With the DEATH IN JUNE work “ESSENCE!” Douglas P. has unquestionably created a great album that combines the strong, traditional DEATH IN JUNE elements with some innovations and alternative twists. The following article is a summary of a conversation with Douglas that I had with him during December 2018. The pictures are used by kind permission of Douglas P..
After Douglas had sent me the new DEATH IN JUNE album, I of course had some questions relating “ESSENCE!”. At first he told me, that he actually no longer do interviews, as it is just a question of going around in circles about many questions. He also said that he does not like to overexplain his work, as it might make it lumpen and earthbound.
Nevertheless, he briefly revealed the context in which “ESSENCE!” was created what was followed by a few questions by me, which he willingly answered.
“Returning to intense touring around the world in 2011 after a break of 6 years naturally led to new visions, new influences and experiences and visiting Russia and Ukraine several times, as well as North America more than I’ve ever previously done in my life was of course, part of that.
Finally retiring from touring last november with my ‘Last Farewell’ performance in Tel Aviv freed me to start concentrating on putting together my writings, thoughts and impressions of the 8 years since “Peaceful Snow”/”The Snow Bunker Tapes” in 2010/2013.
Plus me turning 60 years of age in 2016 had a profound and unexpected effect upon me and I descended into a dark place again where I hadn’t psychologically been for decades. Writing, and then more importantly finally recording, “ESSENCE!” was part of the process of my mental rehabilitation and long climb out of the ditch I had progressively fallen deeper and deeper into.
2016 also saw the UK Brexit, which, whilst I don’t personally agree with the decision, I totally understand the main reason (s?) why the British population decided enough was enough and that Britain should stand alone again and regain control of its borders, not to mention money. All my adult life I have known and viewed myself as ‘officially’ a European, then English, then British. My official documents say that from my Driving License to my Passport etc.
But that has changed so it felt correct to also change the label name to New English Recordings – it’s now more in tune with the Zeitgeist! Like “ESSENCE!” itself.
However, what I will say to you about “ESSENCE!” is that each DEATH IN JUNE album is of its time, it’s Zeitgeist and this release is no exception.”
I return to the topic “Brexit”, which is just around the corner. What does Douglas think of it?
“Ah, what a shambles Brexit is. It’s so embarrassing that an understandably harsh decision was made to leave the EU but has not really been acted upon. New European Recordings ceased to exist so I thought it more pertinent to rename it New English Recordings, whether I agree with the decision or not. It’s the reality – sooner or later! The UK became ‘officially’ European when I was 18 so it’s all I’ve known for my adult working life but as I grow close to the end of my working life it seems that I’m reverting to being officially English/British again. Odd! I can’t wait for all my new documents and papers!! Bureau-crazy will have a fine time.”
Douglas does not want to over-explain his work. How important is it for him as an artist that the audience can really decode his work completely? Or should his work be regarded as a work of art that the listener should reflect freely on?
“I am of the opinion that any worthwhile art will always be open to interpretation and with that goes misinterpretation. Some informed and some not so informed. And some, of course, meant to deliberately misinform. Since the birth of DEATH IN JUNE in 1981 it’s lyrics have been open to all of that and more. In fact, right now, my main digital distributor is having to send the full text of “ESSENCE!” along to the main people at Spotify, iTunes etc for them to peruse and examine them. It’s going to be interesting to see what the verdict is from these experts of literature and lyrics! But, one man’s soup tin is another man’s provocative work of art. My favourite British artists GILBERT & GEORGE can achieve so much with a one or two word title of some of their works than most authors do with entire books. So, it seems, everything is up for grabs. The less I say the more gets said – by others! My ears are burning right now, in fact!”
The last time I saw DEATH IN JUNE live was in 2016 at the Runes & Men Festival in Leipzig. Which feeling dominated in the face of the farewell to the stage at Douglas?
“When I saw some video footage of me performing at Runes & Men Festival in Leipzig back in 2016 I was shocked at how very sad and depressed I looked. But that wasn’t because of the moment, the place, the event it was because I had emotionally struggled to get through that final ‘Last EU-ropa Kiss’ tour and knew it was time to stop. I knew Zagreb still awaited me and MIRO, but that’s like returning to my spiritual Homeland, and I knew that would be a fitting place to say a final “Bok!”, “Lebt Wohl” or “Goodbye” to Europa. I had been thinking about it for a year or so anyway and there were a number of factors adding up to that ultimate conclusion. Weirdly enough one of them was seeing BUZZCOCKS perform in Adelaide, Australia earlier in 2016 and PETE SHELLEY looked so tired and old and I thought that he’s the same age as me and look at what his constant touring is doing to him. The show was great and their songs hit me like they’d never hit me before and I remember I struggled to keep my tears from falling as they hit one nerve after another in me. I think that was a mixture of feelings and memories stretching back to 1977 up unto the present day. But now he’s dead! He paid a high price for being so good.”
