endhits: On the cover of the first single from the new album (Peaceful Snow / Maverick Chamber 7”) we can see behind You the “1944 Warsaw Uprising” monument in winter, which evokes Your piece Europa Rising as well. The excellent sculpture (work of Wincenty Kućma and Jacek Budyn) shows the soldiers of Armia Krajowa, who fought against both Germans and Soviets. The sculpture was made in 1989, the year that was crucial for Europe, the fall of communist regime. You have strong feelings for Eastern European countries, you showed sympathy for Croatia, especially during the ex-Yugoslavian civil war. Why did You put that sculpture from Warsaw on the cover of the new single? What is important for You from the Central Eastern European cultural heritage?
Douglas P.: There are several reasons why I wanted to use that photo. The first was that I liked the contradictory nature of it; the Polish Home Army dressed in German uniforms, especially the Waffen-SS smocks! Of course, they took these off of captured or killed Germans during the uprising. I imagined more people would have immediately thrown their hands up in the air and started complaining about what ‘Boy Nasty’ was posing beside in the snow as it looks like giant statues of Nazis but that wasn’t the case. The site where the photo was taken was very surprisingly quickly recognised. This sort of spoilt some of the usual Death In June ‘fun’. For me, at least! Another thing was that the Andrzej Wajda film ‘Kanal’ about the 1944 Warsaw uprising is one of my favourites. When Death In June performed in Warsaw in late 2001 I was amazed that this huge memorial was there along with other statues of Home Army members dotted around other parts of the reconstructed city all dressed as Germans. I didn’t know about these statues. It was quite surreal in many ways and I found them intriguing, interesting and stimulating. I liked Warsaw in the snow and have fond memories of walking from our hotel as evening descended across a frozen, snow-covered field which was a short cut to the castle on top of a hill where we were performing. It had been used as a hospital during the war but was completely destroyed by the end. Fortunately, like most of the city, it had since been reconstructed and as I looked up at this foreboding site the silhouettes of hundreds and hundreds of Crows flew over the field and the castle. A ‘murder’ of Crows giving Death In June its blessing for the evening. A great memory!
endhits: Do You listen to music from Central Eastern Europe, Béla Bartók, for instance? Could the punk or the new wave from this region be heard behind the iron curtain?
Douglas P.: No, outside of the folk groups I hear in restaurants when I’m in Croatia or at Croatian festas I attend in Australia I don’t really listen to much else from this part of Europa. I do have some Romanian/Hungarian music and some Georgian recordings I’ve picked up in my travels from years ago but I can’t say I listen to them often. I think I have to be in a really wistful mood for that.
And as regards the local Punk/New Wave scenes I’ve no idea what the local Punk/New Wave scenes were really like in these countries during the time of Communism. When I first visited what was then Yugoslavia but, in reality Slovenia/Croatia/Bosnia, in 1982 I saw no evidence of any such scene. Like East Berlin in 1980 all I recall was how militarized everything and everyone was. Everyone young seemed to be in military uniform preparing for war with the capitalist West and didn’t feel easy talking to Westerners. Not because they didn’t want to but more because they would get into trouble if they were seen or reported for doing so. That happened a few times when we’d stop and ask directions etc. If the radio signal wasn’t being jammed I think listening to Punk/New Wave could be heard probably on the BBC World Service when these parts of Europa were behind the Iron Curtain but it wasn’t easy for people. It’s not something that was ever really discussed but certainly I was having direct contact with people in Russia and what was then ‘Yugoslavia’ by the late 1980s onwards prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the wars. It was a curious development and obviously the sign of another death knell for communism right across Europa. Although I must admit I couldn’t see that happening at the time. I had been in both West and East Berlin only a few weeks before the collapse of the Wall, people were still being shot dead for trying to escape from the East and there was no sign that Communism was on its last legs. The guns, minefields and watch towers were very much still in place.
endhits: You’ve worked with a Slovakian artist for the first time, but this happened by chance, somebody had posted Miro Snejdr’s piano interpretations of your previous album The Rule of Thirds (2008) on the Yahoo group of DIJ. Thanks to this, the dominant instrument on the new album is piano. As far as I know, You used small piano parts only on The Wall of Sacrifice (1989). How did Miro Snejdr’s piano affect the writing process of the lyrics and Your singing style on Peaceful Snow?
