Delaney Davidson, multi award winning singer/songwriter and NZ Arts Foundation Laureate, has just released his tenth studio album, Out of My Head, and is about to tour New Zealand.

Ahead of his show on April 5th at Toitoi local friend and host of the Small Hall Sessions Jamie Macphail had a conversation with Delaney about his new album. There were some unexpected revelations. 

JM: Tell me about your history of performances in Hawke’s Bay? 

DD: It’s been long and chequered! In and out of lots of different venues with The Sitting Room Sessions and Small Hall Sessions, a show at the Cabana, a long time ago, with the Eastern. Arts Festival shows in the Spiegeltent and Opera House. A memorable full band show in the Haumoana hall a few years back.

But my first visit was actually with a school production of Faust, in the Municipal Theatre in Napier. That visit was memorable because a friend and I went off to Marineland to watch their show and lost track of time. We were running late for the matinee performance and so an announcement came out over the PA system at Marineland, calling on Delaney Davidson to report to the office, right in the middle of the dolphins leaping. I was mortified!

JM: So tell me about the show with Chamber Music New Zealand on April 5th. What can we expect?

DD: It’ll be a pretty glorious, deluxe luxurious performance with me onstage with a three-piece string section and a three-piece band. So seven people on stage for the full show, playing my new album in its entirety.

JM: Who do you have in your band?

DD: Heather Webb on guitar and bass, Carla Camilleri on keys and Chris O’Connor on drums, and the Black String Ensemble on strings.

JM: Is working with a string ensemble something new for you?

DD: In terms of my own performance and recording, yes. I’ve always wanted to make an album with this kind of arrangements and strings, putting really lush sounding string feelings into it. In albums I’ve produced for others I’ve used them, with the early Marlon Williams albums I produced, and for Tami Nielson on hers. Also for the album with Troy Kingi. As I began this album I thought I should do that for myself, allow myself a really luxurious, really nicely produced album. It was exciting to work with Merk (Co-producer Mark Perkins) on the songs, with the whole way they came across and the atmospheres they are sitting in.

JM: You’ve primarily produced your own albums in the past. There must be an enormous trust to bring others on board to share that role? 

DD: Yeah, for sure, and it couldn’t have come at a better time in my album making career. I worked with Merk and with Marlon Williams and Tom Lynch on this record. We all know each other really well and have so much trust in one another. We talked a lot, and so many decisions were made jointly by us. I remember saying to Marlon, who worked as vocal coach on this, as we were doing some of the vocal work, “Just tell me if it’s good or not, you don’t have to mollycoddle me through this process. Treat me like an instrument, tell me if it’s shit and we’ll do it again.” When you’re singing you’re thinking about the emphasis, the expression, the diction and the tuning. You’re working on all these things and half the time you’ll do a take that feels great, and then find you weren’t in tune! It can be impossible to notice it because you are so in that world. So having Marlon be so involved with me on that was a really great process.

JM: So between the time of writing the songs and now having the finished album, did much change in terms of the overall sound you had imagined?

DD: In terms of not wanting to make an album that I had made all by myself, yes, absolutely. It felt like I was moving into new territory which is an experience that, after making ten, you’ve pulled something off that you’ve never done before. And you couldn’t have achieved alone. You need those others to go to those new places, you can’t do that on your own. That’s why I used a producer, so that I could surpass my own limitations, hear outside of myself. And we reached a point as we were working together that we knew what we were doing was good, and we trusted each other. So you can then put criticism aside and just go for it. At that point you can move forward so fast. It was exhilarating. And Merk is like the ultimate enabler, he has the ultimate listening ear. He hears your vision and makes it happen, but at the same time with his own very clear vision of what he thinks works, what instruments he wants as part of it.

There are a lot of aspects to this record. I loved working with Dr Karl Steven (Supergroove and much more) on the string arrangements. He’s a genius. I wrote some of the songs with other people, Miranda Easten, Sam Scott, Hayley Westenra, Marlon. That adds different dimensions.

Very special to share vocals with Reb Fountain on one song and Marlon on another. The voice and the vocals are at the heart of it, in the way that Lee Hazelwood and Kris Kristofferson recorded, it’s an older sound, with the voice as the main thing.

JM: Would you say there is an overall theme or at least feeling to the album? 

DD: Well when I think back to an album I wanted to make, I wanted to make an album that you would want to put on on a Sunday morning. An album you’d want to put on that would ease you into the day, guide you into that nice, luxurious feeling that a Sunday morning can have. Get some coffee, put the record on, sit down in your pajamas, look out the window and simply listen.

JM: I’d love to hear a bit about the photograph on the front cover of the album. It’s very bold and dramatic.

DD: Oh, that’s a still from a video that Martin Sagadin made for the song “Don’t Walk Away From Love. I went through about eighteen different covers for this album, with a couple of different designers involved. I spent some time doing dedicated photo shoots which involved me in lots of makeup and a wig even. I had one design of my own that looked like a Korean cigarette packet, others that were very country record influenced. Then one day I was looking at some stills from a video and I saw this one and thought “That’s it!”. You just know. I always see all my albums together when I am thinking about the next cover, so it needs to be something that sits with all those that have gone before, but also something fresh, that has a new flavour, a new colour. This crazy orange turned up in the video and it’s that, it distinguishes itself. There is so much debate around album covers. Do you put your face on the front? So many different theories. You can’t ignore the marketing aspect of a cover. It’s going to sit in a record store amongst maybe 50 different covers on display. Is it recognizably you? Is it something other, something that will stand out?

JM: I love the look, the tones and colours. There’s a warmth, a glow to it. 

DD: Definitely sunset colours in there. Heartbreak in the sunset. It’s a funny thing, I remember having a conversation with someone, telling them that sunsets get me every time, they just do me in. Their response was that that’s an artist’s conundrum, related to the fall of Lucifer. It’s a glimpse of paradise, now unattainable and disappearing before your eyes. You’re watching it fade away before your eyes, knowing you can never go back into that world. That’s the glory of heaven, right there and the fact that it is dissolving in front of your eyes. It once was yours, but it is no longer.

JM: That’s profound!

DD: I think the live show will actually capture something of that, the fleeting glimpse. I think the look and feel will be beautiful, warm, a special moment in time. We have gone to some trouble to produce a printed programme for the show. I’d encourage people to get there in time to read it and take in some of the background and meaning of the songs before you hear them. That’ll allow you to sit back and feel, absorb the show, the songs. I think it’s going to be lush, luxurious, warm. I hope people can sit back and feel all of that. This will be the very first time I have ever performed an album in its entirety, replicating as close as I can the recorded sound of the album. It’s very exciting.

Tickets to the Chamber Music New Zealand presentation of Delany Davidson Out of My Head concert at Toitoi – Opera House on Friday April 5th are available HERE.

Video for Heaven is Falling featuring Reb Fountain

Video for Don’t Walk Away from Love

Video for Out Of My Head


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