Martin Smith Gives His Most Revealing Interview Ever (Cross Rhythms)
Last modified: 21 Mar 2006
Source: Cross Rhythms
Author: Mike Rimmer
Date: 21 Mar 2006
In one of the most revealing interviews that he's ever given, Martin Smith talks to Mike Rimmer on a journey back in time to pivotal moments in the career of Delirious?.
In the beginning there was The Cutting Edge Band, playing at a youth event at the band's home church in Littlehampton and there were small scale recordings to introduce people to the songs that were coming out of the hearts of Martin Smith and Stu G. Then there were hit-and-run gigs where the band would travel across the country to play at events. At this point The Cutting Edge Band all had day jobs so the routine was a little frantic.
On August 30th 1995, Martin was driving back from a gig at the Grapevine Festival in Lincolnshire when, in the early hours of the morning and only around the corner from home, he was involved in a serious car accident. (The song "August 30th" on the 'King Of Fools' album was written about this event.) The crash turned out to be an important moment in Smith's life and the life of the band.
Smith sits on the edge of the sofa at a hotel near a London airport as he remembers again the car journey and the crash. "What I remember most was that our drummer, Stew, and Sarah had just given birth to their first daughter and that was the whole reason we were rushing back from Lincoln. She was still in hospital and we wanted to see the baby. So that's how I know how many years ago it was because every time her birthday comes around it's just such a tangible reminder; every birthday."
He reflects on the significance of the crash. "It was a good time looking back because it changed everything really. It went from doing this youth meeting at the weekends, Cutting Edge, where God was doing amazing things and then there was the crash where I nearly died. And for me it was, okay I've got my life back; so what are we going to do? It was an amazing time because it needed something that major to come into our lives for us all to suddenly say, well what are we all going to do? At the time Stew was running a successful design business, Tim and I were running the recording studio and happily getting on with that and Stu G was doing session playing. So to get five families to change direction with children and all that is actually a major thing. It's hard enough for one family to do that isn't it sometimes? So in all the wondering about what might happen and how we'd manage for money and the normal things you think about, I was polarised really to where I could say, 'I believe God is saying we should go for it.'"
I ask Martin to go back in his mind and share what he remembers of the crash. "We'd driven from Lincoln," he explains. "It was about a four-hour journey and we were one road away from home in Rustington. I was going to drop Jon off at his mum and dad's house. Anna and I were married at that stage, so we were like, 'Great, drop Jon off and we'll be home soon!' I can only think that I just relaxed and thought, 'Oh I'm home now.' I've spoken to a lot of people and they say that's actually the most common time. I was stupid, I must have just fallen asleep at the wheel. I crashed into a wall and woke up with the dashboard of the car sort of up here." He indicates his chest. Martin pauses for a second as he recalls the accident and tears well up in his eyes. He composes himself and then continues, "Jon had a few bruises but at the end of the day they chopped the top of the car off to get me out. It took two hours to cut me out. I was awake in the car when they were cutting me out. But I was so drugged up by whatever they were giving me to help me."
The conviction that he needed to go full time in music and that God had spared his life for a purpose began to slowly formulate while he was lying in his hospital bed. He says, "I'd already had an operation by the time I'd woken up. They were putting my leg back together. So that was the first I knew about the accident. I spent two weeks in hospital and someone, in fact Les Moir from Survivor Records, came to visit me and gave me a U2 book called At The End Of The World. I read that book and it was just so inspiring, about the journey they'd gone on. As all the lads from Cutting Edge visited me in hospital I said, 'You know this is it, I really want to go for this.' We gave ourselves three months to decide who was going to jump in. That's terrifying really. And everybody did. And then we had three months to fold our businesses down. So it was a six-month period. It was amazing looking back. We thought, well, we'll just do this for a year or so and see if we can do it. And 10 years have gone just like that. It's amazing really."
One of the most extraordinary things about the Delirious? journey has been the way in which their songs have travelled around the globe and become popular in churches on all continents. It seems that just about everybody has a favourite Delirious? song! Another pivotal moment was the day that Martin Smith wrote the song "I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever". That song has done so much and opened up so many doors for him. It has also provided for him financially in recent years.
Martin describes the writing of the song. "I can't even remember what year it is. It must be '94-ish time. We were on holiday as a family. We were in Devon, staying in an old farmhouse. It overlooked the sea and the hills and the mountains. It really was, sit on the edge of a hill, pre-kids, being able to dream a bit more, I grabbed an acoustic.cor, this is beautiful! The mountains, the sea.this is amazing! That song just wrote itself in about five minutes. The same chords the whole way through the song. I mean that's embarrassing really! It was just a little ditty. Did it at church. It was good but I don't think it really blew anybody away. It wasn't like, 'Oh Martin's written the most amazing song!' I still don't really think it is. But yes, that song, that moment changed our lives really. It's been one of the most sung songs in America and around the world. It's crazy really, this little ditty that we don't really do anymore. It's been great."
