The Story Behind ‘Delta’

I can’t for the life of me remember why, but one day in early 2015 I was feeling particularly sorry for myself so I decided to sit down and try to write a sad song.

Unlike the way I produce now, when I started to write Delta I didn’t really overthink anything. If I had an idea, I tested it out and if it sounded alright, I left it. That simple.

I started with piano and then added some strings (because they’re both good sad instruments). Of course, both were software instruments drawn-in with a mouse because I can’t actually play either. I thought some vocals would be nice, so I recorded some “ooh’s” and “aah’s” on my computer’s in-built mic, pitched them up, added a pinch ( / truckload) of reverb and threw them in too. I wanted to get a bit more ‘me’ into the song, so I recorded some guitar chords, again using the crappy Macbook mic. I always intended to go back and re-record everything with my proper mic but the parts just “worked” so I decided to leave them.

I then started to play around with percussion. At the time I was listening to A LOT of Etherwood’s first album and tried to go for a vibe that was similar to much of his music – lots of little clicks, blips and random sounds that you wouldn’t typically expect to hear in a drum and bass beat. Many of them didn’t make the final mix, but it helped get a groove going in the moment.

At the end of that first, very experimental session (the kind that feels like 20 minutes but is actually 4 hours) I went to sleep, and the next morning, I tackled the terrifying task of listening to back to the new infant song. Nine times out of ten, this ends badly. You start a new song one night and think to yourself “This is amazing. I’m a fucking wizard!”, only to listen back the next day and wonder what on Earth you’d been smoking. But this was not one of those times. In fact, to my surprise, ‘Spanish Woods’ (Delta’s working title) sounded just as good to me the next day as it did the night before.

As an added bonus, the sadness which had motivated me to start writing the song in the first place was nowhere to be seen. It seemed as though the very act of sitting down to write from and about my feelings had essentially cured them. I thought that a song which was able to have this effect on me and showed such initial promise in a musical sense deserved to be investigated further, so I decided to keep working on it.

As for the meaning? Even back when I was writing acoustic songs (e.g. “The Angler”), it was extremely common for me to write in a sort-of preemptive fashion. That is, the music or melody would come before the lyrics, and then the meaning would arise organically sometime afterwards – usually rooted in a real-life experience. Put another way, most songs I write grow into their meaning; and this piece was no different. Although the song was initially just an experiment, as I began to work more seriously on Delta, a story started to develop in my head. And even though this story doesn’t have a connection to my life that is as personal as Longing, to me it means just as much.

* * *

Delta is essentially the soundtrack for a short film that exists only in my mind about a fisherman returning to his lover in the Nile delta region of ancient Egypt following a long, fruitless voyage out on the Mediterranean.

In one way, the song attempts to sonically capture the environmental setting of the story – the fisherman untangling his nets as his vessel glides gracefully across the sparkling bay, a flock of ibises guiding him home, his lover waiting on the docks and watching for the white spec of a sail on the horizon, and the setting summer sun painting the sky 10 blissful shades of peach.

In addition, the two-tiered tone of Delta tries to communicate the psychological conflict consuming the minds of each character. The emotionally-charged and reflective aspect conveys their respective doubts regarding the uncertain fate of their relationship; as well as their awareness of a psychological and physical distance that has come between them. Conversely, the strong and hopeful quality of the melody is intended to represent their deep connection, mutual affection and shared wish that everything will be as it was when they parted.

As the song progresses, the fisherman’s ship glides closer and closer to the shore, their feelings intensify and heart rates rise. Then as Delta fades into the outro, the ship docks, the fisherman jumps off and sees his lover for the first time in months. They stand like statues just meters apart, in dead silence and with their eyes locked & lips sealed, they say more than words ever could.

I’m not entirely sure what they said in that moment, nor do I know how the story ends. As far as I am concerned, these details are not for me to decide. Rather, what happens next is limited only to the boundaries your imagination… let me know what you come up with.