To mark her latest single, 'Orange', we revisit our interview with Notion 94 cover star, Delilah Montagu, talking about her cathartic writing process and working with Fred again...

“We’re just at the beginning”, Delilah Montagu smiles through the laptop screen, and though she might be talking about the sunshiny day she’s just woken up to in LA, it’s a word that’s polysemous at the best of times. Right now, it’s a pretty perfect summation of her current creative state: “it’s really funny because I feel like I am returning back to my beginning at the moment”, she tells me as we look toward her upcoming highly anticipated new EP, “it’s always just been me and a piano, or me and a guitar, and that’s the way I’ve done things”. 


“Always” isn’t an exaggeration, raised in a village in the countryside with her mum – a poet who would let travelling musicians and painters come to stay in their home’s annex, who brought a breadth of culture into their little corner of the world – Delilah started listening to singer-songwriters at a young age and decided to be one herself. “I just kind of soaked it all up”, she reminisces, “I was never allowed to watch TV, I didn’t have a phone… I was very much just surrounded by art and music the whole time, and I think it got into my bones”. 


It got so deeply ingrained in her, in fact, that as she was learning to read and write, at primary school age Delilah Montagu was writing music, and exploring the universe that encircled her in what she wrote. “I think growing up my mum definitely had some difficult relationships, and I would, as a kid, just subconsciously take it in. I was writing all these songs about heartbreak when I was like six and people would be like, ‘How do you know about this stuff?’ and my mum would be like ‘oop!’”. As peculiar an experience as that must be for a parent, and for a six-year-old, Delilah’s way of understanding the world and her place in it was clear from the outset: think, write and sing about it. 

Call it confessional, call it storytelling, call it therapy, Delilah found her songwriting groove and stayed true to it. Seeking both catharsis and creative outlet from her work, she explains she often processes how she feels by making music: “If I’m on my own I’ll sit down and I’ll put voice memos on and I’ll start recording, playing either guitar or piano, and singing for up to an hour. By then, I’ve roughly got the lyrics and structure, so I listen back to it and I’m like, ‘Oh God, that’s how I feel about this person’ or ‘That’s how I was really feeling about what happened last night’. It just kind of comes out of my subconscious and I feel lucky to be able to process my life through in this way, I’ve always done it”. 


It makes sense, then, that some of the greatest inspirations for Delilah Montagu’s work and life so far have been a fair few singer-songwriter voices of the 60s and 70s. “There’s a lot of Carole King, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor… At around seven years old, I remember hearing Tapestry by Carole King, and just listening to that album on repeat. I mean I still do; I have been for years. But back then, I remember listening to it and thinking, ‘I need to write music… I could do this, I want to do this myself’”. An era known for combining delicate sonic simplicity with lyrical directness and poetic honesty, it’s clear this nostalgic influence drips into her very 21st century creations.  


“I feel like it was so honest: maybe it was something about that time, or the fact they were all in this amazing scene together, but it just feels so true. It feels like home to me, because I’ve grown up listening to it, I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I listen to newer stuff too but for me, that’s my foundation of what music is. I think that it’s also the storytelling in it, my favourite music is a song that tells a story and I feel like they do that so well”. 


Looking back at her 2021 debut album Baby, the impact of her musical upbringing is abundant, driving Delilah to explore new realms of genre and sound. From the Motown-tinged titular track to the soft rock electric guitar interludes of ‘Coming For Ya’, the project led her down the path to her musical home. Focusing on the power of storytelling through music, she’s letting her songwriting do the talking. “Now I’m getting ready to release this new single, and it’s like back to basics – I’m kind of starting from the beginning and then I want to build from there. It feels really exciting because it feels like this is who I am”.  


Part of that self-discovery, though, is less about the songs in her playlist or the artists she grew up listening to, and more about stepping into her own power. Taking risks and jumping in at the deep end has become a bit of a habit for Delilah, whether moving to London and getting signed at 19; leaving that label and management for pastures new a few years later; or, her latest biting of the bullet, moving to Los Angeles, another new city where she barely knows anyone. It’s fair to say her career has been one plunge after another, but it’s that drive to continue, to push on, which keeps Delilah and her music as exciting as ever.  


“I was talking about this the other day, about how consistency is everything. The difference between the people who stick around and the people who don’t is you just have to keep going. Regardless of how it seems from the outside – it can seem like it’s going amazing, and it isn’t, or it can seem like it’s not going well but you’ve got all this stuff going on – you have to just not ever stop. I’ve never felt like stopping is an option… I’ve never felt like I want to give up”. 

