DOUGLAS P. (DEATH IN JUNE)
‘Words/lyrics are continuously coming to me, everywhere and anywhere…’
07/02/2020, Danil VOLOHOV
photos: © The Hooded Man, Ruth Bayer
Unlike any other artists of the British esoteric underground,
Death In June has never seemed to be obvious. Since the very beginning
of their career it was always quite hard to imagine the next work of
Douglas P. What it would be like? Among all the people in the world,
only one can answer this question. He’s currently residing in Australia
and continues his musical path. He’s started his career as a member of
punk-band – Crisis. We all know him as a person under well-known
ethnic-like mask. Within Death In June, Douglas expanded the boarders of
folk music creating what we all know as “neofolk” – the mixture of
symbolism and surrealism, experiments and abstraction enhanced by the
almost-hypnotic voice of the only one constant in Death In June. This January, Death In June released the new 7’inch compilation – “The Wall Of Sacrifice”, through French label – Steelwork Machine.
In the interview for Peek-A-Boo magazine we spoke with Douglas P, about recent longplay of Death in June – “ESSENCE!” and the ideas of Douglas on the new record, about sources of inspiration and creativity over the years, about punk-rock and evolution through the years. It looks like that for each record you choose another, opposite direction. Once you said that in the discography of Death In June, there are no similar records. I can’t but agree with it! So speaking in terms of your recent LP – “ESSENCE!”, what helped you to define the methods of work on this record?
My initial approach to what became ‘ESSENCE!’ was to somehow reflect upon both my Life in my 60s, which have been particularly unhappy years for me and very reminiscent of my early 30s, and a summarization of where I thought Death In June had travelled to musically and culturally. I decided to look back at how far the journey of Death In June and myself had been. Or, so I thought that was what I was doing. In a way I thought I was looking in the rear view mirror but very soon after its release on 30th November, 2018 it morphed into what was to come and where I was driving to. It became for me a very predictive album. Depressingly so unfortunately.
Do you always have an idea about how your next album should sound like, or when you start working on songs, these are just images that are coming slowly together?
Yes, I do usually have a rough idea or concept of how the album should sound but I’ve learnt to watch out and listen to its natural dynamics and musical declarations, accidental or otherwise. ‘ESSENCE!” doesn’t sound much like how I originally thought it would as I quickly abandoned sounds and instrumentation in the studio that were not of ‘The Now’ and felt hackneyed and old fashioned. It’s difficult to define how I do that but it simply declares itself and you have to have ears that listen out for that.
Within your lyrics you’re mostly focusing on things happening inside the human mind. Can you say that these things attract you more than creating a concept album with characters/storylines and a certain plot?
I don’t think I’m capable of writing a concept album with fictitious characters involved. It’s simply not part of my psyche or what ultimately interests me. I’m too introspective and analytical for that. My Life’s been a serious affair and continues to be. I can’t escape that. It’s my Destiny, my Wyrd.
After the release of “Peaceful Snow”, people had doubts about the directions in which you would move. For a number of times you noticed that it was a very interesting experience and very interesting things Miro Snedjr added to your music. What do you feel every time, getting to some new point of this journey ?
Bewilderment, bemusement and excitement as I feel I’ve successfully managed to direct musical changes over the years regardless of whoever I’m working with. Certainly Miro Snejdr, Herr Lounge Corps Himself, brought something very special to the Death In June table on several levels.
Along with this, your cooperation with Miro started with his variations of your songs, that caught your attention. As a person who always looks forward, what do you feel going back to the past and looking at some things from a different perspective?
The one main thing I’ve noticed for some years is when I’m singing an old song the original meaning for many of them for me has changed. They seem to be in constant flux. I think I’m looking back at the past but it’s the present that ends up distorting the view.
How much have your artistic goals and objectives changed since “The Snow Bunker Tapes (2013)”?
I don’t know if they have actually changed. I act on automatic about almost everything I do artistically so I feel it’s all part of the continuing process and its natural development.
Over the years your style has changed a lot. From the well-known neofolk to different variations of the style. More industrial, more atmospheric or even heavy. Do you follow a certain state, trying to capture your feelings in the moment and express them on tape – such a fixation of what you’re doing or it’s mostly experimentation?