Douglas P.: “Chance”, Destiny, Fate who knows what to call our collaboration? Certainly I felt that if there was ever going to be another Death In June album after 2008’s “The Rule Of Thirds” I didn’t feel that it would be ‘correct’ that I would be playing on it. As strange as I know that sounds! I wanted to further investigate the musical stripping back and deconstruction of the group and which I thought had culminated with “TROT”. Personally I thought I’d probably write a new album then give it to someone else to record like Sweden’s Down In June. I didn’t see that something else, a Slovakian alternative, was waiting for me on the internet. But, Miro’s YouTube versions of some of my songs so impressed me I decided to try and make contact and with the help of some DIJ fans from the Death In June Yahoo group we eventually did start to have direct communication. Since 1985 I’ve actually played piano parts/motifs on a variety of Death In June songs such as “Break The Black Ice” for instance. They’re my distinctive ‘Euro-kitsch’ keyboard lines! Piano isn’t a new instrument to Death In June although on this new album it certainly is the only instrument and one played by someone not even in the group, not even in the same studio as me at the same time and a much better player than I’ll ever be in this Lifetime. Listening to Miro’s original instrumental interpretations of some of DIJ’s classic songs that have gone on to be the “Lounge Corps” album available with the CD/download version of the “Peaceful Snow” album definitely helped inspire the birth of the words for 2 tracks (“Peaceful Snow” and “The Maverick Chamber”) that became the 7” single. His playing sent me into a reverie where I pondered the possible meaning of his name and I could re-find my personal creative Nausea. But his piano playing didn’t affect how I wrote the rest of the album proper, musically or lyrically. I didn’t take that into account at all as I knew he would be following my original guitar/vocal demos very closely but giving them his ‘Magick Piano’ touch. I then re-did my vocals to these new interpretations keeping to my own strict guidelines of not adding any more instrumentation. Of keeping to the ‘less is more’ rule I had imposed for this project.
endhits: The title of the new album is Peaceful Snow. Snow and winter are often-used DIJ symbols. What are Your feelings regarding those symbols today and what were they in the past?
Douglas P.: I’m not sure if they’re purely ‘symbols’ or a reality I feel comfortable in. I’m comfortable and at home in the snow and Winter. It was always my favourite time in the Northern Hemisphere. A different atmosphere descends the land. It’s one I miss and this year, upon completion of the album in celebration we drove East for 12 hours to the snow fields in Australia, where my partner and I rented a log cabin a mile high up a mountain and gloried in the blizzards, the dangerous icy roads, the mitre deep snow tracks that only a passing animal like a deer or a wombat had previously walked on. We spent hours walking these and doing Death In June photo shoots in these perfect and Peaceful Snow surroundings. In the afternoons I would play the guitar out on the cabin’s balcony overlooking these beautiful snow covered eucalyptus forests until it became too cold and the evening’s fresh snow fall began to descend. Then I’d retreat inside for some vegetarian treats that Josef K from the German group Von Thronstahl had sent me in payment for his group doing a cover version of “Runes And Men”. A more civilized and comradely way of dealing with things like that I cannot think of. This food parcel was so large we’re still eating its delicious contents 3 months later!
endhits: In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes: “Under conditions of peace the warlike man attacks himself.” Your new lyrics are retro- and introspective. There are many songs which can be interpreted as reflections on passing (Life Under Siege, Peaceful Snow, Murder Made History, Cemetery Cove, My Company of Corpses etc.). Is poetry able to accommodate fear of death? Do you fear death?
Douglas P.: The conditions of true peace are so rare that any “warlike man” willing to stand up for what he believes in and pay the price of existence will never find time to attack himself. Unless, of course, he’s been driven mad by the eternal struggle itself like Nietzsche had been? The Gods have big ears and big eyes so to pontificate too smugly about that which is inevitable for all living creatures on this planet is not something I want to do. It tempts providence. It invites problems. Suffice to say, last year, shortly before the Nausea descended that created “Peaceful Snow”, I lost another very close friend and comrade of myself and Death In June back in England. 2009 was a sad, angst-ridden and pensive year. And, Life being Life there are more to come. Let’s leave it at that. Best to watch and listen to the Peaceful Snow.
The interview was conducted by Roland Orcsik.