such an extensive back catalogue?
It's been really difficult, in fact I asked initially another couple of people, because where do you even start? There's over 120 songs! You've got to get down to 14 songs for a main package and then 24 songs for the special package. I actually just said, "You've been around years, you start this off" and then we tweaked it a little bit. So yeah it's been really difficult and I think even between us as a band you can't have a list that satisfies everybody. There are some songs that I still think should be on there and probably some songs on there that the other guys think "They should have been on there". It's so difficult. People are going to love it though, the packaging is great. It's going to represent our 17 years together. It will bring back a lot of memories. All the videos are going to be on there. It's going to be exciting.
I hear your wife Anna is writing a book about you at the moment?
Anna's got this team helping her write this book and I've been involved in that a little bit. It's an expose of me. [laughs] The working title is called 'Meet Mrs Smith' and it's her story about her life being married to me for the last 15 years. Life on the road, me being away for large parts of the year. Jet lagged when I'm home, tired, life with kids. Just all that sort of stuff. There's some tragic stories in there and some brilliant happy stuff as well. So I think people are going to really find that interesting. We're looking for a publisher at the moment. We're hoping for that to be out next Spring. The bits I've read of it are fantastic.
Is it uncomfortable reading about yourself?
It is! It's the real side of doing life together, with so much chaos, so much traveling, just everything is in there.
Before the band ends, you've got a 'Farewell Tour' in November. What have you got lined up for that?
We have a very interesting support band! They're called the Cutting Edge band! They're going to do all the old songs, then there's going to be the interval and then Delirious are going to come back on and kick into a big set of tracks like 'Investigate' and 'God Is Smiling' and 'Bliss'. It's going to be great.
Might we see a guest appearance from your former drummer Stew Smith in the Cutting Edge band?
No, I don't think Stew Smith will be able to play for the Cutting Edge band. I know he would love to, but he's just very very busy now with his own graphic design company. But there may be a little surprise on the last number in London! So let's hope and pray that Stew makes an appearance.
Are there plans to record the final concert for a live DVD?
Yes we're really hoping that we can record that and then put that out for the following Spring. That will be just an amazing celebration, that last night.
You recently established the CompassionArt charity, releasing an album last year. What does the future hold for CompassionArt?
We are still working out what the future should be. For Anna and myself what we don't want to do is to get bogged down in running a charity. I don't think that is our calling and I don't think we're very good at it. The thing that we do well is to gather people and get people writing. That's really what the strength of CompassionArt was. We want to raise loads of money if we can to make peoples lives a lot different than they are now. So if that means us partnering with someone in the future, I think that could be a really good thing. But we're just in the throws of talking to several people. But really the heart behind it would be to reproduce that model so that everyone, from the guy in his youth group leading songs, get your youth group together, write some songs, give them away and raise some money. Or paint some pictures, take some photographs. We want to start a movement all across the planet, that people are creating and giving some of that money away. That would be really exciting.
Have you seen examples of that happening already?
Yes, a little bit, which is great. I just think that we are learning as we're going as to how to harness all this energy and I think that will probably flesh out in the next six months.
What are your own personal plans for the future?
I'd like to write with some people, I'd like to be a bit more home based next year. I've got the studio in the house and I'd like to create an environment where people can come to the house and we can spend some time writing and making a bit of music. Hanging out in the garden playing football with all the kids. Eating. Their wives, husbands, hanging out too. So creating a bit of community at the house where us as a family are involved in this together, not just me.
So you're not thinking of a solo career?
No, I'm not thinking about that at the moment. I just need to end this season well with Delirious, then I need to sit on a hilltop for a couple of days and then find out what God would like me to do next. Every time I ask God about the future, there's no answer, yet. All I hear is "just wait".
Would you still like to be out in front of a crowd, worship leading or performing in some form?
I love being in the presence of God, I love seeing the light in people switch on. So I think that leading worship, whether that's on a Sunday morning at home or at a big conference in America, I'm sure it will be part of the future. It is a little bit daunting to think that I'll be doing that without the guys, with a new team, but this is all part of change. So I'm sure all of that will figure but I don't really have much clarity yet.
Do you think we'll see Delirious? back together at any point in the future?
Well the great thing is that we're all still friends and that's not just an interview answer, that's the truth. There's a lot of love and respect for each other. So I think that with that foundation, I think that anything could be possible in the future. I think that it is good to put a full stop in now. It's projected everybody into the next stage of their lives without having to hang on to anything. If it ever did happen again in the future, it could be extraordinary. So I would never rule it out but I think that right now it's good that we've laid it down.
Martin Smith was talking to Dave Wood for LouderThanTheMusic.com on 2nd October 2009. Special thanks to Martin Smith, and Clive at Furious? for arranging this interview.