Greg Gilbert is a worried man. Not for him the traditional pop group concerns of chart position, tour runner or inspiration for the next song. No, Gilbert is worried as it’s his Mum’s birthday, and he’s trying to find her a present.
It’s taken him to the outer reaches of inner Southampton, and though when we start talking he has no idea of the purchase in hand, he retains a confident air.
This interview is hardly going to help. But then, perhaps it will distract him for a second before that “eureka” moment.
The band are riding high off the release of third album Everything’s The Rush, from which Keeping It Simple is the latest capture. Vocalist Gilbert, whose sibling Aaron is also in the band and described as an electronics wizard’, is getting all misty-eyed as he recalls the group’s appearance at T In The Park.
“It was magic, definitely one of my favourite gigs. It’s a bit of a clich to come out with the Scottish crowd thing, but they really were amazing up there. I’ve still got a warm glow, not a high – it’s what happens in a permanent state of awareness on tour. But now I’m not feeling so good, as your colds strike when you’re back home.”
We go on to talk about the reception for the album, given a perfect five stars in its musicOMH review. “It’s been wicked” he enthuses. “It’s different again, and seems to change from album to album. I was listening back to Faded Seaside Glamour the other day, it was the first time I’d heard it for ages, and I thought, “We really have gone somewhere.” Between the four of us the change has been incremental but it’s very noticeable.”
It marks the band’s first appearance on Polydor, the quartet having spent a while in the musical wilderness after a parting of the ways with Rough Trade. “As soon as we left RT it was like a relationship breakdown,” talks Greg. “But there was a kind of euphoria along with it, and that came into the making of the album. Most of the tunes were written when we didn’t have a record deal, and we were able to work at our own pace for the first time. There was plenty of spontaneity and thinking for ourselves, just as there always has been. We haven’t made any calculated moves, like adding steel drums or anything like that, but we’ve ended up doing a few things like string-led songs on OCD, which is perhaps commercially not the wisest!”
The album is produced by Youth. “We recorded up in Sierra Nevada”, recalls Greg, and it was something that really took me out of my comfort zone. I found it really hard to let go, recording a track a day, because as someone who spends weeks on stuff it’s not my instinct. I am a perfectionist, yes – 1000%, you could say – but having said that I think the new album is the most spontaneous thing we’ve ever done. And people have said about the harmonies – well, Brian Wilson was my hero in a lot of ways. Though you have to be careful not to use that too much, it can be unhealthy.”
Gilbert is fiercely passionate about the output of the band, but maintains his perfectionism doesn’t get in the way too much. “We’re not cynical people, we’re really not. For a while I tried to pretend I didn’t give a shit but I do. It’s about embracing what we are. Whenever we release something new we have the criticisms of people saying you’re not the Arctic Monkeys, for instance, but that doesn’t bother us. If you put us up to Joy Division then we’re inevitably going to come out badly in that comparison. But then if you put Joy Division next to, say, Vaughan Williams, it’s totally different.”
It’s a curiously oblique reference for the singer to make, so I ask him to elaborate, which he hardly needs prompting to do. “I love Vaughan Williams. I write a lot of stories, and while I’m doing that I play a lot of music in the background, and when it’s Vaughan Williams it’s like soundtracks to films that have never been made. But now more recently they have been, and we have had the Fantasia On A Theme of Thomas Tallis turning up in Master and Commander. It took me a while to get those images out of my head!”
His songwriting doesn’t respond to specific source material. “I tend to draw on different stuff, and the fundamental structure is unfettered. It encourages me to keep broadening my horizons, to go beyond where I’m starting out. Normally with the first impulse it’s best to go with that nine times out of ten, but very occasionally the musical directions change.”
Accompanying the Delays’ undeniably summery album is distinctive, sea-blue artwork. “We spoke to an Icelandic artist called Siggi. It was a new thing for him, and we took him round Southampton and showed him different places. The city’s really important to us, it’s a unique place. I don’t want to sound like a tourist board but it’s not like Manchester or Liverpool, so it can make its own identity.”
The band have visited some pretty far flung corners of the world in the scope of their tours. Yet Gilbert is quick to observe that “fans are fans, and that doesn’t change wherever you are. When you go somewhere far away though it feels a little less judgmental, you’re not going there with a set of press clippings. At one gig we did a guy threw his head back and shouted “I love music”, which meant a lot to me as it was hearing our music that inspired the reaction. It’s funny because you go to Mexico, or elsewhere in Europe, and you get people singing your lyrics. I feel like it’s a responsibility, especially as I know how much I learnt from the bands I love. You can gauge distance from it as well, I quite often think how we’ve come from the garage where we played together at the start to here.”
Not all the audiences have been so easy to play to. “We’ve done a few gigs in forests this year, supporting Crowded House. We really enjoyed it but it was a different audience to what we’re used to, they just listen. In the end I just sang a bit more rather than going made on the stage; it’s a symbiotic relationship. I just get excited like a school kid but it’s less likely to happen when the people in front of you are completely still.”
I ask Greg for a snapshot of albums he’s currently enjoying, and given the Vaughan Williams reference earlier, the response is varied. “Things I’ve listened to lately are the John Cale album Paris 1919, Dion‘s Born To Be With You, and I’ve also been listening to Gorecki‘s Third Symphony. It’s got this amazing, constantly rising string line at the start. It had quite an effect on me, and I’ve written a new song based on one chord.”
As far as new music goes, Greg says he “really enjoyed the Aliens album. I thought it was so self conscious, and made me like a lot of stuff in the early 90s, like Shack and Brian Jonestown Massacre. We got to meet them a couple of times recently, it was very rewarding.”
So now we’re finished, and it’s back to the other task in hand – the birthday present. “My problem is I always end up buying people things I want! I was going to get the Prisoner box set, but I’ve just seen a shop and now I know exactly where I’m going.” Taken literally, the last phrase could apply to the band – rejuvenated on their new label, and moving forward again.