Musically, DELIRIOUS? and HILLSONG seem an odd coupling for an album. Yet the two ensembles' 'UP: Unified Praise' demonstrates a unity beyond musical styles. Mike Rimmer spoke to Delirious?.
It's an October evening and the World Service tour has rumbled into Wolverhampton. The stage is crowded with equipment and drum kits as three acts prepare to go on stage. In the foyer, the merchandise table is groaning with CDs, T-shirts and other bits'n'bobs. It's early evening and a few people have gathered outside but the doors haven't opened yet.
Backstage, I am accompanied by Tony Cummings and some friends to meet two Smiths. Martin and Stewart Smith, singer and drummer with Delirious?, are in jovial mood and Martin greets Tony and I with "Uh oh, here come the heavyweights!" As we sit down on the sofa, I am not sure whether he's talking about our journalistic reputation or our girth! However one thing I am sure about is the fact that our interviewees are both in a very silly mood!
'World Service' is a year old now and the band have devoted their energies to the UK during 2004, touring twice. However they close the year with a live recording made in conjunction with Hillsongs called 'UP: Unified Praise'. The album is split evenly between live recordings of the Hillsong praise team and Delirious?.
So how did this happen? Martin Smith remembers a phone call and begins to tell the story, "Yeah, originally Darlene Zschech." Stewart Smith interrupts, "Darls" he interjects. "Yeah 'Darls'!" agrees the other Smith, laughing. "She'll kill us! Well, she said." Smith adopts fake Aussie Darlene style voice and accent, "Hi!" and then comes to his senses. "No.this is stupid innit?! We've already wasted five minutes! So, we were going down to the Hillsong conference last summer, which we love to go to. It's a real occasion. I think it's our third time there. Darlene suggested that we do the evening together instead of just doing a gig. Everyone does that so we decided to do something together and model something. So they did 40 minutes and then we did 40 minutes. They filmed it on the night for DVD and it's actually come out really, really great. We are really pleased."
Listening to the album, the songs on 'UP' from 'World Service' sound very raw in places. In particular there's an excellent version of "Rain Down". Was the live stuff captured before they'd recorded 'World Service'? Martin responds, "No, I think we'd been in the studio and cut "Rain Down" but I'd never played it live." Stew interjects, "We didn't use any loops or anything, out there it was just literally playing with a click track, you know?" Martin adds, "It was a little bit touch-and-go. I mean you can tell by Stu G's sound that it isn't that developed yet. I think what happened was, we went out and did that conference and then came back and changed it and made it a bit rawer."
There are some people that might be surprised to see Delirious? recording a live album with Hillsong. The music styles don't exactly match up very easily. Didn't the band wonder whether they were selling out some of their rock credentials? "Well, I don't think we ever thought that," replies Martin. "We're who we are and you've just got to trust that you're doing the right thing. I think we just felt it was a God-thing. When you get that dream, you just have to do it don't you? And also, we do love those people down there in Sydney. We've got a harsh respect for what Darlene's doing and all the other worship leaders there. The whole thing is just so grand that I think we just felt we wanted to honour them and work with them on something. It'll either be one of those projects that gets forgotten about in three months time, or it may actually make a statement for something for years to come.we don't know."
At this point the esteemed editorial team of this publication suggested that we thought that frankly the combination of the astoundingly popular Hillsongs and the astoundingly popular Delirious? mean that the only outcome from releasing the album is that it will sell by the bucketload! Possibly the hugest worship album in ages. Martin jokes, "Well I was going to say that actually." and Stew chips in, "But you wouldn't actually say that in an interview that was being recorded would you?" The Smith double act swings into action. "Errr No," Martin replies. Stew keeps up the banter, "I mean, you're not that stupid." "No," agrees Martin. No, they're definitely not stupid.
Thinking about the potential sales, Stewart Smith shares, "It's nice to be involved in something that people want to listen to, innit? When you write songs, when you play songs, ANY band wants people to listen to their music, to go to them and see them live. But when you put a spiritual dynamic within that, you're desperate for God to touch people's lives and transform them and for God to be pleased with what you're doing. Obviously the more people that get a chance to listen to that music, the more opportunity you've got. For us, that's what the whole thing is about. It's not just about playing music."
'UP: Unified Praise' is definitely an album of two halves with Delirious? coming on in the second half to do their stuff. While the heart of everyone concerned is united in praising God, the musical styles couldn't be more different. So, do the guys like the recent Hillsong worship material? Stewart pauses to think for a second and then responds diplomatically, "Ehmm.personally, I think the song writing is absolutely brilliant. Sometimes I find the style not really to my taste. It's a little bit overproduced but that's just me. I'm just a little bit rawer. I think they're brilliant though."
