Death in June – Peaceful Snow Interview
I am very privileged to have had the chance to interview Douglas P. again, this time for the release of the amazing new Death in June album Peaceful Snow. Following this interview you may find out more about Miro Snejdr, the wonderful musician that accompanies Douglas at the piano for the entire album as well as the interpreter of the Death in June songs on the bonus CD Lounge Corps.
My sincerest thank you to both of them, and I wish them both much success with this fantastic new release.
Since the interview for The Rule of Thirds, there have been so many new or re-released Death in June items available, I just want to go over two quickly:
The Symbols and Clouds box set – After the Brown Book 20th Anniversary edition, I was wondering how you could surpass it; yet you created and put together a set as wonderful, if not more so, with Symbols and Clouds; was it the last of the special edition re-releases?
I, too, thought the stone circle edition of Brown Book 20 would be difficult to surpass but I know we did that with the stone/granite Symbols And Clouds Euro Cross. In fact it occupies pride of place on the coffee table in my home of Fort Nada and sits on top of a wooden plate carved with Swirling Swastikas that I bought in Brest when Death In June performed its final shows at ‘The End Of The World’ in 2005. Is that a sign that there’s nothing else to come like that? I’m not sure. The 2 definitely seem connected.
The book Nascosto tra le Rune is absolutely fantastic. Are you happy with how it turned out? Many people have asked ‘Why is it in Italian? Will it be available in English?’ What does the future hold for this book?
At present there are foreign translations being entertained so it could be released in English, German, French, Spanish, etc. next year. In truth it’s too early to tell. It’s in Italian because an Italian journalist called Aldo Chimenti, who I had first met during the “NADA!” tour of Italy in 1985, interviewed me over a period of 9 -10 years up to this year of 2010 specifically for this book and he wrote the text and arranged for it to be published. It’s not rocket science. I’m not trying to be deliberately difficult and print my first official biography in Italian for no specific reason. Besides Death In June has a large following in Italy. It’s just the way it was. 15 years ago there were French (Le Livre Brun) and English (Misery And Purity) books about Death In June which, in comparison, I had very little to do with. Now there’s an Italian one which is almost bang up to date and had a lot of import from me and might also get into print in other languages. At least I know what I’ve said in this book regarding the exclusive interviews and I trust there have been faithful translations. As regards the rest of the contents which are in a language I don’t fully understand then nothing immediately jumps out at me to scream “this is wrong!” But, of course, I’ve yet to see the full English translation. For those who can’t understand Italian and simply want to look at the massive amount of photos there is also an English interview put on a CD featuring some Death In June songs as well as some very rare radio adverts and jingles so that does alleviate the language problem somewhat.
Since I’m reading that book very slowly with the help of a dictionary, I can’t comment on the content really, but I’ll at least comment on the photos – you’ve mentioned on the DIJ group that there were some people in particular you did not want to see at all in the book; however some photographs you chose were a bit surprising, such as the ones of David Tibet. What made you decide to do so?
“Free Tibet”! I said that a few years ago and I meant it. He cursed himself with his own words and actions and he’s got the scars to show for it. I reckon he knows in his heart of hearts what he did and where he went wrong. He’d be really stupid if he doesn’t! He took the wrong path. I have attempted to help at least ‘lighten’ that path for him. But, certainly, there’s no desire for our paths to ever cross again. We shared a very important one for a while. But, then we got to the crossroads.
But some are beyond redemption – and illumination. They truly walk the track of the hunted strewn with mines and booby traps of their own making and I look forward to watching them become ever more crippled and disabled. Dogs of the lowest order eating their own shit don’t deserve any photos. Certainly it’s not something I’d like to see in public. Does anyone? The lying, deceitful, coarse and vulgar display themselves for what they truly are so don’t need any help from me. Charlie Manson would ‘X’ people from his Life which, as history has shown, was very effective. Besides ATWA it was another good idea of his. Charlie certainly had a few.
