A few years ago you announced that there will be no more Death in June live shows. But fortunately, in 2011 we’re going to have you perform in Moscow. What made you get back on the road?
Realistically it’s a culmination of events. 2011 marks the 30th Anniversary of the foundation of Death In June, the release of the group’s first 12” e.p. ‘Heaven Street’ and the first performance in 1981 so coupled with the offers I was getting to perform live again I thought this was as good a time as any. I must admit that it was the first 2 completely independent offers from Moscow and from Germany that came almost at the same time that also intrigued me. It seemed symbolically correct for Death In June. A strange, almost historic, spark or ignition to go back into the live arena again.
What are we going to hear in Moscow? Will you focus on tracks from the recent Peaceful Snow album or rather presenting some musical snapshots from the entire Death in June discography to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the project?
People should expect to hear versions of songs from the very beginning in 1981 right through to the latest album, ‘Peaceful Snow’ released at the end of 2010. But, remember, the live experience of Death In June can be very different to the studio experience and that has been the case for decades.
Peaceful Snow is a piano-based album unlike other Death in June records. But aside from that, do you see this one as a logical continuation of the earlier works, touching upon the same topics and ideas as before, or rather a radical new departure?
It was a radical new departure musically because for the first time ever I’m not featured playing any actual instrument on the album. I only sing and manipulate my lyrics. But otherwise I feel that ‘Peaceful Snow’ is still very much a Death In June album in intent, atmosphere, approach etc. I was very aware of that as it developed. As soon as you hear ‘Peaceful Snow’ it can only be Death In June.
You have a new collaborator on this latest release. Could you please elaborate on how that happened that you recorded an album with Miro Snejdr? Does he come to Moscow with you, or will you be alone this time?
Miro is a Slovakian pianist I was introduced to via DIJ fans on the internet. He had posted some videos on YouTube of him playing instrumental versions of some songs from ‘The Rule Of Thirds’ album. I listened to them, was impressed and eventually the DIJ fans actually put us in direct contact with each other. After hearing more of his piano interpretations of Death In June songs I decided that I’d like to put an album of these instrumentals out. However, whilst listening to some of the first of his recordings I was inspired to start writing new material. It was during a particularly difficult time for me as there had been a lot of destruction during storms over the late Winter of 2009 on my property in South Australia but somehow the combination of those problems with listening to Miro’s brilliant piano interpretations of some of Death In June’s songs acted as a catalyst for the writing of ‘Peaceful Snow’. Out of those dark and depressing days something new was born.
Miro will not be with me in Moscow as I intend to perform the songs from ‘Peaceful Snow’ in their original acoustic guitar versions. No one except Miro and my sound engineer has ever heard those before.
Speaking of this anniversary, 30 years is one hell of a lifespan for a musical project. How do you regard the whole history of Death in June – does it look for you now like one continuous path, from the very first album up to the latest one, or more like a labyrinth with all kinds of unpredictable twists and turns?
I think your description is excellent – for 30 years it has been a continuous path through a labyrinth filled with many surprising twists and turns – even for me!
Speaking of your older records, do you still feel good about all of them, are you still a fan of your own earlier works? Or are there some songs or entire albums that don’t connect with you anymore, maybe those you would even wish you’ve never recorded?
I think the entire official discography of Death In June is something to be proud of. Every recording served a purpose and made a step forward for Death In June. However, I must admit I do have difficulty with 2 albums written at the end of the 1990s. I’ll probably re-record them one day as I feel they not only sound dated in a bad way but they engender a very negative atmosphere. I want to exorcise that.
It is common knowledge that Death in June were one of the forerunners of Neofolk genre – do you feel yourself an innovator, a founder of a certain musical universe, do you tend to hear echoes of your own music in the others’ songs?
I began to hear groups that were sounding like DIJ and were obviously being inspired by DIJ in the early 1990s. It’s only grown since and I’m very aware of how I’ve influenced other groups. I’d be deaf, dumb and blind if I wasn’t!
Are you happy about the current state of affairs in Neofolk? This genre seemed to gain a momentum a few years ago, with people like Devendra Banhart finding themselves well up in the charts etc. Do you feel a part of this scene, maybe its ancestor? Or is it all a totally different scene that doesn’t owe much to Death in June and its contemporaries?
I don’t think real ‘Neofolk’ has much to do with the ‘Newfolk’ groups that you’re talking about. When I hear real ‘Neofolk’ groups I hear the Past walking hand in hand with the Present and the Future. When I hear ‘New Folk’ I simply hear the early 1970s without it’s potential radicalism. I think it’s what used to be called ‘Soft Rock’ but no one has pointed this out yet. From what I’ve heard, a lot of it is a sort of soul destroying version of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young meets Carol King. May the Gods help me if I’m responsible for that!
You have created a lot of controversy in the past, with some of your records having been banned in certain countries and live dates cancelled – without getting too deep into detail, would you say this mostly comes from other people misinterpreting your works or did you in fact want to be controversial?
