Brendan Perry interview feature (CDNow)

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After initial dabblings with (literally) Gothic synth-driven music, Dead Can Dance became one of the most singular groups on the planet. Appealing to a wide cross-section of fans, the duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard fused Old World musicality, Third World instrumentation and modern songwriting to produce a clutch of albums that existed in a space that was clearly defined only as “Dead Can Dance” music. Albums like The Serpents Egg and Aion made 14th Century Italian dances utterly accessible to the 4AD crowd, while staying true to the integrity of the originals. The combination of Perry’s deep, rich voice and Gerrard’s otherworldly glossolalia as well as the clash between European Classical and aboriginal instrumentation was truly unique.

But, 15 years after the release of their first record, Dead Can Dance called it a day, citing not only the inevitable “creative differences,” but also the logistical nightmare of the fact that Perry lived in Ireland, Gerrard in Australia. And though Gerrard has continued in a vein more stylistically connected to Dead Can Dance (see her solo album, as well as her work with Pieter Bourke, which includes the soundtrack to The Insider), Perry has remained relatively silent, performing occasional solo acoustic shows.

However, with the recent release of Eye Of The Hunter, the man behind such folk-oriented Dead Can Dance songs as “Severance,” has produced a solo album rich with musical ideas. And, though the sound is a far cry from the polyethnicity of Dead Can Dance, the melancholy ethereality of the eight songs (including a cover of Tim Buckley’s “I Must Have Been Blind”) demonstrates that though Perry may have been relatively silent, he certainly hasn’t been idle.

CDNow: I guess the most obvious question would be, why did Dead Can Dance split up?

Brendan Perry: At the end of the day, we wanted to make different music, and it only became obvious when we came together to record what was going to be the follow-up to *Spritchaser*. And we worked on it for about six weeks and it was obvious to us that we were pulling in two opposite directions. It just didn’t gel at all, we just didn’t have the same musical vision. So, we just decided that, rather than going through the motions, to just call it a day and pursue our own musical visions.

CDN: And it had been quite a long time, too.

BP: Oh yeah, we had quite a good inning, you know? 16 years, you know, it’s just like any relationship and the spark goes out of it. The magic and the energy and the will just weren’t there to make another Dead Can Dance album.

CDN: Do you foresee working with Lisa again in the future?

BP: It’s possible, but not in the immediate future. It’s one of those things. You have to make an official declaration, because we still contractually had albums to produce for the record company and you have to make it public. Otherwise, there’d be no point in making it public, you’d just get on with your life. (laughs) So, when a band breaks up, it all looks really final, but how many times – especially in the last few years – have you seen a band getting back together? There’s no finality in it. Only time will tell.

CDN: Tell me about the writing process that went into Eye of the Hunter. I know that you’ve been working on “an album” for a long time, so I assume that some of these songs and ideas had been around for a while.

BP: Some of the songs date back about four years. There were songs which I’d written, but I felt weren’t right for the forum of Dead Can Dance releases. But I’d gotten back to playing acoustic guitar again and that kind of lent itself to more ballads. But yeah, I’d done a few solo concerts over the years and gotten a repertoire of material together that was a mixture of cover versions and original songs. And when we decided to disband Dead Can Dance, I needed to keep working to get over the disappointment, so I focused on making an album. I had all this material from over the years and I wrote some new pieces to round off the album and that was it really.

CDN: Was there a consistent theme that you wanted to present with the album?

BP: I think because it happened so quickly – from recording to finished master was about 3 ½ months – any thematic unity came by virtue of not being too objective and just throwing myself into it and doing it. I never felt I preconceived it to turn out exactly the way it did. To be honest with you, I was pretty surprised at how even a keel, in terms of pace, that the pieces were once I arranged them. I listened to it and thought “Wow, this is really mellow.” (laughs) I didn’t think it would be quite as mellow as it turned out. It’s good though, I’m really satisfied with it. It seems to have a focused, sort of homogeneous feel to it.

CDN: Were there songs you left out for the sake of consistency, or was the consistency really just an accident?

BP: Well, there was one song that was obviously not right. It was an uptempo, sort of joyous number. It didn’t really work out musically in and of itself, despite the fact that it would have been incongruous on the album.

CDN: It’s an awfully short album, don’t you think, especially by today’s standards?

BP: I don’t know that I would use the word “awful.” (laughs)

CDN: (laughing) Oh yes, it’s an awful and short album.

