ASCENSION MAGAZINE No. 26 – INTERVIEW WITH DEATH IN JUNE by Vanessa Venerdì and Gianfranco Santoro December 2010
1) How did you meet pianist Miro Snejdr and decide to leave to him the musical interpretation of “Peaceful Snow”, the new record by Death In June?
• In about April 2009 a few fans told me about some instrumental piano versions appearing in videos on the internet of some of the songs from the previous years’ Death In June album ‘The Rule Of Thirds’. I watched and listened to them on YouTube and was very impressed by these interpretations. I then set the wheels in motion for some contact between myself and Miro Snejdr, a Slovakian pianist then living in London. After a very short while it was agreed that I would like to put out an entire album of such material. There was certainly no definite decision to write a brand new Death In June album at this stage, let alone give any new songs to someone I didn’t know (and still have never met!) for them to re-interpret. That wasn’t on my mind at all then.
2) All the new songs are credited to you in both music and lyrics. Have they originally been written on guitar and then arranged by Miro Snejdr or was the idea of the piano accompaniment there from the beginning?
• When the decision was made to actually try to write a new Death In June album all the new songs were written and originally recorded by myself on the guitar in a variety of hotel rooms, my property of “Fort Nada” and then Big Sound Studios in Australia. Having been inspired by the 2 songs ( ‘Peaceful Snow’ and ‘The Maverick Chamber’) I had written listening to some of the original piano interpretations that eventually ended up on the ‘Lounge Corps’ CD/download version of the ‘Peaceful Snow’ album I took a few weeks off at the end of 2009 to see what else I could write. I then came up with about 6 more new songs and I then sent these ‘demo’ versions to Europa for Miro to record his piano interpretations. Realistically I didn’t know how they would sound when they came back to me as I didn’t even provide Miro with chord charts etc but, the process had begun and everything developed from thereon. We were never in the same studio at the same time. We were at opposite ends of the planet. It was a completely vicarious but, oddly organic experience. And, one I was worried about at first. But, I need not have been. Miro’s hearing and playing is ‘note perfect’ so when I, in turn, received Miro’s piano versions, which were very similar to the original guitar and vocal demos I had sent him, they were always quite faithful to the originals but, very importantly with his special ‘Magick’ touch. The only problem I had was actually singing along to a song, that I had originally written but then wasn’t physically playing on. There was a degree of disassociation from the song that worried and concerned me. That was strange. I missed my own physical, musical cues. But, over the months I eventually got used to it.
3) The CD version of the new album comes with a bonus CD of some piano-solo instrumentals of the most famous Death In June songs. Tell us more about the birth of “Lounge Corps”.
• This was the original album. As I said, I didn’t have any plans to write a new Death In June album when I first heard Miro’s work. I simply thought it would be a great idea to release an album of piano versions of a lot of Death In June ‘classics’. I’ve always loved ‘lounge music’ so this would be my ‘Lounge Corps’ album. A nice play on words besides easy listening for those Neo-Nasties of the Neo Folk scene that had grown up listening to Death In June. Time to put your feet up, reflect upon Life and sip the cocktail of your choice. But, in a typical Death In June way it inspired so much more – ‘Peaceful Snow’.
4) Let’s take a closer look at some of the new songs. A nausea seems to be haunting you (“A Nausea”). This song suggests a deep personal discomfort more than a disappointment for what happens around you. Is it true?
• Yes, the creative process has always been a nauseous one for me. I remember many years ago speaking to Michael Moynihan of the excellent Blood Axis about how sick I always felt whenever I wrote a new album. How physically and mentally ill at ease I was with everything and everyone around me and he agreed that was how he felt when being involved in such matters. It was like giving birth. It was a natal sickness that could only be got rid of by giving ‘birth’ to the new work. And if the pregnancy went on for too long the energies and Life Forces that had been utilized for such a creation could, in turn, start to poison you from within. That is ‘A Nausea’ to be reckoned with. A real sickness.
5) Who are the “fallen comrades” of your company of corpses (“My Company Of Corpses”)?
