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Dead Can Dance

Dead Can Dance

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 8th October, 2012 8:54AM

Seminal Australian-by-way-of-England duo, Dead Can Dance have just released their first studio album since 1996, Anastasis. It's a heavy, metaphorical affair, and after talking to one half of the band, Lisa Gerrard, one would expect nothing less.

Hey Lisa, how are you? How does it feel to be doing press for a Dead Can Dance album after so many years?

Haha, it’s definitely been interesting.

How did Dead Can Dance start up again: what made you decide to write together again after such a long hiatus?

Well you know Brendan (Perry) and I started to work together when we were 17 years old, and the first piece we wrote together was a piece called ‘Frontier’ and it happened totally by accident. We were at a friends house recording and he came along and the song ended up being this extraordinary accident: this extraordinary piece that led us to getting a record deal in England.

We were both really surprised by the piece because the things we were doing separately were so different to each other and we realized we had something unique when we did things together, and that’s never gone away. It’s always been there, that sort of magic. So the magic is addictive and we have a bit of a history where we can fall out occasionally so if we work together it had to just happen, we can’t calculate it.

We did try in 1999 and then we tried again in 2005 and it just wasn’t there and this time we had another go. Brendan contacted me during the Australian bush fires and we started to talk again, and then we started to reminisce about some of the pieces we’d written together and how we we missed forming them and how special we thought they were. We decided we’d have another go and we were quite anxious about how it would turn out. We started sending each other files and then I went to Ireland for three-and-a-half months and we managed to get through and do the album, and we’ve just finished a five week tour in America and we’re still standing on the same soil.

Is there anything – about you two, something happening sociologically - that made it work this time?

The only thing that I can think remotely is that in the past we’d always lived in the same house and been in very close proximity to each other: all of our interests were sort of cross-pollinating. We read a lot of books because when we moved to London we had a really good library around the corner, and they had a fantastic collection of quite old books as well: really early symbolist poetry and other beautiful work. Our exploration of those things always affected the mythological side of what provoked us to wake up the imagination. They would become the chariots that encouraged our inspiration if you like, and we always had that in common and crossed into each other’s abstract worlds through the music because we were in such close proximity on so many deeper levels.

In 1999 I had a daughter and moved back to Australia and there was a period of time that I spent apart, and when we got back together - because we hadn’t been around eachother working - the creativity wasn't something we could just dial up, and I think we were shocked at first, and we didn’t understand why.

So after the 2005 tour we thought we’d build a connection and possibly even write live, but we had problems during that tour: personality problems and we didn’t manage to get close enough to want to write together. After the Australian bush fires Brendan contacted me and we started to build the more ancient colour of our friendship and open up the pathways of trust that allowed us to find that unique ability to write together.

It’s always been the case with Dead Can Dance but it seems more profound talking to you: the intellectual countenance of Dead Can Dance is really important, right?

There’s definitely that side to it, and there’s another side that is emotionally quite abstract: it’s about the pathway of the heart. So it’s a combination of those two things that are tricky anyway, so everything has to be perfect. If you have an artistic soul you’ll know that things are quite complicated - everything has to be right and you can’t understand why.

What were you exploring on this latest album?

Well there are always the pieces of a more epic nature that Brendan writes and sings to which are very poetic and I suppose a cathartic account of how he views things from his deeper self. I can speak more about the pieces that I wrote: love is important in a celebratory way. 'Anabasis' is a very forlorn lonely journey through the forest: trying to reconnect with nature. Brendan does 'Amnesia' which is about how each generation forgets the last generation. How we’re not picking up our thread of learning or continuing communal conversations.
Because of the monoculture that we live in there is no tradition shared in modern western music: it’s actually quite disappointing in the sense that it's almost designed to keep you ignorant of the past and your background. So we’ve always tried to create a cultural voice through the work that we do. I come from Australia and it’s hugely diverse and the indigenous story that comes up through the ground is very strong and as an artist you work via your intuitive powers so those stories come into the work. They’re translated through you as a normal Australian kid that grows up with an artistic soul and it’s who you are and where you come from.
So those are the things that have found their way into our work and have inspired us to stay together. Brendan also does a piece called ‘Opium’ which is about being in an ether state of existence: where you’re not connecting with those things that haunt you and come to haunt you in your life.
He also does ‘Children of the Sun’ which is almost one of those pieces that goes back to the sixties or seventies in the way in form. It’s almost 'Sgt. Pepper' in a sense as it unlocks the mystical journey of how he views the Dead Can Dance journey and he uses that as a way to talk about the lost direction of us as people.