As the previous album was peculiarly and surprisingly raw and sparse, this new one goes on this path but with a new major instrument : the piano. Is it a way of recreating your own personal « year zero » once again ?
In truth I couldn’t see that there would be another Death In June album with me playing the guitar. I didn’t hear it, I didn’t feel it. I didn’t need it. I needed something else. And, more to inspire me and act as a catalyst. I’ve spent the past 10 years stripping the sound of Death In June back to its bare essentials in both the live arena and on recordings so I knew that if I ever did do another DIJ album after The Rule Of Thirds in 2008 I would probably take even more of me out of the equation. But the 88 keys of the piano was Fate stepping in rather than a deliberate and thought out design.
What have been the reactions of your fans, so far ?
After the initial shock to their ears it’s been surprisingly good. I knew I was taking a risk by being so radically different but as it’s been pointed out to me true fans expect Death In June to take risks and be diffferent and try new approaches and show new ways. It might sound different to what people might expect of Death In June but it still ‘feels’ and looks like Death In June and that is the most important thing to people.
How did you have this idea or feeling like using the piano instead of your eternal acoustic guitar ? How did you meet Miro Snejdr and work together ?
In about April of 2009 some fans on the Death In June Yahoogroup suggested I listen to 2 instrumental tracks from The Rule Of Thirds that were being performed on YouTube. I loved what I heard and saw of these videos with piano interpretations of Jesus, Junk And The Jurisdiction and The Glass Coffin. Eventually the fans kindly put Miro Snejdr, the man behind these videos, in touch with me and as I loved what he did with these 2 songs I suggested doing an entire album’s worth of Death In June ‘classics’. Some months later whilst listening to some of these versions, thinking about how this album would be released and feeling particularly unhappy at how dangerous and uncertain Life had become at Fort Nada due to bad Winter storms the words of Peaceful Snow and, shortly thereafter, The Maverick Chamber began to come into my head. As Miro is Slovakian I’d been thinking what his name meant and in an unhappy reverie on that Winter’s day had interpreted it as ‘Peaceful Snow’. I was wrong but, it was a strange declaration of something new. With some trepidation I went into the studio and recorded these 2 songs and much to my surprise thought they would make a good single and addition to this ‘Lounge Corps’ instrumental album. However, by then A Nausea, or Muse as some call it, had descended and other songs began to demand to be written and a brand new unexpected album was suddenly underway. ‘Lounge Corps’ had been finished but the Peaceful Snow was about to fall.
How did you write these new songs ? On guitar or on piano ?
All the original songs were written on the guitar. I posted Miro demo recordings of the guitar/keyboards/vocals versions of these songs and then awaited his piano instrumental interpretations. I then re-did my vocals to those versions, added effects to my voice if needed and worked within that strict discipline to keep things as sparce, stark and effective as possible. Miro and I have never met or even spoken to each other. I don’t even know what he looks like beside his hands and arms in videos. It’s been an interestingly ‘cold’ experience which I’ve appreciated very much. I think he has, too!
What were the themes that inspired your album and lyrics ? It seems that war, death and pagan symbolism still and ever attracts you ?
If there are any specific themes at all on Peaceful Snow they declared themselves. It’s a question of dipping your hand into the bag of Magick and hoping it doesn’t bite it off.
A few words about « Life Under Siege » which appears on our CD sampler (inspiration, anecdote, themes etc.) ?
Alone with my thoughts, very late on a cold Winter’s night at Fort Nada. Life Under Siege.
Your standards played on piano on the 2nd CD bonus reveal how melodic have always been your songs. However, we sometimes miss your voice. Why not singing on these covers of your own songs ? How did you work on this with Miro ?
As I’ve said this ‘Lounge Corps’ album accompanying the CD, USB and download versions was the original album and I thought these instrumental tracks were so beautiful as they were the thought never even crossed my mind to put vocals onto them. Probably because it fitted in so well with my stripping back policy in Death In June – I had been completely taken out of the equation and felt quite detached and happy about it! Like the effect of the drugs they give you before having surgery. However, other people have asked this same question and have planted a seed of an idea. Perhaps it’ll grow? Perhaps not.
With this new record, we may imagine DIJ played in a cosy bar full of richly dressed women and gentlemen of a certain age smoking cigars and drinking martini, and this being not incongruous at all (apart from the lyrics, maybe). Do you think your songs have always been listenable by any audience ? Your image and imagery and the neofolk genre may have locked you in and prevented you to touch a wider audience. Do you regret that ?
