.:.THIS IS NOT PARADISE.:.
Part One of a Face-to-face Interview with Death in June
by David Tonkin
For someone who writes of the sanctity of solitude, Douglas P. has been very busy putting himself on stage in front of as many people as possible these past three years. In the dying weeks of 2014 he toured the US with The Death of the West Mk III tour, followed by his Giddy Carousel tour of Europe in December.
I first met Douglas in 2002 after posting him a copy of one of my Isomer albums in appreciation of his work. A couple of months later he invited me onto the bill of a DIJ and NON gig in Adelaide, Australia, later alluding to various coincidences that suggested it was right to do so. We’ve performed together several times since, kept in touch, and enjoy the odd drink in the hills surrounding the city he has called home for over 20 years.
For this, his second interview with Heathen Harvest, we meet on two separate occasions: the first at public gardens wedged amongst the beautiful mess of Australian bushland in the Adelaide Hills. He’s only just returned from the Death of the West Tour MkII, and looks well. It’s a sunny Spring day and the park is busy with tourists, but we retire in a secluded area of the park Douglas often sits. A noisy team of sulfur-crested cockatoos alight on the surrounding trees and punctuate our conversation with rude screeches.
Douglas has given hundreds of interviews, though in recent years, very few of them have been in person. I suspect this is in part due to his mistrust of people who pry more intrusively than they should:
Douglas P.: There are certain things, if you’re in the public eye—and I’m not talking about, you know, the most obvious—but the things that happen behind the scenes, that shouldn’t be talked about; that should not be there, if you’re touring in Europe or America or anywhere. And this sort of intrigue about ‘so what really did happen in Chicago?’ or something. Well, what really did happen was probably nothing to do with Death in June, but you’re going to blow it up to make it seem like it had something to do with Death in June. Certain things should be kept under the counter. Because the ‘60s saying was ‘the whole world is watching’ when they had demonstrations, well now they really are! Especially governments and malicious organisations. And you can’t be complacent about the World Wide Wank and the misinformation in it, because it can destroy lives.
Heathen Harvest: And I think too many people spend too much of their lives just gossiping to gee themselves up as well.
DP: Because there’s nothing going on in their lives. I just don’t believe the sort of vacuous, empty comments I can read on different sites, I just think are valueless. I’m completely not interested in it. That’s why I interact with it on a personal level so rarely. It’s good that I’ve got people looking after me who will do certain things for me on the internet, and run websites or social media sites, but I don’t have any direct involvement in that. But I will censor; you know, ‘that should go on’, or ‘that should go off’, and ‘please deal with this problem’.
HH: I get the impression you’ve always been a little reluctant to move in social media circles, and also just to throw things up online as well. It must get to a point where you must want to control at least some of the messages that are being put up on your behalf.
DP: Well I do in a sense, and I make sure the messages being put up on my behalf are what I would want out there. But if there’s anything coming in like the sniping that can go on, that’s got rid of. This is the Death in June site with vast amounts of people, incredibly, on some of them. And it’s not their surrogate platform to take advantage of.
HH: And how did the tour go?
DP: All the tours have been going great. Since I came back in 2011 I can’t fault any. It’s just been a really overall great experience in Europe and in America. And in Mexico. We’ll try and do a few more but I feel after three years this month, after eight years of being away from the USA, that they’re going to come to a natural end. I’ve got so much backlog of work, with Death in June and other issues in my personal life, I’ve got to catch up with. Because if you spend months and months away every year that’s bound to happen, and you’ve got to take control of the Death in June empire. It’s as simple as that. And it’s one of those things that’s been naggingly obvious to me recently, that oh god, things are getting out of control again. But there’s been the big bonus of going around the world, and 100% of it’s been a great experience.
HH: Was that your first trip to Mexico?
DP: I’d been there for a day as a tourist years ago, to a mosquito-ridden place [laughs]. So this time it was different again, in Mexico City, because the paranoia there about kidnapping and violence and crime…
HH: …is actually real!
DP: …is totally real! I mean, at the hotel we stayed at all the windows were boarded up, to kind of keep us protected. But the windows were 15 feet high in the air anyway, they were incredibly strange rooms. So, having arrived there from Australia, jetlagged, I never knew what time of the day it was anyway. We never saw any light. I’d have to sort of step out into the stairwell to see if it was night or day. It could be four in the morning or four in the afternoon for the first few days. Because you get there beforehand to acclimatise; you don’t get off the plane from travelling from the other side of the world to play a show.
And we were right on the edge of the area they call ‘The Grey Zone’. We were looking at the map: there are these little notations you get on the map—which we had to buy at reception, which I always thought was strange, for five dollars—and it said ‘Not a good place to walk alone, especially after dark’. And then there are all these other warnings: ‘Do not get into a taxi… Only get into a taxi at taxi ranks or that you have ordered from a place… Definitely do not get into the black VW beetle taxis, these are very dangerous’. Of course I never saw a VW beetle taxi in Mexico City, maybe because I was in all the right places!
So we were right in the border area, and everyone had arrived from their respective locations in Germany, England, and Australia. We did walk around at night to find a so-called 24-hour supermarket to get some provisions. And of course they weren’t open for 24 hours; you had to actually bang on the door and they come and look at you suspiciously. And by the time they came there was kind of a gang gathering behind you. And we’re thinking ‘fuck!’, but luckily we’re big enough and plentiful enough to sort of make them wonder!
And on every street corner there are armed police or militia. Even our hotel had an armed guard in the foyer and the police would come in and sleep on the benches and lounges throughout the night. Because as we’re on a different time zone we’re wandering around seeing all this stuff; the things that most of the guests aren’t seeing. The cops are just coming in and clonking out on the settees. And there are loads of them. We’re kind of on the edge of this dodgy area.
