A CONVERSATION WITH JULES MAXWELL OF DEAD CAN DANCE
Powerhouses from the world-renowned band Dead Can Dance Lisa Gerrard and Jules Maxwell are back with a new album to be released on May 7, 2021. The new project entitled Burn is their first release with their new London-based label Atlantic Curve and is produced by James Chapman of MAPS. In anticipation of the new launch, Maxwell discussed working with Lisa Gerrard and the process of developing the new album.
‘I first worked with Lisa in 2012 when I was invited to join her band Dead Can Dance as a keyboard player for a tour. One of the highlights of this tour for me was the final encore, a song called “Rising of the Moon”, which Lisa and I used to improvise together,’ Maxwell said about his time working with Gerrard. ‘It was a great way to learn about each other, and in the years since we have written together for a number of projects. One of these writing projects was for The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices album Boocheemish in 2015. I went to Australia to spend a few days working with Lisa at her studio and not only did that session produce four songs for the Bulgarian women, it also produced the seeds for the seven pieces which make up Burn.’
For Maxwell, creating Burn was never a linear process and much of the development of the music was instinctive as is evident with the lyrics Gerrard writes. Gerrard is known for singing in a language she created as a child, a language that sounds tribal and ancient. ‘It’s impossible to be completely specific about the themes on the album. We didn’t start from an idea. We worked very instinctively, using Lisa’s voice as our starting point. But gradually, for me anyway, a sense of horizon and landscape began to materialise in the music,’ Maxwell explained. ‘It felt as if we were reflecting elemental forces of fire and wind and the sea. And it felt important to me that the artwork of the album in some way acknowledged the grace and wisdom of certain animals and their relationship to us as humans.’
Maxwell described working with producer James Chapman and the jump to the new label Atlantic Curve. ‘I knew James through his work with MAPS but had never met him in person. It was my publisher Daryl Bamonte who suggested working with him. I was living in France at the time and James was living in England and I never did meet him in person until 2018 when the album was finished. I simply gave him carte blanche to follow his nose with the pieces. He has an amazing capacity to build sonic textures and in his hands it became a big sounding record. Not dissimilar to early Vangelis.’
‘The delay in releasing the album is a result of us taking ages to find the right label and distributor to support it. Atlantic Curve and The Orchard are the perfect fit for this record and we’re delighted to be signing with them,’ said Maxwell.
Although Maxwell’s time with Dead Can Dance has been rather brief, he served as their keyboard player for their 2012-2013 world tour and reunited for the 2019 A Celebration–Life and Works tour. He credits the time spent with the band for giving him new insights on creating music. ‘I worked with Brendan Perry on his 2009 solo tour. It’s been an enormous privilege for me to travel the world with Brendan and Lisa and help perform their wonderful music,’ he said of working with Brendan Perry who formed Dead Can Dance with Gerrard in 1981. ‘There is no better place to learn about music than from the inside and it has been a priceless lesson for me to understand the mechanics of music as powerful as theirs from the inside. To be able to watch the audience receive it each night has also been a treat for me.’
Accompanying the new album is a series of music videos for each track. ‘We made seven wonderful films which accompany the seven tracks. David Daniels, an English animator who has worked with Led Zeppelin and The Blue Nile has made five films and two young Polish directors Jacob Chelkowski and Michal Sosna have made one each. They really are stunning visual evocations of the music.”
Outside of the new album with Gerrard, Maxwell has established his name as a composer for theatre, dance and film. He describes his experience composing for the stage and screen. ‘I love writing music for screen. Most of my work though is for theatre and dance. One of the greatest lessons I ever learnt about writing music for dance was from a French percussionist called Lê Quan Ninh who told me to first of all listen before playing a note. “Listen” he said “because dance is full of music already”. The same is true of film and theatre for me.”
Maxwell has also recently released a new album of instrumental works. ‘[It’s] an album of instrumental piano music [released on] March 5. The album is called Nocturnes and there’s a second volume coming out in the autumn, too. I began developing this work in collaboration with renowned UK dance company Vincent Dance Theatre. I am enormously excited to have it released. It began life as an experiment in playing as quietly as I possibly could but has evolved into a collection of meditative pieces of which I am very proud of.’