Wellington blues artist Del Thomas released his third album at the beginning of October. ‘Changes Coming’ features some new tracks and some older material that’s been revisited with his current band.
Del himself provides guitar, voice, harmonica and keys. His band includes guitarist Dougal Speir, Elliotte Fuimaono on bass and Mo Phillips behind the drums, supplemented with vocals from Lynley Christoffersen and Jade Eru. They’ve done a sterling job of interpreting the album’s 11 songs that go from straightforward shuffling blues to Americana-inspired material, all the way to gospel.
His last album, ‘Shifting Sands’, rocked out more than the first, ‘Driving Home Alone’, and on ‘Changes Coming’ the sound is again a mix of blues-rock, with several quieter acoustic songs balancing the sonic landscape. NZM asked Del to talk us through how the album’s diverse tracks came to be.
I wrote this just after arriving in NZ in the mid ‘90s. We’d rented a house which had a fantastic view out over the Pauatahanui inlet north of Wellington and, as the sun moved across the sky through the day, it cast ever-changing shadows on the hills on the other side of the inlet. This got me thinking about how NZ differs from what I was accustomed to back in Scotland where so many people live in streets with no views other than the houses across the road. The verses are simple observations of things that were so different to Scotland – kids playing in the street with no shoes on, road seal melting in the heat of the summer sun, earthquakes…
The repeating Am-F structure of the verses creates a tension which is released when the chorus goes to the major C-G format before the chromatic run back to Am.
This song was one that almost got me a record deal with my first band in NZ, Glass Onion. Warner NZ liked the demo so much that they put the band on with Collective Soul in 1998, but it turned out another band were also knocking at Warner’s door and they won out – apparently, The Feelers were younger and better looking than Glass Onion!
The title’s been well used over the years and this is my take on it.
My marriage had broken down and I was in the middle of ‘discussions’ with my wife and it was becoming a bit tense at times! Somebody described this as a real ‘f*** you’ song but I don’t see it that way. It’s my way of saying, ‘Look, I gave you everything I had; I did the best I could and it just wasn’t enough for you, but I’m not going to allow this to get me down. If I’m not what you want then stick it, cos I’m moving on with my life.’ It’s as simple and literal as that!
As with most musicians, when times are tough, I tend to direct my emotions into music. But I don’t like becoming too personal and maudlin so I try to go in the opposite direction and write something upbeat. The intro is straight ahead Status Quo boogie but, by holding on the second chord, there’s a bit of tension created before the band kicks in and the boogie takes off. Sometimes simplicity is best and the blues are universal…
This one’s in open D tuning. I was looking for a JJ Cale-type laid back groove and this is what came up. I’ve always loved the tone of a slide with a wah-wah pedal but I left the pedal in a fixed position to get that nasally tone – rocking it back and forward made the solo sound too busy.
I added some synth sounds as a countermelody. I really like the ‘70s synth tones that can be made by the new Korg Monologue – shame I can’t claim to actually play keyboards!
The lyrics are my take on the old 1950’s blues double-entendres. On one level it’s simple but if you want to delve deeper there’s a distinct sexual overtone. It’s up to the listener to decide which they prefer… I changed one line in the first verse as my buddy and executive producer, Davy Gravy, told me it was just too much!
Another song from the Glass Onion days which I always liked, but had never recorded. I think I was in a ‘Neil Young country’ frame of mind when I wrote it. People seem to think the lyrics are autobiographical but they’re not, I was in a very happy place when I wrote this one!
I like writing verses where the music just grooves between two chords. It sometimes limits the melodic options but there’s a certain calmness created by this – a bit like a boat rocking gently in the waves – very soothing.
Dougal Speir’s notes for this one on the setlist simply say ‘country’! And he plays the guitar solo part so well with just the right amount of country. But what really makes this song come alive for me are the vocals by Jade and Lynley. I still get goosebumps when their voices come in.
The lyrics were inspired by the birth of my son. Every parent has a sense of apprehension during a pregnancy and it occurred to me that the emotions experienced by a father can be so different to those of a mother. In my case, I didn’t want to know whether we were having a boy or a girl. I only hoped that the child would come into the world with all their faculties and I would love it anyway. But my wife wanted to know what we were going to have so she could buy the right colour clothes, etc.
I came up with the idea of this pounding rhythm and just one chord through the verses which, in itself leads the vocal melody in a very specific way and sets the tone of the verses, then countered by the more melodic form of the choruses.