I think you have to see these things in perspective. The reality is that out of over 100 Death In June songs there are 2 songs banned in Germany, strangely years after they were originally released, and out of over 100 performances only 1 was officially banned in Switzerland. The Beatles had more songs banned as soon as they were released by the BBC for their alleged drug, sexual and political statements, had mass record burnings throughout the USA because they were seen by some as ‘Satan’s Spawn’ and they were totally banned from playing in the USSR. In fact, it wasn’t until 1998 that Ringo Star was even allowed in! Were The Beatles trying to be deliberately controversial? Or, were they merely reflecting the times and what they were interested in? Death In June stands in that court.
Of course, most of this controversy is based on your political views that used to involve National Bolshevism etc. – once again, without getting too deep into detail, why do you think the 1980s music in general used to be so politically motivated, unlike, for example, the previous decade where it mostly tended to function as a pure entertainment?
After I gave up my Trotskyist politics in 1980 I have never held any traditional political views. My interest in the politics and individuals of the early, what you refer to as “National Bolshevism” movement, were from a historical point of view as I had been a History student at college and, at one stage, entertained the idea of becoming a History teacher.
I think you have to re-think your opinion about “1980s music in general” being “politically motivated” when you need only think of massively popular non-political groups of the time such as Duran Duran and you can hardly call the massive Punk explosion of the late 1970s as representing merely “pure entertainment”. If anything the UK as a whole had been in a serious stage of transition from about 1969 – 1983 and in political terms it was described as being ‘pre-revolutionary’ due to social upheavals, a civil war in Northern Ireland which had deadly repercussions on the mainland of the UK, constant industrial strife, mass immigration from our colonies, general disaffection to almost everything about Life and of course the first signs of the mass unemployment to come. The extreme parties of the left and the right have never been as popular as they were during this time in the UK. I was caught up in that turmoil for a few years but like so many others fell away from it all, disillusioned, worn out and seeking new roads.
Besides politics, you were always fascinated in various forms of esoterica, including runic letters and pagan symbolism. What triggered this interest? Was that the idea that the old, ancient world – as opposed to the one we live in – should’ve been a better place, warts and all?
The Spiritual calling of the ancient World has always called to Me and Me to It. There was never a Time in my Life that I never felt that. In fact, there was a period when I was very young, about 8 or 9, when my parents thought I was possessed and had me sort of ‘exorcised’ by a medium. They were very strange days. But, as regards the Past being a better place? No I’m under no such illusion. We live in a much better present than our ancestors did albeit we have other fears and dangers. The struggle for Existence is eternal warfare – of one sort or another.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the vast majority of Death in June songs are in minor key – why does it tend to happen this way? Is that the means that you use to portray the bleak nature of life that surrounds us?
I’m a self taught ‘musician’ so I wouldn’t have a clue regarding minor keys. I simply write tunes that appeal to my ears and that I would like to hear.
Cold, bleak, detached – these are some of the adjectives that are often used to describe the Death in June tracks. Would you agree with these descriptions, or is there actually a sense of joy behind the (mostly) minor-keyed music, some sort of positive, uplifting spirit to the songs that is possible to feel if one listens closely enough?
Everyone hears something different in the music of Death In June. And that even changes from time to time with me. I’m often surprised at how sometimes it doesn’t even sound like I’m part of the process and that I’ve written and recorded the material. And, it has been known to even bring me to tears, let alone induce anger and physical energy. Yeah, Death In June is a strange Lifeforce.
You collaborated with David Tibet many times, but I noticed that your vocal styles are very different – Tibet’s is highly emotional, emphatic, even over-the-top at times, while yours is much more calm and dispassionate. Would that imply that you’re not as concerned with getting your message across to the listeners as David – or not at all?
My collaborations with Tibet lasted from 1983-1995 and I probably haven’t listened to any of his work with or without me since about 1997 so I’m not really in a position to compare how we sing. I liked what he did when I worked with him and I like what I do. Personally I pay attention more to people who quietly declare themselves rather than become over emphatic. But it depends on the situation, doesn’t it?
By and large, is that important for you to have your listeners understand what you’re singing about? You’re coming to play in Russia, where I would guess not everyone speaks English well enough to be able to even read your lyrics, let alone comprehend them. Is that a big deal for you or not?
In truth neither Esperanto nor Russian became the International language post World War II. English did! So that concern doesn’t really concern me. And I think a lot is conveyed by atmosphere, anyway. I’ve been at concerts by English speaking bands where I couldn’t hear a word but I ‘understood’ everything. Joy Division/New Order/Peter Hook immediately spring to mind. The shivers run down my spine as I type.
It is interesting to note that many underground bands that tend to be broadly lumped into the 1980s undeground – Death in June, Current 93 or Swans, for example – started with some very harsh electric music and then gradually moved away from it and fully embraced acoustic sounds. What were the reasons for that musical shift for you?
Probably having my electric guitar stolen in 1983. An apparent disaster at the time but how fortuitous in hindsight! Perhaps the hand of God had something to do with that piece of thievery?
What’s in the future for Death in June? Have you been writing any new songs after the ‘Peaceful Snow’ record and are you planning to issue them in some form?
The release of ‘Peaceful Snow’ in November 2010 is still too close to me and there are no new songs to be considered. The future of Death In June really depends on what happens during this possibly final Euro-tour. As you’ve previously said, “30 years is one hell of a Lifespan”.
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