• Sadly, too many to mention. When I was 14 in 1970 my Father died. The company has been growing ever since. Even since writing that song I’ve known of 3 more people I knew that have died. I know more dead people than live ones and at my age of 54 that will only get worse until I join their “grey column” myself. It’s a sad and depressing thought about the inevitable. I’ve been Blessed by the fact that I’ve known many absolutely brilliant people in my Life that have helped and loved me and Death In June in so many great ways but, I now look back at a long line of “fallen comrades”. It’s certainly something that occasionally haunts me after a few drinks and melancholy sets in late at night as I listen to the silence, or the animals wandering through the grounds of “Fort Nada”.
6) Are “Peaceful Snow” and “Life Under Siege” songs of resignation rather than struggle?
• Possibly and probably both. When my back is forced up against the wall I start to fight back in the most vicious ways possible. I would prefer not to struggle but that appears not to be my Destiny. So, I resign myself to that. It’s the price of True Existence.
7) Since “The Wall Of Sacrifice” it seems that the best Death In June albums have been released after periods of tiredness, disillusionment and withdrawal. But, every time, difficulties made Death In June stronger; was it the case with “Peaceful Snow” too?
• I don’t know. Everything to do with those matters is seen and judged retrospectively. I’m too close to the ‘Now’ to know what has happened. I am, and that is enough – with all ears and eyes wide open. Has Death In June come out stronger from this experience? Time and circumstance will be the judges.
8) The Sol Invictus’ album “The Killing Tide” was based on the observation that history is a killing tide, since all systems (including democracy) have been born on killings. Does your song “Murder Made History” deepen the same theme?
• I wasn’t thinking about anything to do with Sol Invictus or such general observations about history when I wrote the words “Murder Made History Murder Made Merry”. It was more to do with seeing veiled Palestinian women and their children celebrating at the news of 9/11. They were dancing and playing in the streets of whatever crap ghetto they were living in, probably in the Gaza Strip, at the news of the planes being flown into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and I thought that they had totally blown it! Maybe it was all staged by the fundamentalist muslims of hamas? Maybe it was a spontaneous expression of genuine joy by these people? But, that moment will forever be frozen in many Western minds, let alone American government minds and the U.S. funds that help keep the state of Israel afloat. It was as though the German civilians that were taken to concentration camps at the end of the World War II suddenly started dancing and cheering at how many Jews, Gypsies, Gays etc had been exterminated. If they had there wouldn’t have been any Marshall Plan for Germany and the resulting Wirtschaftwunder! And they probably would have been shot on the spot! No matter how sympathetic I might have been to the Palestinian cause and right to an independent state I think their chances of achieving that in my Lifetime went out the window during those scenes seen all over the World on TV sets, computers etc. I’m pleased Death In June performed in Israel a couple of years later. Israel’s a groovy country. With shitty neighbours!
9) “Nascosto Tra Le Rune” the recent book by Aldo Chimenti, shows not only the personal interpretation of its author of your work but is also a passionate document about the history of Death In June. What do you think about the books that have been written on Death In June during the years?
• Each of the books such as ‘Le Livre Brun’ and ‘ Misery And Purity’ have a unique take on the history and developments of Death In June and have to be seen in that light. I had very little to do with the content of these earlier, much older, books dating back to 1995 which is very different to how ‘Nascosto Tra Le Rune’ came about. That was basically a 10 year interview, or discussion between myself and Aldo Chimenti. It was bound to be different from the others.
10) Have you ever considered writing an autobiography?
• Yes, but I’ve done nothing practical about it. In fact, the thought of setting everything out in black and white is quite daunting and not very appealing. I understand this is quite a common feeling amongst those who have done so much with their Lives that laying it all out on paper seems tantamount to defilement. Maybe it’s better the facts remain as memories to me and others? I don’t know.
11) If the chance was given to you to use the instrumentals of “Lounge Corps” as a soundtrack to a film, what film would it be (an existing one, a documentary, a silent film…)?
