Interview:2007-Zero Tolerance

Please find within Part I of the full length Death In June interview conducted with Simon Collins for the UK music magazine ‘Zero Tolerance’ in September, 2006. This was eventually slightly edited and eventually published in January/February 2007 in issue #015. Many of you are probably aware of much of the contents but for the archives and newcomers to this group/Death In June here it is. (As an aside, interesting interviews with both Patrick Leagas of 6 Comm and John Murphy’s group Knifeladder are also in the same edition and available via back issues.)

What’s happening right now in the world of DIJ (bearing in mind that it’ll be January when this appears)? Any new studio recordings in the pipeline? Any impending re-releases? Any non-music items – e.g. books, DVDs, feature films

Well, there’s so much going on “in the world of Death In June” it’s one of the reasons why I decided to retire from live performances after the last World tour in 2005. There are enough projects either presently on the go, or soon to be in stream, that they should keep me occupied for the next few years.

The 20th Anniversary edition of ‘The World That Summer’ album should have come out for Yuletide 2006 in a specially engraved stone case with a bonus CD of extra material from the era and 2007 will see the 20th Anniversary edition of the ‘Brown Book’ album which will also have deluxe packaging plus extra tracks and so on.

2007 should also see the publication of an Italian book about Death In June that has taken a few years to write. The English translation should be published later in the year and both will come with CDs of different material. On top of that there are 2 other publishing companies that want me to do books about the group’s career in one way or another plus one more being independently written in France that I have so far had nothing to do with.

After 25 years of existence a lot of people appear to want to write about Death In June!

There are 2 film projects I have been offered – one is writing the entire soundtrack to a film which is due to start shooting in America this Northern Winter and another acting role in a film whose working title is ‘Nova Scotia’. That will be filmed by Richard Wolstonecroft the same Australian director of ‘Pearls Before Swine’ which starred Boyd Rice. I’m still waiting for the script but apparently it will be a modern take on Lindsay Anderson’s ‘If’ – a brilliant film from the late 1960s – but set in a school in outback Australia. Apparently, my character’s a VERY strict teacher!

There is also a hard core gay porn film I’m in called ‘Vignettes’ issued by M.A.N. released in October, 2006. It was filmed shortly after my return to Australia after the final tour and as I was pretty trim and fighting fit I accepted the idea of immortalising my 49 year old self ‘in action’. I caught crabs as a result but it was a small price to pay for a great fuck on camera!

Besides that, there is a lot of brilliant DIJ video material shot over the years that needs to be edited and released. The recent success of the ‘Live In Italy’, ‘The Guilty Have No Pride’, Behind The Mask’ and Live In New York’ DVDs all seems to show that followers of the group have an insatiable appetite to watch DIJ on their television screens! My aging audience likes to stay in their safety zone, close to their creature comforts!

Then, of course, there’s the new album. It’s still being written but I feel it should finally see the light of day in 2007. Creatively, it’s akin to not having an orgasm for a few days. Although in this case it’s been years. My balls are full and I can’t think of anything else so it will come as a relief to me, and everyone around me, when I do eventually ejaculate. Quantity as well as Quality! So far, my sound engineer says it sounds like a cross between Van Morrison and Syd Barrett – but it’s early days yet and I’m sure to screw that commercial potential up and inadvertantly invent another musical genre! Neo Syd ? Post Vanindustrial??

Any more collaborations planned, along the lines of Scorpion Wind, Wolf Pact, Alarm Agents etc? In particular, are there any plans for a follow-up to Wolf Pact? Have you talked about this at all with Boyd and Albin? Are there any people you haven’t worked with yet who you’d like to collaborate with?

There are no plans for any further collaborations with anyone. I’ve worked with some of the best people in this genre over the years and now it’s time to work completely on my own. I know within me it’s time to tune solely into myself.