HH: All of this talk of potential trouble in Chicago or whatever sort of pales in comparison, doesn’t it?! You could have ended up with your head on the side of a road or something.
DP: Yeah, we were very careful, and I’ve read since that, in fact, it nearly happened to Morrisey. Morrisey jumped out of a taxi when he realized that the way to the border was one way and the driver was going somewhere else. So I was reading in his excellent autobiography, he literally threw himself out of the cab. He was in the middle of an abduction. I mean there was something like 150,000 abductions last year in Mexico. They do take it seriously, and we did too. Which brings the whole atmosphere down a little to a slightly oppressive, creepy thing. I mean I walked out on my own and I walked around. I was just careful and I could see—I’ve been to war zones and I’ve put myself in danger—but I could see this was kind of relentless. You knew where it could be coming from. I mean outside every hotel there were guards with machine guns—this is like fairly full-on.
HH: Did that change how you actually played on the night?
DP: We were escorted all the time by bodyguards backstage.
HH: I remember seeing you sound-checking and prepping for the couple of gigs here in Adelaide, and there was this real focus and intensity, almost like you were blocking out everything that was going on around you. I’d imagine it must be difficult to be able to block out stuff like that, because it’s going on out the front of your door.
DP: Yeah, once you’re in those places they seem to be quite secure. I mean, whether it be Mexico City or Los Angeles where there are equal threats. Like, it was called ‘Doug’s Shadow’; an armed bodyguard who was basically around me the whole time. You know, ex-military, he’d just got out, had a gun with him, mace, truncheons, flak jacket. He did all the talking for me, it was great. The same thing happened in Chicago. In Chicago I had someone who’d happened to have just got back from guard duty in the American embassy in London. And was still a serving Marine, and was actually a Death in June fan; he couldn’t believe he could get this opportunity. So it was good! And, in fact, it’s incredibly cheap to hire a bodyguard in America. There’s such a surfeit of military-trained people looking for work.
HH: A lot of fear to trade on I suppose! So you met John in Mexico City then?
DP: John Murphy and Miro Snejdr would fly in from Europe… in fact, we had actually met at Dallas airport. It was sort of the hub from where we were flying in from… the different places to get to Mexico, regardless of whether you’re flying in from London, Berlin, or Adelaide. You had to change in Dallas, so we met up there. But Miro had some problems with his luggage and missed two flights. So we were in Mexico earlier than Miro was, but eventually he did arrive the next day.
HH: So Miro… I think he was opening for you wasn’t he, and then playing with you? Did you have to rehearse much for that? Because you wouldn’t have had much time.
DP: We’d done it back in London years ago when we started doing it like that, so Miro’s pretty good and we’ve got it down pat. And the few days we had together in Mexico City we managed to do some rehearsals there. We took time off for John and I to do our bits and for Miro and I to do our respective bits. That’s how it worked because, you know, you’re not there immediately getting off a plane, as I said, to do a show. You’re there for several days to acclimatise. I never do any performance under four days after arriving because I know the jetlag can really hit you.
When I was on tour with Current 93 and Death in June in Japan in the late ‘80s, I think we played a show in Tokyo… we played three nights in a club in Tokyo—we sold out all three nights—and I went on to do an encore of ‘Leper Lord’. This has stayed with me for the rest of my life since: I think it was day three in the country, and we hit the ground running. We did do the shows too quickly, and I blanked out, I forgot every single word of ‘Leper Lord’. I’d known this back to front, and I just went on stage, opened my mouth, and nothing came out. Luckily it was Japan, and I apologised profusely, bowed and left, and they all went mad thinking that’s fine. Every time I play ‘Leper Lord’ I still fear it, but they’re the tricks that jetlag will play on you, so I will not allow myself to be a victim to it again.
HH: I remember you did say once you still get nervous before a live performance.
DP: I’m always nervous beforehand. If you’re not nervous I think you’re in for a bad time. If you’re complacent something will go wrong. I think you have to have that edge.
HH: But you’re comfortable once you get up there…
DP: …mmm no, once I’m off [laughs]. Once I’m off and back in my hotel room. Then the comfort creeps in.
HH: That reminds me, you did mention once you do quite a bit of your writing in hotel rooms. Is that just from the travel itself or do you just prefer the solitude?
DP: I think it might be to do with… I was just reading something… very recently, it was a thing about Yoko Ono and John Lennon. It was from very old interviews in the late ’60s, and she was saying that they wrote a lot when they were flying. And she thought it was due to the fact they were not attached to the ground. Because I’ve just filed some boarding passes with lyrics on the back, that I’ve done because I’ve recently been travelling interstate a lot. And sure enough it starts kicking in… I grab the boarding pass and start writing on it. So I thought that was quite an interesting theory: that maybe it is because you’re literally detached, that you’re free to pick up on whatever it is that’s coming in.
HH: Say what you will about Nick Cave, but he’s well-known for treating it like a job, where he actually goes to his office, basically 9 to 5.
DP: I could never do that, but I think that’s to do with the fact that he’s been an addict in one way or another.
HH: Yeah, true.
DP: He sees it as he has to keep his hands occupied otherwise the devil finds work for them. And it’s not the way I’ve worked at all. I can’t just sit down… nothing would come out.
HH: I wonder if it’s also… I’ve been thinking about this and my impression of you from the time I’ve known you, is you live intuitively. So, you take opportunities if it feels right to do so. You meet with people if you think it’s the right thing to do. And I’m sure you give it a lot more thought than what that sounds like. But does that carry into Death in June and everything else as well?