I used the Korg synth and found a sound in it which works well, balanced against the heavily overdriven guitar tone that Dougal used. Lynley and Jade’s harmonies add a nice feminine touch to what might otherwise be a very heavy ‘male’ sounding song.
I really like the juxtaposition of the lyrical content about the birth of a child and the heavier musical style which I think takes this song away from what you might expect of such a personal situation.
I’m a big fan of alternate tunings – thanks to listening to so much John Martyn! This is in drop D as it gives a much fuller tone to the root chord with the low D ringing out and it’s perfect for that descending acoustic guitar riff after the solo and at the end.
Lyrically, it’s not about any specific situation but kind of relates to how I’ve seen some relationships play out in recent years. I like coming up with lyrics that the listener can relate to. That, for me, is the essence of writing a good song. It’s got to come from the songwriter’s heart but in such a way that anybody else can relate to it. Then it becomes what I call a ‘universal lyric’.
This started life as a chord sequence I liked and had a very tranquil feel to it – Emin7 to Dsus2. I love suspended chords – they’re so unresolved and the mood they create is quite unique. The next part is a bit more unusual – C to B7 to G resolving to A with a hammer-on to B.
I think it’s a very soothing piece of music and, even without the melody and harmony guitar parts, I could happily listen to this late at night and feel at peace with the world.
I’m a huge fan of Peter Green, John Martyn and Mark Knopfler for their choices of guitar tones and effects, so I tried to combine elements of all of these into the various guitar parts. I particularly like the delays on the slide parts which add a very ethereal feel to the tune.
I considered fading this track early but I love the little slide echo licks right at the very end which I think are just perfect as the ending.
Okay I admit it. The title came directly from the end of my marriage. As my wife walked out the door her last words to me were, “Look after yourself”. As soon as I heard it, I thought, ‘That’s a great song title’! A songwriter can get inspiration from the saddest circumstances!
I’ve always loved that loping Texas shuffle and it seemed to fit so well with the feel of the song. It’s not a sad song in any way. I actually hear it as quite an optimistic song. ‘Hey, our relationship is over, but look after yourself and go out and find happiness.’
And the chorus is a great one to sing along to – always an important thing to consider for songs you want to play live.
This was originally a kind of Robert Cray up-tempo thing, then I thought of trying it as a slow blues and I think it works better, a bit more dynamic range to it. I really like the way the rhythm section ebb and flow with the changes – Mo and Elliotte know how to do that so well!
From a melodic viewpoint, the chord changes forced me to come up with a guitar part that isn’t just playing minor pentatonic licks. I used that Les Paul out of phase tone that’s so evocative of the blues.
Lyrically, it started out as an idea about the way a couple often have totally different ideas of what they want in life – security versus living life to the full, on the edge. It’s not biographical in any way – just a series of examples of how people can grow apart.
I was waiting for a train to take me to work one morning back in the late ‘90s. A lady walked past and her perfume instantly reminded me of one of my first girlfriend’s. The phrase ‘think of yesterday’ sprang to mind and by the time I’d reached Wellington I had all the lyrics and had a melody worked out. It was really frustrating as I had to keep the melody in my head all morning until I could get out at lunchtime and find an acoustic guitar in one of the music shops so I could work out the chord sequence!
It was always a popular song in the Glass Onion repertoire as it’s very danceable. I like the way that Mo and Elliotte slip into a more loping swing feel towards the end, and really love the guitar tone. Once again, my Les Paul with the ‘Peter Green’ mod to the neck pickup. That nasally out of phase tone just seems to work so well in this song.
I woke up in the middle of the night and heard the phrase ‘changes coming’ in my head. I even had the melody straight away. So I had to get up right then and pick up a guitar! The whole thing was written in 15 minutes!
We’d already recorded the basic tracks for the album and rather than ask the band to come back in for one song, I just set up a mic in my studio, recorded the two guitar parts, sang the lead vocal and a basic harmony part, added hand claps and tambourine and then doubled up all the tracks which gives it that big almost-choir sound.
The icing on the cake was Lynley and Jade singing their great harmony parts. Tom Petty once said that sometimes a song only needs two verses – why add more if you’ve said everything already? It’s a short, snappy, happy and uplifting song to end the album.
I’m a big believer in the power of positive thoughts these days, and I think it might be a pointer for the way the next album might sound, a bit more acoustic-based and possibly smaller arrangements.