For people who haven’t heard about you before, describe your sound to them; what can they expect from you?
DELS: Hip-hop, raw, honest, experimental… that’s it basically. Simple.
What sets you aside from the other hip-hop artists that are around at the moment do you think?
I don’t know. It’s not something I really think about really, but I guess that with the producers that I’m working with it’s got like a different sound to what’s currently out there.
I wanted to ask you about your choice of producers actually because you’ve worked with some really interesting producers – producers I really like –so I was wondering were you involved with those choices or were they suggested to you by the label? How did that come about?
I’ve been working on this record years before I signed with the label last year and I’ve been friends with Micachu, Joe Goddard from Hot Chip and Kwes since like 2006. That’s around the time when I started getting into their music, ‘cos before I went to university I was straight like hip-hop, dancehall music, stuff like that and then when I went to uni I met different people and got into different types of music and I guess that’s the reason why my music sounds the way it does. I don’t really listen to hip-hop that much anymore and I spend time listening to other interesting sounds.
So you mentioned you started way back in 2006 and then I think in 2008 you released a single with Moshi Moshi?
So what have you been doing between that release and releasing ‘Shapeshift’ on Big Dada?
Well, after that in 2009 I had ‘Shapeshift’ ready. We shot the video in 2009. So we’ve been sitting on that for a very long time and I only got to release it last year in July. I was just kind of trying to work out my live show, cos now I’ve got like a proper band and I thought a hip-hop show can be a bit boring when it’s just DJs and a guy on the mic. I just wanted to build that process you know. And make sure that when I’m onstage I’m communicating something to the audience because I feel like hip-hop could be so much more interesting if you have some great musicians around you. I’ve also been working on my record. I finally finished it at the beginning of the year and it’s coming out in May.
How has your live show changed over the course of writing the album?
It started off with me and a CD player, to me with a DJ, to me with a drummer and a DJ, to now with two keyboardists, singers, delay pedals, bass guitar. I’m really happy with it, but the next step is to add visuals; I want my instrument to be a visual.
How long ago was you and a CD player?
Last gig was in Hull in a dingy club with about four people looking at me and that was in 2009.
Wow, that’s quite recently. I was thinking it would have been back when you were in college.
No, no, no it was recently!
Why is the album called GOB?
Just because I like the word “gob”. It’s very British, it’s something that my mum used to tell me to shut up all the time like “shut yer gob”. My friend Kwes who’s producing on this album he made this track called ‘Gob’ and I just thought it was so punchy. It’s gonna be the next single.
Are you going to make a video for it?
Yeah definitely. We’re shooting a week Tuesday.
You do all your own graphics and videos and things don’t you?
Yeah. With another design studio.
Does that make you feel like you have greater ownership over the whole project?
Yeah for sure. That’s how I’ve always wanted it to be. I’ve always said that I wanted this DELS project to be equally about the audio and the visual, because the times that we’re living in now everything’s online and people are interacting with music in different ways. I think pushing the whole visual element is a really interesting concept for me and that’s something that I’ve been interested in for the last few years. And coming from a graphic design background it’s kind of like a natural progress.
And my music might not last. I might fuck up in a few years time. So I don’t want to go to an interview at a design studio in London and they’ll be like “Ok so what have you been doing for the last few years?” – “Oh I’ve been making music.” But they want to see evidence that I’ve still been thinking in a visual way. So that’s like my plan b.
So it’s like at the same time you’re building your portfolio.
What kind of themes can we expect to hear lyrically on the album?
Basically the album’s all about the coexistence between fantasy and reality and it’s like an exploration of that space in between.
Yeah that’s what I got from the track titles…
Yeah. ‘Hydronenburg’: that’s about alcoholic water and it’s all about changing. There’s a lot of things where I’m talking about changing objects or changing myself or changing things about other people and stuff like that. So it’s kind of like this distorted view of reality. That’s what I was interested in for this album; just because it lends itself to such a rich visual. Cos if you just base everything on reality it’s too regimented but with fantasy you can do anything.
Are you inspired by things you read?
Yeah things I read, I love Aruki Murakami, the way he writes, he’s a Japanese writer. Also I love Hayao Miyazaki, he’s amazing; and I just love the whole story element. That’s why when I was growing up I used to like people like The Streets, Roots Manuva or even like Notorious B.I.G. just because they all told stories and that’s what I really like.
And you’ve got Roots Manuva on the album, how did that come about?
Yeah! Oh my god. To be honest that was quite random how that happened. I played his night at the Queen of Hoxton and he came up to me out of nowhere and was like “Yeah let’s make a song.” I didn’t even meet him yet! We were label mates but I’d never met him and he’s like “let’s make a song” and he’s talking to me like he knew me. It was quite weird but I was really excited at the same time. I was trying to compose myself. He’s one of my idols and to make a song with him was just amazing. That was done with me, him and Joe Goddard and we had a brass section. Yeah it sounds really cool.
So you’ve got many different producers working across your album, how do you think all of their different sounds and styles tie together to make the finished product?