DP: Yep, everything dictates everything. In fact, I’ve recently been writing new music… I’ve been resisting it for a long time because I find it a nauseating experience, and not a very pleasant one. And when I examined some time ago how songs have become albums, I’m not in a very happy space. And I don’t need to kind of revisit those. But it kept knocking on my door recently. So I gave in and during some of my recent interstate trips I started writing the basic music for probably six or seven new songs, but I haven’t dared open the big plastic bag of words. I mean, whatever the words are that I wrote down on the boarding passes during these flights, they’ve been chucked in there and I’ll look at them at a later date, when I feel the need to… but I don’t want, or feel the need to do that at present. And I can’t finish those songs until the syntax of the words fit with the chord structures. That’s why I’ll keep out of the studio until I think it necessary.
The weird thing is I’ll usually use my Sony professional recording equipment which has been doing all the basic recordings for decades. And in fact still gets played on stage for the backing tracks because I want to keep to the old stuff, that I used on stage when I was brought back, and I won’t use any new things like iPods or whatever. And it wouldn’t work! It would not work! I changed batteries, I changed leads, I changed microphones, it was not bloody recording. I thought this is a sign of them saying ‘no, you’re not supposed to be doing a recording’, and I thought, no this could be a little obstacle because, it was getting a bit creepy that every time I picked up the guitar either at sound-checks during the recent tours, some new songs would suddenly creep in, and I’d just be testing the sound of the guitar with these new chord things… or just recently, because I’d been trying to keep in shape, playing a lot. Because I thought there was going to be another tour imminent—which there was—and that’s been changed to a bit later now, in November perhaps. But other things keep coming in.
I couldn’t ignore it all the time because it was becoming stupid. So I thought, maybe this is the obstacle you have to get over, even though I went out and bought a new thing—which is brilliant, to tell you the truth [laughs]—and I don’t know why I carried that brick of a thing around with me all the time to hotel rooms! You know, sort of chuck the mic in… no, this you can just have in your pocket.
And I’ve already got creepy things walking down the street, I think it was in Melbourne or Sydney or somewhere, and some mad woman was walking along… she was saying something or other. She didn’t appear mad, but if what I heard was correct, it sounded like she was definitely away with the pixies. So I immediately got it down and I thought that’s going to make a great chorus [laughs]. It was like that time Tibet and I were walking along that bomb site in North London and a girl came skipping along singing ‘first you take a heart and you tear it apart’. So I thought, oh good, I can just fit it in there and it doesn’t weigh anything, and rather than the thing that I used to have to… ok, chuck it in, put the microphone in, the ‘T’ microphone… never mind. As long as it keeps working on stage that’s good. It’s been through hell, that poor old Sony.
HH: So the lyrics always come first?
DP: No, it’s all higgledy piggledy. The lyrics come out of the blue and I put them in this big plastic sack, and then review… I’d have to sit down, listen to the songs I’ve written, to listen to the chord structures. Then go into the bag and pick out the lyrics. It’s like a long-winded version of cut-up, as I’ve said before. The sort of William Burroughs method.
HH: Have you given that a shot in some sort of formalised sense?
DP: No. No, I read that people like Bowie and Burroughs… Bowie did it, copying the Burroughs technique. I’ve never gotten around to literally cutting up bits of paper and juxtaposing them. I will get out all the different bits of paper and see a word here or a line there and do it like that, and that’s how I’ve done it forever. Except maybe during the Crisis period. Crisis was different. They were more just songs that came out as is I think. But it’s definitely in Death in June. That style developed for sure after writing ‘Heaven Street’ which was the first song I ever wrote [for Death in June].
HH: ‘Heaven Street’ is still one of my favourite Death in June songs actually.
DP: It was written in a garage where I was working part-time, sitting down waiting for the next customer.
HH: What about your more recent collaborators then? Your work with Miro seemed to have happened almost fortuitously.
DP: Miro came out of the blue almost exactly four years ago this month. It was the beginning of September, there were late winter storms that brought down a ton of trees on the property that sort of wrecked Fort Nada for a while, and people on the internet turned me onto his place on the internet to have a listen to some of his songs.
HH: The covers?
DP: Yes, so I contacted him and said ‘send me what you’ve got on CD…’—cause I don’t like doing anything on the computer, sitting there mindlessly going *click click*… ‘and I’ll see what I think’. And that’s how that began. And then I started listening to the stuff staring out the window at the destruction, and Peaceful Snow came. I mean I was literally thinking ‘what the fuck am I going to do here?’ Outside calling out people to saw up all these trees, costing thousands of dollars. And the house was very lucky to survive, you know, these trees missed the house by two metres. And I was away in Sydney when some of the trees came down, and then even more trees came down, and it was just like a complete change of vista within a couple of days. Luckily it’s not looking too bad at present.
HH: Good. I was listening to The Rule of Thirds in the car on the way up here this morning, and I hadn’t listened to it for years I think. I know you encourage people to interpret Death in June songs and albums in their own way, but I wondered if that was sort of, I don’t know, the start of a retaking control of Death in June, if you know what I mean? It seems to me that the collaborators that, for whatever reason, you’d severed ties with or moved away from, leading up to that point… you’d probably found yourself at a point where you could do exactly what you wanted to do with it. And there’s a palpable sense of buoyancy in the album I think. You seemed to be in a pretty good place at that time.
DP: No, I wasn’t! [laughs]
HH: Oh right! See I’m misinterpreting it already then! [laughs]
DP: No, no, I was on the rebound from a pretty dark place I think. It was written from what was pretty much a dark place. And no-one I’ve ever collaborated with, outside the initial two other original members, have ever had any particular say over what I should do with a song. It’s been left up to me all the time with Death in June.
