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The Danse Society - Interview #2


Forty years ago, in a British town called Barnsley, The Danse Society emerged from the coal face of Yorkshire to make some noise - turns out it was good noise, dark and purposeful looking for an escape from the inevitability of a job down the mine. Now, the band which long ago reached a cult status seems to be in their best form ever and have released on 1st September via their label Society Records a new album entitled Sailing Mirrors. Sailing Mirrors, their seventh album is a cracker, a stunning piece of music from many points, it's versatile, brooding, sometimes mystical and quite experimental collection of nine goth/darkwave/post-punk songs that often go out of the borders. The Danse Society recorded and released their first single, "Clock", on their own newly formed record label Society in 1980. They released their debut studio album, Seduction, in 1982. Heaven Is Waiting was released in December 1983 on record label Arista. In 1986, after releasing their final album, Looking Through, as The Danse Society International, all of the band members except lead singer Rawlings left to form Johnny In The Clouds. For quite some time everything remained silent, but the band returned in 2011 with the album Change Of Skin and a completely reformed line-up featuring new vocalist Maethelyiah from the group Blooding Mask. Their fifth studio album, Scarey Tales, was released in February 2013. In September 2015 The Danse Society released the album titled VI and in June 2018 the EP Futur1st, containing a beautiful cover of Nine Inch Nails' hit "Hurt". Now the band is walking a new path with Sailing Mirrors. Read this very interesting interview, where vocalist Maethelyiah and founding member/guitarist Paul Nash talked about the new album, background, the past and the future, and many other things.


Interview with: Maethelyiah and Paul Nash
Conducted by: Tomaz
Edited by: Jerneja

Tomaz: First of all congratulations on your 40th anniversary! Tell me how does it feel to be on the scene for such a long time, even though there were years of inactivity and many changes inside the band?
Paul
: Thanks! It seems crazy that it's 40 years since the band began and had you said back in 1980 that we would still be making music as The Danse Society 40 years later I’d have probably laughed in your face. At that time for bands to last beyond a few years was pretty much unheard of – but now we have the Stones still making records and touring, I dunno, maybe I’m Barnsley’s version of Keith Richards, just better looking, haha. To be honest, I don’t think about the ‘scene’ much – I’m just interested in making good music and having some fun, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the music business in 40 years, but the essentials are the same, enjoy what you do – the rest is immaterial to that. It’s been and continues to be a great adventure, the journey has indeed taken many twisted turns, and many line-ups changes. From 1987 to 2010 I fell out with making music but when the reformation happened the spark returned for the desire to create, which still burns bright. I feel I (as a musician) have more to say and The Danse Society as a band has more to produce. Who knows how much longer we have but however long we do have I want to make some more great music.

Tomaz: And now the new album is out! Sailing Mirrors is for me maybe the best one you ever did, so very diverse, dark and moody when it needs, and at the same time straight and complex. How are you satisfied with the final product?
Paul
: Thanks for that - Sailing Mirrors has been a bit of a labour of love and with the pandemic, I was beginning to wonder if we would ever get it out. With such a long gap between VI and Sailing Mirrors, we had 60 songs to choose from and that took quite some time to hone down into the nine for the album. Some great songs didn’t make it which we are going to re-work for the next album, along with, no doubt, more new compositions. I think overall the album, now listening to it again with slightly fresher ears works really well, there’s a point when you are creating that you pass where you just don’t know anymore, but I recently had the vinyl on the record player and it sounds awesome – so yea very satisfied.



Tomaz: It was quite a lot of time in the making, since your previous album, VI, was released five years ago. What was the reason that you took so much time?
Paul
: So yes it was, and as I said above part of that was the amount of material we accrued over that time which took longer than expected to sort out. The other reason was a change of drummer, we had Joss Rylance for a while after Iain left (after VI) but sadly after recording the EP Futur1st he also had to leave (family reasons) – fortunately we found Tom Davenport (who is amazing btw) quite quickly but with all these things it takes time to settle in, plus we actually did quite a lot of gigs abroad which shifted the focus for a while.