My observation is that the song's royalties have acted as a real provision for Martin because when the song is sung in church, he receives a royalty. And when other artists have done versions of the song, again he has received royalties. The income simply supports Martin and his family and means that he is able to concentrate on writing more songs! Smith admits, "It's just been fantastic. I mean money is something we don't really talk about isn't it? Especially in interviews like this and with Christians, you know? It's the place you don't go.'What sort of house does Graham Kendrick live in? Let's have a photo, like a paparazzi shot!' Would our opinion change if that was put on the front of Christianity Today? What car do we drive? Do we stay at a 3-star hotel or in a 5-star? Would this change our opinion? So it was something that I was highly embarrassed about in the beginning."
He continues, "It's kind of 'uncool' to earn money, especially in our country. It's a sign of becoming 'less spiritual' if suddenly you have more money than you need. But in America it's actually a sign of being more spiritual because it's like, 'Oh, God is blessing you. This is wonderful!' I'm at a good place with it now in terms of I can do some great stuff! And I'm not just talking about, 'Yeah, we can do this and this at home. I can treat the kids.' I'm not really talking about that - although yes I do that. We live in a fantastic house. That is not the sort of house that a normal 35 year-old lives in. But even saying that, it has served its purpose in that we do loads of church stuff there. But the problem is you start talking that way and it sounds like you're justifying yourself. It's not that at all. God has given us the house that we need right now, more than we need, and it's fantastic. We've recorded the record in the back of it and it has served as a great resource."
Reflecting on the way the scene has changed he says, "I think there has been quite a shift for a lot of writers in the UK, in the last five years. Things have come good for a lot of people that have written these songs that in England, really they just barely earn you a living. But now they've gone into America and the churches are singing them there. It's totally changed the whole landscape for people, especially my friends and the circle that I move in, it's changed their lives forever. People are all of a sudden thinking, 'Well hang on, I could start a church and resource it! Or I could do this and I could do that!' So I'm not saying that I have the answers or I've always done the right things, but it's been a positive thing."
Financially, Delirious? look like one of the most successful British Christian bands ever. Not many bands from over here have done well in America. However they have also ploughed a lot of their money into establishing the Furious? Record label and Fierce! Distribution to support other artists. Obviously they generate income through concert performances and record sales and even CCLi income when their songs are sung in church but how do the band organise themselves financially? Smith explains, "Delirious? is five people. We are partners of Furious? Records and Delirious? So we own everything equally. It was a big decision to make in the early days. So we're five equal partners. We take the same wage. So anything that Delirious? does goes in the pot.touring, artist royalties.whatever we do as a band goes in the pot. And also the publishing as well. So all the publishing off our records is spread equally. The only different scenario for me and Stu G would be if someone covered a song. So if Amy Grant covers "Miracle Maker", then we made an agreement years and years ago that it would be fair for the writer who genuinely wrote the song to benefit from that because that is outside of what we do."
He continues, "Now in the early days of course, we'd get all these big publishing advances from America and that would all go in but no one really had any idea that the third party income would grow so much. So I have benefited from that. But it's a situation that's worked well. I think the fruit of those decisions is that after 10, 12, 13 years we're still together because money can really screw the whole thing up. So I think had we been 16 or 17 at the time this all started I think we would have done the U2 model completely. But we all had things going on at the time. It was later in life for us. I'd already written songs by the time Cutting Edge started and was producing records and I think we were all at different stages. So I think that it's reflected our lives together pretty well. I'm not saying that we haven't had our 'conversations' but the fruit of it is that we're still together and love each other. I think it's been great."
In 1997, one of the most important decisions that Delirious? made was in America. The band were shopping their 'Cutting Edge' and 'King Of Fools' albums around the American labels in Nashville trying to get a distribution deal. On arriving in Nashville, they were told in no uncertain terms that worship music didn't sell in America. Eventually signing with Sparrow Records, the label originally said they wouldn't release 'Cutting Edge' and actually wanted to begin by releasing the brand new 'King Of Fools'. The band dug in their heels and 'Cutting Edge' did become their debut release Stateside. The passage of time reveals that it was a very important decision, not least because 'Cutting Edge' has been their most successful album in the USA. "Yeah, that's the real irony and we do remind them of that every now and again!" Smith explains. "They wanted to put 'King Of Fools' out first because in their opinion 'Cutting Edge' was just 'badly recorded'.and it was. They were just demos really - church music. And at that time they didn't want church music, they wanted contemporary CCM, they wanted Newsboys, dc Talk. And we had to fit into that mould. So we released "Deeper" and of course that fitted that pop thing well and that became a big hit in America. And that really launched us. It was only after that they then released 'Cutting Edge' because that was part of the deal. We said, 'You've got to release that as well.' That really was partly the beginning of that movement out there. It's sort of sunk into the churches and those songs really did a lot of heart warming and heart changing. Ironically they never released "I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever" as a single. It took someone else to record it."
