Dead dance with same old passion
Dead dance with same old passion

Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard may now be regarded as one of the finest and most affecting singers in modern music but she recalls a time in the early 1980s when she and co-founder Brendan Perry seriously questioned if they could continue.

They had upped sticks and moved to London to record, releasing a series of haunting, almost medieval-sounding albums that garnered them plenty of critical praise but little money.

Their work also gained them a following of black-clad goths, a musical tag that was attached to the band for a long time but which Gerrard has a hard time understanding.

"The whole goth thing has always amazed me. I know it's because we had the word 'dead' in our name," Gerrard laughs.

"Brendan was very much interested in Joy Division but I wasn't. I was more interested in avant-garde music, anything Japanese. We really had very different musical paths in that sense. I found a lot of punk and post-punk music insensitive, but it was amazing how we got categorised into that kind of area."

Gerrard says the band made virtually no money for at least six years. It was a hard slog.

"I look at the old photographs of us and we were genuinely very fragile looking," Gerrard says.

"A lot of people thought we were deliberately trying to affect this gaunt sort of gothic look, but it was a really tough time back then.

"We went to a place having no money and you've got no idea if it's going to work. I often look back now and think 'How did we get through that?' But I also think, 'Look what we're left with; we have this wonderful legacy of work'".

By the early to mid-90s the band had shaken off the goth tag and moved into what could inadequately be described as a cross between ambient and world music.

Their coming visit for the Perth International Arts Festival is part of their first Australian tour in two decades and Gerrard admits to being anxious.

"It's really nerve-racking, I'll be really honest with you," she says. "We've been on a world tour now for nearly seven months but the pressure is so much higher here (in Australia). I don't know why; perhaps it's because suddenly there's all these people in the audience that you know."

Dead Can Dance's concert will mix work from their most recent album, Anastasis - their first since 1996's Spiritchaser - and some of their earlier material. Gerrard says audiences can expect something different from what they hear on the albums because creating the songs live inevitably conjures up a different and sometimes more intense ambience.

"There's nothing like the stage to really make you work a piece properly," she says.

"You have a completely different understanding of it when you're performing on stage. Taking a work from the recording studio to the stage has to affect the energy of the piece and the way it sounds."

Gerrard's vocals, and the musical compositions themselves, are influenced by everything from Gregorian chant and Gaelic folk to classical Arabic and Asian music.

She finds the demands of live performance elevating, not draining, and is still driven by the same youthful passion of those grim London days to create work that would be remembered.

"In the beginning, when we were driven so passionately to do this, it was because as a young person you think 'I want to do something really positive with my life'," she says.

"You want to change the world. You want to be the greatest artist, the greatest singer in the world. You have these amazing thoughts of grandiosity. Now we are in that situation where we have been allowed to reach a potential that we worked towards for so long."


The West Australian

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