Looking back, Delilah Montagu sees that some of these things came around quicker than expected: “I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently: it was such a crazy time, and I had no idea because I was a baby. I left school, moved up to London and within a few weeks I was signed to a major label and living in New York. I had no idea what I was even wanting to do. Now since I moved [to LA] and changed my whole team, everything is just completely new, fresh and I’m older. It’s very interesting, as I said it feels like the beginning again, but with so much more experience and learning. And thankfully not being in the place I was in before: I was too young. When I look back at it, I’m like, I was a little baby”. 


If she could go back in time, she’d want to promise her younger self that the journey is worth it: “I’d tell her it’s okay to not get it right and it doesn’t matter if you’re not where you think you should be because you’re supposed to be here”. In fact, it’s the life which surrounds her that has become the motivation to create for Delilah: from the childhood days of singing about her mum’s relationships, now she feels it’s a gift she can share to help people unpack. “Over the years it’s become really nice,”, she says of writing about their shared lives, “it’s a beautiful thing in a way because sometimes I’m able to have this outlet for them”. 


“My parents are divorced and I’m an only child…I’ve kind of created family and siblings from friends, so they’re such a major part of my life. Often a friend will come to me with something and then I’ll find myself writing about it. I’m feeling it for them”. 


Having moved to California earlier this year, finding a place for herself was crucial, “My first few months here I really struggled; it’s notoriously difficult in LA to meet people and there can be a lot of bullshit for sure. Then I got so lucky, I went to a party for someone in the music industry and that’s where I met…a bunch of my friends and found a really beautiful community that is really different from London, but also made LA feel like home. My flatmate is a musician and a songwriter too, and her fiancé is Swedish and she’s also a musician”. Being enveloped by this diversely creative community has led Delilah Montagu to explore her identity in new ways, stepping outside of the boxes and labels we assign ourselves, or that others assign us, and instead taking it all one day at a time: “I feel like in LA, there’s a really amazing space for people doing the same…it feels much more fluid”. 


Friends becoming family, we discuss, is such a vital thing in the queer community, especially for those whose home life might not be exactly sunshine and rainbow flags. Chosen families, Delilah discusses are “such a cool thing to have”, finding community and connection is both rare and transformative. “I don’t know if everybody has this”, she empathises, “I’ve definitely been in relationships before where they haven’t maybe valued friendship in the same way that I do. My friends feel like my family. Especially since moving, when I go back to London to visit them, I’m like, ‘Oh, you’re my family’. Then being here and making new friends, I’ve now got such incredible people here, I’m making a new family. It’s really special and I think it’s such an important part of life.” 

Of course, connecting through music is a huge part of that for Delilah too: from performing on stage at Coachella with Black Coffee last year – “I was completely alone at that point, I had no team… I remember playing the show, feeling this amazing adrenaline rush and thinking, ‘yeah I think I can do this’” – to collaborating with Fred Again.. she has found like-minded music makers to push her forward. “That was a beautiful journey”, she reminisces about working with the cult record producer and DJ, “I wrote that song about two years ago with my friend Benjy [Gibson, Fred’s brother], after coming home from a night out, feeling I had to leave early because I got very anxious… I released it as ‘Lost Keys’ and then Fred – who I’d been good friends with for a while and who’d produced a few other songs on [Baby] – heard it for the first time and reached out to say he loved it and wanted to make his own version of it”. 


“At the time Fred hadn’t released a huge amount, his rise has been extremely fast and crazy. The way it worked is he teases stuff to see reactions, so he played it at a Boiler Room set and then the song went viral. Everyone on the internet went a bit crazy for it: it was all very kind of natural and unplanned. It’s been a really beautiful journey: seeing people being in the sort of place that I used to find so anxiety-inducing, singing the words to my song about being anxious in the exact thing that they’re doing. It’s really beautiful”. 


As we draw closer to the release of Delilah Montagu’s upcoming project, teasing what is just beginning and reminiscing on what’s passed, full circle moments like these offer catharsis and reflection: “I feel really good at the moment, I’ve grown up and I’ve realised I’m allowed to just be myself”. Looking forward to her future, Delilah is grateful and full of hope, explaining “I’m allowed to do what I’m wanting to do; I can be with who I want; no one’s going to judge me and no one’s going to pigeonhole me”. And as for her impending music, it’s “honest, vulnerable and soulful”, she muses and then smiles, “I mean Carole King…that’s the vibe”. More seriously, though, Delilah confides, “I’m just really excited to start this new chapter of my story”. 

Listen to 'Orange' now:

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