The new album is called Peaceful Snow. What was the catalyst for this album – was it hearing Miro Snejdr’s versions of Death in June songs on piano? Did you discover him thanks to YouTube?
Members of the Death In June Yahoogroup pointed me in his direction in April, 2009. For this I am really grateful. I watched the videos Miro had posted on YouTube of instrumental songs from Death In June’s The Rule Of Thirds album and was very impressed. Courtesy of these members of the DIJ group we were put in contact with each other. I’m not sure if the catalyst of the Peaceful Snow album was listening to Miro’s versions of DIJ ‘classics’ or me looking out of the Fort Nada office window at the same time at the destruction to the property that the 2009 Winter had wreaked.
On the Death in June group, you described the recording process thusly: “All tracks were originally written on the guitar, some were also recorded with my keyboards as demos then these demos were in turn sent to Miro Snejdr to interpret the songs on his piano. I then re-did my vocals over his piano backing tracks using only my vocals for any added effects. It was a strict and sometimes difficult discipline in which I wanted to work.”
Is it more difficult to record an album ‘long-distance’ in this manner than working with other musicians in the studio? Did you have to ask Miro to re-do certain parts or songs more than once?
I thought it would be more difficult than it was. If Miro missed an odd bar or verse in his interpretation of what I sent him then I went with that and rearranged the words to suit that. But, that was rare. What I did learn was that it takes a special skill to sing along to a version of one of your songs that you’re not actually playing on. Even though I originally wrote them the fact that I wasn’t physically playing on these versions and now recording vocals for them was weird. I had to pay really close attention to the cues. I eventually got into a routine of sitting outside in the Fort Nada property, whether or not it was 45 degrees or Zero, with a small portable stereo system, playing his versions over and over again, making notes on my original lyric sheets and eventually singing along to them to get the timing correct. It made work in the studio less stressful.
Lyrically I find this album to be quite dense and complex, and arguably your most personal to date; could this be why you chose not to print the lyrics to the songs?
Not really. It was more because after listening back to the different mixes over and over again at home it dawned on me that many of the lyrics had double entendres or could be misheard in numerous ways and even to a native English speaker could be interpreted in several ways. Even I started re-interpreting what I thought their original meanings or written content were. That was odd for me because if that does happen that normally happens some time later after the release of an album rather than during the writing/recording process. I’ve always appreciated how good or powerful some mishearings of a song or spoken word can be as opposed to, or alongside, the original. After all, the name Death In June wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for me mishearing something said in the Alaska recording studios in London in 1981. So, Peaceful Snow joins the ranks of The Guilty Have No Pride, Burial or All Pigs Must Die where there were no accompanying lyrics.
Are songs that are closer to you more difficult to sing, such as with Peaceful Snow when you sing about your father?
My Father died over 40 years ago so this isn’t a “difficult” or taboo subject and I’m not sure if it ever was with me in the first place. I was well prepared for his death. As was he. It freaked other, less informed, people out more than me, or him! Besides I’m not really singing about my Father per se. Those words you mention simply came into my head as I was staring out of the office window listening to some of Miro’s work and looking at how the look of Fort Nada had been changed forever by the Winter storms. There had been a lot of destruction and by the grace of the Gods no one had been killed and the house was untouched. There was no conscious thought given to the words – they were simply presented to me. That’s actually a rare occurrence. Writing words is normally much more laborious. I suppose if there is consciousness or awareness or whatever you might want to refer to ‘It’ as after Death then I thought if anyone knows when I’m due to die or join them or when I’m due to go into the Peaceful Snow then my Dad would. Therefore I was content with the words and accepted them as the catalyst they proved to be.
A Nausea is one of my favourite songs on the album; it features what I believe are some of your most beautiful and emotional vocals. But there is something odd about that song – the way you use that peculiar ‘half-crazed’ sample. It’s almost like you wanted to ‘dirty’ the song up, or make it somewhat less beautiful (or maybe less pop?), and this use of odd samples is used on a few other songs as well. What was your intent when using the samples on this album?
