Extract from a forthcoming edition of the Australian publication ‘Cinema Now’:
‘Essence!’ was conceptualised over the last four years in various locations worldwide, including Croatia, Ukraine, Canada, Florida, Pennsylvania, California, and in the Adelaide Hills. I spoke with Douglas P. briefly to talk about the album, the Adelaide effect, and more surrounding the album.
Echo: I wanted to talk about how Adelaide has influenced you musically. I find it a very interesting region, I’ve lived here on and off as I travel a lot, and there’s a strange vibe here. I felt that for certain pretty heavily in ‘Essence!’ – so I’m curious what parts of it you might consider influenced by the area.
Douglas: No, ‘Essence!’ definitely isn’t a love letter to Adelaide, the City of Churches, City of Evil and most people outside of here probably wouldn’t know it as such anyway or understand those allusions to it. That could so easily apply to London, too.
After I first visited SA 30 years ago its influence was fairly quick to appear on the album that followed a few years later in 1992 ‘But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?’. I think it’s less obvious these days as the shock of the new wore off and I became more established here. During the quiet times at night as the house settles and all I can hear are the movements of rats and possums in the wall cavities and the occasional grumping and snorting away of a nearby koala is when a lot of thinking, planning and writing can happen. It becomes a very meditative time.
So, it obviously makes a difference from my old flat back near Heathrow Airport in England where you’d get the odd dogs barking or druggies banging on my front door in the wee hours because they’d mistaken it for the drug dealers place a couple of doors further down the street. To be able to write, which I actually find quite a nauseating experience when it comes to the fine tuning of it, I’m constantly on the look out for places that can inspire or trigger those creative moments whether lyrically or musically and those places credited did come in handy over the years for that and for a variety of different reasons. However, ultimately Fort Nada, my property in The Hills, is really where the nauseating fine tuning happens. I can go crazy and get grumpy and moody in the comfort of my own home without room service disturbing my thoughts – only the koalas.
Echo: I would not have guessed ‘But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?’ as being conceptualised in Adelaide but I do now see that in the liner notes!
Douglas: Hearing SA’s Bell Magpies for the first time singing at night at a friend’s house in Aldgate in March ’89 was an ear opening experience for me. Chiming animals was something I’d never heard before. They were destined to open ‘…Symbols Shatter?’ some years later, even though I didn’t know that there would be another Death in June album at that time. With the very recent issue of ‘Essence!’ that situation repeats itself. The Future is presently a blank page.
There was a place I stayed at back in England for 3 months in 1986 which had a totally nullifying effect on my creativity at a time I needed to be firing on all cylinders. But I needed a roof over my head and was desperately trying to avoid being homeless. However, I learnt my lesson well about locations and whether it be to do with Ley lines, Destiny, whatever, I’ve always paid attention to where that spark may exist for me to work in. I can feel it when it’s about. I’m almost feral in that way. It’s important to choose well and to be aware.
Echo: I feel we’re also almost expected to talk about wine when it comes to discussing Adelaide, what with places like the Barossa Valley and all in the backyard. I am curious on your thoughts on Adelaide wines. Are you a fan?
Douglas: Outside of noticing how a lot of The Hills have been turned over to vineyards over recent years my only real experience with wine is over dinner in the evening. Unless I’m in the studio where red wine seems to be de rigeur. If I drink during the day it’s usually strong beers from Europe, although there are some good local boutique/craft beers now from SA and the odd shot of vodka or 2. I suppose this is where the locality also has an influence as I’m lucky enough to be not so far from Adelaide’s ‘famous’ wall of beer situated in Belair/Blackwood. It’s a great place to shop. On this hot day [note: the weather was around 40°C / 100°F at the time of this interview] I’m presently sipping a Duvel Triple Hop Citra 9.5%. A little goes a long way with that and, like a lot of things in my Life, I prefer quality over quantity.
Echo: I am curious as to what else you’ve been doing in the gaps between ‘Essence!’ and ‘Peaceful Snow’/’The Snow Bunker Tapes’, and what you have planned for the future with your music.
