Interview :: Martin Smith

I recently got to do a really quick Q & A with Martin Smith (former lead singer of the band Delirious) for the folks over at Martin has released two great records this year, God’s Great Dance Floor: Step 01 and Step 02.


Ryan: You spent many years in the band Delirious and had a lot of success – and if that’s not the appropriate word, we could say “worldwide impact.” Since the band broke up, you’ve embarked on a solo career. What have been some of the biggest surprises about this stage of your career vs. your years in the band?

Martin: I think the greatest thing about this season has been not being so busy and being home more, and being part of a growing family. We’re also part of a new church plant in Brighton called St Peter’s, and we feel really privileged to be there and part of that. It’s been a surprise to me that I’ve been able to release so much music and I’m amazed that these songs have made an impact on people!

Ryan: I’ve heard songwriters talk about the importance of writing with other artists. Collaboration has been a key component of both Step 01 and Step 02. How have those writing opportunities come about and what have you learned from working with such noted and respected artists?

Martin: It’s always great to write with people that are better than you – it stretches you, it brings things to the table that you couldn’t have imagined and you learn a lot in the process. Usually if you invite someone into the writing process who you trust, 9 times out of 10 they will always make it better. The aim is always to make something as good as it can be.

Ryan: I know that mentoring the next generation is something that’s very close to your heart. How has that played a part in your life, your ministry and these recent records?

Martin: Well I think mentoring always starts at home and mentoring is just another word for being a good dad, or a good parent, and wanting people around you to win and be successful, fulfill their potential. So we all play our part in helping people around us to move onwards and upwards. It’s been great for me being at St Peter’s with so many young students and I’m just happy to be a part of them growing into the next phase of their life.

Ryan: I’ve noticed on twitter that you mention your daughters a lot. How has your family life influenced your writing and how does your writing style now differ from those earliest Delirious records?

Martin: When I was younger, before being married and having children, it seemed like I had all the time in the world to be creative. And you would think that’s when the best songs come. But, I’ve found that the greatest creativity can come out of community, being part of something. Being part of Church, you never ever dry up with ideas and things to write about good and bad. I’d say now, even with all the responsibilities I have less time to be creative, but I’m far more focused. It’s just where I’m at right now.

Ryan: You’re heading out on tour throughout the UK with Matt Redman this fall. Will you be bringing the Dance Floor to the US sometime next year?

Martin: Yes, I’d like to do a couple of tours in the US next year – watch!

Martin Smith: God’s Great Dance Floor Step 02

Release Date: September 30, 2013

Former Delirious? frontman Martin Smith returns with a follow up to his album God’s Great Dance Floor: Step 01 released earlier this year. This record, Step 02, continues the tradition that Smith has built over the last 20+ years and is a great compliment to the Step 01 album. Here, again, we find Smith working with a host of well-known collaborators including Hillsong’s Reuben Morgan, Michael W. Smith, and Matt Redman (who Martin will be touring with this fall). Also collaborating on the album are Smith’s daughter Elle-Anna and vocalist Sarah Bird who also appeared on Step 01.

While it may come across as more musically reserved than its predecessor, Step 02, seems to be a more lyrically rich experience – which is a pretty significant claim considering the great work that was found on the former. Many of the tracks on the record seem to sneak up on you and lull you in before exploding right in front of you. While there’s not much wrong with the album, a few tracks shine more brightly than others.

“You are My Salvation” leads off the album rather unexpectedly with a drum loop and Rhodes organ before adding live drums and bass on the second verse. It kicks into high gear 3/4 of the way through after string filled bridge. Similarly, “Great is Your Faithfulness” starts out with a very mellow mood that makes you think that it may be easily forgettable. Fortunately, less than a minute in, this unassuming track morphs into an explosive anthem.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was a song that I all but dismissed upon seeing its title. It turns out, however, that “Song of Solomon” is nothing of what I expected it to be. Smith has described it as the most intimate song he has ever written. It is a piano-driven cry of loving desperation. While it doesn’t have the flash and pizazz of most modern worship music, this song is a rare gift that exemplifies (as Gregg Matte once said) “a desperate dependence and a restful residence” in God.

As I said, there are no bad songs here. If I have any detractions, they are purely my personal taste. “Only Got Eyes” is a bit too “on the nose” for my liking. I don’t particularly care for leveraging common phrases and building songs upon them. On this record, Smith has recorded the Chris Tomlin version of the song that they collaborated on, “God’s Great Dance Floor.” As I mentioned when evaluating the Step 01 album, Smith’s previous take on this song – released there as “Back to the Start” – is a brilliant track, far superior to this shortened version. Finally, I loved Sarah Bird’s vocals on Step 01‘s “Waiting Here for You”. Her appearance here on “God is Coming” fails to take full advantage of her voice the way it was before and the song just isn’t as epic as the other.

