(French version here : http://gonzai.com/death-in-june-interview-jusquici-tout-va-bien/)
DEATH IN JUNE (interview for Gonzaï)
First, let’s go back to the French tour you tried to do two years ago. Most of the shows had been cancelled, and some of them were cancelled because of the French authorities. When I saw you on stage in Paris (Le Réservoir), I felt a strong angriness. Now with hindsight, two years after, what do you feel about this aborted tour ?
The shows that did actually happen in Paris and Brest were, I thought, intense and good so the cancellations had that type of positive effect. As regards any French authorities involvement in such cancellations then I feel they have a long history of being involved in rather disgusting things. We need only look at the forced deportation of Jews in France that started in 1942, the war in Viet Nam in the 1950s that, of course, gave rise to the even worse Viet Nam war in the 1960s/70s, the oppression of workers and students in the 1960s that led to the events of May, ’68, the decisions that have led to the recent terrible killings at Charlie Hebdo and elsewhere in Paris. Should I really have any respect for “French authorities”?
About the concert you did in Paris at Le Réservoir, don’t you think that the politicians and antifas would be disappointed by the audience ? I mean, I didn’t see uniforms, just a crowd made of intellectuals, hipsters with beards, indie music fans, curious people and some metal heads…
The more disappointed politicians and antifa are the better I like it. It’s all they deserve – for the remainder of their self important, ignorant lives.
But it seems you don’t have any spiteful thoughts about France. Last January, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, you were one of the first artists to publish a “nous sommes tous Charlie Hebdo” banner on Facebook. Do you remember how you felt when you heard about the attacks ?
I was shocked and disgusted but not surprised. Afterall, many people seem to have forgotten that many of the cartoonists that drew pictures of mohammed for a Danish magazine a few years ago have been murdered since then. I feel very sorry for France that it finds itself in such a terrible situation and not one bit spiteful against the French people as a whole. How could I? Death In June’s International career really began in France. It was the first country to really start appreciating Death In June on so many different levels. French fans have been very loyal and supportive over the decades and I appreciate that very much.
Now, in France, we are living in the post-Charlie era. I believed that things could change, but if millions of French were on the streets to defend the freedom of speech, many events are still cancelled by the authorities. It can be humourous shows by the infamous Dieudonné, as well as music shows. Recently, a punk show was cancelled because the name of the band is Viol (Rape, in English). What do you think of all of that ? Don’t you think there is an hypocrisy and different levels of freedom of speech ?
Well, I’ve never suffered from the illusion that there is ‘freedom of speech’ or that there will be ‘freedom of speech’ or, in fact, that there should be ‘freedom of speech’. Everything is always seen in the context of how it is said, how it is perceived, how it is interpreted and the prevailing political climate it is said in and the outside influences on that political climate. I think the easy targets will always be chosen first for censorship in one way or another – initially by the wave of a hand and a banning order but now also the pulling of a trigger. “Liberte – C’est Un Reve”!
You’ll be back in May in France for a bunch of concerts. But it seems this time, you didn’t wanted to take any risks, because the shows are private. Is it a deliberate decision to avoid troubles ?
When I finished the ‘C’est Un Reve Tour’ 2 years ago I always said I had unfinished business in France and if it takes being ‘Hidden Among The Leaves’ to accomplish that business then so be it. It’s seems only natural for Death In June. On this occasion the ends justifies the means and it is appropriately named ‘The Honour Of Silence Tour’ because I don’t perform ‘Hidden Among The leaves’ anymore.
What can we expect of those shows ? Are you still playing with Miro Snejdr and John Murphy ?
Miro will be there but John is too ill to be on this tour. John Murphy has had a very bad year for his health. You’ll hear a whole range of DIJ material as usual.
The opening acts are Of The Wand And The Moon, Die Weisse Rose and Joy Of Life. What a great evening it will be ! A few words about Joy Of Life. In 1985, you produced their EP “Enjoy”. What memories do you have of the experience ? You and Gary Carey remained friends through the years ?
