With The Snow Bunker Tapes, you decided to release the original versions on the guitar of the songs that were to be interpreted on the piano for Peaceful Snow. Did this will to release these raw versions come from the last tour you made in Europe in which you played some of these songs accompanied with the guitar?
Yes, absolutely. I was being asked by fans if they could listen to the entire album as it was originally conceived on guitar. As I was playing on guitar 3-5 songs from it every night on the tours in Europe I’ve done since the 30th Anniversary Tours in late 2011 I suppose it was only natural. I wasn’t sure at first and had to listen to the original ‘demos’ for ‘Peaceful Snow’ again and speak with my sound engineer and Australian label manager to see how they felt about exposing what only they, Miro Snejdr and I had previously heard to a bigger audience. The general consensus was that it would be good idea especially as I’d never leaked any demo versions of songs before. In fact, the only other album I’d ever done studio demos for was ‘The World That Summer’ courtesy of the Somewhere In Europe home studio in 1985/86.
In a way, this record is a combination of The Rule of Thirds and Peaceful Snow. Is this stripped down aspect of Death in June linked to the way you like to work today? Do you feel no more interest in sophisticated arrangements?
As people may know I began stripping the sound back of Death In June some years ago and was heading towards even taking myself out of the picture which actually came to fruition with the ‘Lounge Corps’ I and II bonus CDs that came with the ‘Peaceful Snow’ CD/download/USB where I don’t perform at all on Miro’s interpretations of Death In June songs. Now I’ve done that I might start building myself and Death In June up again so sometime in the future, if there is one, it could see a Death In June with more lush arrangements? But, I feel I’ve been there and done that so, I wouldn’t hold your breath about such a development. Deconstruction for me reminded me of my Punk roots where you didn’t have to have expensive synthesizers, drum kits, amplifiers etc but, if you had something true and good to express, that could be revealed in the most basic ways. I’ve seen some amazing live performances in the past 16 years or so that were really basic musically but were still awe inspiring.
How can we interpret the term “totenpop”? Do you consider yourself as a pop singer and what is a good pop song for you?
The “Totenpop” term came about in conversation with a couple of American fans whilst we privately, and independent of each other, discussed how ‘Neo’ Neo-folk could be after over 20 years of existence. It’s a light hearted, slightly sarcastic and dark approach to labelling music and how music is labelled. The idea of me being a pop singer never came into it. What makes “a good pop song” for me is the melodic and memorable excitment of it, evoking emotions, memories, thoughts, experiences etc. Off the top of my head songs like The Sex Pistols ‘Pretty Vacant’, The Pet Shop Boys ‘West End Girls’, The Beatles ‘Help’ all achieve these requirements as do many others including songs by people I’ve worked with, or know. Perhaps even a few Death In June songs also tick all the right boxes for other people to appreciate them as “pop(ular) songs”?
You had already said that your interpretations of lyrics became sometimes clearer a few years after the songs were composed. Have you had the same kind of experience with Peaceful Snow. Have some lyrics become clearer now three or four years after the initial writing?
No. It’s possibly too soon but one of the reasons why the ‘Peaceful Snow’ and ‘The Snow Bunker Tapes’ albums don’t come with a lyric sheet is because I am still mis-hearing/re-hearing the text on some songs so interpretation is open still to even me, and I sing them! That hit me when I had to start listening to the original guitar versions again to make up my mind about ‘The Snow Bunker Tapes’ and I realized how some of the lyrics did change and mutate when they were recorded for ‘Peaceful Snow’. The 2 albums are like chalk and cheese in not only musical approach but also to atmosphere and that does colour lyrical interpretation I think.
The songs of the album Peaceful Snow had been written after a natural catastrophe that destroyed a part of Fort Nada. Do these songs bring you back to those hard moments or do you think that each of your song becomes part of something more timeless and abstract?