And The Rule of Thirds was just… I mean it’s not actually an album I’ve listened to very recently, because unless I’m being forced to listen to an album as there’s an offer of a re-release—which I’m having to at present on several titles, on vinyl—or I need to remember how that went for a live thing, I don’t listen to them at all. But I’ve been wanting to listen to The Rule of Thirds quite a lot recently for some reason, because it’s always divided opinion to such a degree, but it’s always been a good seller. And I was very pleased with it when it came out, but the motivations behind it were pretty… I mean all the albums are pretty full on. I can’t say that was a lightweight album. [laughter]. It’s not Death in June really, ‘oh that was when I was really happy’.
HH: Yeah, sure.
DP: If I was really happy I wouldn’t be recording anything. I’d be happy!
HH: But there are a couple of tracks where, at least superficially, you seem to be writing about something like a positive experience, or a relationship or something like that. Maybe not as a whole, it’s not an upbeat album, but there’s a couple of points in there where it could be considered ‘upbeat’ as far as Death in June goes.
DP: I would never even contemplate that word being anything to do with Death in June. I am wherever I am at that point in time. In fact, I was listening to The Wall of Sacrifice only yesterday, because it will be reissued maybe this year as a 25th anniversary release on vinyl with some extra tracks. And I would never be in that place ever again, to be able to write that material in that same way, or to even produce it, record it. And I was thinking ‘oh wow, this is kind of special’, you know, bringing back memories of when we were at Greenhouse Studios late at night in the winter of ’88 with John Balance. And I remember it happening, he’d just had enough, he had to leave. He found the level of presence just too much and he got out of the studio. And I heard it yesterday afternoon. And when it hit that moment I remember him sort of grabbing his clothes and running out the studio saying ‘I can’t stand it anymore’.
HH: I seem to remember it’s a pretty bleak album.
DP: That was approached as being the last Death in June album. And it was my answer to Metal Machine Music.
HH: The Lou Reed album?
DP: Yeah, and I’d never listened to Metal Machine Music, but just the idea of it, that it was going to be unlistenable. So I did those tracks, ‘The Wall of Sacrifice’ and ‘Death is a Drummer’. And it came out completely different because I added those other tracks that were completely different; the more melodic acoustic material, which kind of became some of the standards of Death in June sets. But I didn’t realise the songs ‘Giddy Carousel’, ‘Fall Apart’, and ‘Hullo Angel’ would become ‘classics’. It was only being sold on mail-order and it sold like that [snaps fingers]. So it pissed more people off more than it made happy cause there were so few, and I realised ‘no, you can’t muck around with stuff like that’. And it sold 600 copies on mail-order, I got all the money full-price… it was the album really… it was a combination of albums that got me to Australia. It was the first time I could take three months off with a lot of money in my pocket. Kind of figure out what I wanted to do with this country.
But then it had to be released properly, as it just annoyed people so much. You know, the thousands of fans who said: ‘it’s not fair we didn’t get a copy’. And now I realise you can’t muck around with that too much: the limited edition thing. Death in June is in another league. It might suit other groups but…not Death in June.
HH: It was a long time ago but you once said that ‘But What Ends When the Symbols Shatter’ was the best-selling Death in June album…
HH: That’s no longer the case?
DP: No, Nada! has always been the best-selling. But behind that are things like But What Ends…, Rose Clouds…, Discriminate, and The World That Summer. They’re sort of really at its heels but because it’s been out longer—30 years ago—it’s got those extra years on it so it’s sold more. With digital downloads and whatnot the others are catching up but, whether they’ll catch up or not I don’t know.
HH: Maybe I’m not giving your listeners enough credit, but I always thought that if ‘But What Ends…’ and ‘Rose Clouds…’ were better sellers, it may have been because they were the most ‘neofolk’ compared to some of the others.
DP: I don’t know. It wasn’t approached as being that because, as I think I’ve said before, neofolk began in ’86 with Brown Book and Swastikas for Noddy. They were the first really… we thought these were different.
HH: I was chatting with Cameron Brew recently, from Bordel Militaire, and he was saying he always thought neofolk became codified far too early and he lost interest in it pretty quickly. Do you follow ‘the scene’ in any way?
DP: No. If they come my way or groups are supporting me then I find out like that, but otherwise no. I mean, I’ve found some great groups like :Of the Wand and the Moon:—very Death in June influenced obviously, and Kim Larsen will admit that. I like where Die Weisse Rose has gone and developed; I think Thomas Bøjden has pulled himself together and he’s quite a dramatic live act. And there are others in America, like what was Luftwaffe and is now Et Nihil.
I mean, it’s changed, I think America’s got a different slant on things. And that’s where if you are going to get any new experiences you’ll get it from there. But I don’t tune into some of it; it doesn’t turn me on. I mean if something comes my way by chance… but I’m not scouring the internet to hear anything. I remember the first group that struck me as being… they were both from Germany… In my Rosary and Annabel’s Garden. They were the first groups I remember hearing that sounded like Death in June. And that was way back in the late ’80s. You’re hearing the influence and you’re seeing the influence. You know, stand up drums and wind chimes a-go-go. You know, almost everyone has those now.
HH: So what are you listening to at the moment then?
DP: Me? What did I listen to last night…? I mean it’s all over the place, I think I was listening to some Mersey Beat stuff last night, while I was making dinner. Oh, and David Bowie’s Extras to The Next Day. I think that’s great, there’s a whole CD of extra material. That’s what I was listening to when I was preparing dinner before coming here.
HH: You were making dinner in the morning were you?
DP: Oh, because it marinades much better when… [laughter] It’s a vegetarian hash, and it tastes much better a few hours later.
HH: I consider myself a pretty good cook, but today I have to admit I’m just whipping something out of the freezer tonight, regardless of what it looks like!
DP: [laughs] There will be sometimes like that but tonight I’ve got a surfeit of cheap vegetables. Put it all together and chuck spices in… it always tastes much better. It’s like pizza, the next day it always tastes better! That’s the way I think anyway.