Gary was an early young member of the Death In June audience in the UK that hadn’t come to the group via liking Crisis beforehand. When I found out he also had his own group called Joy Of Life, who eventually supported Death In June at several shows in England, it seemed a natural progression to release their first LP on NER. The early 1980s was an intense time and after establishing Death In June I wanted to release material by other groups I liked. That situation continued for some years into the late 1990s. It’s so long ago I don’t remember specifics about the release except that it was recorded at Alaska Studios in London which DIJ always used and that I made a clerical mistake with the catalogue number! It should be another number!! Nevermind. Gary and I remained in contact on and off over the years but I certainly see more of him these days now he performs with Die Weisse Rose. If I get to watch Joy Of Life on this tour it will be the first time in over 30 years. I’m very curious.
Your latest shows have been totally acoustic, with the add of percussions. In Paris, when you asked the crowd if they had any song requests, some of them asked for some of your industrial or post-punk works. Don’t you have any desire to play songs from “The Guilty Have No Pride” and “Nada!” in their original form, with machines, electricity and a bass guitar ?
God no! The very idea I find sickening. I couldn’t stand doing that again – bass guitars and amplifiers on stage – absolutely not. Time has marched on from those days and ‘The Balladeer Of Doom’ and his acoustic guitar has definitely strode into a New Horizon. I love the stripped back versions of the songs and hearing them presented in a primitive fashion I feel brings out the strength of the melodies and inherent drama in them. It’s more ritualistic. Besides, Death In June has been reinventing its presentation of songs since 1984 – you need only listen to the live side of the ‘Burial’ LP to hear that. I’m keeping with a strong tradition.
After “All Pigs Must Die”, your music became much more minimalist, with an important focus on the melodies and very little arrangements. How do you explain that ? Do you think it is a reaction of the very arranged records you did in the past ?
Everything dictates itself and that was the direction my music decided it wanted to go in. It simply ‘happens’.
For a lot of people, “But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?” and “Rose Clouds of Holocaust” represents the creative peak of your musical career. What do you think about that ? Do you remember what was your state of mind at the time ?
Every album has been different and different people appreciate different albums in different ways. It’s only natural. Those particular albums represent a moment in Death In June’s 34 year history but certainly not the whole story. Everyone involved in that unique scene in London was striving to do their very best to better themselves and take their respective groups elsewhere with greater musical and cultural achievements and not rest on the laurels we had all earned in the 1980s. My state of mind was probably a mixture of uncertainty and determination to make the albums work well. It was probably the same for the others involved too. I distinctly remember things were changing for all of us on all fronts and that was bound to effect everything we did together or separately. It was an intense and optimistic time. But, that didn’t last much beyond 1996/97. After that a malevolent darkness began to fall on London and I was pleased I was then spending most of my time in Australia or, elsewhere abroad.
Your latest album, “Peaceful Snow”, was released five years ago and right after you also delivered the acoustic version of it (“The Snow Bunker Tapes”). It’s been a while, do you have any new things coming ? And if yes, what can you say about it ? Any other plans next ?
Well, at the end of 2014 there were 2 beautiful vinyl reissues of ‘The Corn Years’ and ‘The Wall Of Sacrifice’ LPs to mark their 25th Anniversaries. There’s also a vinyl reissue of ‘Burial’ planned for later in 2015 on the mythical missing blue vinyl whose original pressing completely disappeared in 1990. There’s a new album in the pipeline with some demo songs recorded but that’s all I can say at present about it. Until I start piecing words together for it and then properly recording the songs I won’t know how it will declare itself. It’s the same with every album. Until you start properly giving birth to the project you never really know if it’s going to be beautiful, interesting, or just some disabled monster waiting to hang around your neck for the rest of your Life.