Shortly after beginning the Death In June & Boyd Rice ‘Alarm Agents’ album at Halloween 2002 in the worst blizzard Denver had on record for that time of year Boyd and I began to feel this would be our swansong. As we dragged ourselves around the World on yet another tour a lot of Magickal things kept happening – which isn’t all that unusual when the 2 of us are together.

But, when we were looking out of the big picture windows of New Centurian Studios, which are situated at the top of a large valley in New Zealand, we looked down on light aircraft and helicopters flying beneath us. It was like being Gods looking down through the clouds on what humanity did. We both looked at each other and knew it wouldn’t get much better than this. So when we put the finishing touches to ‘Alarm Agents’ on Mid-Winter’s Night 2003 in yet another snow-bound evening in Denver we all knew that was it. The End! And, a very good one too!!

It seems as if DIJ has been concerned over many years with keeping up a cycle of re-releases alongside new releases – in other words, that you want to keep a body of work available, not just the latest album. Do you think that DIJ’s oeuvre needs to be judged as a whole, not as isolated albums or indeed songs? Are there albums you’re particularly pleased with, or ones you feel in retrospect could have been better?

The cycle of re-releases was purely brought about by my acrimonious split from world serpent distribution in 1999. It could have been an easy parting of the ways but they and their chums weren’t having any of it. Rejection can be a very difficult thing some ‘people’ can’t handle! So besides 3 years of very expensive litigation, which I eventually won an out of court settlement to and resulted in wsd collapsing soon after, I was forced to reinvent all of the major titles of my back catalogue. Death In June isn’t a hobby. It’s not a weekend pursuit. It’s My Life! And, there was a serious attempt to threaten that Life.

However, it turned out to be a Blessing in disguise. All the major DIJ titles look and sound much better now than they ever did. Panic stirred The Will and Death In June came through. Which is more than can be said for many of the others involved.

Naturally, one can understand or appreciate one particular album or another but I feel that once someone gets hooked on Death In June you need and appreciate them all perhaps even on different levels. That’s how I’ve always felt about the work of others that have obsessed me such as Scott Walker, The Velvet Underground, The Beatles (and both those groups’ consequent separate parts) Joy Division/New Order and Death In June. I need to see the whole. Even if some of it isn’t what I would want/expect.

The notice on announcing your decision to retire from live performance seems to have a hesitancy and regret about it – what precipitated that decision, and is it final and irrevocable, or might you come back to live shows after a time away?

At this moment in Time I have no inclination to return to the live arena. Shortly before starting the last World tour in March 2005 in Australia I knew that within myself this was going to be the last one. As I previously mentioned I have many other Death In June related projects that need attention and the time taken out of each year live work demands was detracting from these. In 25 years of existence Death In June performed in 25 different countries from as far North as Iceland to as far South as Australia and New Zealand, from as far West as America to as far East as Russia and Japan. No other independent group in this genre can make such a claim. No other groups have worked as hard to get to places, even potentially very dangerous ones such as Croatia during the war there and Israel where there are significant amounts of followers that wanted to see DIJ perform. On top of that 25 + 25 added up to 50 the age of my next birthday after that tour.

When I was queuing to check-in with John Murphy my live percussionist for 9 years at some airport after one of the first shows on the tour I told him how I felt and he also seemed to think the timing was right. Luckily all the performances in Australia, America and Europa were good on many levels that culminated in a great comraderie between Death In June and its audiences. Overall the feeling was correct and when it dawned on me that the last 2 performances would be in Brest which is in an area of Brittainy in France they also refer to as Finisterre or The End Of The World/Landsend I knew that all the symbolism was correct and in order. What better place for Death In June to perform it’s last show but at The End Of The World!

I was told even the club there was demolished shortly after.

It’s been a few years since you settled in Australia – what were the reasons for that move? Given that DIJ’s work is so deeply involved with symbols and themes taken from European history, and that you often evoke the concept of Europe / Europa in your lyrics, has it been difficult for you being physically removed from the culture, climate, landscape and heritage which has inspired you? On the other hand, what have been the positive things about moving to Australia? Have any DIJ songs been directly inspired by your new surroundings?