All in all, it’s great to hear someone who has been making this type of music professionally for 20+ years continuing to do so with freshness. The album is as relevant to a corporate context as it is to a personal listening experience. And Martin’s voice is superb throughout. I can’t say that this album is in any way superior or inferior to its predecessor. Given the time, I’d love to listen to them back to back.  Offering Smith that hour and a half would surely be a deep experience of desperate hope that will not be disappointed.

Martin Smith: God’s Great Dance Floor: Step 01

Release Date: April 23, 2013

I’ve been sitting on this album for a while now, listening to it casually from time to time, knowing that its release was still some time away. Then all of a sudden it snuck up on me and I knew I should get serious about listening so that I could get serious about writing. It’s a good thing that I did because God’s timing is not ours and as I began really listening to this record I found myself in a state of mind that allowed it to strike a chord with me that it hadn’t during previous listens. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I was immediately transported back in time to Cutting Edge-era Delirious? and my own journey from there to now.

For the uninitiated, Martin Smith is the founder and lead singer of the UK worship band Delirious? whose afore-mentioned debut record Cutting Edge was released in the U.S. back in 1997. The ensuing years saw the band release an additional eight studio albums and six live albums before calling it quits in April of 2010. The band’s other members have gone on to continue making music in other bands or collaborations with one another. Smith has kept a relatively lower profile, choosing to focus on charity work and songwriting. In 2012, he appeared on the Jesus Culture album, Live from New York and released his own series of 4 EPs, God’s Great Dance Floor Movements 1-4, which serve as the source material for this record.
Not wholly unfamiliar

These songs won’t be wholly unfamiliar. Several of them appeared on the Jesus Culture album. “Fire Never Sleeps” was covered by the newly reformed Audio Adrenaline on their Kings and Queens record. “Waiting Here for You” was performed by Christy Nockels on her 2012 Into the Glorious album as well as the preferable rendition on the Passion album Here for You (2011). Perhaps most notably, the lead track on the latest Passion album “God’s Great Dance Floor” (Let the Future Begin, 2013) is heard here under the title “Back to the Start.”

Smith collaborated with a number of songwriters on these tracks. The ever-prolific Chris Tomlin co-writes on six of the songs. Tim (“Happy Day”) Hughes also weighs in with songwriting credit on two tracks.

The album opens with the acoustic guitar/synthesizer beat of the incredibly catchy chorus to “Awake My Soul.” The spoken-word-quasi-rap of the verse is a strange juxtaposition to the melodic chorus. The chorus is great enough to make me ignore that, though, and the “love is in the air” bridge really brings it home.

On “Fire Never Sleeps,” I’ve gone back and forth between Martin Smith’s version and Audio Adrenaline’s take. I think that the instrumentation/production here is a little too thin while I think that Kevin Max’ (AudioA) vocals are too “syrupy” (listen to it, you’ll hear what I mean). If I could drop Martin’s vocal onto AudioA’s band track, it would be perfect.

“Waiting Here for You” is an amazing slow-burner. Guest vocals by Sarah Bird (who I can’t find any solid information on other than a goofy YouTube clip) are incredible. The way the song builds to its driving final chorus and harmony vocals makes it the definitive recording of the song.
A better version

It’s a real shame to me that most people are probably going to be most familiar with (and perhaps most loyal) to Chris Tomlin’s take on “Back to the Start (God’s Great Dance Floor).” That loyalty may be, for many, born out of their personal experience at the latest Passion Conference. That experience could hardly be compared with Smith’s version. Tomlin’s version kicks up the pace at the 45 second mark and begins surging forward urging us all to bounce up and down. Smith’s mellow, introspective sound doesn’t open up until around 2:50 and still has another 2 emotive minutes before kicking out the dance jams. What’s the big deal? Here’s my beef: Smith’s track takes listeners on an emotional, cathartic journey of restoration. Tomlin just says “let’s have fun; now jump around.” It’s a crime against a perfect song.

To me, “Jesus of Nazareth” and “Soldiers” signify missteps in the creative process here. They seem out of place and just a little bit hokey when mixed in with such personal and challenging songs, while the remaining songs resonate with the overall message of the record.

On the whole, the concept of “Back to the Start” really is the ethos of the album. It is [BUZZ WORD ALERT] authentic and relevant to the core. It resonates with those broken places in your spirit and gently guides you back to hope. But when it gets you there, it kindly slaps you on the back and says “start smiling, God is good.”