There are no samples used on this album. As I’ve said elsewhere I decided to work within the strict confines of Miro’s piano and my voice. It was a continuation of my deconstruction of Death In June. I’d stripped a lot of instrumentation away on The Rule Of Thirds album in 2008 and this time, besides my guitar, I was going to continue to strip away almost everything else. A bit like my ‘career’ in the mature gay porn industry- ha ha! This album is meant to reveal itself in an intimate way. What you refer to as “samples” is my voice given different treatments. Death In June almost always presents a bitter sweet, a sweet and sour, a rose blossom and a sewer side to things. It’s the juxtaposition of opposites I find so attractive. It’s one more goose step in the Right direction as far as I’m concerned. But, in 2010 I’m marching to a different tune.
I was surprised, when listening to Neutralize Decay, to hear you use the phrase Tyme Tryeth Truth; I know it is a family motto but it is also well-known as a line most often associated with Current 93 (On the Earth Covers Earth album). Was it to answer that said song?
These words are written at the back of the “NADA!” Temple and I’ve been aware of them since the late 1960s when my parents would take my younger sister and me out on our pushbikes and we would cycle to Brookwood Cemetery together to wander around this huge expanse on warm summer weekends. When I decided we should shoot the first of Death In June’s promo photos for “NADA!” in Brookwood on Friday 13th July, 1984 Tibet would have then seen these for the first time at the Temple. The photos featuring him there were used on the later 93 Dead Sunwheels release. However, these words at the Temple might have made more of an impression on him 2-3 years after when we were doing separate photo shoots for The World That Summer album in the Winter of 1985/’86 and Current 93 in the late Summer of 1986. We didn’t take any photos featuring the Temple but we were in the same area and showed Freya and Rose McDowall the place. Either way I felt I should ‘claim’ them back and felt comfortable in doing so. Certainly they are not a family motto directly connected to me and if Tibet claims he found them in an ancient manuscript he stumbled across in a dead monkey’s mouth in the Malaysian jungle he’s lying! God forbid that!!
There is a great bonus cd entitled Lounge Corps included in the first 3,000 copies of the CD Softpack of Peaceful Snow which features older Death in June favourites interpreted by Miro on piano. I read that, at first, that was all you were going to release – is that what was planned at first? Did you ever feel like adding new vocals to the piano interpretations?
No, that thought never actually crossed my mind (although a seed of an idea has now been planted – thank you!) I was really impressed with hearing these old songs as instrumentals and it was the original intention to put this album out like that. But, Peaceful Snow and The Maverick Chamber suddenly sprang into Life and it was then decided that we should put these 2 songs on as well. However, the Muse and Nausea had descended by then and after flying off to a couple of my favourite places to concentrate and write further new songs I knew I had the beginnings of a brand new album.
In D-Side magazine (Oct 2009) you mentioned that The Rule of Thirds seemed to you like a final opus; Since it wasn’t, is there more than a good chance that Peaceful Snow will be the last Death in June album?
You can’t tell with these things. But, having been asked this question I now realize that excluding the compilations, remix and ‘presented by’ albums etc Peaceful Snow is the 13th Death In June album proper. And, I’ve always loved the number ’13′.
You had mentioned the possibility of a Death in June DVD project being in the works; is it still the case? If it is, is it a part of what you are preparing for the 30th anniversary of Death in June? What else is in the works for this anniversary?
There are a variety of projects scheduled to mark the 30th Anniversary of Death In June in 2011 but for fear of tempting providence I don’t want to go into detail about them. The DVD project had a propitious start but creatively appears to have hit a brick wall. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s back on track for next year. I don’t hold my breath about anything until I physically sit down and start whipping things into shape and encouraging and making them happen myself. All else is conjecture and masturbating in public.
