PETER ULRICH Q&A: ‘I HAVE NEVER DELIBERATELY SET OUT TO IMITATE DEAD CAN DANCE IN ANY WAY’

Peter Ulrich2Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil percussionist + multi-instrumentalist songwriter Peter Ulrich and his The Peter Ulrich Collaboration, returns with ‘Dark Daddy’, a magical new single feat. American singer and harpist Erin Hill. The winsome gothic folk tune, released on 3rd November via AIS Records, its the ideal follow-up to last year’s amazing debut album ‘The Painted Caravan’.

The Peter Ulrich Collaboration’s album ‘Tempus Fugitives’, the second album in The Painted Caravan trilogy, released through AIS Records in May 2015, it will be a fascinating, psychedelic journey through time and history…

Nice to meet you Peter…Can you tell us something we should know about your new single ‘Dark Daddy’?

‘Dark Daddy’ is by my current project The Peter Ulrich Collaboration which is the banner under which I and my producer, Trebor ‘Big T’ Lloyd, bring in different guest artists to work with us on the various songs over the course of an album. The TPUC debut album ‘The Painted Caravan’ was released last year, and we are just nearing completion of the follow-up, ‘Tempus Fugitives’ which is due for release next May. This is essentially an ‘album’-based project, but a few months back T sent me this song – ‘Dark Daddy’ – in a fairly advanced form with all the vocals, harp and arrangement mostly done for me to add percussion. As soon as I heard it, I loved it and had a strong sense that it had a special, stand-out immediacy about it, rather than a lot of album tracks which have more of a growing, slow-burn nature. I added some very simple percussion so as not to disturb the delicate balance of the song, and when T sent me back the final mix I was convinced it is a perfect single. We hadn’t previously considered or discussed putting out a single, but I urged T to go for it and happily I convinced him!

How did you decide to collaborate with the amazing Erin Hill?

All credit goes to T on that for introducing Erin. Erin has quite a star-studded CV. She’s had a number one album on the Billboard World Chart, fronted a ‘Game of Thrones’ promo, and has worked with a variety of famous artists including Kanye West, Sinead O’Connor, Cyndi Lauper, Enya, Martha Wainwright and Moby, so we’re honoured that she has enthusiastically jumped into TPUC and over the course of the current album she has become a key participant. Erin Hil1She had already contributed harp and vocal parts to three or four other tracks. T wrote the lyrics to ‘Dark Daddy’ and then gave it to Erin in the first instance to develop, and she has made it very much her song within the context of the Collaboration. T built the arrangement further and then sent it to me for the percussion, and with the combination of Erin’s vocals and harp playing the result is really stunning, and I hope this song is going to get the exposure I believe it deserves.

How much of Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil do you bring into The Peter Ulrich Collaboration?

Since going solo I have never deliberately set out to imitate or emulate Dead Can Dance in any way. I have enormous admiration for the music Brendan (Perry) and Lisa (Gerrard) create, and it was amazing to be a part of that during my DCD years, but I could never come close to reproducing what they do so I would not try. However, the time I spent working with them undoubtedly had an enormous influence on my approach to writing music, on my sources of inspiration and how I use that material. So, to anyone who loves DCD I would say, don’t come to my music expecting to hear a form or extension of DCD, but please do approach it knowing that it is created by someone who has absorbed and loved DCD and maybe you will hear something different but that will also move you and excite you – that would be my hope.

This Mortal Coil was a personal project of 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell in which he invited his favourite artists to perform mostly cover versions of songs he loved, with him arranging and producing. I made a one-off contribution to the project – the short instrumental track ‘At First, And Then’ on the ‘Filigree and Shadow’ album – which came about in a different way in that I wrote and recorded the piece in a spontaneous home session and submitted it to Ivo as a finished recording. I sent it to him just for his opinion, without any thought of This Mortal Coil, but he asked me if he could use it in TMC and I readily agreed. He added some ambient guitar and effects, but otherwise it is much as I gave it to him. So I am very happy to have been able to contribute to what became a legendary project, but I cannot claim to have had any more than a peripheral involvement. If there’s anything of TMC brought to TPUC, it would perhaps be an element of the ethos that Ivo created for his project – it would be nice to think we had achieved that.

How has your music evolved since Garden of the Arcane Delights, Within The Realm of a Dying Sun and Spiritchaser?

You have listed a number of the DCD recordings that I performed on, but my own music hasn’t really ‘evolved’ from those works as they were all written by Brendan and Lisa. I have certainly been influenced by all those works, but my own songwriting developed quite independently. Material for DCD’s Spleen and Ideal album was written extensively by Brendan using an early Yamaha music computer which enabled him to sketch ideas using a wide range of orchestral instrument sounds. A couple of years later he upgraded to a proper sampler/keyboard – an Ensonic Mirage for the ‘vintage techies’ amongst you – and he passed the Yamaha my way. I started writing some stuff of my own and one of the songs I wrote during that era became my first solo single – ‘Taqaharu’s Leaving’ – which I put out in 12″ vinyl format on my own short-lived label Cornerstone in 1990. If you happen to have a copy, it’s now listed in the Record Collector Guide at a modest valuation!

