Good musical reunions can be like a fine wine that takes many years to age and reach its potential. World fusion explorers Dead Can Dance are currently on their first world tour in seven years to promote their first studio album in 16 years, and while it’s been a long wait for followers of the dynamic duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, the faithful have been rewarded with the epic Anastasis. With its title meaning “resurrection” in Greek, this dreamy album is ripe with the kinds of exotic, mystical sounds that are the group’s trademark. Gerrard’s otherworldly, wordless vocals singing continues to captivate, while Perry’s warm, often haunting baritone provides a good contrast as they alternate singing on different tracks (and join for one) that blend orchestral, world and Mediterranean sounds.
Calling The Aquarian from the road, Gerrard admits that the twosome, touring with a full backing group, are “a little bit jaded” because they are just getting back into the swing of things. “We did a lot of rehearsals—including a nine-hour rehearsal the day before we started, which is like four concerts in a row—because we wanted everything to be right,” reveals the singer. “We had a day off yesterday, which was very welcome. Once you get into the swing you start to get used to things again, and you get back into the rhythm of it.”
The pair never planned on disappearing from the public eye for so long. In fact, after their 1996 album Spiritchaser, they began working on a new studio album that was never completed. According to Gerrard, they had some “really strong, really beautiful pieces of music” that just did not come together in a unified way that they liked. “There was something missing, so we decided that we weren’t going to do it and left it,” she recalls. “You’re represented as an artist by these things, and you have to be able to stand by them.” One of the tracks, “The Lotus Eaters,” emerged on their 2001 box set Dead Can Dance (1981–1998).
After they embarked on a successful reunion tour in 2005, Gerrard and Perry planned to do another album, but things once again did not fall into place, although she does not specify why. She had been keeping busy with motherhood and her solo albums and film work—much of the public certainly knows the sound of her voice from the Gladiator soundtrack—while Perry had kept a lower profile, having released his first solo album, Eye Of The Hunter, in 1999. (His second, Ark, arrived in 2010.)
Many more years passed without any new music coming, and the pair reconnected in February 2009 when raging bushfires in the Australian countryside threatened to consume Gerrard’s rural home. Perry reached out to her over concern that her property was burning (the house survived), and they rekindled their friendship. Utilizing the internet to communicate and exchange ideas, Dead Can Dance gradually came back into being. Starting last year, the twosome spent eight months prepping for the album through online interaction, then three and a half months creating it at his Quivvy Church in Ireland.
“When we were doing this album, we realized that a lot of it [lack of prior recording] had to do with the fact that Brendan and I had fallen out of communication over those years before, and you don’t just dial these things up,” explains Gerrard. “They’re based on all of our philosophical beliefs, books we’re reading and on paintings and other music. There are a lot of influences in our everyday lives that manifest themselves through the work, and we didn’t have that interaction. We’ve been able to finish this particular work now because it was grown up from a very similar environment.”
Dead Can Dance fans expecting faster, more rhythmic pieces like “Saltarello” or “Cantara” will not find such songs this time out, but Anastasis maintains its intense grip throughout. When asked if this sonic shift is a sign of mellowing with age, Gerrard points out that the album is dedicated to Rebetiko, the rhythms of the Mediterranean and Greece in particular. It is not a matter of age but a question of the material they chose this time out.
“They are 9/4 rhythms, they’re a lot slower, but they’re really quite intricate and quite fascinating,” states Gerrard. “The pieces that I’m working on are rhythmically really different. It’s really hard to tell until you try to sing to it or play to it. It’s almost like the song form came before the rhythms because the rhythms were created to work with the song form.”
One of the standout tracks on Anastasis is “Kiko,” which Gerrard describes as “a processional piece that unlocks a world that brings power to a dying culture.” In terms of its inspiration, the siren singer points to the Mediterranean region and countries like Spain and France, where there exists a strong culture of dance, connection and community through music.
“Especially with the old people, who are still up at four in the morning doing these little dances in the street, traditional pieces, and everybody there comes out of their houses,” says Gerrard. “There’s this wonderful sense of community and of empowered desire to hold on to those traditional things that they value from their culture. ‘Kiko’ represents that for me. It’s a strong call from the soul to keep those things alive and to celebrate them and not just allow ourselves to become completely one-dimensional. That through our cultural voice there is a great sense of community—being inspired enough by them to feel that they have value and are worth hanging onto.”
The most personal song on Anastasis for Gerrard is the slowly marching, bagpipe-fueled “Return Of The She-King,” inspired by the real-life story of Grace O’Malley, the 16th century Irish queen and pirate who challenged Queen Elizabeth I’s claim of sovereignty over Ireland. O’Malley was the subject of the Broadway show The Pirate Queen, and her life story is reportedly being turned into a film. The vocalist declares that the song wakes up her imagination and gives her a sense of a lyrical mythology that she feels has been “lost from the poetry and theatre of modern music. Brendan is very sensitive as well in these areas. There’s something very cinematic about the work that we’ve always done, which is why I ended up getting involved in cinema. There was an obvious line there that people said I work with picture really well because there is that mythological side to it. ‘She King’ is the evolution of that.”
Dead Can Dance fans can expect to hear a lot of new material on their current tour, which includes shows in the Tri-State Area, but there will be vintage classics like “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” and “The Host Of Seraphim” included as well. For Gerrard and Perry, they are striving for a balance between past glories and new works.
“We talked about doing ‘A Passage In Time,’” recalls Gerrard. “But there were so many other things that we wanted to do. We wanted to do most of the new album. I know it’s a little bit difficult for our audience because they’re not used to it yet, and they do like the older pieces and the nostalgia connected to those things and their own experience. We have to have those as well, but it’s important that we have very current messages to convey as well during the concerts.”
Dead Can Dance will be at Kimmel Center For The Performing Arts’ Verizon Hall in Philly on Aug. 26. They will also be at NYC’s Beacon Theater on Aug. 29 and 30. For more information, go to deadcandance.com.