Do you think the current world context (that I believe is very dark and tense with religious wars, the failure of the capitalist economy and ultra security society) will feed your future works ?
Who can tell? It certainly feeds my own sense of disappointment, anger and paranoia.
You always had very interesting views about the world, so I wonder what are your fears and anxieties today?
Getting old, getting ill, the general uncertainty of Life that gradually becomes harder to control or manage as one does become older. In one way or another, the Future only ever holds decay, sadness, disappointment and death. Best to think of the ‘Now’ for the time being and grasp what good you can find in that.
Some fans don’t understand the reason of your moving in Australia, while the theme of Europe haunts a lot of your songs. Maybe you don’t recognize yourself in the current European society (if yes, why ?) or maybe is it a way to escape the world we are living in… ?
Obviously those people have never been to Australia! You can take the boy out of Europe but you can’t take Europe out of the boy. I think that should be borne in mind about every immigrant to whatever country no matter where they’re from. In fact, especially about where they’re from!
You don’t have any desire to come back here to live ?
Life is too uncertain to be smug about what the future holds. It took me a lot of time, money, Love, work, effort, Luck on all fronts to transplant myself to Australia so I’m not in any hurry to live anywhere else. But, one can never tell. But, if you think I yearn to go back to England one day in my old age and die – forget it – I don’t!
A few words about the current state of the neofolk scene. To be honest, I was bored of this scene for a long time. The only artists I still listen with pleasure are Death In June, as well as Sol Invictus and Current 93. I think the European scene died a long time ago, because it became a cliché… But today, the rebirth seems to come from the other side of the Atlantic. Cult Of Youth, King Dude, Blood And Sun… What do you think of those bands and do you think the salute of the neofolk scene can come from the USA ? (which is ironic, because the theme of Europe is something written in the roots of this scene)
Well I’ve been saying that the new direction would come from the USA for years and as many Americans have Euro-roots I’m not surprised. Regardless I still have faith in the European scene and still enjoy many of the groups from there as well as the USA. They wouldn’t be supporting me otherwise. Cynicism is too easy a path to travel.
I’d like to talk about the theme of homosexuality, that is an aspect of Death In June that sometimes people tend to ignore. To be honest, I always saw it as one of the most influential theme in your lyrics. Do you agree with that ?
Yes, it can be. I’ve known some really great interesting men over the decades that really get my sperm stirring. In turn they can also stir my soul. And that has been massively inspiring.
Even the image of the band, with themes of war and uniforms, seems to be something that has much more to do with homoerotism than the Nazi or political stuff. Don’t you think that people never really understood Death In June ?
Being misunderstood is par for the course with any art worth its while. It’s too late for me to cry over the spilt milk of misinterpretation.
When you think about the whole career of Death In June, do you have any regrets ?
No! All things are meant to be,…..Crisis was a group that I had too many regrets about and when it broke up in 1980 it left me feeling very bitter, and still does in many ways. It was a real underachiever and it was its own worst enemy. But, with the formation of Death In June in 1981 I was always determined that was never going to be the case with this new group. It was never to have any regrets. So far, so good.
To a lot of people, “The Guilty Have No Pride” is one of the best post-punk record ever. I always wanted to know what Douglas Pearce thinks about Joy Division. You ever saw them live ?
In 1979/80 I saw them 5-6 times live and they were astonishing. I knew I’d seen the future after I saw them perform and I’m really pleased and privileged to have seen them. They were brilliant. “This is the way, step inside,…” I really took to my Heart. I must say that when I saw Peter Hook perform Joy Division songs/albums in Australia in the past 2-3 years I was very impressed and moved by the experience. At first I was very uneasy about going to one of his concerts because I was wary that they could destroy some very precious memories from those days. But, I need not have worried. When I saw him perform ‘Unknown Pleasures’ some of it sent shivers down my spine and I was back in history. Mine and theirs!
Anything to say to conclude this interview ?
I must now finish my packing and prepare to get on a plane to London.