For 9 years I had a longing, an obsession, a calling to come to Australia and finally in 1989 I was in a position to do just that. The 3 months I stayed were very emotional and traumatic ones for me as I then realised a part of me had died in the preceding years and what I was faced with now was the problem of my personal resurrection.

Upon my return to England where I was picked up at Heathrow Airport by my oldest friend dating back to school days things continued on their Wyrd course. For some years he had been in love with a married woman with a thug of a husband who he had been wishing was dead and out of the way. During my absence my friend had got what he had wished for, the husband had died of a sudden heart attack and the way was now free for him to be with the woman of his dreams. And, he was and, as far as I know still is! Unfortunately, this had also scared the hell out of him, he had become a born again xtian – a religion he, since I first met him in 1967, had depised – and in between quoting the bible to me kept saying I was like a ghost and was dead. It was an interesting drive home! After knowing him for 22 years I soon severed links from someone who came over as a very disturbed individual.

However, shortly after my return David Tibet, who I was then still very close to, then said almost the same thing in that he described me as being “like a ghost walking the streets of London.”

Other, very different, people were noticing what I already knew but was struggling to come to terms with; that there was a dead part of me! I no longer really Existed in England. In retrospect, I probably only ever had been passing through. I’ve never felt comfortable in the country of my birth. I knew there was something missing and via a conduit of sorts I found it in Australia. From that moment on everything I did was directed to eventually moving to that country.

Death In June has always recorded for New European Recordings and its offshoots and Australia is the New Europe to me but without all the old European problems. Up until 2005 I visited Europa 2-3 times a year for years and years and years. I lived in Rome on and off in the early 1990s so I could see how the World was falling and that all roads led from Rome – not to it!

In truth there’s nothing except some friends that I miss about the old Continent. My barber since 1994 is an Italian – strangely born on the same day as me – from Bari, Italy, my favourite bar is a traditional old bier keller built in the 1800s serving German beers and wines with schlager music constantly playing in Australia’s oldest German settlement about 10 minutes from where I live, my favourite restaurant is run by 2 Spanish lesbians who serve better Tapas than anything I ever ate in Spain and in the same village as where I live I can even have a personal Rune reading if I so desired. I also know a great Indian restaurant where I can go if I’m missing traditional British cuisine! And every Winter it even tries to snow! What more could I possibly want? Beggars and homeless on the streets and bombs going off on the public transport systems?? I’m sure the latter will sadly come about sooner rather than later but, in the meantime I have been finding inspiration in Australia for my work since 1989 and is featured on all my albums since. Especially ‘But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?’ and ‘Rose Clouds Of Holocaust’.”

Today I visited the site again, and downloaded the Free Tibet album which has recently been made available. Naturally, this has provoked a fresh rash of questions:

1. Why did you decide to make this material available for free download, rather than as a commercial release? Is this the first time you’ve released material in mp3 format, or at least the first time you’ve doine an entire album like this?

In keeping with what I considered the spirit and purpose of ‘Free Tibet’ I thought it inappropriate to make this a commercial release. It’s the first time I’ve ever issued anything via the internet in this way although there are a lot of unofficial Death In June download sites.

2. The cover art obviously relates to the 1993 re-release of 93 Dead Sunwheels, and I believe these songs are mostly remixes of material from Nada / 93 Dead Sunwheels – neither of which are among the DIJ releases I’m familiar with. Is Free Tibet in fact all archive material, or did you do any new recording for it? If so, where, and was David Tibet involved?

The only thing that connects this release to those you mention is the photograph of Tibet which was taken in 1984 during the “NADA!” period and it was used in this release mainly because the colours of his shirt in the photo matched the colours of the Tibetan flag. Plain and simple! Aesthetically it was ideal.

