In the run up to the release of the band's 11th album, 'Kingdom Of Comfort', Mike Rimmer talked to DELIRIOUS? bassist Jon Thatcher.
Like a lot of bass players, Jon Thatcher seems to enjoy being the solid, unflashy live performer. Standing still, often in sunglasses, his bass playing holds the excesses of the band together, underpinning their big sound. You might be mistaken for also suspecting that Mr Thatcher would be the "quiet one" when it comes to speaking up about his band. You'd be wrong! Jon has plenty to say for himself!
These days Delirious? are a global concern with gigs around the world. Their songs are impacting churches in countries where they have rarely played. For Jon this gives them the opportunity to visit some distant places. He shares, "For the first time Delirious? played in Russia, which was a great experience. We got to do some touristy things like go to Red Square and buy some Russian hats so we're happy!" So is he the kind of guy who likes to take in some local culture when they are touring? "Yeah. It's very easy to get lazy and to stay on a bus all day or to sit in the dressing room, but when you're out you really need to make the effort and sample the local culture so we do try and do that, even if that is staying up till four in the morning!" The band decided that since they were in Moscow, they'd better have a wander over to the world famous Red Square. He remembers the 4am trip and laughs, "(The conversation went), 'I THINK this is Red Square.' 'Are you sure?!' 'Yeah.' 'It's a bit dark!'"
So just what did the Russians make of Delirious? Did people know the words out there? "Yeah," Thatcher responds. "It was funny actually, you turned around from playing on stage and there was this Russian writing on screens. . .and hopefully it was our lyrics! But people seemed to be enjoying it and there was just a great connection which surprises us every time. I think we can more or less guarantee that if Martin starts singing 'I Could Sing of Your Love Forever' that it is going to get a reaction pretty much anywhere in the world. That's always an amazing experience to know that a song has a bigger life than the band. There's probably a handful of songs that you can strum up and people will be able to connect with it instantly." I observe that it must be a bit strange going to Russia and finding out people know his music? "Yeah," he agrees, "it's beautifully strange. I mean, what a privilege to be able to turn up the first time and people have already got the music before they've got the band!"
With Delirious? as a worldwide phenomenon, it isn't surprising that their travels have started to influence the creative direction of the band on the forthcoming album and also those experiences have got under the skin of the band members. Jon is no exception. He says, "Our experiences in India have been totally eye-opening for us; just experiencing a different world, a different culture, and that's really made us change our perspectives on our everyday life. So that's been really challenging; that's been really hard. A lot of the songs on the new album have come out of that experience; just more questions, and that's been a really tough but exciting process for us."
I wondered whether the culture shock was worse going out to India or coming back from India? "That's a great question!" he ponders for a second. "I think it's actually worse coming back because you've seen too much and you can't live your life the same again. So what you thought was reality and what you thought was genuine, you've suddenly got a wider picture than that and so you're asking more questions. We're still in that place where we don't actually know all the answers but we're enjoying asking the questions."
So have the trips to India caused any significant lifestyle changes in the Thatcher household? "I would like to be able to list you off 20 bullet points," he says simply and honestly, "but we took our family down and so that's created a lot of conversation. I've got three children aged two, four and six, so we talk constantly and we're much more aware but we're still trying to work out what our reaction is, and part of my reaction is obviously this record. But there's got to be more to it than that."
I know that when I have hung out with people who have lived for a while in the developing world, when they come home they get completely freaked out when they go to a supermarket because there's too much choice. Thatcher responds, "You suddenly realise that maybe we're not as free as we thought we were. The idea of paying the mortgage off or being able to choose between seven different types of beans maybe isn't what it's all about."
What many people haven't yet grasped is that for us living in the First World we are captured by consumerism and it creeps up on you without you really realising it. "Oh, totally!" Thatcher comments. "I'm in the studio and I look round and I've got eight bass guitars, and I'm thinking, 'How does this make any sense?!' I can only play one at a time! Obviously they are the tools of my trade but you're really asking these questions; it's not business as usual. Everything has a different edge on it and you're thinking, 'Why do I need eight bass guitars?' It's not all about money but you think, 'Could this money be invested in other places?' Or, 'Is it right that I've got eight bass guitars and I walked past that person in the street?' So they're all obviously very big questions and it's easy to think; oh well, I can't change anything. Selling a bass guitar isn't going to do anything, but it's realising that we've all got a contribution to make."
The challenge with being confronted with greater realities in life is that it is often hard for people to translate it into tangible action. Is it possible that Thatcher could spend too much time thinking about it so that the impact of his trip to India will eventually wear off? "I think this is so deep for us now," he considers. "This is our third or fourth trip to India, and we've also been to South America, and I think our eyes have been opened where you can't actually turn your back on it now. But it is easy to water it down and to say, 'Well it's cultural.' It's easy to let yourself off the hook which is not a good thing."
The conversation turns to Thatcher's children who are young to be having experiences of India but I wondered if they too had been impacted by the visit to the subcontinent. "Hopefully this will be the first of many visits. I really want to give my children the opportunity to see a bigger world because we live in a little bubble down here in Rustington; everything's very tight knit, everything's very safe and everything's very clean, and I want to give them the experience to see that this is just one element."
