Interview:2005-Heathen Harvest

DP: I’m very happy about that because I see Death In June as part of a European cultural revival. I’m pleased that the Old Gods are being resurrected, for want of a better word. Old symbols. I feel very pleased that I am a part of that process and that I have had influence. At this stage in the game, so to speak, it’s not false modesty to say that I am content with my influence. It’s not beating my own drum, it’s fact. If nothing ever were to happen after this point, then nothing could take away from that myth, that legend. The effect of Death In June as a rock being thrown into a pool sending ripples on their course. It’s too late, it is a part of history.

Douglas Pierce / Death In June Interview

Friday April 9 th 2005 at The Elysium nightclub in Austin, Texas

Interview conducted by Erin Powell for Heathen Harvest

Heathen Harvest: What kind of music did your parents expose you to as a child?

Douglas Pierce: I don’t think my parents were responsible for exposing me to anything other than turning on the television. They gave me cart blanche from there. They were always intrigued by how enrapt I was with the early pop programs of the time. There were two in particular; they were called The Cool Cats and Six-Five Special, which was aired I think at half past six on a Friday evening. I think my earliest memory of any song was, “Like a Rubber Ball I Come Bouncing Back To You”. Gene Penny (sp?) wrote it and I’m still a big fan. In fact I saw him several weeks ago in Adelaide, Australia. It was the third time I’ve seen him and in fact the best time as well. I have particular memories of the video they did at the time, which wasn’t really a video at all. They couldn’t get the star himself so they just got some sort of girls in hula-hoops and boys in tight groovy jeans bouncing a rubber ball up against some brick wall. I’ll always remember that. That was the promo video for “Like a Rubber Ball I Come Bouncing Back To You” in England back in the early sixties. I was born in 1956, so I would have been 4 or 5. I was taking everything in then. My father bought me my first record which was The Tornadoes “Telstar”, which was recorded by Joe Meek who I was a big fan of and still am. Britain’s answer to Phil Spector, basically.

HH: Were your parents artistic or encouraging of creativity when you were young?

DP: No. My father was career Royal Air Force and my mother was just a housewife, but I’ve found out since then that both of my maternal grandfathers killed in the first world war were musical; so whether or not I inherited it from those I never knew.

HH: To what degree is your diet Vegetarian? Do you make allowances for dairy products or fish?

DP: Largely, but I do eat fish. I was a vegetarian from the age of 7 and really quite strict until I was 15 and I went on a school trip to France. You really didn’t have much of a choice in those days and I’d had cravings for crispy bacon or Bird’s Eye beef burgers, that was the particular brand, and I could taste this thing. As it turns out the first meat I ate after seven years was horse meat in a youth hostile in Paris. But I didn’t linger too long. I’ve been a vegetarian most of my life; still am and always will be. I haven’t had cravings in quite a while.

HH: What is your preferred mode of transportation? Do you own a vehicle, and if so, what make?

DP: I have a car in Australia and England, where I have bases, and I used to drive BMW motorcycles until I had a recurring dream that I was going to come off on a corner and have my legs amputated. I gave up driving motorcycles. It’s a very interesting question because I spend so much time flying around the world I should quite like planes. I think I inherited my father’s taste for the air. I was sort of pre-destined to join the RAF but my father died and my brother had been in the Royal Air Force and hadn’t quite followed in my father’s footsteps who was a Battle of Britain veteran and hero really. You find your own way, so I thought that would not be a good idea to go along that path. Instead I’ve done it another way; I’ve been a passenger on every airline in the world, rather than just the RAF.

HH: This is your return trip to Austin, Texas. Austin holds the headquarters of the Rune Gild. I know that Ian Read of Fire + Ice, whom you have worked with, has been associated with the Gild; have you been in contact with them yourself?

DP: Not directly. That’s not the reason for me being here. I have had associations with who you’re talking about but more of a personal nature. I’m not a great ‘joiner’, so I don’t join anything like that, no matter how much I’m associated with those kinds of things. Edred Thorsson and myself have communicated, if that’s what you’re alluding to.