Douglas: That time between 2010 until last year when I really knuckled down to trying to put together different words and music to write a new Death in June album, as well as maybe sort out what was going on in my head at the same time, was mainly taken up with doing many tours of Europe and North America. Plus I was keeping the large Death in June and Crisis back catalogue available, especially on vinyl and more recently on cassette tape which has proved an amazing success. All that has to be maintained and takes time and care. A lot was achieved during those years but a lot was also lost on a personal level.
Echo: We’ve covered the sort of worldly influence, and I know you’ve mentioned you wanted to talk more about your being gay in regards to your music, so I wonder also how this is reflected on ‘Essence!’, if at all. ‘The Trigger’ seems like an obvious candidate as a breakup song of sorts, but could just as easily be a song longing about anything lost. On the same track, I thought the sample at the end was a really cheeky, rather playful way to close out this sort of bittersweet jam that had just started really building up with the addition of that snare. It kind of reminds me of some of the little antics that happen at live shows from time to time, a sort of nod to the playfulness there.
Douglas: [The recent shows] were some of the very best live performances Death in June had ever done since 1981 and I can truly say they were Life changing for me. But during that time John Murphy, my live percussionist since 1996, sadly died of cancer in October ’15 after about a 9 month battle with it. I then went into a personal decline the following year after a chance happening in Florida a few months later. That event in Clearwater actually was ‘The Trigger’ to a PTSD moment for me which ostensibly stems back to my days in the war in Croatia between 1992 -’95 but probably it goes a lot deeper. Regardless, it threw me into a dark place mentally that I had thought I had under control for many, many years but it obviously had been biding its time to ensnare me again. I thought with the release of ‘Essence!’ just before Yuletide I could feel myself breaking free of it but that didn’t prove to be the case. It was yet again a very glum Yule. With that in mind I’ve no real interest in new groups or any new direction DIJ may be going in. My ESSENCE! has to be dealt with first and there’s not too much “playfulness” in sight as regards that, gay or otherwise.
Below follows a short review of the album:
As any resident, even those just stopping by, can attest to – Adelaide is a weird place. ‘God a Pale Curse’ really ought to be its anthem. It’s a place bathed with traditional British/Australian history, but built predominantly on its own intrinsically oddball-like history. The city of churches and the murder capital all rolled into one headscratch of an area. The more I delve into this new work I’m really glad to see that this record once again properly tributes the area Douglas has been residing in for a while now. While the album certainly has the energy and inspiration of a variety of places, I think it’s one of the best examples of catching this vibe in musical form.
Yet this feels both like a bit of a new direction and a continuation of the known style from Douglas P – as others have already pointed out similarities to early DI6 sounds. There’s definitely a lot of interesting instrumentation here, fresh in its own way; both nostalgic and exciting at the same time. Whilst you dive into it thinking it’ll be a mostly calm, chilling, but allover beautiful experience, in kicks ‘The Humble Brag’. Here the energy so swiftly (but fluidly) kicks into a faster pace, western/salsa vibes, and a weirdly psychedelic airy atmosphere to hold it altogether. The album’s repeated use of noisy passages and sampled vignettes helps to keep this flow of the few “upbeat” moments of the record in time, of sorts, with the more melancholic pieces.
Even decades down the line Douglas can still use such minimal instrumentation and repetitive – but poetic – lines to evoke such a bittersweet reaction. Hauntingly pretty chords ring out throughout an assortment of electronics, basses, bright percussion and bells, sampled vocal clips, drum machines, and so on. Really, in a way, this has all been done before, but it’s here together like a Yule present to look back over those decades of tunes in a new way. It both matches what I expected to get out of it when I first heard word of the return, as well as exceeding those expectations with just how sublime some of the songs here are. If it works out that way for you as well, then you’ll have had a pretty sweet three-quarter-hour time checking it out.
‘Essence!’ is available on CD and Vinyl at Clarity Records. Cassette re-releases and other DI6 merch is available from Steelwork at https://www.steelwork.fr