Despite being one of the world’s premier rock and worship bands England’s Delirious? has remained untainted by the hype that sometimes surrounds their concerts. They have remained ministry and family focused rather than becoming caught up with their many awards, accolades and hit songs. Another rarity is Delirious? is still comprised of all the founding members of the band when they first started performing in 1993 as The Cutting Edge.
Delirious? is one of those rare bands that have drawn interest from both mainstream and Christian radio while attracting fans in both markets. They have shared the stage with Bon Jovi and Bryan Duncan. Within the Christian community their praise has been sung by people as diverse as Darlene Zschech and Toby Mac.
Stew Smith who usually wields the drumsticks from his perch behind his Premier drum kit took a few minutes before a recent gig in Liverpool England to talk about the group’s new album Mission Bell, the secret of their longevity and why he thinks the band has maintained its focus on family and ministry.
Smith says, “We are all in the same church on Sunday morning and probably only miss one or two Sundays each month. We still lead worship at church on a regular basis. We only do ten days tour at a time and then we come home because we want to be good dads and we want to be good husbands as well. It is no good being prophetic on the stage and saying amazing stuff and then has a life that is a real mess.” Four of the band members are brothers-in-law and between all five band members they have sixteen children.
The short tours also benefit the band in another way says Smith, ‘It has kept it fresh for us. We haven’t had long three month tours when things get a little bit laborious and you get sick of playing the same songs over and over again. Every time we go out on tour it is like wow fantastic we’ve got something to say.” “I think we talk a lot. We don’t have any less issues than any other band. I think we have worked out what being a team is all about,” he says. Part of that ongoing dialogue is attributed to the fact that with the exception of Stuart G the rest of the band mates are related. Smith explains, “The good thing about it is if you have an issue you have to work it out because it is family at the same time. You can’t just bury it in the sand and come up to it the next time you are on tour because that issue is staring you in the face when you get back to your front door as well.” When you consider that all of the members of Delirious? live within a mile of each other in the village of Littlehampton you can understand why you wouldn’t want to let problems or potential issues linger.
Littlehampton has also served as a retreat or safe haven of sorts for Delirious?. “I think it has been good for us not living in America and particularly Nashville. We come home to our little seaside fishing village on the south coast of the UK and it is not the hub of the music business by any stretch of the imagination. I think generally we feel so thankful that God has blessed us that we don’t feel any sense of wow we are successful,” says Smith.
He says this simpler approach to life when away from the tour scene has helped keep the band grounded. He asks, “What is success anyway? I think if it all stops tomorrow for me success will be that hopefully we have inspired a generation of people to take God seriously, to take their faith seriously and by doing that they start changing people around them.”
This was not a band comprised of young kids who had played together since their early teens. They all had other jobs and some of them families. Stew Smith is a case in point. “I was a graphic designer. I did that for about eight years. I had my own business for the last four or five years (before joining the band). I was quite successful at that. It was a huge step of faith to leave. In fact my eldest daughter who now is 10 ? had just been born and Martin and John who were away in the north of England were coming back to see her. They had a car crash. She was one day old and I was still at the hospital when I got the phone call that Martin and John had been in the crash. I was wondering what on earth was going on. Martin wound up being in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Martin read a U2 book and he said, ‘I think we should give up our jobs and go for the band fulltime.’ I was thinking hold on I’ve got a two week old baby I need to be responsible not irresponsible,” Smith recalls.
He remembers how difficult the decision was for each member of the band, “That’s how we started and obviously it took a little while for each band member to make up their mind. We didn’t even know if we could pay ourselves a salary. At the time as a graphic designer I was earning quite good money. It was a huge step of faith. It has been just a fantastic journey and God has blessed us with being able to see the world and visit churches all over the world. We have been able to see how people do things differently. I think it has helped us appreciate the diversity of culture and the diversity of people.”
Mission Bell has the hardest hitting lyrics of any Delirious?? record to date. It also contains some new and innovative spins on some old worship themes. I spoke on the telephone to Stew Smith the drummer for Delirious?? as he was preparing for a concert in Liverpool England. We chatted about the new CD and how both the band and the music scene in England have evolved during his twelve year stint with Delirious?
Delirious? debuted different singles from the album in the US and UK with “Paint the Town Red” crashing through the sound barrier at I-Tunes in England while “Fires Burn” is sweeping the American Charts. Smith says the band decided to release “Paint the Town Red” in the UK because, “We wanted something that was a little more aggressive and a little more upbeat. At the same time we had been playing that song at a lot of the festivals during the summer and it connected with the people. “Fires Burn” was released in the United States because their marketing and management people felt it would fare better.
“I think it (the CD) is continuous in terms of the Delirious?? sound,” says Smith. “In terms of progression we feel that this album encapsulates all that we have done over the years. We have kind of taken the cream of who we are and managed to get that into an album. I think the strong points are the lyrical content. It is really connecting with people on a spiritual journey level. It’s going down fantastic. The connection with the crowd is just unbelievable.” He points out that Delirious?? has a sound reminiscent of U2 and Radiohead although that has not been deliberate on the band’s part.