HH: I understand there is to be an official book on Death In June published. Can you give us any details on the progress of that operation?

DP: It’s one of many projects that are in a sort of lock-jam at the moment. I would like to think that within the next few years I will be getting out an official biography and then there will be another book that will be more like a Death In June scrapbook. There have been two books already; Misery and Purity: which is more of someone else’s subjective view, and then there was a French book called Le Livre Brun (The Brown Book). They’ve been talking for years about reprinting that, for going on about 10 years and now I think they’re close to reprinting it in English as well as French. Then there was the abandoned project of C’est un Rêve which was a coffee-table picture book that went wrong at the printer’s. I have a copy and there’s been one or two copies that have surfaced on E-Bay over the years. I’d like to push that more, to have a book as an excuse to include, now, even more photographs. That was abandoned in about 1996, so here we are another 10 years on. I have a whole series of ideas for publications that should happen sooner or later. I’ve set in my mind a deadline for some time next year when I’m 50; about 13 months to get those things together. I know I’m pushing it.

HH: You plan to have both books out next year?

DP: At least one of them. I’ve got a bit of time.

HH: You have a new retrospective compilation album slated for release entitled Abandon Tracks. I understand that you recently revised the selection of songs prior to release. Would you explain what songs were dropped and what caused you to make the late revision?

DP: I’d been having difficulty with the artwork. It wasn’t really making sense. Three of the tracks that were originally scheduled for CD no. 2 of the album crop up on the DVD release of Live In Italy; they’re the extra tracks that are basically the Croatian techno versions of what we did in the early ’90s which were, oddly enough, number one hits in Italy and Croatia of course and where on MTV. The first time I ever saw the video was actually on MTV. I’m looking at this thing I’d never seen before but I recognized the vocals and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s me!’. I was sitting in a hotel room somewhere and MTV was on, which I don’t watch normally, and then ‘Ah, O.K..’ It went on to do quite well. So those three tracks have already had a release on the DVD, which was previously only on video and released in a limited way, whereas this DVD is properly distributed.

The other tracks did seem to be a bit superfluous. There was an incident when I was driving back from the last concert I did in Germany in June to the airport in Berlin when we were playing it in the car. The chauffeur said, “That’s incredible. It’s like a fresh album. It’s an album unto itself.“ It was the one CD, the first CD. It dawned on me that it had a wholeness to it that made sense. I thought to myself, ‘You’ll blow it if you put it out as a double CD, keep some things back.’ It did work. there’s a 78 minute long one CD, so that’s the reason why I was a bit ruthless with some things and what I think now stands is a really good single CD album and a double LP which contains unreleased material, re-recorded material, reconstituted songs and rarities that not everyone might own that might have popped up on a limited edition single for a tour here, or a British compilation there. It’s to pull things together because I’m always getting complaints from people claiming, ‘I can’t get a hold of this, that or the other’. So, it’s there. That’s the idea behind it. It does have a feeling like it’s an album unto itself and I’m very pleased with it.

HH: Throughout your musical history you have collaborated with many artists. Are there any musicians you have in mind for future collaborations with Death In June that you have not worked with before? Perhaps David Thrussell (Snog, Black Lung)?

DP: Not really. David Thrussell and I have actually already collaborated together in the film Pearls Before Swine. In fact we play similar roles. He plays a bookshop owner of more philosophical books and I play a bookseller of pathetic German 1920s and ’30s sado-masochist pornography. So there. I do like his work very much. I don’t even distrust playing together at all. He gets a lot of good soundtracks in Australia on films and things and I like his work. He’s a really nice guy. It’s a shame he’s got long hair! I told him to cut it years ago.

There are some artists out there I truly admire, and have worked with over the years stretching right from the very beginning to now, where the most recent collaborations have been with the Chicago based group Luftwaffe. Of course doing something with Albin (Julius) might be in the cards for Der Blutharsch later this year, as opposed to Albin working with Death In June; I might do something on his new album, but I don’t know what. I’ve pretty much worked with everyone that I have, at that particular time, really admired. Outside of the more commercially successful groups like… I daren’t mention their names because it might perpetuate the myth that sooner or later me and the Pet Shop Boys are going to do a song together. There’s nothing concrete, but I’ve had a few little pointers here and there that we’re mutual admirers of each others work.