• I wouldn’t have a clue. Preferably it would be a film yet to be made so I await the communication asking permission to put some of this music onto its soundtrack. I’ll then make up my mind if I’m interested in doing so, or not.
12) Are you still resolute in your decision of not playing live anymore? If so, why?
• All the reasons why I decided to retire from the live arena 5 years ago in 2005 are still there today so, I see no reason for changing my mind. Besides, Death In June from its very inception was never going to be simply yet another touring group. Death In June is too different and too difficult for that. But, the tours happened. However, that period appears to be over forever. People in 25 different countries over 25 years had their chance to see Death In June perform live on numerous occasions. Nearly 30 years on, that chance no longer exists. It was a symbol of its time that shattered and was cast to the winds of history. Is that such a bad thing? Anything else may only be mere repetition.
13) What are the five records that changed your life?
• ‘Telstar’ by the Tornados. This was the first ever record bought for me. I was 6 at the time and to this day I remember my Father bringing this home with him on the back of his bicycle. It was Summer, 1962 and I was sitting in the front garden of our council house and as he pushed the bike up the alleyway that ran between our house and one of the other houses next door he said “I’ve got something for you” and he pulled the 7” record out from the rack on the back of his bike. I’m sure the paper bag had pink and white stripes on it which was the brand mark of Maxwells the main record shop in Woking at the time. I absolutely LOVED that record and it was symbolic that my Father had seen my keen interest in music from an early age. It was the beginning of so much, besides a big love affair with the works of the eccentric gay English record producer and writer Joe Meek.
• ‘White Room’ by Cream from the ‘Best Of Cream’ compilation LP. I’d heard a lot about Cream and Eric Clapton who came from a town nearby to where I grew up so, attracted by the weird cover of vegetables I must have bought this in late 1972/early 1973. I recall how I would listen to it in the dark of my bedroom with the curtains open and watch the electrical flashes from the ice-coated railway tracks at the top of my street illuminate the room at night as the trains between London and my home town in London’s suburbia of Woking ran back and forth. I would have been 16, it was Winter and the words on this track inspired me to start writing lyrics as I stared out the bedroom window. I still have them somewhere. They’re all about the moon, ships and the sea. Travel was definitely on my mind and I had to get away from the situation I was in at the family home. It took a few more years but I eventually did.
• The Beatles ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ was the album that convinced me that I should be involved with music in some way. The record was so brilliantly different and challenging on every level. Like everyone else in the World I was familiar with The Beatles’ single hits but had never listened to an entire album proper. This was the first one in about 1973/74 and completely captivated me from thereon. This was a milestone, a direction.
• The Clash’s first, and best, album in 1977 showed me that everything was possible even for me. The doors had been thrown open by The Clash and The Sex Pistols and I was willing to jump through these doors whilst they remained open. If it wasn’t for this album I wouldn’t have joined a group.
• The 5th choice is really difficult. Could it be Charlie Manson’s ‘Lie’ album which demonstrated how much could be achieved with so little? Or, the beautifully contradictory ‘Forever Changes’ by Love? Either way, listening to these in 1983 certainly helped change the direction of Death In June. Or, at least give me the confidence to change its direction and forge ahead regardless of whether or not anyone else wanted to follow.
Heilige! Douglas P. 14.XII.10.