I asked the congenial guy who wields the drumsticks about the line “My life is a show on God’s TV” from the song “All This Time”. Enthusiastically he replies, “That’s a great line isn’t it? I think during the whole writing process and in the studio as well we felt like it’s not important to be in a band. It’s not important to sell records. What is important is who we are and who we are in God’s eyes. That line really does talk about what we are actually doing with our lives. (It talks about) trying to keep our hands clean and trying to get up the mountain. That is really what it is about. There are a lot of hard hitting lyrics on the whole album. I think on the first listen some of that stuff may be a little bit uncomfortable to people.” He continues, “The album has been out in the UK for about six weeks and (judging by) the emails the people who are listening to the album are asking themselves questions. They are searching. I think that is what we really have to do as a band is (ask) what am I in this for? Why am I a Christian? What do I believe? Taking that seriously.”
Delirious? has not backed away from lyrically challenging issues that serve as lightening rods in many countries around the world. “Our God Reigns” takes deliberate aim at abortion, the AIDS pandemic and western culture’s obsession with materialism. Despite their views the band’s popularity continues to grow within the mainstream music culture.
Smith believes the band’s credibility has remained intact because, “I think that people like honesty. Not the lyrics, but the heart was inspired by a band in the UK called The Streets not particularly a PC (pro Christian) band but they (put) poetry to music. They really just talk about every day issues, good and bad. Our gut feeling was that worship music only really just scratches the surface with what life is all about. We wanted to write some songs about the issues that people are dealing with. It really is hard hitting stuff.”
About “Our God Reigns” he says, “We sat down, talked about it (and asked) do we want to put this track on our album? It’s probably going to upset some people and yet that is real life. In the mainstream they may not always like our message in terms of our Christian faith but I think people respect you for being honest, truthful and actually not pretending to be something that you’re not.” He says over the years he has struggled with where to draw the line in the sand as far as bridging the gap between Christian and mainstream music cultures without compromising his values and beliefs. He has concluded that the secret to being a Christian band and making an impact is to just be themselves. He says, “We found that really does make a big difference.”
The new CD will push the envelope even further as Smith explains, “I think Mission Bell is the most overtly Christian message that we have come up with.”
The band’s popularity in mainstream culture has not been isolated to their recordings or to their homeland. “In Germany we had quite a big hit last year with a track called “Inside Outside”. I think that had about 12,000 spins on (mainstream) radio.” He feels this is a fan base that Delirious?? can continue to grow in the future.
The music of Delirious? has also transcended mainstream concert events. The band toured with Bon Jovi performing for crowds as large as 75,000 people. They shared a concert stage with Bryan Duncan in London England’s Hyde Park.
Whether Delirious? is performing before 75,000+ fans as the opening act for Bon Jovi or sharing as stage at a festival with Bryan Duncan their message and music remain constants. “We pretty well stay with the same set. I think the only difference is we are talking about thirty-five or forty minutes for a support act. We will use tracks that fit that process. There’s nothing better than being in that environment while playing songs like, “History Maker” and “My Glorious”.”
Smith wants to make one thing clear and that is the basic message Delirious?? is delivering remains unchanged no matter what country, venue or stage they are sharing. “One of the tracks (on Mission Bell) is called “Now is the Time” and the foundation or the basic message is let’s sort out our lives. Let’s take this God thing seriously and try to make an impact.” Michael W Smith no stranger to hit records echoes those thoughts, “They don’t strike me as a band that’s interested in watering down the gospel just to climb the pop charts or to get famous. Their number one priority is drawing the world back to God.”
I found during our conversation Stew Smith was always careful to use words like grateful for the opportunities their career has presented to the members of Delirious? He continued with that theme when discussing the chance to perform with the aforementioned artists, “That has been a great experience for us to get out there and play in the arenas with those guys. Whether you like their music or not they are professionals and they are just unbelievable. That was a good opportunity for us. We will continue to look for those opportunities.”
The experiment seems to be working judging from the reaction of concert goers. “You never know how you are going to be accepted on those kinds of gigs because you are a support band. At the end of the day people aren’t coming to see you.” He says however judging by the emails they received the response has been positive from people who prior to those concerts had not heard of Delirious? He notes, “What they have come back with is they went away, bought the album and discovered that there is a different message. We have quite a few emails from people who said I have got involved in the church as a result of that (concert). You only really hear a few of the stories that have gone on but that (the mainstream gigs) was really a good thing for us to do”
As far as interacting with mainstream artists Smith says, “If they like you as a person and respect your music then we have only had warmth. I think that is the same thing we have (experienced) with radio and DJs. We’ve tried to go in there and not bash people over the head with this is what we believe. We go in and try and befriend people and to be who we are. People will listen to what you have to say a bit more openly.”
In speaking about the UK tour that they were engaged in at the time of our conversation he said, “If there are five thousand people that come to see us tonight and we all got our hands dirty, go out there and really believe the gospel we could make a huge impact. We as a band are really in that place of feeling like our communities need people with great morals and that is the job of the church. I think we as individuals (in the band) feel that is part of our job and we are trying to inspire a generation to (embrace) that. I think that message is a global thing and not for the UK or any other specific market.”
Copyright © 2005 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.