Interview - Deloris

A little while ago, I had a chat to Marcus Teague, frontman for Melbourne band Deloris, about the evolution of the band, and recording and playing their latest album, Ten Lives. Marcus is a very intelligent musician, with astounding ambitions for his band. His comments deserved to be shown in full, and so below is the record of our conversation.

So take me through the process of writing Ten Lives, how did you find yourself more or less alone in the studio?
Marcus Teague: The time after we toured Fake Our Deaths we sort of went on a break, during which two of the guys decided they didn't want to be in the band anymore. They wanted to head off into different aspects of their lives … I'd been writing a bunch of songs and doing a lot of demos at home and came up with what I thought was the guts of the album and instead of trying to figure out what was going to happen in terms of live capacity, we just went into the studio and started recording it that way. To get it out rather than sit around waiting for something to happen. Once you start that process, you just continue it's like you've done all the guitars so you may as well do some bass on this one, and it kind of eats into itself and ends up being ... we ended up going back and forth.

And so was that kind of a productive process then?
It's something I've always wanted to do. I think it's a productive thing, but it's sort of 50/50 because, on one hand, it goes quite quick because you're not discussing a whole lot - it's more the music and what you're putting down is actually figuring out for you whether it should be there or not rather than long-winded conversations. Then the flip side is it can make you a bit crazy as well, because you can get a bit lost in it and not being able to be objective about it...

Was it kind of daunting not having a dialogue in the studio?

It definitly would have been handy at some points but overall it didn't really bother me too much. I mean, Deloris have recorded in so many different ways, from as a full band, completely live, to just one or two of us doing nearly everything. From when we started we were a three-piece so I'd write all the guitar parts, so it's pretty easy to apply that to the music stuff all over the place. But that doesn't mean that it can't come to life when you play it live.

Regarding playing live, you don’t find it difficult translating that individual studio experience into a live band setting?
Not at all, in a way it's sort of ... I guess this is a cliché but the songs don't actually kick in or come to life until there's a bunch of people playing it and that's the good thing about the last few months of touring I suppose - the record is nice to listen to but it's more electric live… When you see any band playing you're getting the sentiment of the song backed up by the personalities on stage, so if you have personalities who are all getting into the same thing and feeling what they're doing then it sort of kick-starts a lot of that stuff.

So did [drummer] Daniel [Brimelow] record with you in the studio?
The record was done over a year. There are twelve songs on there and Dan did about nine of them, I think. He had to leave; he was having a baby with his partner. And we had a tour coming up with Okkervil River, so we asked our very original drummer if he'd play for that tour and he agreed. And so we did that and of course a few months of playing and you start writing new songs... So we got that new guy Luke [Turley] to then come into the studio and record those three songs that we'd been playing, and by that time the live band had sort of figured itself out and by then Anthony and Ben were playing and we recorded a couple of songs that ended up on the record, literally all four of us standing in the room at the same time.

What songs?
Woah Oh and Down the Mountain. There's a couple of songs that are sort of just me and drums, then there's the ones with everyone playing at the same time.

What I found interesting was how you guys have been through so many lineup changes, even in the middle of the album's recording, but you've still managed to make Ten Lives sound so cohesive. Do you think that's because you were always the driving force behind it?
I guess so, to be honest. It's funny, Deloris always has been a democracy but it always has been my songs as well and a lot of it sort of just wouldn't happen without my drive behind it. And that sort of just manifested itself, it made sense with Ten Lives that I would sort of pick up the slack where it was needed, and if anything that allowed me to explore my ridiculous sort of overviewing visions of what the record should be as well.

Regarding those visions, it seems like you’ve moved from more introspective stuff to more universal, expressive themes, would you agree?
Definitly between those two albums [Fake Our Deaths and Ten Lives]. Our first record was almost over-the-top in how loud and all that of stuff it was, so I think we've sort of come full circle in a little bit of a way. We've kind of figured out how to take a lot of the narrative stuff that really was on show throughout older albums and the lyrical emphasis and then just made the music kind of reach up to that level as well, rather than just sitting back expecting that to be enough. And that was quite an exciting discovery, it's like you can write songs about all this crazy shit and have choruses that repeat all the time and yet it can still be a loud three-and-a-half-minute pop song.

That's such a wonderful synthesis.

That's the funnest thing I think - to be able to play gigs where people can just have fun, and yet still address your weird little stories and feelings interpreted that way rather than singing about, I dunno, cars and getting drunk and stuff.

So when you guys do play live, is there a goal, do you conceive it as like a journey or is it more to just have a good time as you mentioned?
I don't think it's either.