So much for my exotic Third Reich lifestyle! ‘What did you do today?’… ‘Cooked dinner…’. [laughter].
HH: There’s nothing wrong with that! I’m very proud of taking dinner seriously.
DP: I used to get sack loads of post, which I’ve not actually thrown away; I’ve got crates of it—but it will possibly get thrown away soon at Fort Nada—but I’ve never gone through it since I moved from the UK. And you’d get the weirdest things in there: ‘I can’t imagine you putting your garbage bins out at night’ and things like that. You know, believe me I do, ’cause there ain’t gonna be no-one else to do it! Maybe my partner, but he’d fall down in the dark.
So what they think you’re up to… I mean, I just recently watched the Lemmy documentary, and I’ve loved Lemmy… Hawkwind Lemmy was really fundamental, to go and see him, when I was young. But he seems to live this lifestyle where he gets up at his flat just off Sunset Boulevard in LA, walks to the nearest bar and just spends all day at the bar, or at the slot machines. And I’d never fucking do that in a million years!
HH: I saw an animated video just the other day someone had put together of his famous mole singing ‘Ace of Spades’.
DP: Yeah, I mean why doesn’t he get rid of those horrible things?
HH: The way it was presented is he always said he thinks he looks pretty good for his age. And he does, considering the rubbish he’s put himself through over the years!
DP: My overriding first impression of Lemmy was on my first-ever acid trip at the Windsor Free Festival in 1972. I’d just left school and one of the guys in the same year as me, Gordon Matthews, was in another class but he came up to me and said try this out; some acid. The Pink Fairies were on first, and I was like ‘wow’. And when Hawkwind came on it was just astonishing. All I remember is this silhouette of Lemmy standing there playing the bass guitar, because they would face these strobe lights into the audience. So it was just madness, this epileptic fit thing going on. And people falling in slow-motion out of the trees, freaking out. They were probably on acid anyway or whatever, and they’d lost their orientation. And you’d see these people falling out of the trees in what looked like slow-motion. From oak trees! And they were like 50 feet up or something!
And I saw Hawkwind a lot after that, about seven times. They’re one the groups I’ve seen the most, outside The Clash, Joy Division, and New Order.
HH: And Kraftwerk as well?
DP: And Kraftwerk now as well, definitely. After last year, when I saw eight in a row!
HH: Did you see that spectacular they put on? It was in…
DP: Sydney. Yeah, I saw every show.
HH: How was that?
DP: It was fantastic, every show was different. It’s a shame it’s only Ralf Hütter as the original member, but I’m pleased to say that I saw the original four back in the ‘80s when people like Marc Almond were supporting them. At least I saw that kind of graduation, and I saw them back in Sydney when I got them to autograph all my Kraftwerk CDs which I had on me. I bumped into Ralf Hütter at Sydney airport; I’d gone over there to see them, whenever it was, and Florian Schneider at least was still with them. But the other two; Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür had left by then. But at least I saw it all back in the ‘80s.
HH: Now I have to ask about sense of humour, and how important it is…
DP: …I don’t have one!
HH: Of course you don’t! [laughter] I know you’ve been in touch with Richard Stevenson who used to do Spectrum Magazine… He once interviewed Roger Karmanik from Brighter Death Now and Cold Meat Industry, and asked him the same question. I always thought it was a good question to put to someone who many people would assume is always somber and brooding. And he was talking about how important it was to have a sense of humour, not just in terms of the delivery of his music, but also how people interpret it. Because he deals with some pretty disturbing themes, but he puts a pretty brutal, dark streak of humour through it. And you pick up a bit of that in Death in June I think. Even if it’s just the samples you use sometimes… there’s a definite tongue-in-cheek approach to some of it, to me at least. And I know you’re taking this light-heartedly, but is there an intentional humour in any of this?
DP: No, I don’t think so. That’s just after the fact. No, I choose samples or whatever because they’re pertinent to me, or they help illuminate the track in some way. I’m not the Billy Connolly of the post-industrial generation! I pick those things because I think that will work for that particular track, not that’s a good joke.
Albeit, I don’t know anyone in the, I think… all the people I’ve met in this milieu have all been really not po-faced people. As soon as you meet a po-faced person you think they’re not very sincere. If I can’t see the tears of the clown it ain’t gonna work for me [laughter].
HH: And what about your sexuality, if you don’t mind me asking?
DP: Yeah, of course it plays a role.
HH: But again, it’s not intentional I suppose, you’re not flying the flag obviously…
DP: Well I do, there are big rainbow flags on my websites…
HH: …but through the lyrics or through the music or through the themes perhaps?
DP: I don’t know, if you are then you might pick up on it. Maybe if you’re gay or bi or something you’ll pick up on extra themes. But if you’re not then you’re picking up on something else I guess. It’s a difficult thing, ’cause I don’t go around thinking ‘I’m gay’ all day long, but then again… I mean there’s more to my character than that. But it’s the same with some heterosexuals; that’s the be-all and end-all of their life. I mean the endless pursuit of perfect nothingness is the endless pursuit of the perfect cock or pussy! [laughter] …to paraphrase some of my lyrics.
But I don’t know… perhaps I do, perhaps everything is affected like that. And of course there are many issues at stake here, in this day and age with the push to make marriage equal for instance. Albeit, I have to say, I think it’s great that it could be but even if I was straight I probably wouldn’t be married. I think it’s a bourgeois institution, a third of which falls to fucking bits, and it’s more like a prison for most people. And from the very beginning, when I was becoming aware of sex as a teenager: ‘Marriage? Fuck that for a lark’. And I think I still do, I mean I’m in a partnership that’s remained steady—as steady as partnerships can be—for sixteen years. Even if it was available to us, I don’t think we would. I don’t need permission from the government to say ‘we’re together’.