Tomaz: The album, like also the previous ones, is released via your own label Society Records. Why do you keep releasing albums on your own and not try to search for a big label that will handle it?
Paul
: Good question, and sometimes you think – holey crap, not more stuff to do lol, back in the day all that marketing stuff would be handled by the record company, but then we would’ve had to do stuff we didn’t want to do, been pushed in directions we didn’t want to go, and ultimately not been happy. Been there done that. We have complete creative control now, which is good, just not the power and money to promote the way we would like (which is bad) - I guess if a record company came along with the right deal we would be up for it, but I think that’s highly unlikely these days. In some ways I feel sorry for the kids getting signed now, the labels really tie them down with 360 deals and unless they are very lucky they are fed through the machine and spat out before getting the chance to develop. That might sound a little bit bitter but after our 80s experience, I think I earned the right lol. Society Records is self-financing but basically non-profit, as any money earned goes into the next project, like many musicians we do this for love, not for money.
Maeth: Even though ours is not a huge label, every single item we sell is looked after in detail. The quality of prints, vinyl, digipack, the t-shirts, badges, etc are all is tip-top. In no way we would have started pre-orders if we weren't sure we were promising the best we could.


Tomaz: Sailing Mirrors has some songs that are the darkest and moodier you ever did. For example, the title track,  "Kill U Later", "And I Wonder If", or even "Valerio's Theme" have that darkness, emotions and, gloom inside that was rarely heard in your past. On the other side, there are pretty straight post-punk songs and as well those with some psychedelic elements. What's the mainline that connects the whole thing?
Maeth
: We go as we feel. The nice thing about being detached by standards is that we are totally free to go in the direction we want. Whether the idea of the song starts from me, Paul or Tom, we all contribute to making it what it is in the end. There's a fantastic combination of different genres between us that somehow always finds a crossing point and triggers the magic. Paul is more post punkish, I am more sort of gothish and into opera/theatrical, Tom is very melodic and towards classic rock sounds, Sam has a strong classical background and Jack is notoriously funkish. In the end, I believe the psychedelic hints are in the aforementioned crossing point or even apocalyptic-jazzish such as in "Hiding In Plain Sight"! In other words, I believe we are all a bit mental but that's ok when you are keen into experimenting new sounds, rather than try to fit in a box.
Paul: Good music is the mainline - as Maeth says we are not constricted to try new things, experiment and see what happens, there are a few even more outlandish songs than "Hiding In Plain Sight" that didn't quite make it on to Sailing Mirrors. There is no conscious thread but our influences are mainly quite dark and heavy so naturally, there is a dark heavy feel to many songs. I also have no desire to keep repeating the past so don't expect the same on the next album, I think its probably the one constant with the band – every album is different if you listen to Seduction its nothing like Heaven Is Waiting and so on and so on. I get bored very quickly with acts that repeat the same old formula (albeit a successful one) over and over.



Tomaz: Tell me about the lyrics. Is there some kind of a concept behind, and is there a message that you would like to share with them? What was the main point of inspiration?
Maeth
: Most of the lyrics are about urban emotions. "Danse Away Your Love" is about what society dictates today to be accepted: trying to please at all costs, trying to look in a certain way, pose this way or another way, wear that outfit, just keep going but this can be very overwhelming at some point. "Sailing Mirrors" is about loss: but also about freeing from grief and negative emotions and being born again in a different form; building an exoskeleton from your pain and emerging somehow stronger. "Valerio's Theme" is about loss as well and is dedicated to a friend of mine who died in 1996 and that was a massive fan of Joy Division and The Danse Society. Our friendship was proper brotherhood for me and when he died, the pain gave me the strength to leave a very abusive relationship I was in. Sometimes grief can be a blessing in disguise, especially when it reminds us life is too short. I know there are many Valerios out there. I remember the first time we performed "Valerio's Theme" on stage we were at Lumous Festival in Finland and how well the crowd received it. It still gives me shivers. "Hiding In Plain Sight" is a random flicking of sentences from a book, literally; Had an awesome evening with Paul just picking the bits and pieces with the music. "Kill U Later" is about human-automation: the lyrics are about how gadgets and expensive goods take priority on human interaction and how they really hurt someone you might as well blow up their car or hack their Instagram account, rather than punch them in the eye. It is not intended to incite violence, but rather to make people think how much most people value objects over living beings. "And I Wonder If" is a reflection on how society and chaos are messing up with our priorities and making people weaker. "Invincible" is about one of the basic human emotions: revenge. We see in politics, for example, how some people believe to be above the law and let their arrogance take over until karma sorts them out. Confidence has nothing to do with arrogance, that is not about being Alpha, that's a child with a machine gun in his hands. "Hypnotise" is about urban struggle, mass indoctrination, the television that implicitly guides people to buy, sell and live the way they want. I only use my tv to watch DVD's, to be honest. We fall seals a whole lot of information above: it's a list of slaps in the face for every single standard we accept with the delusion of being free. Expectations vs reality, obligations killing pleasure, the real descend to hell which Dante couldn't even imagine.