Is there an intent?
I haven't thought about that before. I suppose the longer you do it, you go through phases of what you think is the most important thing and you go from your music, to your lyrics, to, I dunno, pants, or something. And at some point you almost get to this sort of headspace where you intuitively expect all those things to come together at the same time and I think if anything that's what we've arrived at, at the moment. Aiming to tick all those boxes, to play something that might mean something to someone and also us, and meanwhile having a fun rock show, meanwhile making it interesting for us in what we're playing and how we structure the set and meanwhile maybe trying to point out the overarching arc of what Deloris has done in the last couple of years as well, if that makes sense.

You said before you realised you could take narrative stuff but fold that into three-and-a-half-minute pop song too, is it then not that the new album is a change in your songwriting or how you view songwriting, but more just like you've sort of realised where you can take what you've already been doing?
Well the smoke cleared a little bit in terms of what the band was trying to do. And for a long time we went through a period where we felt like lyrics that were quite thoughtful had to have music that represented that as well. And that was the big thing with Fake Our Deaths and it's sort of a good headphones record and stuff, but when we came to playing it live we just found that wasn't much fun, basically. We'd play the more upbeat or quicker songs and start seeing the crowd react to that, and then we'd have to play five songs that were all seven minutes long, mid-tempo. So all your grand plans about what you're singing about and the reasons why your band exists and all that kind of stuff - it just didn't translate to having fun. That was a bit of a realisation, and once you accept that, realising you can have fun but with those same themes was, as I said before, a really exciting thing to discover.

So you have you actually set to cast the net a bit wider, create a bit more of a space for the audience?
An easy way to delineate it would be - I'm going to put out a solo record this year, and Deloris have long just had sort of quiet acoustic songs on some of their records as well, that sort of stuff here and there. And I've just realised that that stuff is better on its own, not trying to play a set where someone walks on stage and plays three acoustic songs and the band walks back on and that kind of stuff. So once we took that out of the equation as well, that just sort of meant that all the songs on the record were band songs as well, and had a band driving it. And a weight off the shoulders!

So there's the perception that the album's sort of a departure album, but what I'm gathering, in general, is that it’s more fulfilling what you guys sort of thought you could do or meant to do?
It is, but I think in that way it's a departure album as well. Sort of a departure in that we got it right. And I flirted with the idea, for a while, of even changing the band name for this record, toyed with the idea of 'maybe this should be a new band', maybe it's the start of something new rather than the end of it. And I still feel that way.

So why did you choose to stay with Deloris?
I think because I still, I couldn't separate ... all the seams are the same, all we've sung about and what Deloris has always talked about and so I guess I sort of felt like, like we just said, because this was like the sum of all these parts, it made a lot of sense to keep it going. Maybe in a commercial sense as well - it's hard once you've been a band for a long time to let people know that things have changed, or trying to change people's opinions or whatever.

That's the constant struggle isn't it - it'd be nice to constantly change your public face to fit your ambitions, but if you want a margin of success then…
The flipside is, if you've been around for a long time, people write you off having seen you at the Empress seven years ago or something. But I'm glad I kept it the way it was.

Lyrically, it seems you’re dealing with something more collective and inclusive, why’s that?
I suppose a lot of what I sing about on the record are movements, rather than ... it was supposed to be inclusive, it's not just the narrator discussing how he feels.

I noticed you used 'we' a lot.
It's about not being the typical singer-songwriter, like "I love you baby", and it affords you the luxury of quite a lot of different perspectives on what you're talking about as well. Maybe it's more of a literary device to be able to kind of flip back and forth like...

It broadens the field of things to talk about. It seemed to me that those more universal themes just match up so well with the music.
For sure, that's the other thing ... Knowing the songs that I'm going to put out on my own, they are a lot more singular and not that inclusive. And truly it's a really big part of it, to be able to play with a band saying 'we' as opposed to playing own your own saying ‘I’. It's almost like you'd known that in your writing...

Like do you switch between different forms of writing for solo and the band?
That had something to do with it, which direction the narrative is coming from, whether it's singular or plural. For example, just thinking about the 'we' point of view on Woah Oh - the idea, this is going to sound really pompous but, the idea that you can transcend your own time. In my brain, each verse was addressing a kind of thing that exists, like wood, or smoke, or rock or something like that and then seeing how that has existed in the past, referencing that, referencing how it exists now and how it could exist in the future. And, even though that sounds long-winded, if that was something from the singular narrative that wouldn't work at all.

You'd only be looking at it from your milieu wouldn't you?
Exactly, and if you marry that with a slightly ridiculous fast, Irish, almost Celtic rock song, it becomes almost joyous as well.

Like cause for celebration?

And was there a conscious decision to end the album on Woah On?
For sure. Because to me, the whole album has a narrative arc, and that was sort of the logical conclusion where it's like... Well for the whole album you've been talking about different sorts of pockets of things that are happening or could happen and then the last song is about all of it happening all at the same time.

