The Borden-Delo Interview

Stewart Delo
Source: Valerie Fiddes, 2011.

Stewart Delo is an emerging oracle of a rock star based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, from where he utters a most insatiable prophecy through his self-produced (and masterfully self-recorded) records, two of which have become underground hits and are complacently bubbling under, featuring artwork and packaging I had the pleasure of devising. He also happens to be my go-to collaborator and best friend and adviser. What does his future hold? Here is how he explained it to me.

JB: Thank-you for letting me dissect you for mass consumption. The appreciation I have for your sacrifice of your time and your sharing of your space is profound and legit. I also happen to know you well, already, and you know that I dig you. First, though, can you elaborate on the majestic side of being an artist, your majesty?

SD: The majestic side of art, if I take your meaning, is sort of a mental thing. I remember the initial shock of imagining my projects, when the ideas came easily and intuitively (My God! The album MUST sound this way! It is SO OBVIOUS!). I try to work out the greatness (majesty, if you want) of that first flash, and the idea changes, becomes a real thing. It loses the majestic dimension (for the better, I think) and becomes something you can expose to other people. Then, of course, I go around performing the tunes, which is another step away from the initial shock. While I love performing, I usually do it in cavernous Canadian micro-breweries, crumbling tea shops and other interesting corners of the country with no touch of the majestic side of anything. As joyful as it is, there’s something about playing in a deserted deli bar, Hedwig-style on a slow Wednesday night in November, that brings a person back into reality.

JB: You are gaining notoriety as a concept album aficionado. What’s the concept behind your forthcoming record, which will be your third, Majesty?

SD: The lyrics of Majesty are a dark, twisting story, in which conquering death is the central event. A fantastical gang in a fictional town rises up against the invincible force, death, that presides over them. Musically, it is an album of dense electronics, harsh guitars and quick dynamic shifts, from grandiose flights of melodic fancy to lean, 1-chord power trips.

JB: From knowing you, I realize your ambitions artistically, for your projects, are rather grandiose. How do you reconcile the ethereal with the practical? What are your limitations and how do you meet them? What advice can you give fellow artists struggling with reality?

SD: I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several years trying to make a good living, money-wise, and do the creative work that I love in one activity. I’ve given that up recently, in large part, and it feels much more liberating than giving up a dream ought to feel. If you want to make money, I suggest that art is not the best way to go about it, and I’ve felt much better having the two things separate. Only a very few artists manage to reconcile art and money with much success, it seems to me. The rest who try spend their lives fighting off failure, and my advice to fellow artists would be to realize that you’re bigger than that. Making music, you’ll turn out a masterpiece before you scrape a living wage together, so you might as well work as hard as you can on the art you want to make and be free to make money doing what you don’t care about. It keeps things simple. I can’t handle the living and the writing at once, and that’s my limitation. Though, I should give a disclaimer: I am in no way opposed to commercial art, art for hire, advertising or selling out. Good on those who manage it. If you’ve got business smarts, you’re a better artist than me, right off the starting line.

JB: Speaking of limitations, what makes Majesty flawed and what makes it majestic?

SD: My struggle with Majesty involves cohesion. The parts I’ve recorded have a fragmented quality that needs to be addressed. The changes come out of nowhere, and that makes it hard for a story to come through. It does, however, benefit from better recorded performances than any of my previous work. I rehearsed a lot leading up to this album, and I’ve had some good help.

JB: Will you be touring for the new record and where, when? Where can fans find it?

SD: No tour dates have been announced, but the album will go out online shortly after the release date. I sincerely hope to tour with Majesty, and will keep updates flowing. Do feel free to procure copies of the album by illegal means, if need be.

JB: Now, thinking entirely of ideas and not products, what ideology is most comparable to your style? Would you say you make Feminist Fop? Fascist Rock? Pussy Pop?