Considering the importance and power Tibet and I afford words it was a big mistake for me to have allowed him to use them in such a negative way on 1992’s ‘But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?’ and 1995’s ‘Rose Clouds Of Holocaust’ albums. A lot of people weren’t happy about his involvement on those albums at the time but my love and admiration for him blinded me to the fact he was probably cursing both of us with some of the things he was singing. With both those albums as they presently stand now being deleted from the Death In June catalogue I thought it was about time to attempt to rectify that and lift the curse.

With the exception of samples of Tibet’s original vocals recorded in 1992 and 1994 he had nothing to do with this project and most of the tracks were re-recorded and remixed from the original master tapes at Big Sound Studios in Adelaide in 2006.

Daedalus Falling’ was taken from a long deleted single release in 1993 and ‘Jerusalem The Black’ was originally featured on 1995’s ‘Rose Clouds Of Holocaust’ album and is, I feel, the very best song Tibet sang for Death In June and that I ever co-wrote with him. In fact, I think it was actually the last song we did together. The descriptions of “Jerusalem The Black” and “Babylon The Golden” always remind me of some sort of Post-Industrial Neo-Folk Legends akin to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid rather than places. They’re probably me and him at the time. I reckon I know which one I am!

3. How is this experiment with offering downloads going? Are you able to tell how many people have downloaded the songs?

It’s been really successful and it also made a refreshing change not to have to worry about % deals, printing errors at the factory, delays in manufacture and all the other usual boring things assocated with putting a recording out via someone else.

4. Is the title Free Tibet just a joking reference to the involvement of David Tibet and the fact that this material is free to download, or are you in fact expressing a solidarity with the Tibetan government in exile?!

It works on every level of connotation people choose to make with it. Like every other Death In June release! Even the 7 videos that were specially shot for ‘Free Tibet’ were made available via the free to view YouTube site.

5. Historically, DIJ releases have shown a great concern with the aesthetic presentation of the musical recording as an artefact, in terms of packaging, printing, typography, cover images etc. Do you worry about all this being lost in this age of iPods and mp3s? People can instantly download almost anything they desire – does this remove some of the cultishness and mystique from acts like DIJ, whose recordings are frequently rare and hard to obtain? Any DIJ fan with more than a few albums will have had to make a concerted effort to obtain them – is this desirable or not? (Personally, I quite like the feeling of elitism and exclusiveness about DIJ – if you could walk into any HMV and buy your stuff it’d lose some of its shadowy glamour.)

First of all I think there is probably room for both types of appreciation of Death In June. The art of music and how it’s created, listened to, sold, distributed etc has changed massively in the past few years and is continuing to change. Personally, I still and always will prefer something that not only sounds great but also works in a visually pleasing way.

Thankfully, thousands of others still do, too!

From the very beginning in 1981 when we issued the first 12″ single ‘Heaven Street’ in an embossed, full colour textured sleeve Death In June was always going to be Style AND Content! A true Cult and a Mystique builds around that, and selling about 500,000 records and CDs in the process! Not because recordings are hard to get hold of.

The fact they they may not be easily available in some major chain stores is a legacy of poor distribution and conservative buyers in those chains. Not much more than that. But, in some countries and in some major chain stores Death In June is readily available as it has been for years and used to be in England. I like going into Virgin in Las Vegas or New York and seeing Death In June’s own section next to Chris De Burghs. I feel there’s hope yet – for the Lady in Brown!

But, lovers of the internet can’t be ignored, and not only has the plethora of independent mail order businesses that have sprung up on it make buying a DIJ item I think relatively easy a deal has also been worked out for the bulk of Death In June’s catalogue to be available via iTunes/eMusic. As far as I see buying just the sound recording alone can be used as extra promotion that may lead to people buying an actual CD, DVD or LP etc.

And perhaps, the mythical ball will keep rolling?

Heilige! Douglas P.