Because the beginnings of the instrumentals that they sent through to me I picked them while keeping in mind “how can these all go together?” So I wasn’t just picking any old instrumental, I was thinking “Nah that’s not right, we need to work on this.” And then as the album was coming to its completion we kind of just tied the sounds together. It was supposed to be Joe Goddard producing but it ended up with Kwes producing six tracks on the album, Joe Goddard having three and Micachu two. So that was quite interesting for me. The project was originally going to be a joint project with me and Joe Goddard and we were going to come up with a name for it, but we couldn’t think of a name; we came up with all these shitty names. Then he said “you might as well just call it DELS” and I became a solo act basically.
Speaking of names, how did you get the name DELS?
It’s a nickname from when I was a kid. This teacher got me confused with this boy called Delroy and everyone started taking the piss, calling me Delroy every day and then it kind of stuck. My mum calls me Dels. I’d quite like for people to start calling me Kieran again you know? Cos it’s like, just lost in the mist somewhere.
How did you end up signing to [Ninjatune subsidiary] Big Dada? Were there a lot of offers coming in?
They were the ones that were really passionate about what I’m doing and I felt like they understood my vision. That was the most important thing for me. I also wanted to make sure that I have creative control over what I’m doing, that’s important.
I noticed on the b-sides to ‘Trumpalump’, the Joe Goddard remix isn’t so much of a remix; it’s pretty much a whole new song.
Yeah I know!
Do you end up with a lot of extra lyrics that you don’t use?
I thought about using the same lyrics again, but then I thought that would be cheating the audience. I wanted to give the audience something fresh. And it’s quite a heartfelt lyric; it’s about my granddad. I don’t know, I just wrote it. Joe said we were gonna do a remix and I always wanted to do something with my friend Ghostpoet at some point because I think he’s a great artist. He did his verse and when he did that I said to Joe that I thought we should do a quiet remix, stripped down, less crazy, and I just wrote that verse and then that was it.
I wanted to ask you about Ghostpoet because in a lot of the press I’ve read you two have been touted together as a “new wave of hip-hop.” So with his verse on that track did you meet him, do you know him? Or was it something that was hooked up?
No, he’s one of my friends. I met him… I met Kwes, Micachu, Joe Goddard and Ghostpoet… Sampha… I met all of these great producers and artists all on MySpace! So this was when MySpace was booming. I was always talking to these guys every single day and I’d never even met them. It was really weird. So when I saw Kwes – I remember bumping into him on the underground I was like “Whoa! You’re Kwes,” and he was like “yeah.” Then we kept seeing each other out at like gigs and stuff. But I’ve known Ghostpoet for a few years and I think he’s a great artist and I think he’s going to do some really great things.
Would you consider getting together again and doing another collaboration?
Definitely! We did a mixtape, we released it in 2009 and it had everyone on it. It was produced predominantly by Micachu and Kwes, and it had Ghostpoet on it, it had The xx on it, it had The Invisible, Golden Silvers, Man Like Me, just a crazy amount of artists and we all know each other through friends of friends. It’s called Kwesachu Volume 1 and we’re going to do a Volume 2 this year hopefully, just everyone get together and make music.
Are you looking to get the same lineup with big artists on the second mixtape or have you got some new people in mind?
I don’t know; I don’t really control the mixtape, but I’m sure there’ll be loads of new artists on there.
You mentioned Sampha. Are any of the tracks you’ve made with Sampha ever going to be released? Are they going to show up as b-sides?
Yeah I’m sure they’re going to be released in the future, we just need to finish them. He unexpectedly got really popular so then he got really busy and we couldn’t finish the tracks. I really wanted him to be on the album but I think we’re going to do something over the next month or so and finish it and put it out there because I think he’s just a wicked, wicked producer and he’s an amazing soul singer as well.
So you’ve got a few people featuring on your album, are you featuring on anyone else’s album?
Not at the moment, no. Not any hip-hop records or anything.
You still live in Ipswich and you’ve been commuting to London to record; if this album is a success will you move to London?
The plan is to move to London this summer, obviously I lived here before, I moved back to write the album. I just wanted to write it in Ipswich for some reason and it’s worked. I’m looking forward to moving back to London but to be honest I’d probably prefer to write my second album in another city like Tokyo or New York.
That’s really interesting because a lot of the press that I’ve seen says that one of the reasons your music is so fresh is because you took that step away from the “London scene” and wrote it in a different city, so is that something you’re going to try to do; write each album in a different city and see where it takes you?
Yeah I’d love to do that, that’d be a good excuse to go travelling! I’d meet loads of new people, make new friends, stuff like that and I’m sure it would have a massive effect on my music.
In 2008 you released ‘Lazy’; do you think you’re still lazy?
No I’m definitely not lazy, not anymore. <laughs> That was kind of like a reflection of my teenage years before I went to college and stuff like that.
I suppose we should whack this in: every press release I’ve read about you says you were in a two-step garage band that John Peel played. What was the band called and can people still hear the song?
No, no, you can’t find the song. It was a band before the internet age so it doesn’t exist, luckily. <laughs> We were called The Alliance Inn. If you go on the BBC website and search The Alliance Inn we don’t come up, it’s like a picture of these random four white dudes with beards. <laughs> So you won’t ever trace it back to that period.
If you take off it might come out on an old John Peel sessions CD or something.
I hope not!
Rob Hakimian, Tom Riste Smith