An Interview With Paul Savage of The Delgados

By Spencer Cawein Pate

I’m ecstatic to present this interview with Paul Savage, former drummer for The Delgados–one of my all-time favorite bands–and current music producer at Chemikal Underground, the great record label the band founded and still operate today. Below, you’ll find our discussion of The Delgados’ music, career, and legacy; hopefully, fellow fans will find it as fascinating as I did!

SCP: The internet has wrought massive changes upon the music industry and music culture over the past decade. Do you feel that these changes are mostly positive–that the web makes it easier for listeners to discover bands like The Delgados–or are you more skeptical of its effects on music?

PS: I must admit I think the internet has, overall, been a negative influence on the music industry. There have been lots of positives, but from someone who runs a label and a studio, I can only see an industry which can’t afford to pay the artist what they’re due. Lots of small labels are ceasing to trade, bands are finding it hard to juggle working and playing in a band and a lot end up splitting up before they’ve really started. Mainstream major labels still have enough money to invest in a few artists but not as much as they used to. This means they play it even safer than they used to and go for much more sure bets.

I certainly haven’t noticed any increase in attention for anything we’ve done as The Delgados recently so if there’s a lot of new fans due to internet awareness then we’re not being made aware of them…maybe we should get our website up and running again.

SCP: Domestiques and Peloton are the band’s most stylistically varied albums. What were some of the musical influences that went into the making of those records?

PS: I think we wanted the first record to reflect our varied tastes and show a bit more of what we could do. By that I mean the acoustic and slightly darker tracks. The direction of Peloton came about from a Peel session we did as a bit of an experiment. On this session we used a string quartet and did songs that were a bit more ambitious than we had tried before. The reaction to the session was great and we continued this on to the recording of the record.

SCP: What was the band’s songwriting process like, especially for the construction of your longer, more complex tracks? How did the addition of Dave Fridmann as producer for The Great Eastern affect that process?

PS: We spent a long time writing the songs in our rehearsal space. It would usually start with Alun or Emma playing a song in its simplest form on guitar. Stewart and I would try and find an interesting way to represent that song–which would sometimes mean completely changing the feel, tempo or even time signature. Dave tended to cut a lot of stuff out of our songs rather than have stuff added. We recorded it all in Glasgow so it was ready for Dave to mix when we brought it over to him, but it was way too full and Dave was able to make sense of what we had.

SCP: To my view, Hate is the The Delgados’ greatest album, but it’s very dark, both musically and lyrically. What inspired the band to make such a bleak record?

PS: A few things influenced the making of Hate. My mother died very unexpectedly just after we finished touring The Great Eastern. It obviously affected me very deeply but I think it also was very hard for the rest of the band as well. Emma and I had just got married and my mother was very close to her. She had always been very supportive of the band from the very beginning and had known Alun and Stewart for years as we’ve been friends from high school. The first song on the album is one that Emma wrote in the months after she died. I always feel it describes the sadness, numbness, and eventually, the healing process that we went through.

Another influence was a project that we did which was to put music to the very dark and disturbing paintings of Joe Coleman. These paintings were shown on film at the Barbican in London while we played live to it. The paintings usually depicted gruesome portraits of famous tragic “celebrities” like Ed Gein, Jayne Mansfield and Mary Bell. A lot of the complex sections and darkness came from the pieces that we wrote for this—“Child Killers,” “Never Look at the Sun,” and “Coalman” (which was a b-side).

SCP: Were the more hopeful lyrics and the stripped-down, pop-influenced sound of Universal Audio a conscious reaction against the previous album?

PS: Yes it probably was. I think with The Great Eastern and Hate we’d taken that sound as far as we could and wanted to try something different. I personally have always found that the hardest thing to do properly is “pop” music. It’s pretty easy to hide behind obscure, dark, obtuse music and lyrics which can give a the impression of depth (please don’t think that’s what we were doing–I just think that’s the case with so many bands). It’s much harder to come out with direct, clever popular music that resonates with a lot of people.

SCP: How difficult was it to balance the demands of both running a record label and being in a band?

PS: At times it was very difficult but the truth is that we never knew it any other way so couldn’t really say we missed just being the band. We could see how other bands functioned and we would be envious of their freedom but we got a lot out of working both so I don’t think we’d have had it any other way.

SCP: Scotland has a great indie rock scene, with bands like Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks, and The Twilight Sad achieving international success. Paul, I know that you’ve done some production work for The Twilight Sad; would you say that any of these bands are consciously influenced by The Delgados?

PS: I know Scott from Frightened Rabbit likes some of our stuff but I don’t think we’re really an influence on them or the others mentioned.

SCP: Many of the iconic indie bands of the 1990s have gotten back together for reunion tours. Have the members of The Delgados ever considered reuniting either live or in the studio?

PS: We’ve never talked about it. We get on and see each other a lot but I can’t see any reason for it to happen.

SCP: Will we see any new material from Emma Pollock or Alun Woodward soon?

PS: They’re both writing new material so hopefully 2012 will see them getting albums together. That probably means late 2012 or 2013 before anything new comes out for either of them.

SCP: Finally, how would you summarize the continuing legacy of The Delgados?

PS: That’s tough. I still think we’re still too close to the end of the band to talk of legacy–it still feels to me like last year that we split up so can’t really think of us as having any great lasting effect. I’m very proud of the records and I suppose that’s the most important thing we’ve left behind.

SCP: Paul, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you!

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