ASCENSION MAGAZINE No. 26 – THE VIRTUAL JUKEBOX : DEATH IN JUNE by Vanessa Venerdì and Gianfranco Santoro December 2010
THE VIRTUAL JUKEBOX, “Instructions for use”
1) THE BEACH BOYS, “Pet Sounds” , 1966
• For a long time in the 1970s I was aware that “Pet Sounds” vied for 1st place in the ‘Best Albums Of All Time’ chart along with The Beatles “Sgt Peppers…” album which was evidently written in part response to this Beach Boys record and Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde”. It was probably the 3rd album by The Beach Boys I’d bought out of curiosity when I was about 17/18 and to hear for myself how it stood alongside the competition of The Beatles and Dylan. The album cover artwork is creepy, plain and sort of disappointing for 1966 which I assume was deliberate and made the strange and emotive songs on Pet Sounds stand out more? “Sloop John B” was a great favourite of mine for many years simply because of the line “…this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on…” which resonated so much with me in so many ways. But, “Surf’s Up” was the first album I bought by The Beach Boys shortly after leaving school in the Summer of 1972 and that swept me away. That’s still my favourite Beach Boys album and that got me to buy The Beach Boys Greatest Hits compilation shortly thereafter. I remember looking up at Jumbo Jets (Boeing 747s) flying over our back garden that Summer with the sound of “Surf’s Up” in my head thinking I must get to California as soon as possible. It took another 5 years. “Pet Sounds” is more me in my bedroom thinking I was going nuts and how unhappy I was. Perhaps that was the desired effect Brian Wilson wanted?
2) THE BEATLES, “The Beatles” (The White Album), 1968
• The ultimate LSD come down album. Whatever The Beatles had concluded during their acid dropping days this was the end result. No wonder Charlie Manson tuned into it to such a degree! Sometimes my Father would drive us over to Heathrow (London) Airport on Sundays and park the car on the grass around the periphery road and we would have family picnics there or just sit in the car whilst watching the planes take off and land. You can no longer do that due to the security fencing blocking the view of the runways but, you still could in 1969/1970. One such Sunday all over the front cover of the Sunday papers my parents were reading there were photos of Manson, Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. I remember my younger sister and me discussing the article because we both loved Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski in the film ‘Dance Of The Vampires’ which we’d probably recently watched on TV. My sister was really upset that the actress was dead but I was more intrigued by the crazy looking hippie and ‘The Family’ that had been accused of the murders and why The Beatles were being mentioned in the article. “The White Album” always evokes memories of that occasion amongst many others. Little did I know how inspirational/influential/important The Beatles, Manson, Heathrow Airport and even Roman Polanski (it was the Psychic TV song “Roman P.” that led me to shorten my name to Douglas P. in about 1986) were going to be on my adult Life. That was one of the last times my father took us out as a family. A few weeks after he was dead from a heart attack.
3) SCOTT WALKER, “Scott IV” 1969
• I think I’ve said enough elsewhere about “Scott IV” to last a Lifetime. Suffice to say, this very hard to find LP became like fuel for my Life after I eventually did find a copy of it in about 1983. For many years to come when times were tough and uncertain it was one of those records that helped make me continue and march on. There are some records that can do that and this is one of them for me, at least. A magickal, perfect recording.
4) NICK DRAKE, “Five Leaves Left”, 1969
• I only have one Nick Drake album and that’s “Pink Moon” which I don’t particularly like so I don’t have this album. I’ve never been into his work. I’ve always felt the myth surrounding him and his suicide outweighs the somewhat fey sounding reality. For years I thought he was the lone guitarist playing a brilliant ballad besides the grave of a biker in one of my favourite films called ‘Psychomania’. But, it wasn’t and it was years before that illusion was shattered courtesy of the internet. If he had been this minstrel serenading The Living Dead biker gang I would have thought he was brilliant. But, he wasn’t so,…
5) SCRITTI POLITTI, “Skank Bloc Bologna”, 1978
• Ah, where would I be without this release by Scritti Politti? The music itself wasn’t too important to me but the information that came with it about how to release your own record was truly invaluable. For one reason or another Crisis took their time in releasing any recordings until 1979 when the first 7” single eventually came out on Action Group Records. Peter Bibby, the guy who ran it, had read the information that was printed on the sleeve of “Skank Bloc Bologna” and with a ‘green light’ and 3 tracks from Tony and I he set about pressing a thousand or so copies. They soon sold out and Crisis, having served the record label’s propaganda purpose, then took over the pressings of the “No Town Hall”/”P.C. 1984”/”Holocaust” 7” for themselves. That became the norm for the rest of the releases by Crisis whilst Crisis still existed as a group. Scritti Politti however were a strange anomaly at the time as Green their ‘leader’ admitted to being a communist of the old school Stalinist type. This made absolutely no sense to us. After the events of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968 communism of that sort seemed completely discredited to most young people. But apparently not to Green Gartside. As Trotskyists Tony and I viewed a lot of what he did and say with a degree of suspicion. Other than that information on the sleeve of “Skank Bloc Bologna”, of course!