Fuck the government, whatever they are. It would have to be a really amazing fucking government for me to say ‘I’m really pro-government!’ And obey all the laws and be a goody two shoes and really try and fit in. Because that’s not me. At the age of 58, I’ve never fitted in. I don’t think it’s likely, to the end of my days.
HH: I wasn’t fishing for an agenda or anything like that. Because I wonder sometimes, if you look at the role of gender in some musicians’ lives, and whether or not it means anything to them. And for some people it’s almost like it is their agenda. They put themselves on a platform, being pro-women or pro-male rights or something like that. But it could just as well be something as arbitrary as whether you like milk in your coffee or not. You know, maybe it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. So it was a genuine question. I was curious to know if you thought it played a conscious role in what you do with Death in June.
DP: I don’t know, as I’ve made no bones about it since 1977, which coincided with the fact that I was 21. It was the legal age of consent, so if you made any bones about it before then all kinds of fucking weird things could happen to you. I was screwing for years and years beforehand, both men and women. I think as I’m there, I should be making a stand. Of course, yeah. And maybe encouraging—not encouraging, but engendering people somewhere in the world who are nervous or apprehensive or whatever. You can only just wave the flag and see what happens. And say this is how I feel and what it is, and whether or not it works or helps…
It’s blown up in my face more recently, because some of the antifa are kind of like the gays against the gays who are for the Nazis against the gays or something. It’s like, what the fuck are you on about?!
HH: They’ve really dug themselves into a very deep hole haven’t they?
DP: Yeah, some of these people who are supposed to be demonstrating, it’s like ‘do you even know what you’re talking about?’ They just seem to be complete nimkompoops who just want to demonstrate against something because basically at the end of the day their lives are nothing. I mean, some of the stuff that’s gone on in America just recently, it’s like: you lot haven’t got a clue.
HH: Yep. So what’s next for Death in June then? You’ve got a few tracks on the go?
DP: There’s tons of stuff on the horizon, it’s very busy. There’s the constant headhunting for me to release the vinyl back-catalogue. There are several titles with several companies being wanted right now. There’s trying to organize the next possible tour of the US and Canada, but Canada always seems to be unlucky or disorganized or something. I’ve been trying to play Canada since the late 1980s and it always falls to bits. And unfortunately, I would have loved to got to Canada on the last tour in May, but it would have meant us sticking around in America a week after our last show in New York before playing in Canada, which didn’t make any financial sense. And they were there in Montreal and Vancouver, at opposite ends of their country. And it wouldn’t have made any sense whatsoever, so I had to bail out of that. Because if the money’s not going to come in, if we’re doing it for charity, that’s not why I came out of retirement. You’re not doing shows for nothing.
And we’re not doing it like that in Australia either. I mean I’ve put out offers for people in Australia. I did one show in Sydney in September 2011 that started the whole comeback tours. But there’s been no credible offer from Melbourne, Brisbane, or Adelaide. I mean there are offers but they weren’t willing to put money on the table. And I’m afraid people have to get a grip on themselves. It costs a lot of money to fly people from Europe to Australia, and to put together the shows here. And if they’re not prepared to put their money where their mouth is, don’t bother, because it’s frustrating and almost annoying that people expect… it’s kind of like: ‘you expect to get paid?’ Yes, this is my fucking job! Whatever you do for a living, I think you expect to get paid as well. And at this stage of the game, do they think it’s some sort of hobby? No, it doesn’t work like that I’m afraid.
HH: It’s a very middle-class approach to music isn’t it?
DP: It’s a very weird approach I think. It’s like the whole thing, forever and a day, people expect free downloads or free copies of music and expect artists to exist. But, if they don’t get that money, there’s no money to pay for recording costs and things. And it’s like ‘oh, it’s all free now and people can do it on their laptop’. Yeah, that’s fine for really brilliant groups that can get really fantastic quality out of their laptop. Otherwise, that’s the reason why the great plethora of groups who are doing it home-based and things are shit-sounding and sell fuck-all. And it’s a harsh fucking reality. If you’re an electrician you expect to get paid. I don’t call an electrician and, you know say, ‘thanks a lot, see ya, it’s great, I love your work’ (and not pay him!) [laughter].
HH: ‘I’m your biggest fan’!
DP: Yeah, ‘you’re brilliant, thanks, you should definitely come again sometime’! I mean, it’s just stupid. And if it means the end of art and all of that, well okay. At least I’ve come toward the end of my life, and I can scrape through, but God knows how people would even think about starting out with that kind of attitude prevalent. Luckily my fans do still buy physical records and official downloads. And that’s great, thank you very much.
HH: It’s very nice to see the resurgence of vinyl again isn’t it?
DP: It’s completely confusing to me. I saw it 10 years ago as it began to happen, in America. I could see how younger people were picking up great collections in bargain basements, in thrift shops: for a dollar an album you’d have a fantastic collection. And there were these quite okay portable record players that you could buy for next to nothing in Target or places like that. And as a student living on the breadline you could get by and I thought that’s the beginning there. And that started the ball rolling, like a snowball effect.
And you would have thought it would peter out, but it’s quite the opposite. And in fact the whole process of getting records produced worldwide seems to have gotten more long-winded, because all the factories are chockablock. And especially during Record Store Day which is every April I think. The production starts in something like December.
HH: I’d read an opinion piece once about Record Store Day which suggested, if anything, it discourages support for the smaller labels and record stores…
DP: …totally, because the major labels monopolize it.
HH: Yep, and of course the pressing plants are going to prioritize the major company pressings because they’re the ones that are going to sell.
HH: So the smaller ones are sidelined, they have to wait in line with bowl in hand.