So would the two gentlemen of Delirious? like to name their favourite Hillsong worship song? There is silence in response to this request. The two Smiths whisper to each other in schoolboy fashion when teacher asks a question. No conferring gentlemen. Stewart laughs and suggests impishly, "The one with Darlene on the cover.with her hand in the air." That's ALL of them isn't it?! And anyway, that's an album not a song. Stewart responds, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. We love everything though.it's brilliant!" Ahem. Right then, it eventually falls to Martin Smith to put everything honestly in perspective. "We love THEM," he shares, "And that's what it's all about! It's not about the music!" I think we'll return to this theme later.
The album was recorded in July 2003 with 20,000 people attending the Hillsong conference in the Olympic Dome in Sydney. Martin explains, "It's the biggest ever gathering, apparently, in Australia of anything!.probably indoors I think. So from that respect, for the Church to be able to do something on that scale, is amazing. I mean if you did that in London, you'd be blown away. But it's quite a small population and it's just incredible to see what they've gone and done and achieved in the name of God. So you're breath is taken away by that. But the night was just one of those nights where there was just something about it and you're a bit nervous. There was a reason for it and it was just great."
The band played some of the brand new songs from the as yet unreleased 'World Service'. I wondered whether in the life of a song sometimes when it is first written and recorded, the freshness of it adds an extra dimension when it is performed. Would that be the case with 'Unified Praise'? Martin quickly responds, "No I think we play them better now. I'd like to think that but I don't think we did a great job on there." Stew Smith laughs and hisses, "Sell the album!" They both laugh. Martin continues, "We picked a few older songs because they translated better in that country. So it's not the most modern set if you know what I mean? But I think it worked on the night. Did you enjoy it though?"
To be honest I did, the older songs come across well and I actually enjoy the fresh raw quality of the new material and there is something special about the event which has been captured on the CD. Martin enthuses, "The DVD's really good, really good!" Stewart explains, "I think when we got the rushes back from the footage, there's some amazing stuff on there. They had a huge camera at the back - technical term, a Jimmy Jib! - which comes sort of shooting its way down from the top back corner over 20,000 people! And honestly, it takes your breath away! It looks like there's about 100,000 people in there and they're desperate to worship. Somehow, they've captured that. It was amazing!"
The drummer continues to remember what happened in Australia. "We literally flew in," he explains, "and Darlene said, 'Oh we've got a little acoustic thing for you to do.' So we thought it was a couple of hundred people but it was 7000 people in there! And there we were, totally jetlagged after flying around the world and got up there and plinked away. And it was probably one of the most amazing times of worship we've ever had. That was where they're at as people, you know? They're desperate to worship and that comes across on the DVD."
Spiritually that must make an impact on the band. I ask Martin whether that hunger for worship draws something special out of him when he is leading. "Yeah it does," he responds. "I think you get a little bit more on the edge about everything and your brain's ticking a bit quicker and thinking, 'God, I don't want to miss it! I don't want to miss it! I don't want to miss it! Where are you going now? What are you doing?' And rather than just having a set list on the floor, which isn't wrong either but it's just, you get different environments and it draws different things out of you. There were some great moments. I think it was just a great statement."
The statement that they're making with 'UP: Unified Praise' is very important and central to the band's philosophy and heart. Martin explains, "Well I can only think of maybe a situation here when we signed Graham Kendrick to our label. I think people were like, 'You mean the Delirious? guys actually even like Graham?!' Again I think it was a good statement because it's not saying, 'Oh I like every one of Graham's songs!' It's saying, 'I'm committed to him as a person because we believe God is on him and with him.' And he's a leader of a generation, so you want to serve him. I think that's that same thing happening here. We might not like each other's music all of the time, or every note of it; I think that's irrelevant really. It is more about 'I totally believe in what you're doing. I can see how amazing it is, that it's blessing all of these people. We'd just like to help you out; serve you.' I think they felt the same and it was a real honour, to be honest."
That vision has seen Hillsong and Delirious? team up for an excellent live album and DVD. We'll wait and see whether it'll disappear in three months, forgotten and un-regarded or whether it'll be a huge success. In the meantime the Delirious? train keeps rolling and the interview is ended as manager Tony Patoto rescues his boys to take them down to a meet'n'greet. Delirious? spend time with their fans, chatting and having their photos taken. It's all part of life on tour until finally the lights go down and the opening chords of "Grace Like A River" ring out over a cheering crowd.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.