One of the best bands from Scotland, The Delgados, have been together for over ten years now. Their five albums are some of the most interesting music to come from Scotland in recent times. Most of the band met in college. They are Stewart Henderson (bass guitar), Emma Pollack (vocals/guitar), Paul Savage (drums), and Alun Woodward (vocals/guitar). They are dedicated songwriters. Their songs feature a mix of female and male vocals. In 1996, they started their own record label, Chemikal Underground, thus having a hand in the Scottish Underground music scene, and discovering bands like Bis, Arab Strap, Mogwai, and Sluts of Trust.
The Delgados’ first album Domestiques (1996) immediately caught the attention of the late John Peel. He soon introduced The Delgados to the world by featuring their music regularly on his radio show. The band toured with Elastica and The Wedding Present, who were at the height of their popularity at the time. They soon worked on their second album, Peloton (1998). They even played a show at John Peel’s house for his 50th birthday party. Still they were a very underground band.
Things soon changed when they released their third album, The Great Eastern (1999). This album had a more expansive sound. The Delgados worked with classical musicians and even Dave Fridmann who had previously done great albums with Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. The Great Eastern met rave reviews.
Their fourth album, Hate (2001), was a continuation of the new-found sound. Most of the fourth album was darker. Songs like “Child Killer” and “The Drowning Years” were some of the darkest music they had ever done. A few years passed and now we have the fifth album, Universal Audio (2004). The Delgados toured the United States in November 2004. I spoke to leader Alun Woodward during the recent tour about the new album and the new direction of the band.
AL: When did you record the new album, Universal Audio?
Alun: We started recording it earlier this year. I think that we started in January and February and finished it up by May. We worked with a different producer. The previous two records were done pretty much the same way. This time we worked with a guy called Tony Dugan. So first of all when you work with a different producer that is going to make it different. Secondly, we decided that we weren’t going to use that much orchestration. That brought about a different approach.
AL: Why did you decided to not use an orchestra?
Alun: We felt that if we used an orchestra again that it would have a feel that was similar to the previous one. We wanted to take a different approach. Sometimes you want to explore different things. We worked a lot before on harmonies, guitars, and piano parts. It gives the songs a different feel when you have a different emphasis.
AL: How are the songs written in the band?
Alun: Emma and me write all the songs. We bring them in the studio and then we all rewrite them together. It takes ages to be honest with you. It would be easier if you had one or two people who do everything. It doesn’t work like that with us. Even though Emma and me write all the songs we are not the best arrangers. Stewart and Paul are better at coming up with parts and arrangements. It’s a slow process but it works.
AL: So the songs that you sing are your songs and the ones with Emma’s voice are written by her?
Alun: Yeah. We tried to swap around sometimes but it has never worked. It’s a strange thing. It has something to do with the familiarity with a song and the phrasing. You write with your own touch.
AL: What are your songs about on the new album?
Alun: A lot of it is about “not giving up.” It’s funny. You get to a point in life where you realize that life is really short. There are a lot of grey areas. A lot of this record is about trying to be optimistic. Trying to be positive.
AL: Since you have formed a record label, Chemikal Underground, you spend a lot of time listening to and dealing with other bands?
Alun: Yeah. We get fifty or a hundred demos a week. A lot of it is not particularly good. But once in a while you will get something that is fantastic.
AL: Are these all bands from Scotland?
Alun: No, we get stuff from all over the world. We get things from Europe and North America. In the past year we have got a ton of demos from Japan. I think that the label’s profile in Japan has gone up. We have many Japanese bands sending us music.
AL: How did you find the band Sluts of Trust?
Alun: We saw them play live actually in a place called Nice and Sleazy, in Glasgow. We were blown away. It was only their sixth concert but it was fantastic.
AL: What other bands are on Chemikal Underground now?
Alun: A band called Mother and The Addicts. Another band called Arab Strap. A band from the States called Radar Brothers. There is Aerogramme. We have a bunch of singles that we do of various electronica people.