To be regretful about anything to do with Death In June is to be ungrateful and I’m certainly not that. This isn’t ‘My Way’! What is there to regret? I don’t even have “a few”. Death In June has provided so much to me as well as others. The ungrateful get their just desserts. Whining dogs need to be kicked up the arse and out of camp. I have no time for such whinging and bitching. I’m Blessed by Death In June. And, I certainly hope more than a few others have been as well in whatever way that Blessing comes. But, if you take that Blessing for granted it will turn on you. It will chew you up and spit you out. Simple as that. And, I don’t think you have to be a person richly dressed and of a certain age to appreciate that. In fact, a lot of cheap clothes become me and I can hold my own in any company regardless of what I’m wearing. I am informed. I can be both cosy and crawly creepy as I drink my Dirty Martini whilst listening to the Melody and Misanthropy. I feel any audience can truly appreciate that – as they open up their minds and Ku Ku Ku, Baby.
Do you think DIJ may be considered one day as a must, as a kind of neo-Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, Lee Hazlewood or Johnny Cash ? Are these artists some references or influences to you, by the way ?
Outside of the obvious fact that Death In June has influenced a large number of newer groups over the almost 30 years Death In June songs have also been covered by other groups. Mostly, unfortunately, to the detriment of the DIJ original. But, nonetheless, there have been some very good cover versions of DIJ classics and I think Death In June is already considered some sort of standard – something to aspire to and copy. Why do you think the jealousy factor is so great regarding any new release by Death In June? The bitchiness and the envy displayed is bizarre and can only be explained by the fact that Death In June has achieved something very few of the pretenders to the throne will ever come close to achieving. They are weighed down so heavy with envy they fall floppy to the weyside. “Floppy dead” as Grace Slick would say!
None of the artists you mention have ever been reference points or influenced me. I don’t own anything by Tim Buckley, I never ‘got’ Nick Drake, I only really appreciated Johnny Cash after I heard his cover version of the Trent Reznor song ‘Hurt’ and until a driving holiday in America in 2002 just before a DIJ American/Euro tour the only recording I had of Lee Hazlewood was the ‘Nancy and Lee’ album which was/is brilliant. But, hardly influential. During that driving trip around California there seemed to be different Lee Hazlewood CDs available at every petrol station we stopped at so that’s what became our soundtrack to that roadtrip where my partner and I drove into the valleys and up into the hills stopping in forests for me to put in a few hours worth of guitar playing every so often. My partner would keep a look out for bears in the vicinity and I’d wander around and concentrate on the chord changes and words. Then it was back into the car, more Lee Hazlewood or David Byrne and off to find a motel somewhere for the night. It was great.
Thinking of Lee Hazlewood, I imagine one duet with a lady singer. What do you think ? Would you like it and if yes, who would you imagine to sing with you ?
13oyd Rice and Rose MacDowall ( married name at the time – Lee) did this years ago as a sort of pastiche of the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood ( Nazi and Lee – geddit?) album so I can’t really see the point of going down that well worn fun-strewn path. Besides, who would I do a duet with? Ute Lemper? Should we do a re-working of a Death In June song? ‘Red Bitch – Black Doug’ perhaps? Or maybe even k d lang? We could do a song together called ‘Constant Indifference’ and in the accompanying video stare dewy eyed at each other feeling completely nothing! It’s an incongruous question simply for incongruity’s sake. I’ll let you know if Lady Gaga contacts me. She’d be the only one I’d take seriously.
What musical works by other artists, songs or albums, based on piano, do you like the most ?
In truth I don’t have any. Peaceful Snow doesn’t sound like anything I own and that’s another reason why I found this path so attractive.
Do you consider yourselves as a maverick in the music scene ?
No, I feel very much part of the music scene. I love having Susan Boyle, Eminem and Oasis over for dinner, reading the bible and sharing our drugs of choice.
Do you still buy records ? What is your last record bought, then ? And are you curious of what happens in pop or underground music nowadays ?
As you only mention records I’ll simply mention the last actual records I bought which were second hand copies of The Beach Boys ‘Holland’ LP, The Dudley Moore Trio’s ‘Today’ classic LP and the brand new Charles Manson LP ‘Air’ which really took me by surprise. There’s almost a personal message to me on the track ‘Brother Gun’. I found these at a record fair in Adelaide only a couple of weeks ago and I’m so pleased I did. Regarding other music nowadays then I’m fortunate enough to be sent a lot of things for me to listen to and I feel that if I’m meant to hear something then I will. My ears and eyes haven’t closed to what else is going on although I can’t say I find much of interest otherwise. But, what little I do find I think is worthwhile.
What gives you the biggest nausea or hatred today ?
Myself and the Muse that hunts, haunts and Rewards me and all the usual suspects regarding hatred. So, pour yourself a cocktail, make sure all the doors and windows are locked and you’re safe and snug inside and let the Peaceful Snow descend in Blizzard like proportions outside. By the time it melts perhaps some of those deserving of Hate will have frozen to death?
Douglas P. 20.XI.10.