6) CRASS, “Stations Of The Crass”, 1979
• To me Crass were anarcho-hippies that seemed like a product of the squatting/decriminalization of marijuana scene of the 1960/’70s and saw Punk, once it had taken off to such an unexpected extent in the UK, as an opportunity to further what political ambitions they might have had. So, they cut their hair, wore black military style clothing, designed some very, very interesting sleeves and played absolutely terrible music with occasionally interesting lyrics. That to me is “Stations Of The Crass”. When I worked at Rough Trade I sold lots of it and no matter how pleasant they always were when they delivered more stock of their titles or how I may, or may not, have agreed with some of their viewpoints I can’t stand their music. It’s like the idea of a very clichéd view of what Punk should sound like put on record and sold for not very much money. But, their apparent Lifestyle choices are another matter.
7) PEER RABEN, “Querelle-Original soundtrack”, 1982
• Probably the last time I watched this film was over 10 years ago when I took the sample of Jeanne Moreau singing those words by Oscar Wilde and stuck them on some Death In June song of the time. That’s basically my only memory of the soundtrack. It’s certainly not my favourite film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and it’s definitely not my favourite book by Jean Genet. It’s a pity Brad Davis contracted HIV shortly thereafter and died of AIDS, or committed suicide because he had AIDS, some years later. It was Fassbinder’s last film but I prefer “Despair”, “Berlin Alexanderplatz” or “Fox And His Friends”. They mean more to me.
8) THE SMITHS, “The Queen Is Dead”, 1986 9) PET SHOP BOYS, “Please”, 1986
• These two albums ring many of the same bells for me as they were basically the soundtrack to my 3 months of living at Freya Aswynn’s large house in North London between July-September, 1986 called ‘Enclave Ex’, where, having nowhere else to live, I slept on david tibet’s library floor in the basement there. It was a very worrying, anxious and inspired time in my uncertain Life, such as it was then. I was 30, had left my partner of the past 10 years, put most of my possessions into storage, where they would remain for several years, and lived from whatever I could fit into my old VW Beetle. Luckily my stereo system was one of these things and these 2 albums which had just come out got played a lot during this hot, strange English Summer. This basement flat was below the rooms where Freya lived and so she and her assistant Jane, who was then transcribing all of Freya’s thoughts/trances etc. into what would become the book ‘Leaves Of Yggdrasil’, ended up hearing a lot of the music as well as they didn’t seem to mind me playing the stereo loud. In fact, one day when I had gone upstairs to go out the 2 of them came running downstairs, bare chested, screaming “ODIN!” with blood dripping from their chests has they had carved Odal Runes into them. As they saw me I think it was Jane who asked who the music was by and I said The Smiths and The Pet Shop Boys. They then continued running down the corridor towards the kitchen shouting “ODIN!”
10) ENNIO MORRICONE, “The Complete Dollars Trilogy”, 2008
• I don’t have this. I treasure the memories I have from the original LP I was given in about 1981 which featured the music from the 2 ‘Dollar’ films. The initial forming of Death In June, late nights at a friend’s cottage flat in the countryside listening to these soundtracks and David Bowie records and me wandering around my old college town of Guildford all come to mind when I think of that record. Some records are so heavily ‘charged’ with memories that I’ve never got CDs or updated versions of them. They remain forever frozen in those moments.
11) Your choice
• As it’s that time of year Phil Spector’s “Christmas Album”, 1963. A work of total genius by all those concerned. It was one of the first CDs I ever owned and for the past 20 years is always played over Yuletide. It may not be snowing in the garden of ‘Fort Nada’ in Australia in December but when I hear that playing it’s certainly snowing in my heart!
And with that I think I’ve said more than enough.