My last question has to do with musicians and other artists using technology to be in touch with their fans. With your participation in the Death in June Yahoogroup, you were way ahead of everyone who now has a Facebook page or Twitter account. What made you decide to do it back then? Do you think this is where you’ll limit yourself when participating in social media?
The original Death In June Mail Order had cultivated a very large and loyal ‘customer base’ as companies call fans these days. However, mainly due to lack of time and logistics I gave up dealing physically with much of that in 1997 which seemed to create a bit of a vacuum for some people. By December, 1999 independent of me Dekatria the Moderator had set up the DIJ Yahoogroup and it came at a time when there was a lot of hostility being directed at me on the www via world serpent and their pals. The years of serious litigation were starting. I had to get involved because it proved a useful tool not only against the enemy but also for keeping in contact, or at least attempting to maintain a personal touch, with many of the fans. The DIJ Yahoogroup remains the Death In June Kommunication Flagship. I don’t have any personal dealings with anyone on Myface or Spacebook or Twitnet. And I don’t see that changing in the future. I don’t even own a mobile phone. I’ve thrown 3 away! I don’t always need to be ‘in contact’ and I don’t feel the need to tell anyone that I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I’m simply pleased that I still am!
Heilige, Douglas P. 23.X.10.
Interview with Miro Snejdr
Many people listening to Peaceful Snow have never heard of you, so why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
I come from Slovakia and moved to London (UK) 6 years ago. I’ve been playing accordion since childhood, but always wanted to play piano. So one day, I got one!
Your piano playing is absolutely fantastic. For how many years have you been playing? Do you play any other instrument?
Thank you. I’ve been playing piano for 6 years. As I said, I also play accordion and a bit of guitar. I’d really like to learn guitar properly, as that would allow me to get in the DIJ world even more closely!
Did someone influence you to become a musician, or did you have that innate ability early on in your life?
Listening to music all the time, that’s what I think influenced me to pick up an instrument and play. There was no “I want to be like him/her” intention. Listening to good tunes just always felt right. After that it was only a question of time, when I started doing my own music. Obviously my parents were aware of this and supported me all the way, which I am forever grateful for.
A photo of your tattooed arm appears on a postcard inside the Peaceful Snow 7″ and on the sleeve of the bonus CD Lounge Corps. Your tattoo reads “It is the fate of our age that we fight in isolation”. How long have you been a Death in June fan?
My first encounter with DIJ was with The Rule Of Thirds. As soon as I heard The Glass Coffin, I knew this was something special. Only very, very few songs have had such impact on me. There were days where I had The Glass Coffin on repeat all day and yet every time I heard it, it was like a new journey. Then I got hold of the rest and that was it. There was no need to look for anything else, this was it. It became a part of me or something – Douglas P., the masks, runes, amazing.
So tell us – how did you end up playing on this new DIJ album?
After posting the video on YouTube, Douglas eventually contacted me, we exchanged a few emails and Douglas suggested I should do more piano pieces for whole album. This was just amazing news and first I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. We then agreed on a list of songs with Douglas and the idea for Lounge Corps was born. (Note: to see the videos that got the ball rolling, visit Miro’s YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/spittingatpigeons)
What was it like to work with Douglas P.?
Working with Douglas P. is a very memorable experience and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life. This gentleman is a legend and I profoundly respect him for his unique output.
When you first posted your interpretations of DIJ songs on YouTube, did you ever think that this would be the result?
I never thought it would get this far. It was very nice to read all the comments and I was so happy people liked it. That feedback means a lot to me and I’d like to thank all DIJ fans for this.
Musically, what will be next for you?
I am preparing my own album, a film soundtrack sort-of music. Also I am in a band with my brother Koozie Johns called Folk Grinder. It’s ‘SEA SHANTY’N'ROCK’N'FOLK’N'ROLL’ all served up and delivered with a passion straight from the heart. You can check it out on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/folkgrinder.