Of the various side projects from members of Front Line Assembly, Delerium has proven to be the one to become a major focus and commercial success. Initially started in the late 80s with a dark, ambient, soundtrack-style sound, the project began incorporating lead vocals and more structured songwriting with 1994’s “Semantic Spaces.” A few years later, Delerium had a huge worldwide hit with “Silence,” a collaboration with Sarah McLachlan. They’ve remained on this path ever since, working with a variety of different vocalists, and recently put out a new album, “Mythologie.” In a phone interview, founding member Bill Leeb discussed the new release, the evolution of Delerium, the status of other projects, and more.
Since Delerium started working with vocalists, you’ve been releasing on Nettwerk. But for “Mythologie,” you’re on Metropolis. Why the change?
“If you notice, it happened with both Delerium and Conjure One. Conjure One went to Armada Music and we went to Metropolis. It had a lot to do with Nettwerk. They recently sold off almost their entire publishing catalog to Kobalt. It was a big deal. To me, it was kind of bittersweet because when you get into that kind of world, you’re kind of a nobody. You potentially get lost in the shuffle. So, they really changed their whole protocol about what kind of label they were, and I guess they didn’t want to deal with a lot of bands anymore, with promotion and things like that. They kind of said, ‘If you want to go somewhere else, or talk to someone else, we’re cool with it.’ They dropped a lot of artists as well. I guess they’ve been around for so long, they downsized and are focusing on a few smaller things now. I was surprised when they sold most of their publishing rights. I have to deal with these new people now. It wasn’t so much we wanted to get off, but they just sort of changed. Terry [McBride], Mark [Jowett] and Rick [Arboit] I guess have been doing it so long that they are starting to find different interests in life.”
Did this have an impact on what vocalists you collaborated with? In the past, you often seemed to work with Nettwerk-related artists.
“To some extent, yes. Like Mimi Page. I don’t know if you’ve heard of an artist named Bassnectar? He came to me with a song called ‘Butterfly’ and said I should check it out. I really liked it. So, I pursued Mimi Page based on that. And Phildel—I heard her through the internet and through an Apple commercial. Leah came back; we’ve used her before and are really good friends. That was an early Nettwerk connection. Jes still came through Mark, actually. I still talk to Mark; they still have the record side of our past work, and he recommended her because they publish her. She was in that whole sort of DJ/trance world. We did get one contact this time from Nettwerk. Crazily enough, Rhys and I, before we started this record, said, ‘Let’s make more of an instrumental album,’ and we were all gung ho on that. And look what happened! [laughs]. There are only 2 instrumentals.”
At what point did you realize that this was going to have a lot of vocals?
“I think the whole thing took on a life of its own, once I reached out to Phildel and Jess and Mimi. Especially Mimi and Jess; they both live in LA and Rhys has a studio down there. They also were more musically inclined as well, so Mimi would come in with ideas and we’d work on stuff. Same with Jess. Everything kind of took on a life of its own and we just thought, why fight it? It also has an element of having more outside influence. Rhys and I have done so many albums together, we kind of felt like going with the flow. And we felt good about it. It just ended up there. I still want to make an instrumental album though. Maybe the next one.”
The early Delerium music is so different from what you’re doing now. As you and Rhys have done many different projects together over the years, under different names, do you ever regret not starting something new for this more vocal-driven material?
“Gosh, that’s a good question. Once we started on Nettwerk with ‘Semantic Spaces’ and having Kristy [Thirsk], technically, that could have been a new project. You’re the first person to ask me that, and by putting it to me like that, I think…hey you know what, that’s a good point. But it’s too late now, right?
“But it’s kind of like this. I’m a big art fan, and when you look at a lot of great painters, they have different periods that they go through. Where they use only certain colors, or certain subjects, and when they are first starting, they haven’t defined their style. And of course, critics will only like one thing. I guess that’s the great thing about art and music and literature. There is no defining moment in regards to when you’ve reached your plateau. You just kind of keep doing what you like doing and hope somehow it resonates and makes sense. The better you become, the more commercial it looks or sounds or feels. There’s no doubt about that. When we were doing early Delerium stuff, we were still learning how to use instruments and figuring out what a chord is and how would that fit in with a sample. That became an art within itself. Now we’re really focused on songwriting, so that changes the whole feel and pretext of everything. Whereas back then, we were trying to make collages of samples and sounds. So really, it is like two different projects, but we had to start there to get where we are now.”
A track from “Syrophenikan” (1990)
Having made music for a while now, what are your thoughts looking back on your older material?