Some of these songs will forever be linked to me seeing so much destruction done to the Fort Nada property which was the original catalyst to the writing of the album. But, some songs are also mutating for me with different meanings and different motivations. For instance my mother died in England in June (!) 2012 just before the We Drive East Tour started and that event seemed to form the centre of a lot of personal family problems and concerns that continue to this day both in England and in Australia. I left Australia for Europa with an extremely troubled mind. Everything changed, and changed very quickly on fronts that I had thought were controlled and when I sang some of those songs on stage during that tour, and since during the last Heilige! Tour, my feelings about the ‘Peaceful Snow’ and ‘Life Under Siege’ songs definitely altered to the new situation(s) in my Life.
Death in June has been an extremely influential band from the eighties until now and during the last live dates you have made, you have also been a witness of this transmission. We cannot deny the gift of Death in June to gather people from all over the world. What were the bands with whom you have played who had the most interesting approach according to you and to the “dark folk” canons you have created?
I will only speak about the new groups I’ve recently come across since I came out of retirement in 2005, and back into the live arena in late 2011, which have truly moved and impressed me. Of those, the ones that immediately jump out are Vurgart from Germany, Arnica from Catalonia/Spain, The Enchanted Wood from France, of course Miro Snejdr/Spitting At Pigeons from Slovakia and Spiritual Front from Italy. They’re all very different from each other but their purity of intent and originality really cut through to me and I feel blessed that I’ve seen them perform in different circumstances, in different countries and in different ways that will haunt me as long as those memories I still have of seeing early shows by Generation X and Siouxie And The Banshees in 1977 or performances by Joy Division and A Certain Ratio in 1979/80.
I have very fond memories of you asking the audience the song they wanted and you played the song for them. I remember asking for “Touch defiles” or “He’s disabled” and you played the song instantly. It reminds me of a performance by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was called “The artist is present” and she tried to have an intimate moment with as many people as possible in the audience. Do you think that the role of the artist is to search for this presence, to give you the sensation that you share an intimate moment with him, as if the song has been written for you in some ways? Can you tell us some of the most moving and wonderful moments you had with members of the audience who came to see you play?
I’m unsure about this “intimate moment” with individuals you speak of as I feel that Death In June performances now can be more like a communal ritual between, and possible celebration of, each other – the audience as a whole and the group. After 32 years of hardly plain sailing for all concerned we’re still afloat and still standing and we’re still together! There have been a lot who have fallen by the weyside but on those particular evenings we are those who survived and new followers who have decided to come on board or march beside us. Veering off from a planned setlist of songs under such circumstances and asking if anyone would like to hear anything in particular is only natural. It’s part of The Balladeer Of Doom’s Kampf Fire approach to his supporters. The most moving moment for me with any members of an audience has to be when I was driven to the frontline 30 minutes outside of Zagreb during the war in Croatia in 1992 and subsequently going to the hospital where many of the wounded were being treated a short distance from our accomodation.
DIJ has also become a kind of underground trademark. Younger bands stick the name of DIJ close to them in order to sell. How do you feel about this?
I don’t mind, and it is somewhat flattering, although I think it’s probably journalists or distributors labelling groups in a way that other people who may be unaware of these same groups can somehow equate the new music to something they may be aware of already? However, that possibly closes as many doors as it may open for these new bands.
You have been involved in music for 35 years. There have been biographies and books dealing extensively with your work and the classic albums are constantly reissued in order to keep them accessible to younger audiences. Apart from music, I would like to know if you would have been interested in working in another domain? Apart from your very brief involvement in the porno industry, have you sometimes exerted another job than the one of a composer?
Everything I did as a teenager that wasn’t directly connected to music was always meant as a means to get to this point, this career, this Destiny, this End. I was always very single minded about it regardless of the odds stacked against me, and the slim chances of it ever coming to be. I had Faith and a few extremely close friends, lovers and supporters around me did, too. People like Jack Collyer, Peter Winkworth, Keith Hinton, Claire Myers, Dave Hoskins, Kevin McMahon, Chaz Strutt, Peter Lane, Allen Cullen, Butch Calderwood, Graham Hawkes, Helmut Boettcher. They really helped in the early days and some of the times beyond with money, accomodation, advice, ever important Love, support and Trust and are the unsung heroes of Death In June and NER. Sadly many of them over the years have joined ‘My Company Of Corpses’. I know more dead people than live ones these days. I’m 57 this year and I’ve been doing what I’m doing since I was 21. There’s not much chance I’m going to try my hand at professional gynaecology or teaching enonomic and social history at this late stage in Life, is there?