Delirious? have got the American band Sonicflood to thank for that. The band were hugely influenced by Delirious?, particularly by the 'Live And In The Can' album. The original line-up Sonicflood recorded a version of "I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever' on their million-selling self-titled debut album. It then became fashionable for American artists to record Delirious? songs. So can I hold Martin Smith personally responsible for some of the terrible worship albums that have been released over the years from CCM artists who, under pressure from their record companies, have been forced to record worship songs in America? "No comment I think!" he smiles. "Some of them have been made by friends that I respect and I think God has changed them in the process of making those records. It's not all been bad. And some of them are just downright terrible! In every genre of music you get the good and the bad don't you?"
Martin Smith can be very diplomatic but does he feel it is ironic that back then they were struggling to put out 'Cutting Edge' whereas now everybody is recording worship albums? In the space of under 10 years, the whole scene in America has completely changed. "It's extraordinary really," he admits. "We started our life in America, positioned as a 'CCM band' and now they're desperately trying to position everybody as 'church worship bands/worship leaders' because that's what's selling. It'll switch round again once they sussed out that actually, the whole scene just sounds boring now. It doesn't mean that God isn't in it and that God isn't using it powerfully but the whole creativity has just vanished. So that'll come again."
In the beginning, it was the influence of Kevin Prosch that kick-started a lot of the '90s worship scene in the UK. Prosch proved to be the most creative worship leader of his generation. Smith agrees, "I think we all took our lead from Kevin. We all saw that doing church music doesn't have to be boring. We can actually be who we are, turn the volume up, make our guitar amps sound fantastic, get great tones and God love it and be pleased with it. I think that was a really huge green light for us guys; wow, we can be ourselves! We don't have to squash ourselves into Graham Kendrick's mould or Noel Richard's mould.and they're two people who I hugely respect. I just think great, let's be ourselves in this!"
One of the critical low points of Delirious?'s career was the release of 'Audio Lessonover' in 2001. The album seemed to be an attempt at creating an artsy rock album for the mainstream but was generally not well received. In America, the album was re-jigged and renamed 'Touch'. Does Smith regret making the album now? "No, I don't regret making that record," he says, "because there are a couple of songs on there that are our finest. I think "Stealing Time", "Rollercoaster", "Alien", "There Is An Angel" and "Angel In Disguise" are magnificent. I think that yes, it was a bad outcome, in terms of it didn't get a great reaction from people. I think it confused people. The worst thing we did on that record was opening with "Waiting For The Summer". I think people just never got past that track, and rightfully so, that was a bad mistake. But because it was the single we thought, let's stick it on first. I think it wasn't us. The producer pushed it in a direction that wasn't us and there are regrets about that. But you live and learn."
Smith believes it wasn't all bad, "The positive experience of it was that we learnt more about making records through that experience. The producer pushed us into some really awkward, uncomfortable territory. I know for Stu G that was when he said he became a guitar player - through that record. The amount of stuff he learnt with guitar amps was extraordinary. So all these things come together for good. And then we got back in and made 'World Service' and it was sort of, here we go!"
'Audio Lessonover' contained a song that has always puzzled me and I do think that I'm not alone here. 'Bicycle Gasoline'. "It was just a tiny little love song," explains Martin. "Girls, they don't want flowers all the time, they just need telling that you love them.and vice-versa. A bicycle doesn't need gasoline and she doesn't need all that stuff really. She doesn't need 'things'.jewellery or dresses, she just needs love. You know, love man!"
OK, so that's a bit clearer now! "It's the sort of song that could have been a hit record for another band I think," he asserts. "It's a great melody." It's just a shame that the lyric was confusing! "I'm sorry about that!" Martin apologises, "I'm sorry to everyone that's confused about 'Bicycle Gasoline' and the other one, 'Gravity'." In the end 'Bicycle Gasoline' didn't make the American release as Martin explains, "No because it was too edgy lyrically for the Christian market. We took off 'There Is An Angel' as well because it says, 'She's lying there next to me', and they didn't get that. But that was just written about waking up one night and seeing my wife asleep in bed next to me and just thinking, God, I could mess this up if I'm not careful. She's the angel you've put in my life and I need to protect what you've given me. That's actually my favourite song of all time, 'There Is An Angel'. Daniel Bedingfield has often wondered about covering that. So we'll see."