HH: What an interesting album that would be!

DP: Yeah, I don’t know if we’re too old. We might just sit down and say, ‘I’m too tired’, ‘Yeah, me too.’ I think it’s getting near that. We’ll have to see.

HH: Do those musicians you have worked with in the past usually approach you or has there been an artist that you have sought out?

DP: It’s been a sort of mutual crossing of paths on every occasion. It seems to have kept a very natural development. Anyone who has actually directly approached me, it seems as if I’m being stalked. It doesn’t work out. The first time David Tibet was introduced to me at a performance in London it was by Alan McGee who was then leading a very small operation, they were just non-entity at that time. He (Alan) put on this concert for Death In June in central London called The Living Room which is almost at the bottom of the Post Office tower, one of London’s landmarks. I knew of David Tibet and I’d seen that he had been coming along to our shows with other members of Psychic Youth or Psychic TV. I knew of his work and said that I was intrigued by PTV and so on and I was actually at that time looking to work with other people. I knew my relationship with Tony Wakeford was probably coming to an end. There had been some pointers and Patrick Leagas and I were getting a bit frustrated, so one thing led to another and it was an instantaneous relationship; one which lasted for 10 plus years. I have no regrets about what we did when we were together but we’re not anymore. We haven’t worked together in any shape or form for over 10 years.

The same thing happened with Boyd. I was introduced to Boyd in Japan. I knew of his work from the early ’80s. I was a great admirer of his work. In fact, he inspired some of the artwork. He inspired the first 12″ Heaven Street with ‘The Black Album’ which had embossed lettering on the album. I thought, ‘I’m going to do the same thing for Heaven Street’, so we released the 12″ with embossed lettering. It was the same thing, once we met it was instantaneous. The same with Luftwaffe, the same with Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch. Albin was backstage at a performance in Munich in 1996 and I loved his work in The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud, and it was just a lovely crossing of paths. But if I ever get a letter from someone saying “I’ve got a group, and here’s a really good idea I’ve just thought of. You’re going to collaborate with me.”, I’m just thinking, ‘Give me a break, come on.’ I’m not a meal-ticket for someone. It happens quite a lot unfortunately.

HH: You are to hold a reunion concert in London with Patrick Leagas soon to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album Nada!. Are there plans to work with either Patrick or Tony Wakeford again in the future?

DP: That’s on the 23rd of this month. 20 years ago this month (April, 2005) we were playing in Italy on, as it turned out, our last tour together, and it was for the album Nada! I was in the back of the van reading my first Jean Genet novel Funeral Rites and I thought, ‘This is where I’m going to go’. Then of course at the end of the tour Patrick was completely burned out and disappeared. I had to cancel other shows throughout Europe, though we’ve never really had a falling out. Nada! did very well and then Patrick left and David Tibet came on. I understood the reasons why Patrick left. I think it’s now or never. We may not be around much longer.

HH: Are there other plans to work with Patrick or Tony Wakeford?

DP: No, it’s just the one off. I haven’t been in touch with Tony for years. We had a sort of brief reunion in 1998 in London where all three of us appeared on stage and performed two or three numbers. That was great and that was then but this is now. But that was just fortuitous. Patrick happened to be in London, Tony and I had talked about it and it just happened one night. There was no definite planning. Whereas this is planned and I’m sure it’s going to fall to bits and we’re going to look completely foolish, but I hope not. As soon as I get back to London we’re in the rehearsal studios preparing, so I hope that it goes quite well. I’m curious about the evening.

HH: What are your thoughts on what has come to be known as the Neofolk scene and it’s progression since your participation in it’s inception?

