It’s hard to believe that it has already been a month since Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell’s joint artistic endeavor, Burn, dropped, but we have to admit that we love it more than ever.
When Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard and keyboardist Jules Maxwell recorded Burn, the album they released on May 7, they created an evocative electronica-based sound that’s at once emotional and expansive. It also, both Gerrard and Maxwell admit, unexpectedly evolved out of a very different project.
“The truth is, we didn’t really intend to make a record together at all,” Maxwell says, calling from his London home. “I had been commissioned to write some songs for a famous choir in Bulgaria called The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. That was back in 2015. I asked Lisa if she’d be interested in working with me on that.” Gerrard agreed, resulting in an album with the choir, BooCheeMish, in 2018. Afterwards, as Maxwell listened to outtakes from that project, he realized that he could form them into more songs, which then ended up on Burn.
“Those pieces were just going to sit there and do nothing, so it was great that Jules turned them into these wonderful things,” Gerrard says of the album’s seven tracks, during a call from Victoria, Australia. “I’m really happy to be involved in the album. It’s very positive. It has a very uplifting feeling, which is important, especially now.”
Although Gerrard has long been acclaimed as one of the world’s most distinctive and impressive vocalists, she says that working with the Bulgarian choir actually taught her new techniques, which she carried into her work on Burn: “In trying to sound like them, I learned to do things with my voice that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned,” she says, “so there’s always a training element to what you’re doing when you’re inspired by someone – in that way, you’re developing your skills all the time. It’s almost like a permanent apprenticeship.”
Maxwell explains that working with such an accomplished and adventurous vocalist is what made this project so appealing for him. “Her involvement is really fundamental – her voice is really key to it. Lisa is an incredible person to work with. That was my excitement about this, was just to be working with her, because I knew that something would come of it that would be interesting.”
Even with such a talented singer as Gerrard on board, Maxwell admits that he wasn’t sure what would happen as he began working with the outtakes from the Bulgarian sessions to form these new songs. “This sort of music emerges through improvisation,” he says. “It emerges from experimentation. It was me piecing the thing together, so it was a question of it revealing itself as time went on. It’s a little bit like an abstract painting. You really try to engage with it and then when you step back from it, you begin to see things revealed in the work that have developed.”
Gerrard and Maxwell first began working together when Maxwell was hired as a keyboardist for the 2012 Dead Can Dance world tour. “He was one of the visiting players,” Gerrard says. “We’ve had many different musicians over the years to perform the music, and Jules was one of those people, and I really liked him. We hit it off because we did a piece of music together which was improvised every night called ‘Rising of the Moon,’ so we knew that we had a nice connection, musically, and we built it up over a period of two years of concerts, on and off.”
Maxwell, who got his start composing for theatrical productions, says he immediately recognized that Gerrard’s vocal flair was a natural fit for his drama-based background. “She’s got a natural cinematic quality to her voice. It does feel as if it’s got horizons to it, musically speaking,” he says.
Still, Gerrard – who says she never actually took formal voice lessons – feels that her remarkable singing ability has always simply been something she’s been able to do. “I’ve always been a singer from before I can remember,” she states. “I don’t think you think of things as a talent. It’s just, you do something that you like doing, and the more you do it, the better at it you get. That’s pretty much it.”
Now, forty years into her career, Gerrard says that it’s “amazing” that she’s been able to spend her life singing with Dead Can Dance and for numerous side projects such as this one with Maxwell. “I think, probably, I managed to maintain a presence in the work I do because I never really expected it to have any element of success,” she says. “It was something that I did because that’s who I was as a person, and I didn’t do it as a career. If you do something as a career, then you’re going to get let down, because it’s not an easy pathway to do this work. There are disappointments on the way, of course, and there’s pressure. But it’s worth it!”
BURN: A COLLABORATION BETWEEN LISA GERRARD AND JULES MAXWELL IS OUT NOW ON ALL STREAMING PLATFORMS!