Any understanding of this ideal must surely lie within the band's name, "bringing to life" intuitive musical structures in the darkness of unexplored territory. As Lisa's singing delineates an intensely personal sphere of emotional confusion, Brendan's lyrics and smooth baritone regard the individual's plight from an equally profound, but analytical perspective. Dead Can Dance function within a plane where these two styles melt, merge, and yet always provoke the musical textures they are framed against. The relationship between voice and music - and its fruition in Spleen and Ideal - is finally what gives their work its clarity, depth, and potency of a rare artistic flowering.
More recently, they have begun to expand into other areas, including pieces for a 30-piece orchestra (which were performed in a Victorian church in Vauxhall, London), touring, and working on the forthcoming 4AD music/film compilation Music For Films. Currently assembling a home studio, Dead Can Dance intend to tour once the new album is released, but America remains an unlikely because of the sheer expense involved. A new album is to be released shortly, which will probably include the orchestal material. In their tower block flat in the Isle of Dogs, at the center of London's new industrial heartland, Lisa and Brendan offered a sense of the band's persona.
Option: Can you cite musical influences in Australia that may have had a long-term impact on your music?
Brendan: Musically, I don't think there was much to influence us in Australia. There was a movement that was very strong In 1978 called The Little Bands movement. Lots of people used to come together on one evening, and they would share instruments and improvise, and go home and rehearse. A lot of them didn't come from a musical background.
Lisa: That's one of our main inspirations. So much wonderful music produced by people who couldn't even play. People without capabilities that were communicating to each other within a confined space.
Brendan: There's just been a film made about it in Australia, American-financed. It's called Dogs in Space. They're trying to reconstitute the feeling of that time, which is totally ridiculous, because if they had made this film then, it would have totally opposed what they were about. It's going to look contrived, when they were hellbent on spontaneity and improvisation.
Option: Why did you call the band Dead Can Dance?
Brendan: I wanted a title that would be descriptive of the creative act itself. Looking at the process of creativity, it was bringing things to life. I looked at it more in terms of the plastic arts, which was a mistake. Because it wasn't as general and all encompassing as I intended the title to be. In terms of the plastic arts, I thought it worked well, because of the deadness, the inanimacy of objects I'd used, paints, materials, to reconstitute some presence of life.
Option: The title doesn't seem to have worked in your favor.
Brendan: Most people, and journalists are as much to blame as anyone else, judge the book by its cover, and without going any further into the music and merely looking at the title which the group collectively go under, the group has been confined to obscurity for a long time. We found it very hard to get work, to get airplay.
Option: How do you feel about your first album, in terms of your overall development?
Brendan: Taking the album as itself, we were really disappointed with it. In terms of the potential of the music, the recording process is trying to, in material terms, come as close to the potential of the ideal that you arrive at in the creative visionary process. And it fell far short of our expectations for a number of reasons. Our inexperience in the studio. We were determined on producing it ourselves, because we felt we were in the best position to produce our music, having created it. And also we felt it would be a very educational process in itself. We didn't get on with the engineer at all. So it was a strained environment within which to work. And I don't think the studio was very good for our purposes; it was basically built out of the success of the early Mute groups, Yazoo and Depeche Mode. It was right for them because all their music was practically online, it was all synthesizer. Our music demanded a natural, live acoustical sound because we were using predominantly acoustical instruments, and we were rhythm oriented.
I think in terms of breaking musical ground, there's a distinction between the music and the lyrical aspect. I tend to make that distinction even though it should be part and parcel of the same entity. I think there was a greater maturity lyrically than there was musically. My personal favorites are probably "Ocean," and "Fatal Impact," which predates the album. We actually recorded that on a 4-track in Melbourne in 1978. We mixed it for that album.
Option: There is an essential male/female duality expressed in your working partnership and respective musical approaches. How do you think the relationship works?
Lisa: With great pain and anxiety.
Brendan: I suppose it's true that there's definitely that aspect, even in a personal relationship. Lisa tends to work from a very emotive angle, whilst I tend to plan and coordinate more, which is relevant to our natures.
Option: The EP Garden of Arcane Delights seems almost a cathartic release from the strictures of the first album, delving into less rigid, more diverse melodic and rhythmic pieces.
Brendan: There was a progression In terms of working with instruments. Musically it was strange as we had never envisaged working within this format. We had rehearsed and played live concerts to a point where we had this extra surplus material. So we chose six pieces for that which we thought would fit together as thematically as possible, although I think it is rather fragmented. There isn't a great thematic unity between the pieces. They're quite diverse in a lot of ways.
Option: It's a little over a year since you released your last album, Spleen and Ideal. What are impressions of it now?
