Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Peter Delaney Interview

A little while ago I ran a night called The Acoustic Picnic in The Back Loft and invited some of my favourite acoustic musicians and poets to come perform. It was a pretty excellent, and rather eclectic night if I may say so myself. One of the musicians I had the pleasure of sharing the small, but nicely decorated, stage with was Peter Delaney. At the end of the night we swapped CDs and I went home and listened to Duck Egg Blue on repeat for weeks and realised I had a million questions I wanted to ask him about his lyrics.

Well do you know what happens to be the best thing about having a blog? It’s the perfect excuse to ask musicians nosy questions about their music, so that’s exactly what I’ve done here;

One of the things that struck me when I was listening to you perform live, and also with the CD, was the delivery of the lyrics. The lyrics seem to be woven into the fabric of the song and it's only after a few listens, or a little while, that my ear could separate the words from the harmony. It's like at first you hear the overall colour of the songs and then the words and meanings start coming out and making themselves heard very gradually.

That’s interesting. Maybe it’s because when I’m coming up with the vocal part to a song I think more about melody and how it fits with the music rather than the words I’ll be singing. Then when I work on the lyrics I try to make them go with the melody so I suppose they can become hidden in the music and it could take a while for the words to make themselves noticed.

I was reading through the CD liner notes after listening to the CD and the thing that struck me was that a lot of the lyrics work well as written pieces independent of the songs. Do you usually start by writing or singing?

A lot of the songs have their basis in scraps of lyrics and ideas that I’ve written but I’d never have the entire lyrics written before I put them to music. When I’m working on the lyrics with the music then I try to flesh out the ideas a bit. I try to be aware that the words I’m writing are for a song and that how they are sung can have an effect on the meaning so I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to write them entirely independent of the music. I don’t always do that but I try. Having said that, sometimes some of the more interesting lyrics can just come out of nowhere when you’re rambling along with the music.

There's a real mix of very ordinary, homely everyday images (like Spiderman wallpaper in a kids bedroom, I love that line) mixed in with the fantastical in the songs. Is it an intentional mix of reality and fantasy?

I don’t think I ever really think about it in terms of reality and fantasy. The songs are definitely based on reality and real experiences but I try to look for interesting ways to describe them so maybe they can seem a bit fantastical. Other times the songs can be about very subjective experiences and the only way to approach them lyrically is with more abstract ideas and in that sense I can see how they could be seen as fantastical alright. I don’t use metaphors that often but I do like to play with ideas in a way that they take on a whole new appearance in a similar effect to metaphors and that can really blur the line between something based in reality and the subjective response to it but it’s not something I really think about.

I hold onto one rather sexist belief that boys don't listen to lyrics, but I have a feeling you might be able to prove me wrong. So go for it, who's your favourite lyricist?

Really? I know a lot of guys who listen to lyrics. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to prove you wrong though because I haven’t always really paid a lot of attention to lyrics but that’s probably because they don’t seem to be a concern for most singers you hear these days. I think people like Leonard Cohen are great lyricists but there’s not many people out there who write like that. I really like the idea of playing with language so I think I probably look more to writers than singers. I really like Vladimir Nabokov and Dylan Thomas. They both have an amazing way with language and do some crazy things with words. I also read Moby Dick recently and that has some lovely prose in it. I think Joanna Newsom is a very talented lyricist. I started listening to her around the same time I started to write the songs I play now and what really struck me was how apparent her own sensibilities are in her lyrics. She isn’t just singing a bunch of borrowed expressions or the clichés of a particular style of music but exploring things that really interest her. I think that made a big impression on me and since then I try to be even more aware of my own personal sensibilities and the things I find fascinating and not just go along with the obvious imagery or sentiments that belong to a particular genre. One of my favourite lines Joanna Newsom wrote is from her song Sawdust and Diamonds:

“I wasn’t born of a whistle, or milked from a thistle at twilight,
No; I was all horns and thorns, sprung out fully formed, knock-kneed and upright.”

For more info on Peter Delaney you can visit Duck Egg Blue was re-released in 2011 by Deadslackstring Records and is available from Bandcamp. Go see him live! If you live in Limerick you’re in luck because he’s playing there soon. 

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