Kieren Gallear, pka Dels, approaches his music with a brooding vulnerability that’s largely absent from hip-hop or approached with such severity that it deviates into unintentionally comical. In many respects, it’s a defining margin between U.S. and U.K. hip-hop. Stateside we traditionally prefer the bravado, while the artists across the pond prefer to be dead honest, unguarded of humility. As I learned in my brief interview with Dels (below), his Petals Have Fallen is about living for the moment and with each track he sought to bring the listener into the story so that they could smell smoke from a beach in flames and feel the heat on their body as snowflakes of ash gray their complexion.
Petals Have Fallen is an emotionally charged rap record, captivated by the highs and lows of relationships that come and go. On “Burning Beaches”, Dels lapses in and out of a REM state, struggling to dissociate the paranoias of the subconscious with those in a waking life. The lyrics “what a morbid vision / and I’ve just seen my girlfriend kissing / another brother with his face missing” are the most tangible in a song that’s seeped in the symbolic imagery of our dream-state imaginations, but even Dels admits that he doesn’t know what to ascertain from a “man with a missing face.” It leaves “Burning Beaches” with a loaded question of trust and an ellipses.
Read on for an interview with Dels.
You were inspired to write part of “Burning Beaches” while directing the video for Rosie Lowe’s “Right Thing”, which has a minimalist canvas/backdrop. What was it about that day and shoot that inspired you?
I had already started writing “Burning Beaches” prior to the video shoot. It wasn’t until I was on set, and witnessed Rosie Lowe’s amazing performance for “Right Thing”, that I thought I should feature Rosie Lowe on the song. Soon after, I altered the hook slightly and tailored it towards Rosie’s vocal style. The collaboration happened so quickly and I feel like the stripped back production on the song really complimented her voice.
With the album title and song title, there’s imagery of change, one seems natural, while the second feels more man imposed. Are there personal experiences attached to these themes of change?
I write from my own experience. I also get inspired by other people’s stories and experiences that I get told. At times on this album I tried to make the scenarios I was depicting feel like they were happening right there in front of the listener. I wanted it to feel cinematic. On “Burning Beaches” I speak about how paranoia in a relationship can affect your dreams, and then how those dreams can then filter into your reality. It’s about the destruction of something beautiful and watching it disintegrate at the hands of a paranoid man. Petals Have Fallen is about having the urge to protect something precious that will ultimately fall apart. But I mean that in a positive sense. For me, It’s about making the most of your time in the present.
You and Kwes have a special relationship when it comes to making records. What does his input mean to you? What does he bring to the process that helps a record coalesce?
Kwes is incredible. I think he’s a modern day genius to be honest. There were even more producers involved this time round, so it was important for Kwes’ presence to be all over the album, to ensure that the record was cohesive sonically. Kwes is always honest when it comes to vocal takes and re-doing them. If a song’s structure is too linear he will be honest and speak out about it. I don’t take it to heart because I know that he wants me to develop, to be better. Working with Kwes took me out of my comfort zone. He’s become a really close friend of mine over the years, and I can’t imagine making an album without him involved in some way.
It’s been three years since your last full length. Naturally a lot will change for an artist in that amount of time, but of those changes, which one had the most profound effect on your approach to creating this album?
I lost some confidence creatively after my first album was released. Whenever I started writing songs I think I felt a bit pressured into feeling like I needed to deliver a classic for my second album. Like there needed to be an obvious shift from GOB to Petals Have Fallen. I almost took a step back from music for a while and just allowed myself to be creative in other ways. Mostly visually. Also, just living a little outside of the creative realm helped too. Breaking up with someone and falling in love again, those were powerful and pivotal moments. It’s all connected and affects your mind state.
Do you consider the Black Salad EP a companion piece to this album, since you included two songs from that release? If not, why did those songs make the jump to the new record?
No, I feel like they are two separate entities. Those two songs made the record because it felt natural for them to be there. It just works. I had other songs that could’ve taken their place, but it felt like Petals Have Fallen was stronger with them as a whole. Especially “You Live In My Head”. That song was always unfinished for me. Whenever I listened to that song, I could always hear Elan Tamara doing backing vocals underneath my vocals on the hook. And that bugged me. I’m glad that we finally made that happen and revised the song. The Black Salad EP didn’t get as much exposure as I wanted, so now that those two songs live on my second album, more people will hopefully get to hear them.