DP: I’m very pleased to say that a lot of the groups I like a lot. The finger’s been pointed at me as being the godfather of the movement. I wasn’t aware of starting it. It just happened to be what I was doing. I’m very pleased with a lot of these groups now, and even before this was recognized as a scene, some of the earlier groups like In My Rosary in Germany and Anabelle’s Garden, which I don’t think exist anymore (In My Rosary do, I believe) are really quite good. I’ve really gotten my share of enjoyment from them. As Kim Larsen from Of The Wand And The Moon knows when he put out that 10″ (I can’t remember the name right now) it became my favorite music for barbecues in Australia. *laughter* I wrote him and told him I really like your record, we really get off on it. It ended up that we collaborated together. I got him as a support act in Denmark when we played there just over a year ago. I like these groups. I like Forseti. When by chance they supported us in Germany they were a very young group. I didn’t know what they were like and I said, “If you’re O.K. during the sound check, you’re on.”, because they just happened to be at the venue where we were, and they were great during the sound-check and so I said, Yeah, no problem. This is going to be a real pleasurable evening.” And of course Andreas Ritter and myself have gone on to work together in separate roles, both for Death In June and for Forseti. So there were those nice instances and if people say that I thought of that genre, I don’t mind at all because a lot of it is really good. If it had been terrible and I had hated every group then…But I can definitely live with it and I can go to bed and sleep easy.

HH: How do you feel about having inspired other musicians and artists to utilize runes and other Eurocentric symbols in their works?

DP: I’m very happy about that because I see Death In June as part of a European cultural revival. I’m pleased that the Old Gods are being resurrected, for want of a better word. Old symbols. I feel very pleased that I am a part of that process and that I have had influence. At this stage in the game, so to speak, it’s not false modesty to say that I am content with my influence. It’s not beating my own drum, it’s fact. If nothing ever were to happen after this point, then nothing could take away from that myth, that legend. The effect of Death In June as a rock being thrown into a pool sending ripples on their course. It’s too late, it is a part of history.

HH: Is there any one historical figure that you identify with more than others?

DP: No. I identify with myself and I am that historical figure. That is life’s constant struggle.

HH: On the recent Death In June/Boyd Rice release, Alarm Agents, your voice is rarely heard. This seems to be the case with the majority of the material produced from your collaborations with Boyd Rice. Is it understood at the beginning that you will focus on the musical composition and Boyd the lyrical?

DP: It’s more the natural course of events. I know in retrospect I think I should have done more vocals on Alarm Agents, at least more backing vocals. We should have probably utilized the juxtaposition of each other’s voices. You know when you’re working very quickly, even though this took place over quite a long period of time, you don’t realize how good something is until you have it in it’s entirety. I listen back to Alarm Agents and go, ‘Oh, Black Sun Rising, we should have done more like that’. But you get so wrapped up in the moment it’s difficult to see the bigger picture of where you ought to go. We fully realize that what we’re doing is good and it’s coming out O.K., but it has it’s moments where we possibly needed someone else to say ‘These are real strengths’. We needed a Ken Thomas there, for instance, who would say to me, “Doug, if you repeat this and you do that, then it works like that.” But you know I haven’t worked with a producer per se since then. Bob Ferbrache and the other engineers like Dave Lokan at New Centurion in New Zealand are just sort of obeying orders, for want of a better term. It was recorded in three different studios and we were on the go, and it was sort of like ‘Let’s get on with it’. But I do remember when we were in Wellington, New Zealand the studio was situated outside the capital city and we were watching helicopters fly underneath us as we looked over this huge valley from the windows of the recording room. We turned toward each other and said, “This is going to be the last collaboration. It can’t get better than this.” I think we were more concerned with making the mix O.K.; we can live with this. I think Alarm Agents is a good good-bye.

HH: So that’s the final one then, as far as collaboration?

DP: The final collaboration between Boyd and myself. We’ve done four collaborations and I think Music, Martinis and Misanthropy, Scorpion Wind, Wolf Pact and Alarm Agents are all things to be proud of. A lot of people would give their souls to have four albums in their canon of work like that and I’m very pleased with them. We’ll call it quits while the going’s good and we’re still alive, you know?

