As Dead Can Dance, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard sold more than 2 million records worldwide. To this day, they remain 4AD's biggest selling act.
On the heels of a sold out Dead Can Dance world tour that took the duo to venues such as the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and Le Palais des Congrès in Paris, Brendan Perry is set to release a new solo album entitled Ark.
Ark is more reminiscent of the music Brendan has written for Dead Can Dance than his previous solo work, Eye Of The Hunter, and it will be made available to the general public in early 2010.
Brendan Michael Perry was born in Whitechapel, London on June 30th 1959 to Anne O’Reilly, from Cavan, Ireland and Michael Perry, from London, England. The eldest of three children, he was raised in a working class suburb in east London.
“One of my earliest musical recollections was of a music box.The kind that young girls would store their jewellery in. It had a small ballerina that turned with the mechanism as it played. The hypnotic spell of the musical round has stayed with me ever since. Like the sound of the ice cream van that used to come to our street every Sunday afternoon, the music box has become fixed in my subconscious and often manifests itself in my music in some shape or form.”
“Every morning at primary school we would sing religious hymns at assembly. It was basically a form of religious conversion through mantra but something to which I looked forward to. Despite the stuffy Victorian atmosphere and the Christian dogma, many of the hymns had beautiful melodies...”
Apart from ‘Three Blind Mice’ performed on a school recorder and a short spell in the school choir he received no formal musical education and by the age of fourteen began to teach himself to play the guitar. He is to this day essentially still a self-taught musician preferring to work with a hands on approach towards music, employing his ear in preference to a written score.
In 1973 his parents decided to emigrate, taking him and his younger brother and sister to Auckland, New Zealand where he attended a catholic Marist missionary brothers school in Ponsonby. It was here that Brendan received his real musical education despite the fact that music was not officially part of St. Pauls curriculum.
“I remember playing acoustic guitar with the Maori and Polynesian fellas at school. We would get together during breaks from lessons to share riffs that we had learnt from records. Sometimes there would be a circle of up to eight guys jamming away to Hey Joe or some other standard and played with that distinctive ‘jingajik a jingajik’ Polynesian rhythm. Up until then I was what you would describe as a ‘bedroom guitarist’, that is someone whose sole audience usually comprised four walls and a bed. So the school sessions were a great source of inspiration for me both on a musical and social level.”
“I auditioned for a couple of local bands when I was about 17 but was rejected because my technique was just not up to scratch. You have to remember this was the era of the 20-minute guitar solo where self-indulgence had become the order of the day and many potential artists simply did not make it beyond their bedroom doors because they felt technically inadequate in such a musical climate. Rock music had somehow become over-complicated and slick by the middle of the seventies.”
“I had practically given up any aspiration of ever becoming a musician when I met John and Des from The Scavengers at an after-gig party. They told me that they were looking for a new bass player to replace Marlon Hart and although I had never played bass before I knew they were not exactly looking for the next Jaco Pastorius so I agreed to give it a shot. Without even having an audition I found myself performing, well, miming actually, on New Zealand’s ‘Top of the Pops’, called ‘Ready to Roll,’ to two songs the band had laid down the week before. The following week I watched the broadcast of the show with my family and without actually ever having played a note on a bass guitar found myself in the rather odd situation of being a minor musical celebrity!”
The Scavengers together with The Suburban Reptiles were Auckland’s original punk bands and soon became the focus for a burgeoning punk scene.The Scavengers even going on to start their own club Zwines which had been previously converted from the original 19th century Auckland Police Barracks and which eventually became a haven for all the disparate musical entities in Auckland at the time.
“After the media had chosen to cover the more unsavoury excesses of the punk scene it became very difficult for any bands associated with ‘New Wave’ music to find venues to play. We had been banned from all of Phil Warren’s clubs after a fracas in Wellington and then someone was thrown from a footbridge and paralysed outside our Auckland university concert which effectively closed most venue doors on us. We eventually started up our own club with the financial backing of two dodgy businessmen which at least gave us our own weekly residency but the scene was quickly turning very ugly. Gangs were starting to earmark punks for regular beatings and heroin had become the fashionable drug of the moment consigning friends to prison or premature graves so it became obvious to me that it was time to quit Auckland or drown in the negativity of it all.”
After relocating to Melbourne, Australia in 1978, The Scavengers decided to make a clean break with their controversial past, changing their name to The Marching Girls.
They signed a new management deal with ex-Split Enz guitarist Wally Wilkinson and Producer Dave Russell. However, the music became increasingly more pop-orientated leaving Brendan unhappy with the direction that the band had taken and by 1980 he decided it was time to leave in order to pursue his own musical vision.
“I began to teach myself percussion and began to experiment with synthesis, tape loops and electric guitar. I was searching for a medium that would help me to convey the inner voice of my imagination, to give it shape and form. Listening to post-punk bands such as Public Image and Joy Division inspired me to create music that was shaped by an unfolding sense of psychological drama wherein sound is used to create tangible emotions and atmospheres. I wanted to paint soundscapes, to sculpt in sound and create imaginary soundtracks for films that had never been made.”
“Melbourne had a very interesting music scene at the time which centred around The Little Bands scene. These groups were made up largely of people who had no background or formal training in music but who were prepared to play instruments in an experimental and somewhat unconventional fashion often producing unique and exciting results. The sets were very short but there would be six or seven bands on the bill often sharing the same instruments in a kind of musical collective.”
An attempt to capture the mood of this period was made by director Richard Lowenstein in his film “Dogs in Space” which features the Marching Girls song “True Love” on the soundtrack.