“Snipers Of Maidan” unequivocally points to a very specific topic. Was Douglas specifically inspired by the events on the Maidan, or what exactly influenced him?
“I visited Kiev, Ukraine for the first time in 2012 just before some of the European Football Championships took place there to perform a DEATH IN JUNE show and I was impressed with the city, its inhabitants and the way it ‘felt’ European, almost Germanic. I was familiar with walking around the main square, The Maidan. In 2015 I returned to Kiev for another DIJ show and wandered around the same area but this time it was decorated with loads and loads of photos of those who had been killed in or near The Maidan in 2013/2014 and with soldiers and civilians collecting money for the families of the fallen etc. Now it depressed and moved me a great deal. A particularly moving memory was viewing helmets painted with flowers that demonstrators wore in a symbolic act of peace but those helmets had bullet holes in them and had obviously been deliberately targetted or “scoped”.”
Did you have already a sound of “ESSENCE!” in mind before recording or was it first created in the studio and what role did the engineer play in the recordings?
“”ESSENCE!”, like all other DEATH IN JUNE albums, literally declared ‘itself’ as the recordings started. I originally thought this would go in one direction but that soon started to sound wrong, old fashioned, not me ‘Now’! And that was the deciding factor. No matter what you think it’s going to sound like when you’re writing music in different hotel rooms around the World, outside in the Wintery garden with an acoustic guitar beside burning log fires etc it always distorts and finds its own place, once in the actual studio. I worked very fast with 11 songs recorded, mixed and produced in 13 days in total in the studio on and off throughout the 3 Winter months of the Southern Hemisphere. It was intense but that meant I had to be very well prepared, but still open to any new directions the album wanted to take me in as soon as I got to the studio on any particular day. I let my instincts guide me in an almost creative blur. It’s difficult to explain as it does often feel like a semi-conscious state of mind. But the deciding factor was that I should sound like DEATH IN JUNE but not a repeat of myself or someone else doing a DEATH IN JUNE-style album. The past guided me as much as the present and luckily my sound engineer, like all good sound engineers, was quick to pick up on these sometimes sudden changes of mood, of twists and turns in audio colour and sometimes deleting entire sections of music on songs that seemed intrusive and foreign. I went through several names for the album until hitting upon “ESSENCE!” which seemed the most appropriate of them all.”
And finally something for the chroniclers – and yes, Douglas wanted to leave this topic at the end of the article, because in his view, in the face of the last days of 2018, it seems that it fits perfectly to the natural flow. TONY WAKEFORD has recently re-appeared under the name CRISIS with a newly formed band. Were there any questions or considerations in advance about whether Douglas wants to be involved in any way? Are CRISIS compatible with today’s zeitgeist?
“CRISIS? ‘CRISIS-lite’ more likely and also another embarrassment emanating from the UK. Tony Wakeford didn’t come back with CRISIS but merely a karaoke style version of it where he oversees a backing group doing their versions of CRISIS songs many, if not most, were written solely by me and not the co-writes that he claims they were. It’s a horrible misrepresentation of reality. I thought of the group’s name in June, 1977 and was not informed about him using it and typically that’s just him exercising his already overblown ego, let alone overblown gut, pulling the wool over some young people’s eyes and pretending this is how it was back in ‘77-’80. It wasn’t! It was NOTHING like that!! They sound passable but are boring to look at on stage and just go through the motions of being ‘a group’. The original and only CRISIS were never like that. And worst of all, he knows it!!! The guy spells “Zeitgeist” like this: charlatan. TONY WAKEFORD has always been ‘economic’ with the truth about so much and this sham is just an extension of that side of his character. It revolts me and is a poor subject to end this article on. I’m concerned with 2018, the increasing proximity of Yuletide and whatever the Future holds. His approach to our mutual past has a stench of death about it. If he’d kept the name of his new group 1984 I wouldn’t have any problems with this but he’s besmirched the name of CRISIS and that group were a legend and very much of its time. It doesn’t belong here now, only in spirit.”