HH: What is your opinion about the current legislature here in the U.S. regarding same sex marriage and it’s potential effect on the rest of the world?

DP: The rest of the world, as usual, is looking to the U.S. to see what’s going on. I think Canada probably has the low-down on you. It has a direct effect on me because my partner and I live in Australia and we live in a state that, in fact, does not recognize de facto relationships between same sex couples. I think it’s the only state in Australia that doesn’t, so we do have problems and it’s a very serious issue. It’s interesting to see the schism it’s caused in the World Church of England or the Episcopalian Church here in America, and the fact that you and the Canadians have been put in the ‘Sin Bin’ for six months, for want of a better description, though it couldn’t be more appropriate, just while they think about it. I mean, I’m not a Christian anyway and I wouldn’t want to join a club that didn’t want me in the first place, but I do admire people like Gene Robertson for getting in there and changing it from within. Good on ya. I think the big stumbling block, albeit they’ve used it as an excuse rather than reality, is the use of the word ‘marriage’. Personally speaking I don’t think being married is anything to aspire to. Look at what a *censored*-up that is for most straight people. So, I think that if there was another word to come along it would help. Find a word. I’m very lucky because my partner’s called Morris and I’ve always referred to being happily “Morried”. *laughter*

HH: Is your struggle with the former World Serpent Distribution still ongoing or has a settlement been reached?

DP: I think it will always be ongoing on some greater level but legally it ended at the end of 2002. It was due for appearance in the High Court in London in November 2002 but in fact we were on tour in the States in September and October when they issued at the last moment an out-of-court settlement. We were in Chicago. I phoned up my lawyer in Australia who had been contacted by my lawyer in England who had been contacted by their lawyer, and he said, “Great! Good timing. I’ll fax you something. You can’t believe it. They’ve capitulated!” So he faxed me this out-of-court settlement which I was reading through. It was all good, they offered more money to settle out of court than they ever admitted I had made, they were offering all the stuff back, etc. It was short and sweet. In fact, I went next door and knocked on Boyd’s room, who I was on tour with, and said, “Read this, I think this is exactly what it says…” and he said, “Yeah, it’s exactly that. It’s fine.” And so we were watching, I think it was, the Conan O’Brien show with live David Bowie doing tracks from Heathen and getting progressively drunker and happier.

So that’s how that ended, but I think there’s always been behind the scenes things. I’m pleased to know that World Serpent no longer actually exists, they ceased trading in August of last year and I’m still here quite happily kicking at the moment. It all ended happily for me as far as I’m concerned. It was a waste of four years in the end, realistically, but what can you do? I would have done things completely differently and I’ve got all the letters to prove it. If people want to pick a fight, O.K. I’ve never been one to walk away from one.

HH: Do you think that the failure of World Serpent Distribution was a direct result of your prosecution, or was it a cumulative effect?

DP: No, it’s because of me. Boyd left first. I left literally within days of that. Then other people saw what was happening there and some other groups decided to leave. But it was the financial battle between us. I wore them down and I think people were, worldwide, already on the turn against them. Which they could have survived if they had done things differently with me because I used to be their biggest champion. Boyd and I were the only groups who were touring the world, along with Der Blutharsch, that were hearing things. The others couldn’t give a damn, realistically, about touring or what was being said. The money was coming in and the other groups, let alone the directors of World Serpent, weren’t paying any attention. I found it very hard to believe some of the things I was hearing. But then I realized if you hear this in Greece, in America, France, Germany and England then they can’t all be lying. They don’t all know each other. It must be true, there must be an element of truth in it. Then I was on the receiving end of what I was hearing about.

HH: Do you plan on returning to Chicago since the debacle in 2003 involving threats to the venue and the eventual cancellation of the show?

DP: We’ve actually played Chicago three times without incident save for that one show. Yes, I would like to return to Chicago and do it properly. The problem is that when you take stupid people and combine them with violence it makes for a very dangerous situation. But you have that everywhere, stupid violent people.

HH: The world has too many of them.