Interview: DeLila Black

Delila Black on stage

Del Osei-Owusu interviews DeLila Black…

Hello DeLila, how are you? 
I’m okay!

Congratulations on Accountability making the Fresh Faves, how does it feel? 
It feels pretty good!  Once a song is out there, there’s no guarantee that anyone will listen to it. It felt great to get such positive feedback. Also, being an independent and DIY, it’s been particularly challenging, doing my day job plus putting the time and effort needed into music projects to make them happen. It’s no small thing. I was very surprised by the response. I’m glad that people like it.  Thank goodness for the Color Me Country / Rainey Day Fund who granted me the funds to do it so quickly. It would have taken much longer otherwise. 

What was the inspiration behind the lyrics? 
“Accountability” is a kind of social commentary. Mostly directed at government leaders and those taking advantage of their positions at the expense of the rest of us. But not just our leaders. Over the past few years, watching the news, seeing some very disturbing stories and abuses of power, I’ve seen a trend in the way stories are reported. I noticed that the narrative sometimes changes to vilify the victims and excuse the aggressor.  

I remember waking up one morning and reading a headline that said “Ted Cruz Blames His Kids For Cancun Trip During Texas Crisis.”  Really dude? That sort of kicked it off for me.  In my own life I thought about incidences, relationships, behaviours that I’ve witnessed or experienced. I’ve spoken to other people about their own witnessing of something that needed to be called out, but the narrative moved to a place which allowed that behaviour to continue — and we all did nothing. We just watched it happen.

It was recorded and mastered remotely, what were the triumphs and challenges you faced in doing it this way? 
I recorded a rough demo and sent it round to the musicians and let them to do their bit.  Then they sent me files of their parts. For me, the challenges came with the mixing. I’m very hands-on with mixing. It was very hard for me not being there. I had to send the files off and just trust Charlie Francis. He played bass, he mixed it and mastered it, and he did a fantastic job. We had a couple of phone chats, a few emails and he knew what I was trying to achieve.  Also, I had to record the vocals  at specific times.  My neighbours have kids and I can hear just about everything that goes on in their flats.  It all bleeds through. I would wait til they walked the dog and record vocals while they were out. 

It features BJ Cole on pedal steel guitar, how did that collaboration come about? 
I just asked him if he would play on the track.  He liked the song and he said yes. It was always my intention to ask him as soon as I had material which I felt confident to send. 

Did you pick up any tips? 
Yesthe tip I picked up is that sometimes it’s a good that I don’t know too much about who I’m working with. I had been a fan BJ Cole’s for a long time, but I didn’t know the extent of his experience. Mostly, I knew about some of his work in the 80s. I had no idea he’d payed on recordings by Marc Bolan and Scott Walker!  Or that Sting called him ‘the best pedal steel player in the world’!   Had I known all that,  I would have been too intimidated to ask him if he would play on the track.  Strangely, I’ve had a few good things work out for me, by not knowing too much. Sometimes my ignorance works in my favour. lol

You are a singer-songwriter. How did it all begin for you?  
I’m not sure there was a clear beginning.  My family is from Haiti. Music was always in my home growing up.  Records were playing or the radio was on, or someone was playing or trying to play an instrument.  It was not uncommon for anyone to make up songs or sing existing song. Everyone sang or made up songs whether they could or not. It was all valid. Music was part of regular life.

What were your influences when you started out? 
I was influenced by singers’ voices and by the production. I like voices that are unmistakable.  You know who they are when you hear them. People like Chrissie Hynde, David Bowie, Joe Strummer.  There was Martha Jean-Claude (she was a Haitian singer and a civil rights activist) These are unmistakable voices.  I was intrigued by the production from certain periods, genres, certain producers, like Tony Visconti. I remember reading books and hearing stories about how some recordings came about.  What are the chances of finding someone with that high calibre of technical savvy and imagination plus the patience and the daring to try new things. Innovative producers are fascinating.