The band have had a number of disappointments along the way and not everything has gone their way. Around five years ago, the band decided to set up an American wing to Furious? Records. Unfortunately the venture didn't take off and the band came close to financial disaster because of it. Smith shares, "I think the biggest blow for us was that we felt that we should start the company which we called Furious? Records US. We felt that we needed our own framework there to push out some of the music that we believed in when we knew it would just never get out. The system was becoming too churchy and worshipy and cookie cutter. I just think we felt a responsibility to keep pushing music out there that we loved. And the thing was a disaster. Within a year the thing had gone bankrupt and we'd lost huge amounts of money that we're still paying back now."
How close did it come to actually sinking you? "Really close! It got to the point where we wondered if we could afford to make another record. And God's grace, you know, he's always there. I think what it did for us was it put us on our knees again and really made us evaluate what it was we were about. What it was we loved. And I think we've come to realise that we're not businessmen. It's hard enough being a businessman in your own country let alone in America. I think we're at the stage now where we're philosophical about it. We're getting on. We're getting on an even keel. We're still playing live, still making fantastic records. What more do you want really? We're doing good and we'll come out the end of it."
Being in Delirious? must affect Martin as a person. He has lived a life that has a public focus to it but I wonder whether he is comfortable being a rock star? He responds, "I think I am comfortable being whatever I have to be on that day. If I'm needed to play that part then I can play that role. But I think they are all characters made up of different parts of you. If I go to Hillsong and preach at a Hillsong church then it's not that you play another character falsely, it's just that they're all parts of me that reflect different parts of my personality."
So does he adopt the role of being a rock star? He responds, "I think you just put a different hat on. If you've got SWR Radio in Germany that are playing your single 2000 times in that month and they are wanting you to be that, I can play that part for the day. That's fine. I'll have my photo taken with them all and whatever, you know? I think they are just personas. I think that all those characters are you and to play them well you've got to truly be them in some way. So I am actually really comfortable with who I am in this stage of my life. I feel really relaxed. You ask me the question about God? I'll answer that. Ask me about money? I'll answer that. Ask me about football and I'll answer that! You know? I feel really happy to be where I'm at."
So are there are a number of different Martins that could show up? I have interviewed Martin Smith on a number of occasions and on my way to meet him, often wonder which Martin I will get. Am I going to get the worship leader Martin, or am I going to get the rock star Martin? Am I going to get the husband and father Martin? I travelled to today's interview with an intern and I was explaining to her on the way down that my experience of Smith in interviews is that there are different Martins that could show up and sometimes I have the spaced out uncommunicative Martin who doesn't want to talk. I've had him more than once in the past. So is he a split personality? He laughs, "Man, you should interview my wife. Ask her the real answer to that question! Yeah, I can be on it and I can be off of it, there's no doubt about that. Anna, my wife, calls me 'the mystery man'. She says that she's been married to me for 11 years and not really worked out who I am. But she says she kind of likes that. It keeps it interesting!"
He continues, "I think I've had to learn to be guarded sometimes in certain situations and I will definitely pull back from some situations because I'm just not sure of what's going to happen. I have to be really protective of my time because I can easily throw myself into things that can actually be time wasting. I've got five children to bring up and be a good husband. Sometimes people probably wouldn't imagine me being nice, I can be quite ruthless with my time just to try and protect that part of my world. Sometimes that will mean being in the studio for nine months almost.and I've spoken to Sam Gibson (Delirious? producer) about this, about almost maintaining quite a distance in a working relationship, because I need to just get in the studio, finish the day, and come out. I don't want to sit in the pub every night being mates. I can't actually do that any more.'Oh wasn't that great?! Great guitar tone! Yeah, fantastic!' I think all of us guys have had to be a little bit more like that in the last few years. But when the record's done I'll be the first to ring Sam and say, 'I've got two weeks over Christmas. Come up and we'll spend the day or hang out. Bring your wife.' I love that. But it's a challenge trying to keep all the plates spinning. Obviously we've got a church life as well. That is again another world and so there's 12 or 15 couples that you want to have round for dinner and you try and keep your whole world spinning, because that's really important to us as well."
Finally he admits, "I can be a bit of a dreamer. I can, in some situations, appear like I'm not interested. Ironically I don't miss a trick but I just sometimes distance myself because I just can't go there. Some people have said that I can appear really rude and I'm sorry for that. I'm trying to get better at that but sometimes you just can't do it all."