As I said, these last years, many have written and re-told the story of DIJ. What about the Douglas Pearce of today. Do you still feel the will to tell things? Are there some new songs and new music directions you are thinking of?
In truth, no. That time hasn’t declared itself yet and whether or not it will again remains to be seen. Things are always being written but there is nothing as yet cohesive about any of it. Nothing new has demanded my attention.
Boyd Rice said on his Facebook official page that there will never be any other collaboration between him and you. Was it a common agreement?
I think Boyd Rice said a lot more than that so, I feel you’re being quite diplomatic about this strange occurrance. After my initial surprise at this out of character outburst on the www I saw it in the greater scheme of things for what it was – a NON event. Since 1989 I’ve seen more of those NON events than probably anyone else on this planet, besides Boyd of course, so I accept it as that and it sits easy with me. I’m sure this is a precursor to another announcement for a bigger NON event we have yet to hear about. It doesn’t make any real sense otherwise. Regardless, the irony is that I was just about to tell him about the offer I’d been given for a Death In June & Boyd Rice ‘Alarm Agents’ tour of Europe of 20 -30 shows later in 2013 culminating in us headlining at a proposed Runes & Men Festival Mk II in Dresden sometime in October/November. He probably knew about the offer from Ukraine and Russia for a small 2-3 date tour but this was something extra, much bigger and he had asked me about getting something like that organised when we last spoke on the telephone some months ago. The idea of the Runes & Men Festival Mk II in general was to concentrate on the American groups that have come out of this ‘scene’ such as Blood Axis, Awen, Luftwaffe, Cult Of Youth, Thomas Nola et Son Orchestre etc. Unknown to me, however, Boyd apparently viewed me as being passed my ‘use by date’ so the ‘Alarm Agents’ tour and Boyd being invited to the Runes & Men Festival now seem to have been suddenly thrown out of the window. Quelle dommage!
Finally, I would have a more personal question. I have instantly fell in love with the band Somewhere in Europe when I bought the “Gestures” CD on NER. It is quite hard to find pieces of information about this band from the eighties. Do you know if they are still in the music field? How did they get involved in DIJ at the time of The World That Summer/Brown Book? Can you tell us a little bit more about Andrea James and David Tiffen?
David and Andrea were very early followers of Death In June in England that weren’t part of the Crisis audience that we initially inherited. They had an art/music fanzine called ‘Certain Gestures’ which featured the first article about Death In June anywhere in the World and they also did the first ever official photo session for Death In June. They were at least 10 years older than any of us and had seen early performances by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, very early Rolling Stones, some weird, rare Beatles performances, were very aware of Gilbert & George and were in direct contact wih them, some of my favourite artists, as well as William Burroughs and for some reason David and Andrea were also attracted to Death In June! Somehow they introduced themselves at an early show and I got to know them very quickly and socialized and interacted with them for nearly 20 years. We were pretty close and I played on some of their albums as well as Andrea playing bass guitar and doing some vocals on ‘The World That Summer’. Oddly enough one of the last times I saw them was in the Winter of 1998 where Boyd and I were at their house in the English countryside where we were all getting quite merry and drunk and as the Winter was so severe that night they started lighting fires in other rooms of the household which we weren’t in. Unfortunately, I think one of those rooms later caught fire itself and I feel David and Andrea suspected Boyd and I were the cause of it. I think I saw them once more after that when I gave them a professional reel to reel Revox tape recorder I no longer wanted and haven’t heard from them ever since. It simply became silent. Whatever has happened to them they do leave a great legacy of ‘Gestures’, ‘The Iron Trees Are In Full Bloom’ and ‘Savage Dreams’.