It was through Brendan’s support and encouragement that I eventually got my first solo album ‘Pathways and Dawns’ completed in the late 90s – and he had a big input to that, helping me with arrangements, adding some great contributions, engineering a lot of the sessions and producing. I then needed to prove to myself that I could write and arrange an album completely by myself, so unusually the progression was that my second album ‘Enter The Mysterium’, released in 2005, was more raw and stripped-back than the first album. Happily though, it got a lot of great reviews and I still think there are a lot of strong songs on there that mean a lot to me. It also continued what has become my kind of trademark mix of setting contemporary songs over backdrops inspired by rhythms and sounds of early musics (i.e. medieval and renaissance periods) and African, Arabic and Oriental cultures.

Mysterium was released on New York label City Canyons and marked the beginning of me working with its CEO Big T. While I was thinking about starting work on my next solo album, T offered me the chance to work on a collaborative session – a lyric and vocal melody he had written, and which would be sung by another of his artists, Sara Wendt. I was sent the basics and given free range to do what I wanted with the arrangement. I recorded the percussion, some strings and wrote in a part for Uilleann pipes and then sent it back to T, who added Sara’s beautiful vocals and some other instrumentation and the result was the song ‘Hanging Man’ which features on The Painted Caravan. We were all really inspired by the result, decided to pursue it further, and TPUC was born.

What has been the hardest part of being in the music industry for you?

The fact is that I haven’t had it tough – I’ve been extremely lucky. With DCD, Brendan and Lisa had already done all the hard graft when I met them, and I joined just a few months before we were signed by 4AD and everything started to take off. Being part of 4AD in its 80s heyday was great. Ivo was deservedly highly respected for what he was doing, and he was very supportive to his artists and was 100% motivated by the music and 0% by the money! And there were some great bands – the first tour I went on I was playing in DCD and then getting to watch headliners the Cocteau Twins every night – how hard can that be?? With the likes of Wolfgang Press, Dif Juz, Xymox and AR Kane, we used to go along to each others gigs, lend each other gear, guest on recordings and there was a real camerarderie.

After I went solo, I had another legendary label release Pathways and Dawns – Projekt whose owner Sam Rosenthal remains a good friend – and for nearly 10 years now I have been working with T who has given me tremendous support and encouragement. OK, I’ve played in a few dives and slept in a few rough hotels in the early days, but that was all part of the experience and you really wouldn’t want to miss out on that stuff. The only really hard thing is trying to earn a living from music in this era where everyone expects to get their music for free. I’m a little frustrated that I can’t live off my music, purely because it would allow me to make a lot more music, but the world doesn’t owe me a living so I ain’t complaining.

Is there anything you would do differently in your glorious career?

Wow, well, thank you for that accolade! I don’t have any big regrets, but if I want to get self-critical, I should really have had more drive and more confidence to push ahead more rapidly with my solo work after I left DCD. But then that might have taken me in a different direction, might not have worked out, and I might not have this current project on the go now. So overall, I’m happy with the way it’s gone.

Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

At the risk of being repetitive, my musical influences always have to start with Brendan and Lisa – far and away the biggest. But to name a few others along the way – Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Nektar, Caravan, David Byrne, Joy Division, and a host of early music and world music artists far too numerous to namecheck.
Non-musical is more difficult – there are a lot of people I admire, or have been inspired by, but I’m not really sure who I’ve been ‘influenced’ by – probably friends and family as much as anyone.

Are you planning any live shows and what will they be like?

For years and years the answer to this was no, but finally I am delighted to say “Yes”! TPUC is booked to play at the Steam Punk World Fair in New Jersey next May, and we’re currently trying to line up some other shows in New York and elsewhere around the same time. If this works out, we’ll look to tour the show further afield in the States, and hopefully also bring it to Europe. I can’t say too much yet about what the show will be like, but it’s going to be ambitious. Ideas flying around at present involve a 12+ piece band and elements of theatricality, so keep an eye out for it…

What kind of music do you listen to?

A very wide range. I’m always eager to discover new artists breaking through, so I keep an eye and ear peeled for anything that grabs me. I’ve been listening to a lot of British folk recently because there’s been a real explosion of great stuff in the past few years. I subscribe to a magazine called Songlines which is an invaluable source for discovering new releases on the world music scene. And I like to dip into my library of old stuff and my collection of early music. So it really could be just about anything.

What’s coming next for you?

Really an amalgam of what we’ve already discussed – promoting the new single, finalising everything for the new album and preparing for the album release and shows in 2015. Alongside that I guess we’ll start thinking about new material for the third album as the plan is for TPUC to make a trilogy of albums. We’ve also got some interesting discussions bubbling under with a Polish community project through which a video is being made for the Dark Daddy single and for which we are hoping to do a specially commissioned film soundtrack for one of their projects. So, a healthy number of irons in the fire.

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By Fabrizio Belluschi ©FAMEMAGAZINE.co.uk