To remain creatively vital is the biggest challenge for a veteran band. With the release of their fourth album, Star Tiger Star Ariel, Delays continue to grow and challenge their audience. Lead singer Greg Gilbert talked with newest TDOA’s writer Leilani about the past and future of this great band.
TDOA: Star Tiger, Star Ariel is the band’s 4th album since 2004. In the last 6yrs, you guys have moved labels 3 times, from Rough Trade to Polydor and now Lookout Mountain. Can you guys talk about your decision to shift labels through the years? Do you find that being on an “indie” label gives musicians such as yourselves more freedom and have you ever considered moving up to a major label if the opportunity presented itself?
GG: We’ve evolved musically fairly quickly and naturally, and there has definitely been occasion where, after a while, we weren’t the band the label signed. Everything is dictated by the music, so people tend to contact us. Fiction are part of Polydor, so we have experienced life on a major. There are obvious advantages, but I think it can distract from the core of what you are musically. The music has to sell itself on it’s own merits on an indie.
TDOA: You guys just finished a pretty extensive tour of the UK where quite a few of the shows were sold out. It’d probably be safe to say your fame in the UK is a bit more substantial than it is here in the states – not that you have your lack of fans here – but what are your feelings about how music is treated in the UK vs. how it is approached here in the US?
GG: We’ve been to America a couple of times now, and whether it’s us reacting to being in a different country, or a more general attitude to bands held there, people seem less influenced by press, and more attentive to the music. Sometimes it can feel like, in order to understand a band, you need to know it’s story, almost as a key, whereas in America it’s felt to us our music has been judged on it’s own terms. There’s also the relative sizes of the country- you really do feel as though you are visiting different countries within America, whereas it’s not such a big deal for bands from one region of the UK to play in another.
TDOA: Do you prefer your time on the road to your time in the studio? Do you ever find yourselves writing new material while your touring? Where did most of the material from Star Tiger, Star Ariel come from? I’m particularly curious about the album’s single “Unsung” and the song, “Find A Home (New Forest Shaker)”….
GG: I started playing the guitar so I could write songs. The studio is such an exciting, creative place to be. You’re all sharing in a process of exploring and experimenting, and when you get breakthroughs, it feels like a little victory. Playing live is a shot of euphoria, you’re under intense scrutiny and half the thrill is knowing you can fall at any time. Between the four of us, we know how to lift each other.
I collect words and phrases on the road-I’m always loaded down with notebooks! I don’t complete many songs on the road, but I’m usually filling up dictaphones with fragments of melody that I’ll work up later. The material on “Star Tiger” came from lot’s of different places. A lot began as instrumentals of Aaron’s, some I had in acoustic form. “Unsung” was an instrumental of Aaron’s that we all loved the moment we heard it, and I spent days trying to find a verse that lived up to it. Same with “Find A Home”, although it was a much sparser piece. I sat with it for weeks, just improvising and trying to find phrases that sparked. Lyrically it’s about a religious sect that settled near Southampton in Victorian times. It was inspired by a book I was reading called “Englands Lost Eden”. The song gave the album much of it’s theme and mood.
TDOA: I read another interview where you guys said you consciously avoided thinking of the songs on your new record as “singles.” That actually surprises me since these days it seems like “singles” are becoming more and more important to a musician’s career; pop artists build their fame on the success of their singles and singular mp3 sales. One feels the actual album that these songs come out on are rarely what’s remembered (not like we remember The White Album or Exile on Mainstreet or Blonde on Blonde) …. How did your decision effect your songwriting and the mood while recording the new album?
GG: The unconscious creativity you have as an unsigned band allows risk that can get squashed when you’re thinking about records.We wanted to banish any commercial concerns so that the musical decisions we made were decided by instinct. We are melodically motivated as songwriters, so we wanted to marry that with some dissonance to keep us moving. We viewed it as an album, as an entity. Lyrically you begin in the forest and end by the docks. I still love the scope of an album-it’s an investment.
You have to assume that if something moves you, it’s going to move someone else.
TDOA: You guys decided to get back with Duncan Lewis for this record; was it a better experience working with a producer whom with you were already comfortable?