“Well, every day YouTube and Facebook have posts of old Front Line stuff and old Delerium stuff. We have the designated official fan page, unofficial fan pages, and everybody likes something different. I’m always amazed at how everything from day one is still circulating: our side projects, our production work. Maybe people aren’t buying music like the used to, but as far as documenting and keeping your back catalog alive, YouTube is invaluable. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t post a song that you did 15 years ago and forgot about. So, you’re always reminded of the past. I think with Front Line, our first two albums are now considered classics. I have no problem with any of the early stuff; it’s just different and in that way interesting. I like the juxtaposition of our industrial sound to our ethereal sound. You’re always going to get some people who like the older stuff. The crazy thing is that a lot of people who like Delerium now have never heard anything from the old days. For them, Delerium starts with ‘Silence’ and ends with what we have now. We have a whole big world of people from the old days and the new days, and that makes it fun, believe it or not. It’s interesting that way.”
Do you even find inspiration in your older material, perhaps in terms of how people are responding to it?
“I think that most artists will be inspired if they’ve had a lot of success with something. I think the one album everybody comes back to with us is ‘Karma,’ with ‘Silence.’ That went to number one in five countries and is revered as the ultimate Delerium album. Everyone compared everything we do to that record. Eight out of 10 people will go, ‘Yeah, this is great, but it’s not as good as Karma.’ But if you try to chase the vibe, you just go crazy. Once you’ve done something like that, you have to move on. But that would be the classic case. People think that we should make another ‘Karma,’ but if we did, I don’t think it would have the same impact now. You’ve just got to keep moving forward, and when people write something good about you, don’t dwell on it. If they write something bad, don’t worry about it. Just try to keep an even keel. I think that for use, being creative is still fun.
“We have a new song with John Fryer. I wrote the lyrics and he’d got a guy that doubled my vocal. We still get a kick out of doing this stuff and at the end of the day, that is really important, to actually be into what you’re doing and have fun with it. What else is there, right? That is where the reward is. We never really had a big intention of getting rich. We still feel like we’re just making music that we like making. With the new Delerium album, I actually enjoy listening to it. There were so many people involved, and there are a lot of different ideas. To me, that makes it more interesting.
How long did “Mythologie” take to make?
“It took two years. The two songs with Phildel—those were the first two songs that were created and were done by Jared and me. Then Rhys got involved. It was kind of a long journey. I don’t think we’ve ever taken this long to make an album. We were doing other stuff in between and touring. We didn’t feel like we needed to rush things, and with all the singers, everybody has got their own thing to do.”
Have you been working on any other projects?
“We did a thing for a Seattle game company called Air Mech. They’re doing really well with that game now, and they part 2 called War Mech. We did another 12 songs. I think Rhys has been busy with Conjure One. ‘Echogenetic’ is 3 years old and was one of our most successful albums, so we’re starting to think about doing another Front Line album.”
What was it like touring as Front Line Assembly with Skinny Puppy?
“The last thing we did was that ‘Eye vs Spy’ tour, and in our world, I think that was one of the most successful industrial tours in North America. What a lineup: Front Line, Skinny Puppy, Youth Code and Haujobb. I think we pretty much sold out every night. That was pretty monumental because I’ve known those guys since before we started Puppy. Just to be with them every day, driving to the next venue, and it was like, ‘Ok, the show is sold out,’ and hanging out backstage with everybody was fun. It was kind of like the perfect storm for me. At the end of that tour, if I had dropped dead, I would have been like, ‘Yeah, ok, this was worth all the struggles and tribulations and paranoia and aggravations that we all had in life.’ This was a real coming together for all of us. Backstage it was like a big family, with all the bands, and it wasn’t competitive. And in Vancouver, at the Commodore, Ogre and I actually got on stage and did a song together for the first time. We did ‘Assimilate’ and brought down the house. That was a pretty monumental moment. I’m still riding high from that tour. We haven’t toured North America since then, and it’s kind of weird because now we’d have to play smaller places again, and it’s not going to be the same.”
Are you planning on touring with Delerium again?
“We were talking to a booking agent, and I thought, Delerium has never really been a touring kind of band, and I thought the only thing that might be fun would be to do sort of smaller, sit-down, more comfortable venues. Or make them more kind of art gallery places rather than rock pits. Just do 3 or 4 on the West Coast, 3 or 4 on the East Coast. We’ve been toying around with that idea, like ‘an intimate evening with Delerium.’ It’s just that kind of music. We’ve been talking about that. I think everybody is into that idea; we just have to get it off the ground. That’s where we’re at.”
We have many, many older interviews about Delerium, Front Line Assembly, and Conjure One. Check them out in the archives!!