DP: That’s exactly what has happened, and that’s why The Guilty Have No Pride, which was recently reissued by Drastic Plastic, should have come out last year for the 30th Anniversary. But due to that and other things it got delayed. And now, with the same company, we’re trying to get Burial out, ’cause it’s also the 30th Anniversary of its release this year, but we’re still waiting to see if that’s going to be possible or not. And we’re trying to get it released in its original quilted cover, on the missing blue vinyl.
There are other offers coming in for The Wall of Sacrifice, which is why I was listening to it yesterday. The World That Summer, The Corn Years… The Corn Years will hopefully be re-released this year ’cause it’s the 25th anniversary this year. There’s a massive amount of work there, and outside of that there’s trying to organize the tours of America and Canada, and another one in Europe before the end of the year. And also writing new material, and just the general day-to-day office work which has become…
DP: Yeah, it’s become quite depressing. There’s just so much stuff to do: people haven’t paid money and stuff like that. You know, it’s great that it’s busy but it’s also depressing because you just look at it like… you know, merchandise needs to be controlled, there’s merchandise on the way… it takes up your entire day. It’s been years since I had time to think I could actually take some time off and go and listen to something. You get to a kind of plateau, unless you’re employing people. And, in fact, I’m helped by different people around the world in a vast way. It’s impossible to do otherwise. It’s a great position to be in but there’s also a lot of drudgery to it.
And I’m trying to get rid of that and trying to keep the other aspects of it, but I think the only way that’s going to happen is if I knock most of the touring off by the end of this year. It’s been a great three years, and keeping with the whole ‘rule of thirds’ thing, it’s time to… [clicks fingers].
But if anyone comes up with any interesting offers in Australia or New Zealand I’m open to it, but they have to be realistic. You know, I will do it for mate’s rates, but mate’s rates will only go so far!
HH: Yeah sure! I really wanted to ask you about Dave Lokan, because you were talking about the re-releases. I imagine you must see him quite regularly.
DP: Yeah, on and off.
HH: So what does he bring to the whole thing then? I’ve worked with him and he’s a brilliant sound engineer. What struck me about my time with him is regardless of his probable disinterest in my music or at least the sort of music I’m interested in personally, he’s very sharp and very astute at picking out things that make perfect sense, and bringing to light things I would never have seen. He records the sessions for you?
DP: Yeah, of course. I’ve really only worked closely with probably three engineers really well for any period of time. That would be Ian O’Higgins, Ken Thomas, and Dave Lokan. And it’s a question of feeling comfortable with them and feeling at ease with them. I know if I’m suddenly going off on a tangent and maybe rethinking something Dave will have the patience to be with me there and not get frustrated. I mean the difference between David—or Ken Thomas and Ian O’Higgins—and engineers who are not like that, is vast.
The first studio recordings with Crisis, for instance, were just terrible. Really, really hard work. I mean, the people back in the late ’70s at the beginning of punk didn’t have a clue and were very antagonistic toward what we were trying to do. The time when it finally was good was when we went to the BBC for the John Peel session. And suddenly there was a guy called Mick Robinson, a producer, with two tape-ops, who were completely empathetic to what we were trying to do and gave us encouragement. And they were great. I thought, ‘this is how it should be—this is how it could be all the time’. And that’s how we got those four songs recorded really well. They engendered it, and I think that’s part of what a sound engineer or producer can do.
But I know what I’m looking for and Dave sort of knows what I’m looking for too. And we get on like that. But no-one’s making any suggestions. I think the last person to make a suggestion was Ken Thomas when he said ‘you could do that, and make it into an extra chorus and repeat it there’, and I think that’s the only time it’s ever happened. But otherwise he sat back and said, ‘there’s only been two people I’ve worked with in same way like you and that’s David Bowie and The Who.’ He said, ‘you and Tibet are the same, you come in and you know what you want, and I’ll just do whatever you want. I know I’m going to get something out of it.’
And that’s good, because when I go into a studio I leave myself pretty clear, so I can say ‘oh, that’s going there’ and I’ll follow it. Working with Dave at Big Sound, wherever it’s been based, has been great. I liked it when it was up in the hills.
HH: Yeah, I miss that place.
DP: Yeah, so do I. It had its own special atmosphere. I haven’t done any recording down where he is now, but we’ll see how it goes. Until I free myself of all the other things that are on my plate I can’t really see the landscape of the new album. I just sort of feel it coming. It happens like that every time with a new album: unless there’s absolutely nothing there when you have no options other than record Brown Book, for instance… or The World That Summer—that was killing me to get out.
HH: That relates to my question about peoples’ interpretations or misinterpretations of Death in June. Are there things that you can’t grasp yourself?
DP: Yeah completely. I don’t know where that came from. Yesterday, as I said, I can listen to it quite objectively. Even though it’s mine, if I was not me listening to The Wall of Sacrifice for the first time I’d think, ‘that’s a fucking amazing album, where did that come from?’ And it’s nice to be able to take that step back. And I can do that quite quickly at the time cause I think there is this strange Magick involved if you leave yourself open to outside forces or whatever and you go down those other ways. Or it’s whatever is going on in your own psyche, I don’t know. If everyone really knew then everyone would do the same thing.
And that’s the way I feel. I don’t think everyone is in control. You throw yourself into the stream of life and you’re on the correct course, you’re in the correct current… it’s going to take you wherever. And you start seeing the right signs and doing the right things.
HH: And what about living around here? Does any of this filter in do you think?
DP: The thing that filters in here is the privacy I seek.
HH: And the anonymity?
DP: To a degree. That gets harder. There are always people trying to intrude.
HH: But I never got the impression that you chose to live in a certain place to just escape from everything else.
DP: Well that plays a big part. Just within easy reach of an airport! [laughs]
HH: So does living here in the Adelaide Hills come through in any of your work?