GG: I think so. We learnt a lot working with Youth, but his ethos is one of rapid creation and capturing the moment. As a band, we continued this but I like to feel comfortable to explore my vocals patiently and Duncan feels the same way. Also, we know each other well enough to not be offended when someone thinks something’s bad or could be done better. There’s a shared attitude towards recording we’ve developed together since the first album. Having said that, we still try follow the path that scares us most musically. It’s a shared mission.
TDOA: Rockfield is infamous for having the honor of being the first residential recording studio and for the artists that have spent their time there in the past. How long did you guys stay there to record Star Tiger, Star Ariel? Can you talk about your time there?
GG: Rockfield feels like a second home to us. We spent months there working on the first album, and returned for some of “You See Colours” and various individual tracks since then. We were there a couple of weeks this time, and it was a much friendlier experience than the first album! We’ve come such along way together since then, I’ve learnt to breathe before shouting. ”Lakes can be lethal” was written the day before going into the studio. It was arranged there, and we rehearsed it for the first time just before recording it. We wouldn’t have gone into the studio so unprepared at the beginning, but a lot of our favourite sessions have been for b-sides , and we wanted the sessions to be that free and full of exploration. I’d live there if I could.
TDOA: Since the new album was just released, do you guys ever get nervous waiting on the reviews? What’s your general reaction to critics? Do you think music criticism is important to the longevity and survival of the music industry?
GG: It can be important in terms of letting people know about your record. We’re kind of underground, so we can’t always rely on radio. We’ve never written with reviews in mind. I think if you have an idea about what you want to achieve creatively and you nail it, then the most anyone could say is that they don’t get it. We’re the only ones who could say if we failed to hit our goals artistically. I think that, with the internet, everyone can be a critic, without the burden of being a social commentator. I’ve read reviews of ours where I’ve come away unsure of what the reviewer actually thought of our music, so desperate were they to address where we fit and place it in a broader context. The most important thing for the future of the music industry is that young musicians are given the means to create and be heard and that some value is attached to what they’re doing.
TDOA: It seems like the band grew up during the height of the whole Brit-pop explosion and some of that experience seems internalized within your music. Was there a particular album released during that time that you still come back to when you need inspiration?
GG: For my friends and me, the first Stone Roses album was epochal. They were the first guitar band that we saw people emulate, the first indie record that seemed to be owned by everyone. They were a working class band who didn’t hide their accents, which was unique in context with all the stadium bands at the time. In a way, they were our Beatles and so much of what came later was indebted to them. Most importantly, the recorded exuded a joy I’ve not seen approached since. They were smart but not cynical.
TDOA: The first time I saw you was the U.S. tour where you played with Franz Ferdinand and The Futureheads, which was an amazing line-up. What is your recollection of that tour? Any good stories? The Futureheads were just breaking in America and it seemed like an overwhelming experience for them.
GG: They were great bands to tour with, sound people, but I felt we were a little out of place with them musically. They share certain aesthetics; both seem to have their roots in a post-punk angularity. We have a delicacy to much of our stuff that I’m not sure people were expecting, but we loved every second of it. Alex Kapranos is a big Prince fan, and we were talking about visiting Paisley Park but it never happened unfortunately. I miss touring over there and really hope to be back soon to play this album.
There was a lot of partying, and I don’t advise living on a tour bus with a hangover. Rowly basically passed out one night and someone drew a fake moustache on him. No one told him about the next day, even when we had to go through customs into Canada. Our normally composed tour manager was frantically scrubbing his face with a wet-wipe, trying to get it off before he reached the desk.
TDOA: The “indie” scene in the UK is just as eclectic and interesting as it is here in the US. Bands out here seem to form a strong support system with other bands that have similiar sounds and often tour together as a result. Is it similar where you’re from? Have you guys made great friends with any other bands as a result of touring?
GG: We did a number of tours with The Veils early on and that definitely was supportive for both bands, as we had just put our first records out. You can’t help but make friends on the road, it can be a lonely place. We try to support bands from Southampton, and have taken a few on the road with us. These are bands we’re friends with already through Southamptons indie clubs and pubs, etc. It’s difficult to find really similar bands, as we’re not that typical of guitar bands in this country. The unity tends to come more through a shared attitude rather than a sound.
Purchase the new Delays album, here: Star Tiger Star Ariel