Interview with Brendan Perry
24th October 2018
By Sabrina Selkis and Dimitris Karagkounis
“Dionysus” is a 2018 studio album by the British-Australian band Dead Can Dance, officially released on 2nd November 2018 by PIAS Recordings, 6 years after the group’s last album “Anastasis”. Dead Can Dance’s latest album brings to the fore the rites and rituals that today continue to be informed by the Greek god. It is also an album with seven movements representing different facets of the Dionysus myth and his cult.
Here is what Brendan Perry is revealing to us about the Dead Can Dance’s latest creation.
Hello Brendan, I can’t believe I am talking to you, thank you so much for your time.
Hello Sabrina, ah you’re welcome.
I apologise in advance for my French accent but I guess you are used to it after leaving in France for a bit.
Yes, I am very used to it, “Mon Français est mauvais, [laughs], après 3 ans en France, en Bretagne, a Saint Malos”!
(Translation: My French is bad, after 3 years in France, in Brittany at Saint-Malos).
That’s not bad at all, well done! I would like to start by saying that when I listen to Dead Can Dance, I feel some kind of supernatural energy, trancelike, it puts me in this weird state, meditation-like, and I can’t listen to your music as much as I would like to! I am wondering how you do that?
Oh…That’s a million dollar question! First of all, for me making music, creating music, after so long is kind of becomes more difficult in the sense I only kind of make music that actually moves me. It’s very difficult to achieve like you have to almost go out of yourself in order to get some objectivity in what you are doing. Internally it’s an intensity, it’s about resonance, suddenly everything resonates in a way which moves you, you know, which draws an emotion, feeling. It is intense and has to be in order to move me and feel like it is something valid, and should be shared.
It’s in the belief that people will equally or have a similar kind of experience. The artistry really comes into play when you have to take that internal world and externalise it into a physical medium that you can then share. Performing on the instruments, recording them and producing them in such a way that does justice to that internalised emotion world.
I remember watching an old interview where you mentioned this. In the case of this new album “Dionysus”, what emotions were you trying to externalise? What was different from the other albums?
Hum…Eventually, the way I came to Dionysus was through an intellectual route, which is kind of strange because Dionysus is really about primal, non-intellectual energies, a primal primitive state of being in your mind. The whole idea is achieving ecstasies through various rituals, rhythms, dance and wine, a stronger kind of psychoactive drugs. It’s all connected with being out of your mind, not in an insane way. Not having your ego override your sublimated state of being, not being too self-aware of what you are doing, and that is what trance gives you, the root to ecstasy. In order to feel one with the world or with the energy of a group of people around you, these Dionysians have always done rites of passage collectively, be it in old Greek theatres or like today in raves.
I was actually picturing a rave as you were talking…
Yes, it’s nothing new, it has been done since the dawn of time.
And in regard to Dead Can Dance’s new album?
The way I came to this was after reading “The Birth Of Tragedy: Out Of The Spirit Of Music” by Nietzsche, which is essentially a book about early Greek tragedy in theatre and the contemporary music of this time and how the Dionysians and Apollonians are part of this creation of Greek theatre and music. That sets me up on a journey where I wanted to learn more about Dionysus, from an intellectual approach. The challenge was to make things primal and earthy, I used a lot of rhythms, the voices take more the form of a chant. Dancing your way to trance is free so rhythms were important.
It sounds intense?
Yes and no, not really…it took one and a half year of learning arrangements and sorts. A bit like tech and house music I suppose, we arrange things in a very ordered way, before letting more improvised things to happen within this arrangement. It represents both dual aspects of human beings, the primal sublimated dreamlike state and on the other side, this complete rationality and organisation of the Apollonian side. So when you combine the two it is intense… [laughs]
During my researches on Dionysus, I came across the notion of ritual madness. I felt that was describing perfectly this new album…
Madness is too strong of a word, I think when the Christians tried to impose their beliefs onto the Dionysus cults used a lot of propaganda against them. This ritual madness talks about ecstasy but the Christians replaced it with a more intellectual way, in the mind. Ecstasy means to be able to stand outside of oneself, to remove yourself to somewhere else so you can see things from a different perception. They did that through ritual dancing with order and repetition, a sequential order. It can’t be totally free form otherwise it doesn’t work. The real way to go through free form is through psychotropic roots like LSD, so this ritual madness needs to be held out of one’s mind so you can merge with your surroundings you know.