“It was at one of these sonic happenings that I met Lisa who was performing with a band called Junk Logic at the time. It never occured to me that we would one day collaborate musically together because at the time I thought her music was too avant garde. I particularly remember one song that she sang about finding a man in the park and asking her mother if she could bring him home to keep in her wardrobe as she attacked this chinese dulcimer with two bamboo sticks.”
Brendan Perry formed Dead Can Dance in late 1981 together with Simon Monroe (of The Marching Girls) on drums and Paul Erikson on bass guitar. Lisa Gerrard was to complement the line up a few months later performing electronic percussion and backing vocals. After a handful of live appearances resulting in a solitary lukewarm review in a Melbourne music paper, Perry decided that there was no future for Dead Can Dance in Australia. After performing a farewell concert at The Crystal Ballroom, Melbourne on April 2nd 1982 they left for London without drummer Simon Monroe.
“We had no choice but to relocate to Europe in order for us to progress as artists. The Australian music scene was to all intents and purposes a middle of the road FM hard rock scene and the alternative music scene that did exist at that time was far too small to be able to support groups that had any ambitions of securing a record deal.”
Once in London they set about the task of finding a new drummer and eventually secured the services of Peter Ulrich who just happened to live in the next block of flats to Lisa and Brendan on the Isle of Dogs in East London. A four-track demo including ‘The Fatal Impact’ and ‘Frontier’ was sent to several independent companies in the belief that they would retain more artistic control than if signed to a major label. and ultimately have a greater say in the management of their affairs. To this day Brendan is still self managed determined to maintain his independence in an increasingly corporate oriented music industry.
Ivo Watts-Russell of 4AD responded well to their music and after meeting with Brendan and Lisa arranged some live dates for Dead Can Dance with the then newly signed Xmal Deutschland and Gene Loves Jezebel in June of 1983 in order to see how well they would perform in front of a live audience. Ivo was duly impressed and immediately offered them a one album deal which was the standard for 4AD acts at that time, and in due course they were booked into Blackwing Studios to record their eponymous album ‘Dead Can Dance’.
Dead Can Dance released a total of nine albums including a live concert video album over a period of sixteen years to considerable public and critical acclaim. It was whilst writing what was to become their ninth studio album that relations between Brendan and Lisa began to sour and it was mutually decided to end their musical collaboration as Dead Can Dance in order to pursue separate solo careers.
In 1997 Brendan scored the music for the film ‘Sunset Heights’ by the director Colm Villa. Set in the near future in Derry City, Ireland, it tells the story of two rival gangs and the people who become caught up in the ensuing violence.
Although Eye Of The Hunter was released in October 1999, Brendan began work on the album while Dead Can Dance were still active – the idea was inspired, in part, by his incredible solo performance during 4AD’s 13 Year Itch celebrations at the ICA in 1993. Boasting lush production sensibilities and a boundary-defying spirit, Eye Of The Hunter offered an immediate familiarity to fans of Dead Can Dance’s unique sound world. But there were difference in the manner the music was made, and also how it was presented.
Though Dead Can Dance employed vocals, the duo’s goal was to express emotions beyond language. Their recording process was also open to improvisation, Brendan and Lisa letting the music lead them to its destination. In contrast, Eye Of The Hunter’s vignettes were written – crafted – using a more traditional singer / songwriter process. The music, centered around Brendan’s thoughtful and restrained guitar playing, provided a backdrop for his deep, gentle vocals. And while much of Dead Can Dance’s work eluded categorisation, Brendan embraced it, making a folk record in the truest sense: these songs – each one its own story but each also contributing to an overall theme – were rooted in his life experiences.
Eye Of The Hunter was recorded at Brendan’s Quivvy Church studio in County Cavan in Ireland. It’s a relatively isolated setting – one which allows its owner space to pursue his interests, which range from music to astronomy and archery to arboriculture.
Dead Can Dance’s music often suggested a search for meaning and sense in the world, and Brendan has taken up a similar journey. But instead of looking at the external world, he has decided to explore the inner world of his own private universe.
“People have multiple personalities which are always evolving,” he says. “This record deals with the different facets of my own personality.”
Eye Of The Hunter’s deeply personal songs explore the theme of loss – both of life and love – but they are not bereft of hope. ‘Saturday’s Child,’ which opens the record, poignantly describes the changing relationship between Brendan and his father after the latter suffered two debilitating strokes. ‘Sloth’ deals with time lost to anger, addiction and inertia, preventing us from achieving our true potential. ‘The Captive Heart’ deals with the attempt to keep love afloat over a long distance. A cover of Tim Buckley’s ‘Must Have Been Blind’ features one of the record’s more extravagant arrangements, with layers of pedal steel supporting Brendan’s soaring vocals. An emotional centrepiece is the haunting, autobiographical ‘Voyage of Bran’. Brendan Perry toured Europe and North America in support of Eye Of The Hunter.
Brendan’s passion for percussion began to take root in the latter part of the 90’s in the form of private workshops teaching Afrocuban and West African Manding percussion styles at Quivvy Church to international visitors. This in turn culminated in the creation of a community based Samba School, The Salamanders, which he set up to encourage local interest and involvement in Afro-Brasilian and Batucada rhythmic traditions.
In April 2003 he oversaw the creation of an international Samba festival in Belturbet, combining Capoeira and dance workshops, musical performance and cinema which helped to cement Belturbet’s reputation as a centre for the arts in County Cavan.
In 2005 Brendan and Lisa briefly reformed Dead Can Dance for a final farewell world tour, headlining at The Hollywood Bowl and Radio City, New York, accompanied by a 40 piece chamber orchestra conducted by Jeff Rona. Two new songs were written especially for this tour, ‘Babylon’ an indictment of the US political war machine and ‘Crescent’ a life affirming ode to nature and the human spirit. Studio versions of these songs appear on Brendan’s new album Ark which is due to be released next february 2010.