The Mission Bell Interview (Delirious.org.uk)
Last modified: 12 Jan 2006
Author: Dave Wood
Date: 12 Jan 2006
To some people it may seem like 2005 was just another year of doing the same old thing for Delirious? They spent much of the year honing twelve new songs in the studio, before hitting the British High Streets with a brand new single followed by a new album. Nothing unusual there really when you consider that they've been doing that for about the past eight years.
In 1997 Delirious? started a new trend for themselves by releasing their first ever single, White Ribbon Day, to the secular music world in the UK. That year they achieved 4 separate chart singles (White Ribbon Day, Deeper, Promise, Deeper EP). They returned in 1999 with another single (See The Star), again in 2000 (Its Ok) and yet again in 2001 (Waiting For The Summer, I Could Sing). But then there was a pause. For nearly four years Delirious? resisted the urge to tackle the charts again. That is until October 2005 when they returned from their four year sabbatical with their 10th single, Paint The Town Red.
In those intervening years, new album World Service come and went, conspicuous with its lack of singles in the UK whilst earning chart success in Germany with singles like Inside Outside and Every Little Thing. So when the arrival of 2005's studio offering from Delirious?, The Mission Bell, was announced it was not immediately to be expected that a single would emerge. So with a new album and the first single for four years, perhaps 2005 wasn't quite such a 'same old' year for Delirious? Armed with intrigue about a fresh attempt on the singles chart, and full of questions about which Mission Bells Delirious? were trying to ring - I decided to interrogate the band, starting with the simple question, why? Why release a new single now, after all these years?
"We release singles for a number of reasons", explains Tim patiently. "The main one is that it helps bring profile to the upcoming new album by having a campaign that focuses around one new song before we have another campaign that focuses on the whole album. This can work, as it did on this occasion, without necessarily having to chart the single too high. It creates an atmosphere of expectation for the new album, which is further helped by the press and media interest that a single can create, and can help take our music to a wider platform and audience who aren't aware of us on a day to day basis. Lastly", he continues, "we were keen to release this single as it gave us an opportunity to start a relationship with iTunes which we knew we had to do at some stage. It has been very difficult for small independent record labels to get any profile on iTunes up till now, not least of all for Christian artists. This single release was key in developing this relationship"
As Tim has already alluded to, the chart placing for Paint The Town Red was perhaps not what everyone would have liked. The single entered the charts at number 56, so were the band surprised by this? "In some ways yes, in other ways no" answers Tim diplomatically. "We know that when it comes down to it the people who are generally into our music are not single buying kind of people. So we we're not too surprised that the single didn't do too well in terms of overall chart placing. However, there are many reasons why a single is released, some of which I've mentioned already and so overall we feel that the single release was a great success." Indeed, despite the overall chart position, the single made an extraordinary impact on iTunes, earning a prominent position on the frontpage of the website and getting plenty of vital publicity for the band.
The iTunes success didn't go unnoticed by Delirious' peers. "We have had several other artists contact us and ask how we managed to do what so many others have struggled to do. Again, we felt we pioneered something here for Christian music which we hope that others will benefit from down the road" says Tim. So, looking back, releasing the single wasn't a mistake after all? "Definitely not" he declares. "The single achieved most of what it set out to do. Firstly, it helped create awareness to the album through all the promotion that went with the single campaign and secondly it achieved a great deal in terms of developing a good relationship with iTunes, which was a first for a small independent record label like ourselves." But was this single just a one-off, never to be repeated? Tim isn't so sure. "I don't think we know this for sure. We never quite know anything for sure. I think we look at every situation on its own merits and so we would never say no for sure."
So we move on to talk about the album. Traditionally Martin and Stu have been known as the songwriters of the band, but the more eagle eyed fans out there may have noticed that on The Mission Bell each song is credited to Delirious? as a band, rather than individual writers. "Obviously in the past Stu G and myself have written the bulk of the songs", Martin explains. "But we decided on this album to include everyone as writers. When you are in a team you do things to ensure the health of that team. I think this decision reflects the years of hard work and sacrifice everyone has paid for this thing." One song on the album heralds something of a first for a Delirious? album, the inclusion of a 'guest writer'. Popular British worship leader Matt Redman is given co-writing credits on 'Now Is The Time'. "We had Now Is The Time pretty much finished and were doing it at church but somehow felt that it could be better but had come to the end of our ideas", says Stu. "Martin asked if Matt would be interested in coming over and writing with us and we basically finished writing it with Matt." But even with the lyrics written, the band still weren't entirely satisfied with the music, as Stu explains: "It was good, but not that good, and if you feel that in your gut then it's probably right. So during the mix we re-recorded it much faster and with a totally different fresh approach."