Brendan: In terms of the concept, because it was written over 14 months, the way we tend to write isn't in terms of having a direct tangible concept of what's going to be done and what the format is. Generally we work on intuitive impulse in a lot of ways. From the musical pool if you like, at the end of the year, we collectively chose pieces which we thought would work together on an album, and complement one another. It was more on unconscious conceptualization which is hard to really rationalize, talk about or reason, when you haven't organized the framework. You tend to organize the environment within which it takes place, and what comes through creatively happens to be in some way intrinsically linked to one another. I'd see the album as very much two distinct sides. There are the pieces that are very much jazz-oriented/influenced and rhythm influenced, and the other pieces that tend to sort of link historically further back into baroque and medieval periods of music. They are just musical frameworks. The actual lyrical content is obviously personal to ourselves and is what makes contemporary sense of our music.
Option: The album title (taken from the poetry of the 181h century Romantic, Charles Baudelaire) is interesting, in the way it evokes the conflict between sinning flesh (spleen) and the struggle to realize the ideal.
Brendan: By nature of the lyrical sense, the tone, there was a two-faceted aspect of a piece of music that celebrated the ideal, and also songs about the pain of relationships, and their danger and pitfalls. I felt that interlinked with the cover design, the symbolism and the overall feeling of these two aspects, it was right, because Spleen and Ideal suggests a kind of mechanism, an interplay in human relationships and the world. Spleen being that aspect which robs the ideal of its efficacy and power to achieve that.
Option: Can you describe the creative processes in terms of your music, Lisa?
Lisa: The things that I do, they appear, they fall together. I don't really...understand them, and it's an incredibly pained process. I always think of my voice in terms of these strings which stretch and make a sound. The more we work the less I know, and the harder it gets. You have to decide ultimately which are the ones that I can look down into and see no end, see no temptation, they're infinite. And they're so few. I've written one piece of music this year, and it isn't finished. One! I can't believe that out of such ugliness comes something quite beautiful.
Brendan: It's like roses growing out of horse manure.
Lisa: It does. We can create beautiful things if we work very, very hard. It's not just a matter of working. We're so far from perfection. One has to have great conviction and great belief in their ideal and not fall prey to temptation. We are weak and we are aware of our weaknesses.
Option: But the creative processes within which you work...
Lisa: I don't even know what the creative process is.
Brendan: It's not understanding it herself.
Lisa: How do you identify with it? I don't have any idea and it's terrifying. I do things and they fall into place. But each one might be the last piece I ever write. But I can't work any other way. I can't control them at all. But Brendan can. I admire him so much.
Brendan: It's that time of year though. Our new album has taken a little longer than the last one. We've had a lot of doubts about this prior to committing ourselves to vinyl, which we will do next month or so.
Option: You've both written pieces for a concert in St. Peter's church in Vauxhall, London.
Lisa: It took so long. I felt that this piece of music, I don't care if it takes me 30 years to finish, I want to describe this. It's called "Posephone." A friend of mine told me that if you write a piece called "Posephone", you have to go to hell and back. I was so determined to finish this piece of music and create a garden with it. But it was rushed, and it wasn't finished. We want to do something with music and really take it on, take it out of this rock sort of concept.
Option: And your involvement with the 4AD compilation?
Brendan: We weren't actually involved in the filming, which was the main disappointment really. We were confined to the musical aspect. There is a ten-minute piece of music called "The Protagonist." And the other piece is another very early demo which Lisa and I did before Dead Can Dance. An experimental, improvised piece called "Frontier," which appeared on the first album in a much more contrived, ordered form. The first version was just me taking three kerosene cans and a couple of chair legs, thrash some sticks around and putting together a rhythm track. We finally tracked down that tape and Lisa appears in the film miming to it. Seems ridiculous. Totally out of context with the mood, the feeling generated around the piece of music, and then to document it in such a fashion. But it's certainly an area I'd like to work into, soundtracks for films, even making films. We've had a few offers for doing soundtracks very much on the basis of Spleen and Ideal, which has prompted people to approach us.
Option: How far do you feel you've advanced from when you first started recording in England?
Lisa: We're virtually at the same point now, except that we've released three records and we have a working environment. Our music and our ideas have progressed, but materialistically it is the same. Which is fine. We're still in the unfortunate predicament that we can't rehearse live with people without paying massive money for rehearsal studios. And that is a great loss, because the most inspiring thing about playing music when we started was playing with people and communicating on a completely different level. And we've lost that.
Brendan: In terms of the power we can exert on the way we're seen and our music getting across to people, our record sales have increased, and that entails greater distribution. Also we can go on tour and play in the kind of format we want to, and take 11 people on tour. Not make any money, but at least we can put across to people in a live context the way we envisage our music should sound.
Lisa: Nothing's changed really.
Brendan: You're wrong. The whole object of making music is getting around across to people, and we're in a position of getting across to more people than ever before.