Fairly massive!
The idea that you can do that in a song, I find really funny. And I think that even trying to do that is slightly hilarious.

Because it's a three-and-a-half minute song thinking about everything?
But then you sort of realise that in a 3.5min song you can write about anything and if it has this slightly traditional structure you can do it, I mean anyone can do it. That's why I find it a bit amazing that more people don't try... So that's interesting for me on its own.

When I saw you playing you introduced the songs rather cryptically, which also seems similar to the little blurbs you gave each song on the back of the liner notes, is that sort of stuff planned? Is it almost like a roadmap for your songs or shows?
Not at all, I mean I have signposts for myself about what each song is about. And I've felt in the last six months of playing shows that... I like the idea that you have your set and you have your songs that have a particular structure, and you can carry that through inbetween songs, talking to the crowd. And that whole sort of side of the night where your standing in front of a crowd and they're looking at you for what you're doing. I've realised that like having those signposts in my head and just talking complete shit inbetween songs, that it can somehow sort of blur them together.

Like it kind of makes it like one big...
And it is for me; the record is like that for me. And I guess there's the suggestion that it can exist that way live as well. It can fall on its arse, like I don't actually have anything planned inbetween songs or something like that, and sometimes it trails off into complete bullshit basically. But even that is sort of interesting, whether it makes a lot of sense or if it's just crap, you just kick into the next song and it can somehow all exist at the same time. And that's so much more interesting than just saying "thanks for coming we've got cds for sale", that's not why we're there really. I think it’s just a personal test for me, as well, just to see how far I can stretch that part of my brain.

And are audiences open to that?
I used to be wary, but I'm not anymore, I got to the point where I was really satisfied with what I was doing and sort of don't really care what I'm doing or thinking about it at the time. Of course it's great, you obviously want people to get something from it. So I'm not really aware, especially when you're talking about all that crap inbetween songs, you don't know what people are thinking - this guys drunk or an idiot - but then you're sort of testing the waters that way as well and seeing if they come along with you. I mean if they don't…

They're still going to get a good rock show.
Exactly. And I feel like the people that know our music that will come to our show, they will be so instep with what they feel in our music as well. So I feel like if they've already come to the show, and if they know even a section of our music...

You were talking about elements in lyrical content, do you feel like you write a kind of Australian music?
I definitly sing in my own accent, on a very base level. Obviously, your surroundings work their way into your songs, if you're at all open to what's going on around you, and that has always happened for us. And even, lyrically, I've got Australian references in there.

Like for example, I definitly pick up on a kind of Australian suburban experience in songs like Birdcatcher Finds a Tail or Where We Already Live...
One of the things about writing narratives and populating it with characters is sort of envisioning them in a landscape and I can only do that with my experiences, especially because there's a domestic thread that runs through a lot of songs. Of course that has parallels to my experiences as well and that's partly the thing about writing narratives, it's almost a vehicle to be able to write about yourself but just dress it up a bit fancier.

It's we but me at the same time?
And maybe it's we, meaning 'me' at the moment, and 'me' then, and 'me' what I want to be hopefully in the future as well.

You sort of fill 'mundane' things with magic and meaning.
The stuff I sing about is always a bit dissociated from reality I suppose, and that's probably why it's imbued with something that isn't quite spot on.

I was actually reading through the lyrics, and was going to ask what authors you were into because to me Tim Winton seems like a perfect corollary to your music. I'm thinking of something like That Eye the Sky in which the narrator envisions the sky as one gigantic eye.
That is a place that I've sort of come from. A lot of the artists and books and things that I like all dabble with that sort of way of thinking, I suppose. But I guess it's like a magic realism sort of thing.

What's your favourite track on the album and why?
Maybe Everything Ever - that's probably the oldest song on the record in terms of its genesis, and that sort of was the spark for the rest of the record in that ... The narrative is about these people sort of fumbling their way through live, and then stumbling upon something that makes them 'click' that maybe they've done this before or there's a slight parallel to what they're already going through. And that for me was sort of the beginning of thinking like that for this record. And the title's sort of funny as well - you know when you sit down to write a song you can literally write about anything at all, and trying to do that is really funny I think and again to do it in a rock song ... I really enjoy that process.

It's such a strange process, but you guys just pull it off so brilliantly.
I think Maybe we only pull it off because no one else really tries that hard.

What's with the hiatus after your next show?
We've toured pretty constantly thus far this year. And we're going to have a small break - Anthony's doing recording with his other band and I think I'm going to try and tie up my solo record and basically not play for a couple of months then going to put out another single. Which is Everything Ever, I think, and do a tour on that in the second half of the year.

And so the Deloris journey continues…

1 riffs:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting this up. Brilliant, insightful interview. I love this album. And the live shows are great.