Not only does the album contain the lyrical contribution of Matt Redman, but it also sees several other well known names in Christian music popping up. There are guest vocals from TOBYMAC on Solid Rock and Moya Brennan on I'll See You, and Jars Of Clay guitarist Steve Mason also features on the album, playing the Pedal Steel on I'll See You. Stu describes why they decided to use these outside influences on the album "2005 has been a year of connections and it felt like a good time to pull others in to our album and kind of model one of The Mission Bell's messages which is that we're not on our own. Now whether it is all artistically good is down to the listener but it wouldn't go on if we didn't like it. Solid Rock is a real highlight for me and Toby's rap was an 11th hour great surprise. Moya and Steve definitely added atmosphere on I'll see you."
Delirious? invited New Zealander Sam Gibson to produce the album with them. Stew comments that he brought "sense of humour, fantastic ideas and great musical touches" to the album. Something that it doesn't take a musical genius to notice is a fairly extensive use of both choirs and strings on The Mission Bell. "Sometimes the songs and sounds in our heads just seem bigger than we're able to produce with just the five of us, even with computers at hand" explains Stu G. "Over the years we've met some great people that can help us get bigger vocal sounds and string sounds. Hopefully it doesn't distract but adds impact. We recorded both the strings and the singers in Martin's lounge, David and Carrie Grant brought the singers and Gerard Le Feuvre [cello] brought a viola and violin player to play Tim Harries' [string arranger on Mezzamorphis] brilliant arrangements. We had a really great time recording all the additional parts, it was a total pleasure."
For several years now Delirious? seem to have been torn between making music for the 'church' or making music for the 'world'. The Mission Bell lyrics are perhaps more Christian oriented than recent albums so I ask Martin why this was. "I don't know!" he replies. "You only get the songs you're given and we went with the flow. Having said that I do think this album reflects some of the feelings in culture right now about making poverty, atheism ,humanitarianism and many other things 'history'" So where does Delirious' mission really lie? "I think it's still in both camps" reveals Stew. "We want to write and play great music that appeals to everyone. I think The Mission Bell sits a little bit easier within the Church scene, but saying that we still have hopes for tracks to get airplay across the world on mainstream radio."
The song 'Our God Reigns' talks about some very worldly, and perhaps controversial issues. "It was destined to be a church song but I could never write the verse lyrics" explains Martin. "These uncomfortable words came that shocked me at first. I love the tension and the paradox of it, that ultimately God is the ruler of heaven and earth and that is never in question, versus the fact that as a group of believers we have somehow lost the rope on a huge amount of social issues in our nation." The album seems to contain many lyrics that talk about 'we' or 'us': 'We're getting stronger', 'on this solid rock we will stand', 'born to take US home'; whereas in the past Delirious? songs were often about 'I': 'I'm not backing down', 'I'm not Ashamed', 'I'm gonna be..'. Was this a conscious decision on The Mission Bell? "I think we love that crowd thing when we're all in it together" says Martin. "The spirit of the age is 'I' and we wanted to kick against it a little. Two is always better than one."
As I later talk to Jon, I remember to ask about one other possibly controversial line on the album: "We're an army of God who are ready to die". What does that mean? "That's easy" answers Jon, "Ask Martin". Nicely ducked, so instead I move on to the subject of 'success'. How would the band define the success of an album like The Mission Bell? Is it down to sales figures, fan opinions, critics comments, personal pride? "Success is always a tricky one as it is all of the above at different times" decides Stew. "I feel like the most important way to measure success is to see what remains years down the line. Cash comes and goes, what lasts is an inspired and motivated generation whose lives have been enriched and challenged."
For nearly nine years, one man was instrumental in making sure that Delirious? were heading in the right direction - their manager, Tony Patoto. But in the summer of 2005 Tony decided it was time to move on to a new challenge. For the time being, Tim explains that he will fill the gap as band manager. "We do not always know who or what is around the next corner for us but certainly for the foreseeable future I will fill the role of manager" he says. So how does he see their year in 2006 panning out? "You'll see that we'll be traveling to several new places this year as well as continuing our commitments to many places we already have a good relationship with." Tim leaves me with one final tantalising snippet of information to look forward to, "We are looking at the possibility of a live DVD sometime later in 2006. Nothing definite yet, but watch this space!" You read it here first!