SD: I take a lot of my inspiration from early prog-rock, but prog means something different nowadays (am I, then, NEW New Prog? Retro-prog? Progressive Chic? Progcore? God, it’s depressing…). I use rock formats, or popular song formats, but I don’t think I’d call it rock. Not really. A professor of mine, who was prone to dispensing wise platitudes more or less at random, once opined that cooking was the greatest of all arts. Something about that really stuck with me, because I saw my work as combining musical elements in a manner reminiscent of cuisine rather than of traditional music. At least, I was trying to. Call it culinary music: a mixture of elements, treated in various ways, that creates a memorable sensual experience. Call it a pasta casserole.

JB: People should know that your lyrics kick major ass. How do you birth such beautiful babies? What’s your composition process? Do you do the words or music first? How do you get into character for your concepts?

SD: I have almost as many songwriting processes as I have songs, but my best lyrics come more or less complete, in extended periods of mental tedium. Conditions like sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, dehydration and boredom have been known to encourage my songwriting, but often to the detriment of the finished product. I sometimes dig into the personalities and speech-patterns of other, better singers for the character of a song, but my words inevitably come out warped, twisted and (I hope) new.

JB: I know you’re still recording the new record [Majesty], but what art is inspiring it? What are you currently reading? Listening to? Watching?

SD: Majesty‘s musical inspirations run from Prince to Trent Reznor, but I’ll try to toss out the main ones. The idea for the album first came to me in the opening bars of Island of Jewels, a particularly macabre album by the Legendary Pink Dots. That band’s effortless fusion of electronic and organic instruments, as well as their mordant style, gave me the initial spark. I’ve also been drawing on one of my favourite bands, (laugh if you will) Genesis, both from the surreal musical storytelling of their early period and from the glossy, electric sheen of the later albums. Additionally, my girlfriend and I have been watching horror movies almost nonstop for the past little while, so a dark, bloody sensibility has been cast over my recent work (and hers: Overall, in everything I hear, read and see right now, I tend to look for exemplary attention to detail, good pacing and structure, use of dynamic shifts and balance of creative elements.

JB: Would you ever speak to somebody that you used to know? What do you think of regret?

SD: I try to regret nothing, unoriginal as that is. Regret, to me, is a resentment of who you are, and a wish that things had turned out to make you a different person. Sometimes you can’t help feeling that way, and it’s a hard world, but I try to overcome that feeling. I stand by everything I’ve done, especially the failures and missteps. On that note, I would most certainly speak with people from my past, though if you want a private detail about me, I’m terrible at keeping in touch.

JB:In private, you’ve described the new record to me as baroque. Could you explain what makes it so busy and why you’ve become your own sort of Louis XIV, ruling the project ever so majestically?

SD: I think of myself as a creator of complicated work, whose highest ambition is simplicity. I find it easier to create many-faceted work than simple work, and I envisioned Majesty as my last indulgence of that tendency before switching to a radically stripped-down style. As time has gone on, though, this album has become less of an opulent, baroque affair and more of a statement on the very idea of baroque ornamentation (following the modern cultural trend of total Self-Awareness).

JB: You’ve got two creeping albums under your belt, stalking fans like thieves in the night, minus the Christ reference. What is it about them that’s making them so holy?

SD: I try to make every album an improvement over the previous one, so I might find it hard to assess my first albums while working on a third, but I’ll not be stopped by such small concerns. My first, Skinned Alive and Bone Dried (2011), started as an experiment in mono recording and grew into a scattered, sonically intense album with a lot of turns and surprises. It became sort of an ancient-mariner-type ramble that I had to complete before I could move on to anything else. I would call it an uneven but (I hope) exciting record. My second, Un-American Gothic (2012), abandoned the first album’s distorted vocals and thick mono sound, drawing on pop-rock guitars, jazz piano and more theatrical performances. It was my attempt to use political and national iconography to create an unpolitical, non-nationalist album (listeners can decide whether I pulled that off). In momentary lapses of self-control, I threw in scattered impressions of cabaret, electric blues, gypsy rock, noise and ’70s concept-album craziness, perhaps hoping it would all mysteriously fit.

JB: What will the first single from Majesty be and who are you getting to direct the video?

SD: I won’t go so far as to announce a single officially, as many of the songs don’t yet have confirmed titles, but I’m considering putting out a raucous, guitar-heavy groove called “Crown Shot” as the lead. The marketing plan doesn’t extend farther than that.