AL: You were instrumental in discovering the band Interpol when they were first starting up?
Alun: Yeah. We met Daniel Kessler in 1997 or 1998. He gave us a demo. We ended up releasing it a few years later on Chemikal Underground. Matador picked them up and took them from there. They are a good band. The record we had done with Interpol goes for a lot on Ebay. We had an agreement with the band that we would release a certain amount. I would love to re-release it. It’s a great record. You could tell back then that they were a great band.
AL: What other bands have you played with that you liked?
Alun: On this tour we have played with Crooked Fingers. I really like them. I like Sons and Daughters too. They are from Glasgow. Those are really the only two bands that I can think of because this year we have been mostly in the studio. I don’t think we have played with that many bands this year.
AL: Were you just doing something today? I called you before and they said you were in the studio?
Alun: We were doing something for Fearless Music. It’s a TV thing in New York City. We recorded just three songs.
AL: How did that go?
Alun: One song took up a while, but it was fine.
AL: You have just been touring in America for a few weeks. What are you going to do the rest of the year and early next year?
Alun: We are going to play in other parts of Europe until Christmas. Then we go back to Glasgow. We are not doing much in January. Maybe a few shows in Britain. In February, we are going to Japan and Australia. I have visited those places before, but The Delgados have never played in those countries before. This will be the first time.
AL: John Peel was a real champion of the band early on. He just died a few weeks ago. How do you feel about that?
Alun: It’s one of those things. John was a great guy. So much of the music that I have heard, I have heard it first on John Peel’s show. He is totally irreplaceable. It’s sad that he died for so many reasons.
AL: What other things are musical influences for you?
Alun: You are probably influenced by so much stuff that you grow up with. My brother was really into punk when I was growing up. Some of the first records people played me were Stiff Little Fingers and Iggy Pop. My Dad was into Jazz and Country Music. My Mom liked Folk Music. Most of these things rub off on you and you keep coming back to it. Recently I have been getting into films. I am not sure how much that is an influence on the music.
AL: Have the music of the Delgados been in a film or on a soundtrack?
Alun: No. We did this thing with a guy from New York called Joe Coleman. We put music to his paintings. We did that at Barbican Centre in London. It was a one-night thing. One of our songs was used in a Japanese animation. It was a Manga thing called Gun Slinger Girl.
AL: have you read any good books that you care to mention?
Alun: I read Time Out Of Joint by Phillip K. Dick. I have never read anything by him before. My girlfriend gave me this book. I really liked it. It was really inventive. I am really interested in archeology and history.
AL: Did all the members of the band go to a University?
Alun: Yeah, Paul and Emma met at a University. I grew up with Stewart and Paul. I went to University in England.
AL: Have your parents gone to any shows?
Alun: My mum and dad came to a show last year. That was their first time. They loved it. It was a great show. It was a big concert hall in Glasgow. It’s one of those things. Your mum could come around to one of these divey little clubs in the country or to a nice theater. It was a good choice to come to a big event at a hall. I supposed they were really proud. It was the first time they had seen it. There was about three thousand people there.
AL: Were they wondering what you were doing for the past ten years?
Alun: They are pretty cool about it. There are always aunts and uncles wondering when you are going to get a proper job. But my parents have always been quite supportive of things. I know a lot of people who play in bands who get hassled by their families.
AL: What do you love about making music?
Alun: I like writing songs. I usually bring a tape recorder around with me because I often have a melody in my head. Other times I sit down with a guitar and a piano and put songs together. I really like it. That is what I love about what we do. I love writing new songs.
AL: The next album will also be really stripped down?
Alun: I don’t know. We didn’t know what we were going to do with Universal Audio until we sat down and talked about it. We’ll see. We’ll have a good thinking.
AL: What should new bands be doing if they want to play in a band?
Alun: It’s all about commitment. I see so many bands. Some of these bands have big record deals and they are really good bands. They will cancel shows because someone can’t make it. You need total commitment. You will know yourself if you have talent and you have got the songs.