On the day that Leonard Cohen died, Delilah Montagu was in school. She had to take the next day off, such was the loss she felt. “In another life, me and him…” she smiles. Her connection with music runs so deep. It's an incredibly serious matter for her; her tool for self-expression, truth-seeking, and honest living. It's also her source of unbridled joy. Cohen has been her most consistent hero. She got to see him play. She and a friend went to Amsterdam just to make that pilgrimage. They were young teenagers. “How funny – who does that?” she laughs. Delilah is still only 21-years-old, but she's a timeless girl-next-door, as classic as the art, ideas and literature that's inspired her prodigal talents. From Cohen to Bob Dylan, Patti Smith to Carole King, Joan Armatrading to James Taylor, Delilah has been reared on the goliaths of songwriting. She cites James Blake, Billie Eilish and H.E.R. as recent inspirations.
Delilah cannot remember a time without music. She's been songwriting since childhood. “I'm influenced just by hearing people. I listen to fucking loads of music all the time,” she says. She uses her piano as a thinking space. It's not easy to intellectualise that. “I write songs in the same way every time,” she explains. “I sit down at the piano or with a guitar and start singing. I do it all at once.” Writing songs is never pre-meditated. It's a momentary capture, and once it's done there's not much Delilah has to do to tweak things. “One of the things I struggle with is knowing how I'm feeling. Writing songs is a way to figure that out,” she says. It's the polar opposite of post-modern pop music. It's traditional but it's also refreshingly candid and pure.
Based in London now, Delilah has spread herself all over the city while growing up and learning about her own existence. It's been a coming-of-age, and one that's reflected in her debut EP. Titled In Gold it's a celebration and an aspiration. The EP is one of firsts: the first time she's ever worked in a studio, the first time she's ever collaborated with producers, the first time she's ever put music out under her own name. First single 'Temptation' – a piano driven soulful ballad, as lofty as Coldplay via Florence & The Machine – is about an ex. It's also the song that changed her life. When she first came to London to pursue music after finishing school at the age of 18, she played it at a show, impressed a manager in the room unbeknownst to her, and the next day found herself flooded with emails. It was the only her second week in the city. The team she has today remain the same as the ones she met from that fateful night.
The EP consists of songs she wrote in her mid- late teens, on her own. They aren't whole truths, they're searches for real moments amid the confusion of growing up and not knowing who or what you are. Delilah is not shy about her struggles with her own self-confidence, her idea of love, and her battle with ego. On the classic piano number '7 Days Of Rain', she sings about her own privilege. On 'In Gold' she explores the feeling of falling for someone and feeling entirely surprised. 'Next To Me' is a post break-up song about missing someone even though you're over it. She asks questions of herself, constantly assesses her own behaviour and ultimately knows how to practice forgiveness, patience and balance. She doesn't seem to possess many of the tropes of her generation, rejecting the pressures of social media, and being relatively non-fussed about trends, both in music and in the wider culture.
When she listens back to the EP and its vulnerability now, she isn't scared of releasing the songs into the world. She's happy they exist. “I just want give myself a big hug,” she says, of hearing her words back from a newfound distance. Through her own practice of self-care, the hope is that the songs will feel like an embrace to those who need it elsewhere. There's a sensibility to the way she expresses love – both romantic and platonic – that reminds of modern R&B singers such as Jessie Ware and Miguel, enriched with soul and a wisdom beyond her youthful exterior. The title too is a nod to positive affirmations. “It's about discovery, change and being in a new place. It's exciting and it's safe; protected and loved and warm.”
The EP itself was recorded in Brockley, South London, and Delilah experimented with pushing her sound in far more electronic directions. Ultimately the songs are spacious yet rich, built around her gorgeous voice. “I felt like I could be myself,” she says. Her songwriting is still a solo pursuit and she never writes with a view to sounding like any particular muse or inspiration. She's not trying to impress anyone but her level of comfort in her own skin is impressive in and of itself. It stems from her experience growing up in a bohemian, adult-centric world in which she was an observer.
Delilah was born in London. When her parents divorced she and her writer mother moved to East Sussex. Delilah remained close to her dad who she'd visit every other weekend in London. “I grew up writing songs. I never watched TV.” An only child too, neither of her parents were musical but they played music constantly. She became obsessive. “When I first heard the album 'Tapestry'… Oh my god! It affected me so much. I was seven.” Her idea of heaven is still listening to a classic LP front to back. She was a quiet, reserved kid. Her albums became her best friends, particularly the lyrics and poetry within.
She didn't care about the music her friends were listening to. “Music is the one thing where I'm really confident,” she smiles. “I fucking know. Haha.” The way Delilah talks about her relationship with music is almost like it was god-given and undeniable. She has never questioned whether it's something she should be doing. It's always been encouraged. “Music has always been the love of my life.”
When she first moved to London she lived on a houseboat in Hammersmith. “It's so calm and nice, way cheaper. I loved it.” She lived among families in a supportive community where everyone mucks in. She also spent four months in New York writing, and another month in Japan. In New York she met people from all walks of life and wrote songs on a bed with an electric guitar but didn't have an amp to plug into. In Japan, she completely unplugged, putting her phone off and quitting socials. Both places were unique challenges but the inclusivity of those environments bolstered her. It's been a baptism by fire. “I'll put myself in situations and I don't know why. I just really want to grow.”
It seems she's done a lot of that in the past two years. Right now she's rehearsing with a live band for the first time. “I wanna be Stevie Nicks,” she jokes. Performing is something she's taken to naturally. She loves it, and has yet to have proper onstage jitters. Even an experience performing her collaboration 'Drive' with Black Coffee in front of 25,000 people in South Africa didn't phase her. “That was mad,” she laughs. “I've got a strong faith,” she offers when asked about her self-assuredness. “I've had to have one.” Her expectations are minimal and her ego is already in check. “I don't think of any of this stuff is about me,” she says. “I have a huge trust in the world because I think it's so unbelievable. As a human being there's only an extent of how much I can ever know. All I want is for people to feel good. When I listen to music it makes me feel so happy. It's so powerful. It's a bit of magic, it can make people cry or fall in love.”
At a young age, Delilah has sussed a lot of life out. “Something I always struggled with was wanting to be perfect and to get it right – be what people want me to be,” she says. “If I can send any kind of message it's that it doesn't matter and you don't have to be that at all. Especially when you're young. It's better not to be. Most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing. When I'm writing songs I don't know what I'm doing. I'm learning all the time. I'm not pretending to be really OK all the time. It's OK that it's hard sometimes.” Hers is an irresistible voice, and her swagger is chill and approachable. Delilah may talk about how ultimately nothing is in our control but you get the sense that everything is going to fall right in her lap.
by EVE BARLOW