BP: But really, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. In my mind, a painting’s finished when the last stroke is there. There’s no more, there’s no less, it just is what it is. It’s 45 minutes, which is above the average length of a vinyl album. I think it’s long enough.

CDN: Well, personally, I thought it was refreshing to see someone not fill up 80 minutes on a CD because they thought they had to.

BP: Yeah, because how many times do you get disappointed because you hear what ostensibly is the album and then you hear the record company pressure of putting so many more tracks tacked on the end. It ruins the experience, because inevitably, the material gets poorer and poorer and poorer until you’re left with a bad taste in your mouth.

CDN: And that’s why there are B-sides.

BP: It really dismays me. I mean, we’re no longer with Warner Bros. in the States because they didn’t take up the option on myself or Lisa when we split. So we took round some of my material to some other companies to see if they were interested in forming some partnership. We went to Rykodisc and Rykodisc said “Yeah, we love the album, fantastic album … but could we have some more tracks please?” And it was like “Fuck you!” It’s like fucking Hollywood trying to rewrite some director’s ending. Fuck you, I’m an artist and this is my art. This is the beginning, this is the middle and this is the end. I’m not gonna work for you. If you don’t respect my art, I’m not gonna respect your business acumen. It seems a particularly American thing. You know, “you get more for the same price.” (laughs) They never say, “you get less, but it’s better quality.” It’s a weird thing.

CDN: Given the instrumentation – mandolin, pedal steel, etc. – one would assume that this was Brendan Perry’s “folk album.”

BP: It’s a bit of a misnomer to call it “folk music” because it implies knit jumpers or some sort of “ethnic context.” It’s not really “folk music.” It’s more folk blues.

CDN: Well, as it’s made abundantly clear by the inclusion of “I Must’ve Been Blind,” the album owes quite a stylistic debt to the dense, ethereality of singer/songwriters like Tim Buckley or Nick Drake. I know you’ve covered Buckley’s “Happy Time” before and, though you seem much more well-adjusted than either Buckley or Drake, would you say that Eye of the Hunter fits within that musical tradition?

BP: I think so. If push comes to shove and I was asked what my favorite stylistic medium was, I would have to say singer-songwriters. Scott Walker, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Roy Harper, these are my real favorite artists.

CDN: And all those guys are a little bit nuts. (laughing)

BP: Nuts? I wouldn’t say nuts. I think they’re all sane and incredibly lucid people. I think they saw into people’s souls and looked into their own and danced on the edge of it. Yeah, it’s dangerous and a bit nuts at times, but that’s the price you pay.

CDN: I know that you’ve said that Dead Can Dance’s recording process could be quite intense and almost aggravating at times. Was the recording of this record a difficult process emotionally, or did it come fairly easily?

BP: Not at all. 3 ½ months is a world record for me for an album. Mainly because I didn’t have to delegate things. I wasn’t writing music for another person, I was just writing it for myself, so there was instant decision-making. It was very quick and easy and effortless. I was fortunate to find some really great musicians, which was key to laying this music down. I finally found the musicians who would act as catalysts for my songs.

CDN: So there was no compromise?

BP: No. I mean, there’s always compromise, but it’s very subtle stuff. But it’s pretty much how I intended it.

CDN: Will the next Brendan Perry record sound like this, or do you foresee working in a musical vein similar to Dead Can Dance again? After all, I’m sure you’ve still got all those wonderful instruments hanging around the studio.

BP: Oh yeah, they’re all tapping their feet impatiently. (laughs) The kind of music that I made with Dead Can Dance reflects music from listening at any given point in time and the songs on this album go back about four years. So, the songs needed to be recorded when they did, otherwise, I probably would have never recorded them and they’d be collecting dust on the shelf.

The new music that I’m developing now is more electro-acoustic. In fact, I’ve written a lot of material for some live dates – I’m only performing about four songs from Eye of the Hunter – and a lot of the new material is a bigger, more electric sound. I’m not quite sure what it’s gonna sound like, but we’re gonna be recording the album next June .

CDN: You sound like you’re interested to see what it’s gonna sound like.

BP: Oh yeah, as always. Music is my life, you know. It’s something I really never get bored with. It constantly inspires me. It helps me in my meditations, my reflections. It’s therapeutic. It gives me energy. (pauses) Yeah, it’s good.

First appeared November 1999 at CDNow.com.

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