I also used to watch TV programmes or listen to radio programmes discussing how certain albums were made. I still watch these things on Youtube.  Like, this past Saturday, I was watching Jacquire King talking about working on Caleb Followill’s vocals. To be honest, I don’t always know what these guys are talking about, but I listen anyway and sometimes I get a little understanding.  I find it fascinating even if I don’t fully understand what these producer guys are saying.  In another life, at a different time I am probably one of these guys. lol. I was mostly influenced by the production of the recordings and the uniqueness of certain singers’ voices.

Your sound is such a great mix, how do you usually begin writing a song? 
I don’t have any set way of writing.  Anything goes. Sometimes I have a piece of a song. Once in a while, I wake up with an entire song already in my head. Sometimes I’ll write something with a particular singer in mind. I think about what that person would like and I write something with them in mind. I imagine them singing it. I really enjoy writing. Sometimes just a lyric eventually develops into a song. Like with “Accountability”, the opening line would  pop into my head when I saw politicians in news headlines. Sometimes, only vocal sounds or noises or a melody, then lyrics eventually come. It’s like the song reveals itself. I just have to be patient and let it. Like sculpting.  

Pre-COVID you’ve performed live, what’s been your favourite gig? 
I had only just started doing live gigs with this line up when Covid hit so I didn’t really have time to get a favourite. But a while back, I was singing in a band called Toffee and we were in-between drummers. The one we had didn’t turn up and we were due on stage soon. I announced to the audience that we didn’t have a drummer but that we called this guy who was going to come in and wing it, he didn’t know the songs at all. The crowd loved it. It was a loud venue. Loud music.  

As we were setting up, the drummer guy turns up, the audience starts cheering, they all pass his gear (crowd surfing style) from the back of the room to the stage. The drummer guy sets up and we do our set with the guitarist shouting “VERSE, 4 BARS!”, “NOW CHORUS!”, “TWO BAR BREAK!” etc, so the drummer guy would know what came next. I don’t know what that drummer’s name was. I wish I did. We played a great set, I sang my ass off, it was loud, crazy and exciting and the crowd went nuts. They absolutely loved it. So did I. This was back in the Camden days. So much fun!

What music are you listening to at the moment? 
At the moment I’m listening to some Charley Crockett. I tend to listen to Crockett on Mondays for some reason. I’ve been repeat playing “You Must Be Drunk Again”.  It reminds me of being in Tallahassee. I’ve been listening to a lot of his back catalogue.

I also listen to Lady Nade. Great stuff! She’s doing Bristol proud!  And also a wonderful artist in Berlin called Nansea (on Bandcamp). He sings what he calls Queer Indie Chamber Pop.  His songs and vocals are so lovely–>  https://nansea.bandcamp.com/album/comfort

What are you looking forward to next? 
I’m hoping to do a collaboration with Gangstagrass. RSon mentioned it and I’m hoping it’s possible. Fingers crossed.  I’m looking forward to recording an EP before Christmas.  I’m looking to do more collaborations that involve some genre jumping. Particularly with someone doing glitchy stuff.

I’d like to do more live gigs but I’ve got some funding applications to complete (fingers crossed again). Otherwise I’ll be financing everything myself which means that I won’t be eating for a few months!

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Del Osei-Owusu

Del is a songwriter, producer, keyboard player arranger and musical nerd from South London, Del comes from a gospel music background but listens to anything, everything and nothing. Read More

2 Comments

  1. What a lovely surprise to see this interview with Delila. I am so pleased that she is getting some recognition of late. Such a unique talent and such a selfless supporter of her fellow artists too. Well done Del (which could be both of you as she signs her messages Del!) for organising the interview and to both of you for bringing out such an interesting story and insight into how Delila works and where her influences emanate from. 🙂

  2. Thanks for reading Neil! I thought I’d give you a little surprise! I’ve been wanting to interview Delila for some time now!

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