Sometimes this aloof behaviour is something that works in his favour. When he's a bit spaced out, people just think he's being really spiritual! "Oh fantastic! Well what often happens, and the truth actually is that I'll get in a conversation with someone and God will start.this is the terrible thing. I'll be at the back of church chatting to someone and two minutes into the conversation I'll suddenly start getting some God stuff about them. God will start revealing something to me and I will suddenly start to phase out - and they're still talking. And that's why it can appear that I'm being really rude. Sometimes it's because I'm just plain rude and bored, so I'm not excusing myself for that at all. But sometimes there are moments where, 'Okay God, what's this and what should I be saying right now?' You sort of have this out-of-body experience while you're chatting and then you suddenly pull yourself back in. I'll have that at gigs. You'll see me often - 'Where's he gone?!' From being extremely present at a gig and being right there, funny, the boy-next-door, to, where's he gone now?! Suddenly I'm thinking about what's going on, what I should be saying or something's going on and it's like, 'Okay, what's going on now?' It must be difficult to live with and I've got a very gracious wife! But we laugh about it a lot, you know? We laugh about it. But the paradox to that is people say that in some situations people wouldn't imagine me to be sharp and I can be. I can be. And in some business situations I can be really on it and that really then surprises people."
When Smith talks of God revealing stuff to him, he is simply operating in what the Bible classes as gifts of the Holy Spirit. Over the years I am left with the impression that when Delirious? first started out, when they were more focussed as a worship band, that there was more freedom to move in spiritual gifts on stage and in public. I can remember going to gigs and seeing Martin and the band doing that. Over the last few years has there been a shift happening where they are going back in that direction again? "I think there is a little bit," he explains. "I've been reading out lots of Bible stuff from the stage -huge chunks of Scripture. That's just felt like a great thing to do. I'm not worried about the whole thing of picking someone out of the crowd and revealing their life to them. I think that's all wonderful and that's great and we still do that on occasions, prophesy over people. Now the whole thing has become more of a living and breathing what God wants to do in our lives and the way we are behind the scenes. That has become more important to us. So I think it's part of growing up, part of the journey I guess, that you prioritise things differently don't you? The prophetic thing to do that day might be giving someone £200 rather than pulling someone out and saying, 'You're going to be a history maker.' I think it just changes; the dynamic changes and your world opens up doesn't it? You see more need and you see more importance on different things."
The success of Delirious? and the influence of the band has meant that people take Martin Smith much more seriously these days. Relationships are very important for him. In the UK there are a number of worship leaders and musicians that are in his circle and that now stretches to the USA. Does he feel the weight of the responsibility with that? "Wow! I feel like, obviously with the guys that are a little bit younger than myself, there's a responsibility to be a good 'older brother' in that sense. And yet there are guys that 'fathered' me - like Graham Kendrick, Noel Richards and Michael W Smith to some degree, although I don't know him as well, so I could hang onto their coat tails. So I always feel like I'm in the middle, I'm not an old guy yet and yet I'm not a young guy. Walking this world.'I'm a father and a son', that lyric comes out of the feeling that I'm in both worlds a lot of the time. I can be with Michael W and he's asking my wisdom on something and I can be with Tim Hughes and I'm asking his wisdom on something and it's great."
Smith has been involved in the Christian scene for a long time, even before he started working with Delirious?. He's also tried to make it into the mainstream. There is a kind of a snobbery sometimes that an album that is sold to a non-Christian is more worthy or more valuable than an album sold to a Christian. I wondered if he had a perspective on that? "Yeah I used to think that," he admits, "but I don't believe that any more. I think that Christians know what they want to listen to as much as anyone. They know what they like. Within EMI in America, the most profitable part of the company is the Christian part. You can say what you like, but it's a pretty amazing thing to say that. If our fans were completely behind Delirious? just for the ministry, a kind of 'We want to see you get out and have an influence' attitude, then all the records would have sold the same despite what they sounded like. 'Audio Lessonover' would have sold the same whether they liked it or not. But it's not about that. They're discerning people. They know what they like. If they don't like a record they won't buy it. It's as simple as that."
And thankfully, people are still buying Delirious? albums! 'World Service' and 'The Mission Bell' have seen the band winning a younger and completely new fan base. In December 2005, I went to see the band play at Abundant Life Church in Bradford in front of a fiery crowd who seemed to know all the songs from the last two albums but looked confused when they played some of their older "classics". Backstage in a plush lounge room in the heart of the church building, the band arrive and Martin Smith, remembering this interview greets me with the words, "Mike Rimmer! The only journalist to ever make me cry."