Death In June started out in the post-Punk movement as obviously all the original members were part of the Punk scene and it was obvious some of that would rub off on what we tried to do both musically and in our general approach to this new endeavour. That changed as the membership changed and I became in 1985 the only constant member being affected by whatever my mental state, external state and surroundings and events were. As I’ve previously said, almost everything after that is instinct or some sort of psychological hypnosis or trance I go into. Neo-folk came about by chance not design and the same thing applies to Industrial Folk etc. I was open and ready for different variations and to try different approaches and ways to articulate.
Even with all the things you introduced to your listeners over these years, it seems that the atmosphere of your shows is still following its primary vibes. What makes live shows special to you: getting from studio-type-of-work or certain interaction/connection with the listener ?
By the late 1990s I’d grown tired of trying to replicate studio sounds on stage and realized it didn’t really matter that much anyway because Death In June performances had become ever more ritual-like for both the group and the audience and had somehow turned into a ‘gathering’ of like souls. It felt more natural to strip the sound back, approach live performances in a more intimate way and concentrate on trying to evoke a ‘Kampfire Music’.
Speaking about the 30th anniversary of Death In June, and the years of your creativity you used the metaphor of “a fight”. Just like Jack Kerouac with “On The Road”. Do you see the process or creation music as a certain fight? With yourself, with different parts of your personality, for instance; with reality, with chord structure and melodies or for you, it’s something more liberating?
The whole creative process for me is literally a nauseating one and the feeling of sickness gets worse as I get older. It is definitely a struggle, a fight but Death In June’s success in its 39 year history definitely liberated me as a man so I guess that, so far at least, I’m winning that particular battle.
When you work on the lyrics – is it a continuous process or are you looking for a certain state? Like a stream of consciousness.
Words/lyrics are continuously coming to me, everywhere and anywhere but especially at night at home in Fort Nada when the countryside becomes quiet and a general stillness descends. But the fine tuning of those words into an actual song is a different, more complicated manner more akin to a long form of the ‘cut-up technique’ popularized by William Burroughs, David Bowie etc. I usually work alone when I’m doing that but I’ve recently been told by a close Croatian friend that he saw my face change and go into a trance-like state which worried him!
Where does your inspiration usually come from?
It can range from a chance or misunderstood hearing or emotional turmoil. The whole gamut of Life is always imposing itself on you and some of us take notice and choose to try and articulate that. Who knows what the consequences would be if I didn’t have this outlet?
I have a theory that after the punk rock boom of the 70s, almost every style of music took something from punk-rock. Not even musically, but esthetically. So in connection with your early years in Crisis – back in those days, did you feel like a rebel? And do you also feel it now?
I tend to agree with you about how culturally important Punk really was but I don’t think anyone that was initially involved in Punk saw themselves as a “rebel” per se. They were really being everything that they were really supposed to be, acting upon instinct and this moment in time was their preparation meets opportunity moment. I grabbed hold of that once in a Lifetime chance with both hands and the results show I did the right thing 43 years later. If it hadn’t have been for Punk Rock and the doors it kicked open I doubt I would have become involved successfully in music. There is little point in conjecture about what the alternatives would have been.
How do you see the next Death In Junerecord?
I see it as a dilemma! I have enough finely tuned new lyrics written to make a full album, I have several choices for album title, I have a new album sleeve in mind and I’ve several new promo photos for it but I have absolutely zero idea of what it will sound like musically. I’ve never had this problem before where I hear zero music in my head. I’ve tried picking up the guitar to see if anything comes out but in truth I haven’t played a coherent note on the guitar or keyboard since I finished recording ‘ESSENCE!’ in August 2018. 2019 has seen me empty of sound and 2020 continues likewise. I had a dream recently where I was pushing large square knobs on a console and synthesizer and factory-like noises were coming out but it made no sense and I couldn’t remember anything after I awoke. I have no idea if there will be another Death In June album but with the 40th Anniversary of the group in 2021 there is some impetus for there to be one.