Returning to the topic of 'Kingdom Of Comfort' Jon muses, "I think lyrically there's a lot of questions in it; there's a lot of tension. Rather than coming at, 'We know all the answers,' it's more, 'We know all the questions' at the minute; although that's obviously got a foundation to it. Also musically; I think we've got to a stage where we've come so far and we're asking the questions, 'Have we achieved all we set out to achieve or is there still further to go? And if there is further to go how are we going to get there?' So it's an exciting time for us; we don't feel like we've achieved all that we've set out to achieve so this album is another step in that direction. We don't want to make a 'Mission Bell: II' or 'Cutting Edge: 27', we want to progress further."
Over the years, the band have built up a significant audience who pay attention to what they do and say. What direction are they wanting to take people? "I think we're wanting to widen the world a little bit," he explains. "With going to India, our world has been widened, but also we've been labelled as a Christian band, which we're totally proud of, but we think our music has a life beyond the Church and beyond Christians. So we want to be singing lyrics that connect with people, not just to a certain demographic. We still want to keep the message central to that because that's who we are, that's what we're about, but we want to write in a language that is a bit more universal."
He continues, "I think it's easy to slip into clichés and it's easy to get into familiar territory where we know what works, we know what doesn't work; so we're wanting to question that a little bit more. I think that praise and worship has become a style of music, like country and western; I think that's a good thing, and it's also very alarming to us because I guess our core vision is: we want to write music and create an environment where the Spirit of God can dwell; so whether that's in a club or a church, we're finding God is everywhere not just within the four walls of the church. So we want to be creating those environments and making those opportunities."
These days, it seems that a huge amount of worship music that is being created is in a '90s Britpop style. It is a style that Delirious? helped to develop back then so in some ways I blame Thatcher for the current state of unimaginative worship music. "I apologise, sincerely!" he deadpans, then continues, "Going back to the 'Cutting Edge' days, we were progressing worship music and what we were creating there was out of the box; that was fresh. That was new. I think people can often grab onto formulas and see that something was successful; therefore they'll try and make a version of that. Worship music shouldn't just sound like Delirious? It should be orchestral, it should be ambient, it should be dancey; worship isn't a style, it's a heart. So it does sadden me when people just see it as that type."
As we're talking, I can hear some very strange noises. I ask Jon whether a water buffalo is being strangled somewhere in his vicinity. "There are parallels," he laughs and then explains that it is a certain Delirious? singer making himself a little lemon tea drink and warming up his voice. "He's just stepped outside to do some warm-ups; vocal acrobatics! He's about to step back into the vocal booth and sing some amazing songs." The noise continues to be more than a little disturbing. Jon laughs, "You know with that kind of warm-up it's going to be a good record!"
Delirious? have re-launched their website to accompany the new album and the band are blogging but there is a friendly rivalry within the Delirious? camp and Jon reveals the heart of the issue. "One of the bad things about blogging is that fans can make comments, so it could actually split the band because Martin gets about ten times as many comments as anyone else, no matter what he says! If he says, 'I'm havin' a cup of tea'; there'd be 20 comments on that within 20 minutes; whereas I could release the entire lyrics to the next album and only three people would comment on it. But you know, I'm not bitter about that. . .! That's just a lead singer thing, you know."
There is this big thing that within bands there are the talented people and then there are the band members who are just described as being the "lucky" members. People always said that Ringo Starr was just one of the lucky guys, being in The Beatles. "Yeah, I think I would count myself as lucky; but I'm very talented to be lucky. . .or very lucky to be talented; one of those two!" he laughs.
I've been musing lately that if you took Ringo out of The Beatles, they would be a totally different band. Responds Jon, "We were talking about that in the studio actually. The Who's Keith Moon, when he was alive, absolutely got slated and then you look at his work now and suddenly you see it in a whole different light. So there is that mad paradox there." In the beginning Thatcher was the new guy but he has put his stamp on things in terms of being vital for the chemistry of Delirious?. Thatcher is deflective, "Um, yeah, that's a strange one to comment on actually. Delirious? is about teamwork but it's nice to get your fingerprints on it. We've been asking ourselves just this week; What is Delirious? Who is Delirious? What does the future look like? And all these big questions; Who could leave and who could stay and what makes up Delirious??"
Personally I'm half expecting Thatcher to take some time out from Delirious? to make some really, really avant-garde music. I suggest that deep down he would really like to go and do something very, very weird! "You hit the nail-on-head there!" he admits. "Yeah, I think that is in my blood. I think that is yet to come; probably so avant-garde that no one would notice it but that would all be part of the appeal for me! I love music and I love art and so it is great that I'm in this band and can check those boxes, but there is also a deeper level for me." I suspect that Thatcher might right now be noodling away in a little home studio recording some sort of side project. "Funny you should say that!" he laughs. "Being creative, there are many avenues and so I am actually looking at getting my garage done out so I can get a little bit of space at the end of the garden and just explore and experiment. And that's what's so great - coming back to Delirious? - that you've got this other outlet and it's not a threat to it, it's a complement to it."
For the moment though, the band continue into a new era, preparing to release a challenging new album, not to mention the matter of finding a new drummer. But as my chat with Jon shows, Delirious? still have plenty to say to their fans, to the Church and to the world.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.