DP: I thought I found paradise but paradise came and went! [laughter]… Yeah, of course it does sometimes. It depends on the neighbours doesn’t it? Or the bushfires or the trees falling down! Paradise can just [clicks fingers] disappear in a second! You’re living in bushfire central up here. And even though the nearest neighbour used to be a long way away, it’s all building up. They’re all intrusive and I just have no interest in knowing them at all. You know, I don’t want them to know me and I don’t want to know them. Unfortunately it never works that way. They’re always wanting to know who is the secretive guy living behind the big fence and who is the other guy he’s living with and all that stuff. And when they get too close I bark very loudly, and so far it’s worked to keep them out. And I can get very nasty very quickly. I haven’t come this far to have fucking neighbours.
HH: I imagine that would be you all over. You’d be the best of friends and the best of enemies if you wanted it to be that way.
DP: Totally. If that person hasn’t been invited on to my property they’re not meant to be there. I’m very protective of my privacy and our seclusion. And there have been attempts before. It can happen very quickly: your head will be on a stick if you don’t fuck off of my property soon.
HH: Was that the intention of the ‘nidstang’ images?
DP: No, the needing stick is for when you really need something to happen, when you really want something to happen. And it just came to me. I was thinking of the hobby horse and all that kind of thing. I was travelling to Belgium a lot to do that book that never came out, C’Est Un Rêve. And I tried doing a photo shoot in England, but getting a horse’s head was really, really difficult.
HH: You can’t just pop down to your local butcher and get one?
DP: No, but you could get one from an abattoir, but they would skin it. They wouldn’t just provide you with the head with the skin on. They were asking a lot of questions too. Whereas you fly to Brussels, you go the butcher, they provide you with three horses heads. You go to the gardening centre, you buy three poles, you go to the petrol station and buy a can of petrol… you’ve got a photo shoot on your hands! And the photographer at the time was getting more and more weirded out. I was like ‘this is gonna look great, don’t worry!’
But when we went to the Ardennes Forest to do the photo shoot they were just sort of standing back and getting really worried about me. And we’d already had to stop cause we put them in these big plastic bin liners in the back of the car and they were rolling around. So I had to get out—and they were really heavy!—and put them on the ground. And this was near a bus stop with people, and all they saw was blood ooze out of the plastic bin liners. So I said let’s just get going, because people were really looking by then.
And you go into the middle of the woods and it’s really dark so we’ve got the torches and things. And you have to put the staves in first, which no-one’s helping me with cause they’re thinking ‘this guy’s a psycho, we’re gonna be next’ or something. And then lifting these things up! I’d thought of the anatomy, I thought I could put it down the esophagus. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but I thought surely that would work.
HH: Did it balance properly?
DP: Eventually it did, but I was getting covered in blood! And eventually I got it to work, so you pour the petrol over it and set it on fire. So eventually we got it all done and the photos are looking good. And there’s blood dripping down the sticks; on the colour ones you can see it. And then at the end they wanted their photos taken with them because they were convinced they looked quite good and I wasn’t going to kill them in the middle of the woods [laughter].
HH: So it wasn’t a curse.
DP: No, no, not at all, it was more of a blessing. I really needed these changes to happen, and it came at the same time as me buying a house here. That was when I was doing Rose Clouds… I think. It ended in December on Christmas Eve or New Years Eve. I remember the last day in the studio in Surrey. We’d had snow early and all the ice and snow was melting off the trees, and we’d turned up that night to finish off the mixing. And all these sounds were coming out. It was this vast old Elizabethan property… it had horse stables attached to it that were turned into studios. I got out of the car and the ice and snow was melting off the trees making these cracking sounds. It was just very creepy and atmospheric, and I thought ‘this is the night it’s going to end’.
And no-one was working that night but me and Ken Thomas. He was living close by so he could go home quickly. And there was food left in the main part of the house where people could go and rest, which I was never really part of because I didn’t pay the full rates. And I went into the other part where the people who owned it were. They said I was one of their favourites, among all the other groups: Robbie Williams, Paul Weller, and me. They really liked us working there, so they let us have some of the food that was there.
Jacob’s Studios, it was called: named after a kind of sheep that was bred there. And some people couldn’t work there because it was haunted. But I could, and I worked in the haunted studio apparently. Which is great! And they phoned me up and said some Japanese group had checked out because they couldn’t take it after hearing voices and things. So instead of £2000 a night I’d be getting it for £200.
HH: Ghost rates.
DP: Ghost rates mates’ rates! I hadn’t thought of that. I did the midnight shift and everything was fine. And we did hear things, and everything was good. In fact ‘Sneaky Pete‘ or whatever his name was, who played slide guitar for The Beatles, was working there. And he came in to try and sort out whatever was going on with the electrics because we kept hearing things, and he said ‘it’s you: you’re making the Angels sing’. And he was quite happy about that. I always remember that.
It was a good studio. I even wrote material there. Ken Thomas would leave me alone and say: ‘you’re in one of those moods, you should go and see if you can work it out.’ So I’d go into a corner in one of the recording studios and finish off whatever song it was and come back with new ideas. So it worked out very well.
But I was in the right frame of mind. A lot of the material for, say, Symbols Shatter… was written here on my first trip out. And subsequent trips started inspiring Rose Clouds… before I even bought a property here. So, of course it makes a difference. Actually, one of the places where I wrote a lot of this stuff is up for sale soon. Sadly one of my friends who co-owned the place died recently. So all of my connections in Australia are dying out literally. I don’t know too many people, and some of the original reasons for coming out here are disappearing.
So getting back to your original question, it did act as an inspiration. Hearing the Magpies sing, for instance, that appear on the first track of But What Ends…