Is it real freedom? Absolute freedom?
Yes, and it’s a strange one because it’s only temporary. You can’t sustain it, it’s like getting a glimpse into another world, which is fantastic and amazing but you can’t stay there too long, you can’t repeat it because obviously you gonna do yourself damage. So yes, this ritual madness, in quotes [laughs] is very central to the whole passage of rites.
So, would you say your new release is a healthy alternative to taking lots of psychotropic drugs to get to a different dimension through listening to music, which is so powerful…
Yes and the way I arranged this album was from a cinema perspective, into movements and acts, to be listened from beginning to end without interruption, like a journey. Which is a big ask in today’s culture of limited attention span. The idea being that you as a listener, you immerse yourself into it, with cinematic images to go with it, if you want to go that route. The songs are meant to be emotional, you have to immerse yourself in it and you obviously have because you did let yourself go with it. And that is precisely all I can hope to achieve really.
You were just talking about the attention span, and that leads me to ask about vinyl. As you noticed too, it was surprising to see a resurgence of them…I feel it brought back some kind of music ritual, where you have to sit and focus on nothing else, no screens, nothing. With your new album on vinyl, it will be quite an intense experience, I hope people will put aside that time to fully immerse themselves into it.
It’s interesting you mention that, because the arrangement of Dionysus has been made to fit on vinyl, my media of choice, that is why there are two acts, side A and side B. It’s great to see vinyl coming back, it’s wonderful. It’s much better than cd on so many levels. And like you say, there is a lovely ritual attached to it. Unfortunately, my bank balance has gone down quite a bit, because I have become obsessed with vinyl again!
Can I ask which ones you bought?
Oh, hum…. The reissues of Lou Reed “Transformer” and “Berlin” have been superb pressings, I am hearing things I have never heard before. The things I bought were to fill in the gaps in my collection, and they’re usually from the past, Krautrock and what have you. More recently, Anna Calvi has really picked my interest. Her last album “Hunter” is really good. Or better still, her live at the Trianon in Paris is fantastic. I tell you, get a bottle of wine and sit down, I guarantee you would love it!
Thank you, I’ll definitely do that. By the way, would you mind a couple of questions from a Greek native, Dimitris, who is seating next to me and has been very interested in researching about your new album or are you short with time?
No, no please, I am always happy to speak to a Greek person [laughs]
Hello, Brendan, thank you so much. I am a long life fan of Dead Can Dance since the beginning of the 90s, and now you are going through a Greek era, especially you started with “Anastasis”, which means resurrection, after going separate ways at the late 90s…
Absolutely yes that is a good point.
So now with “Dionysus” you’re expanding the Greek influence, especially on your last tour that you were playing a Greek Rempetiko cover from Rosa Eskenazi (Song: Kosmokrator) and most of the tour you were playing the bouzouki (Greek instrument)..
On Dionysus, we are using adorkas, but it’s more Balkan black sea than the mainland Greece or islands. For the live shows, we want to do another greek song, but we already did “Fovamai mi se haso”…I absolutely adore Rempetiko, because of its oriental influences.
Do you think now, being in your second phase as a band, a living organism that explores artistry, is the excitement the same or bigger than at the beginning?
Yay, it’s still exciting for me, the process of making the album is as rewarding as the finished product. Albums originate from a passionate interest in one form of music or tradition or culture, that’s how they’re born. The whole process is, wow, so satisfying, I am a curious soul by nature, I like to find out as much as possible about things that turn me on you know. I still have that passion and curiosity so it would be like that until it ends.
Alright, that was my two questions, it was very nice talking to you and I am looking forward to seeing you play in London next year.
Thank you too.
Oh, you’re spoiling my surprise question!
Ok so, how are you feeling about touring again, and all that comes with it?
Great great. I have been doing indoors kind of interest with the album for almost two years now. All next year is about touring and I will with my solo album as well. We will hopefully continue the Dead Can Dance tour into 2020 and travel the rest of the world. It’s going to be great, I prefer to travel, be on the road, meeting new people and exploring new parts of the globe.
Thank you very much for your time, I have learned a lot by researching for this album but I still don’t know what Bouzouki is, so I will look it up!
Just call it a Mpahalo (translation: a messy ordeal) and that will piss him off! [laughs]