"It's a bit like childbirth, actually," Dead Can Dance vocalist Lisa Gerrard muses with a laugh, ruminating on her ethereal-goth-pop band's recent, unlikely reunion after a long, enigmatic, oft-thorny history. "When you're going through it, it's quite painful. But afterwards, when you think about having the beautiful baby in your arms, you don't remember the pain."
Taking a break from rehearsals, Gerrard is relaxing in her Seattle hotel suite just a few days before the core duo's eight-piece touring ensemble will launch its first string of US dates in almost a decade. The reunion is nearly nine months old already -- Dead Can Dance completed a hugely successful spring tour of Europe, where its popularity has always been the greatest -- but as the elegant Australian-born singer stresses a few times in the course of a half-hour conversation, she's still a bit surprised it's happening at all. "I honestly never thought we'd do shows as Dead Can Dance again," she admits. "I was quite sure we wouldn't. Absolutely sure, actually."
This skepticism, at least until the beginning of this year, was rooted in the breakdown of her working relationship with the band's other principal member, singer and multi-instrumentalist Brendan Perry. For a dozen years following the band's 1981 inception, the duo was both harmonious and prolific, releasing myriad albums and EPs on England's 4AD label that documented an evolution from heavily Joy Division-influenced post-punk (not unlike labelmates Cocteau Twins' early efforts) to the exceptionally ornate and dramatic Renaissance Faire world-music style for which they're primarily remembered and cherished by a rabidly devout fanbase.
At its best -- as on 1988's The Serpent's Egg, 1990's Aion, and 1993's Into the Labyrinth, albums the band is heavily drawing from on this tour -- Dead Can Dance was wholly mesmerizing. Percussion throbbed tribally, like drum circles under Serengeti skies, and haunting synths mingled with orchestral strings and brass tempered by exotic, archaic instruments straight from a Byzantine temple or Balkan bazaar. The vocals were as riveting as they were divergent: Gerrard's liturgical chanting and operatic swoops through clouds of dead and dying languages, and Perry's more earthbound, folkloric, sepulchral croon, like Jim Morrison in a gilded tunic. Put together, the effect was simultaneously gorgeous and more than a little chilling, like engaging in a twilight archaeological dig along the Nile, unsure if you'll uncover a beautiful lost city or a mummy that wants to bite your face off.
Tensions between Gerrard and Perry mounted in the early '90s: Conventional wisdom blames the bust-up of an alleged romantic relationship (neither party has been keen to speak about that); the pair's geographical divide (Gerrard relocated from the group's London homebase back to Australia, where she married and started a family, while Perry moved into an old church in Ireland); and good ol' "creative differences" following 1996's Spiritchaser.
Gerrard's explanation homes in on that final point. "It's always been that there's too much passion between us," she says, hastily adding, "Not in a physical or emotional way -- it's purely artistic. But it's always been that we have such absolute conviction and such clear vision as individuals. So there's a certain amount of adversity involved, because Brendan and I have such different approaches to the work. Many times that resulted in something magical, but when there were those moments in the past when we felt we weren't at all connected musically, there just wasn't any point in doing it."
Gerrard subsequently, and quite successfully, moved into the world of movie soundtracks (she has contributed work to Gladiator, Ali, Whale Rider, Black Hawk Down, and several other films), while Perry released his own solo work to slightly lesser acclaim. The idea for a viable Dead Can Dance reunion struck them both last winter, and while a cynic might point to money -- or at least, a desire to pump up back-catalogue sales -- as prime motivators, Gerrard insists they had a loftier purpose in mind, and given Dead Can Dance's flair for drama, her rationale doesn't seem entirely implausible. "It felt like the right timing, because a lot of weird things have happened on the planet, just with the wars and everything," she explains. "I feel that there is a lot of pain and a lot of confusion going on, and that as artists, we have to be the oracle that brings people back to a certain sensibility to where they're able to make decisions that aren't just about self-preservation, about materialism and selfishness."
So Gerrard reached out to her former partner, and the surprising rebirth of Dead Can Dance soon followed. So far, so good, she chuckles. Although there are no firm plans for another studio album (a new fifteen-track career retrospective, Momento, comes out next month), she says it remains a possibility. Most important, Gerrard concludes, she's glad for that opportunity to delve into the group's extensive body of work as a means of communication and reconciliation.
"What I do hope is that through this music, Brendan and I are able to bring things into synchronicity between each other," she says. "And, of course, I hope that by revisiting these works and sharing them with others, that we're able to maintain the potential we have as artists. You know, the pieces are worthwhile; they're very powerful. We shouldn't deprive ourselves of them, and we shouldn't deprive other people of them, either."
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