Back in early 1984, when he and Lisa Gerrard released the band's self-titled first LP, Dead Can Dance, Brendan deemed it appropriate to use a wooden ritual mask from a tribe in New Guinea as the cover art. He saw it as the perfect visual representation of the shaman concept of creating life from an inanimate object through one's art. This is how Brendan and Lisa view their music's role in the greater scheme of things.
"That wooden mask, provided an interpretation for the term Dead Can Dance," explains Brendan. "Though is was once part of a living tree, it became an inanimate piece of wood. Then, only through the artistry of its creator could it once again come to life. By placing the mask on his face, the maker could take what was once 'dead' and restore life to it. It's interesting that this belief would crop up in many different societies.
Unfortunately, a lot of people missed the symbolism of what we are trying to convey, and simply assumed Dead Can Dance was some death-rock reference. On the contrary, our music is about giving life, not taking it." The music Dead Can Dance produces is indeed full of life and quite inspirational. From choir-like choruses to somber dirges, their music spans the centuries. Brendan and Lisa have trained themselves in many classical styles - Gregorian, medieval, chamber and baroque. They have also borrowed heavily from Celtic folk, Turkish, and Teutonic tonalities. Over the past ten years, this twosome has transcended time with such classic LPs as Spleen & Ideal ('85), Within the Realm of a Dying Sun ('87), The Serpent's Egg ('88) and Aion ('90), (all on 4AD records). They have taken up traditional instruments like dulcimers, mandolins, violins, and flutes to give their sound a uniquely authentic feel.
"Around the time we started recording for 'Within the Realm of a Dying Sun' in late '86," recalls Lisa, "we came to the realization that the standard band format of bass, guitar, and drums wouldn't be adequate to express our musical vision. We had been learning classical theory such as baroque structures, and were no longer interested in a strictly contemporary style of music. This required a whole new array of instrumentation backed up with synthesizers which could give us many additional sounds. By the time the next album rolled around [The Serpent's Egg], we were quite proficient in the classical troubadour trouvere."
Lisa herself, seems to come right out of the mysterious Middle Ages her wondrous music heralds. Often cloaked in flowing gowns and capes, she seems to float across the stage when performing live. Her pale, waxen skin and beautiful, classically trained voice give her an almost angelic, Raphaelesque elegance and aloofness. She seems almost unapproachable. Brendan, on the other hand, is folksy and down to earth. You'd think, by looking at him, that he was a simple shepherd in Ireland's green & pleasant farmlands. Which, by the way, isn't too far from the truth. He is presently living in an old converted stone church in Cavan County, Ireland. It is there that he tends a modest flock of sheep and some crops. It's also there that he wrote much of the material for the new LP, Into the Labyrinth. Undoubtably, the rustic surroundings provided the proper atmosphere for Dead Can Dance's continued journey through time and space. Lisa made several trips to the Cavan church to help record the album and add her own contributions to the collection of songs. She is presently a resident of Moondarra, Australia (not far from where she grew up) where she lives with her husband and young daughter. This news may come as a heartbreaking shock to many long-time Dead Can Dance fans who have come to regard Brendan and Lisa's love for each other as an integral part of the band's aura and appeal. Sadly, their romantic relationship fell apart shortly after the release of Aion in 1990. It seems that romantic love and a shared love for one's art doesn't always mix.
"We reached a point where we were together too much," says Lisa. "We worked, lived ate, and slept together. We could no longer separate out personal lives from our creative lives. So every little disagreement on a creative level became a problem on a personal level as well. Because our relationship now is based in true friendship and creative collaboration, I feel that our artistic output is that much stronger. With"Into the Labyrinth" we had so much more focus.We didn't burn out on each other. Now, it's the music itself that keeps us together, so it's the music that benefits."
The new album expands the colorful palette Brendan and Lisa draw from to create their elaborate tapestry of aural styles. The music is ever-growing, ever-evolving, while maintaining the trademark haunting Dead Can Dance sound. Also growing by leaps and bounds is the size of their audience. The recent U.S. tour was a complete sellout, and the album reached fairly significant heights on the Billboard charts - the first for this 4AD cult group. "We're extremely pleased with the response to this album," says Brendan. "I sincerely believe that because our music cuts across so many musical styles, it has attracted listeners of all types, young and old. I realize that retailers and the media like to categorize bands, and have been struggling to pigeon-hole us - from new age to gothic to classical , whatever. But we don't fit any one classification - and that comes from the natural evolution of our sound. What we're doing is so different from most contemporary groups, that people flock to it in order to get stimulated in an entirely different way. We affect a region of the band other bands don't. People who would ordinarily never listen to classical listen to us. It's an opportunity to expose them to something new." [Where have we heard that before in this issue?]
"I feel that people sense our sincerity, and the integrity of our music," adds Lisa. "We are our music. It's our life. It's the way we think, the way we feel, the way we communicate. Actually, I find it very therapeutic, and it's something I need in order to function as a human being. I want the people out there to know that this whole venture has been a labor of love, and we've loved sharing it with our audiences. For a long time I refused to do interviews because the press scoffed at and doubted our sincerity. I would pour my heart and soul into a piece, and they'd brush it off as being 'pretentious.' What on earth is music for anyway, but a way to transcend the everyday common world. It's through music that we pretend to be something else, somewhere else, and at some other point in time. Shouldn't entertainment offer some degree of escapism?"
And thanks to Brendan and Lisa, we can take these little metaphysical time trips just by giving their discs a spin. Put on "Tell Me About the Forest" and take a stroll through the enchanted woodlands of central Ireland. Put on "The Song of the Sibyl" and visit the castles and palaces of 16th-century France. Give "Radharc" a spin and watch the crescent moon rise over the dawn skies of the Ottoman Empire. Skip over to "The End of Words" and kneel at the altar of a 13th-century Gothic cathedral. Finally, put on "Anywhere Out of the World" and take a trip anywhere out of this world. Yes, Dead Can Dance is about pretense, and they make no apology, nor should they. For over ten years now, Lisa and Brendan (along with their assortment of backup musicians) have been creating music on their own terms, and it appears to be paying off. Brendan says Dead Can Dance will continue as long as he and Ms. Gerrard have the spirit moving them to do so.
"Dead Can Dance exists because we still have a lot of demons to exorcise. A few of them find their way into our music. We just finished a soundtrack to an Italian film, 'Baraka' - and believe it or not, I'm already writing material for the next LP. I guess it's true, you can never carve out enough masks."
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