Tomaz: I was pretty impressed with the psychedelic front cover artwork. There's a lot of symbolism in it. Can you explain to me more about it, and how did you get in contact with the Italian artist Alessandra Centi who made it?
Maeth
: You are talking to one of the luckiest people alive. I happen to have some fantastic friends that make incredible music, and one of those is Diego Banchero whom we are friends from previous lives. He leads the band Il Segno Del Comando which is an absolute legend in the Italian prog scene. I have been collaborating with them with the last couple of albums. Diego (bassist), Roberto (guitar) and Fernando (drums) also toured with me with my other project Blooding Mask in several haunted locations across the UK in 2010. One day I was having a conversation with Diego when this charming lady Alessandra Centi popped with incredible artwork and my jaw dropped. I immediately asked which planet she was on and it all started from there. She is incredibly creative, a kind soul, a vibrant personality and a humble heart. Her talent is majestic. And the rest is history. Paul and I were like kids in a sweetshop, we couldn't decide which one of her artworks to stick on the cover! They are all so awesome! When I asked your questions about the meaning of her images she simply answered that they are part of emotions and symptoms that she projects through her charcoals, pens and brushes. She didn't go much in detail but I have immediately recognised that familiar messaging with other dimensions... and that feels like home!

Tomaz: Talk to me about the compositional process and production of the album. How it's with that in the case of The Danse Society, is it teamwork or Paul makes everything regarding the music? Did you do everything like in the past or was for Sailing Mirrors something different?
Maeth
: As mentioned, this all starts with ideas. In this album, it was Paul, Tom and myself. However, the whole team forges each idea into a complete song. Nothing really changed from the 80s as far as I know (Paul will confirm you). Since Change Of Skin, there was always someone coming with an idea and the others working on it. Even if when I arrived Change Of Skin was already recorded instrumentally, I added my melodies on about half of the lyrics. Scarey Tales was a similar process, where I only worked on my own melodies and contributed to the lyrics. "If I Were Jesus" and afterwards, I started co-writing the music too, so VI, Futur1st and Sailing Mirrors have been more a 50/50 on that front as well. I think the change was because the team was more laid back and I felt much more comfortable. Even the fact that most of us live in Scarborough makes things easier as rather than sending files we tend to meet in Tom's studio or having some food here together. Paul is the best team player you could find. We know he is the boss but he never behaves like one and that's why it's a pleasure working with him. Honestly, it took some time but I feel that the reviews we are receiving are getting better and better, and this can only mean we have found the ideal balance now.
Paul: It's a cooking pot, everyone throws in ingredients or ideas and then the magic happens (hopefully) anyway 'something' comes out, its not always a tiramisu, and sometimes it will get re-stirred in the pot at a later date, but if it works then we develop it, cook it a bit more and then record it. I then tweak away at it production-wise until I'm happy and then everyone puts their thoughts in and off I go back to the studio to work on it some more until we are all happy with it. It can be a long process (it was with Sailing Mirrors) but it can also be quite quick. I'm really looking forward to starting on the next one, we already have a good handful of ideas, and I can't wait to see how they turn out.


Tomaz: If I'm not mistaken, the keys in the title track were played by your ex keyboardist David Whitaker. So, I guess that you are still in good relations with some ex-members. Is the song "Sailing Mirrors" actually an old, but before never released song? Are there more songs like this one?
Maeth
: There are actually three people playing keyboards on "Sailing Mirrors": myself and Sam, but the awesome orchestra was indeed performed by David Whitaker. We are mostly still good friends with our ex-band members. David has always been a dear friend. He reluctantly had to leave at the end of 2014 because his large family and his new recording studio didn't leave him enough time to travel for gigs. He felt at some point he was holding us back and that's why he left but he gave us the time to find Sam (Bollands) to take over his position. "Sailing Mirrors" is a song I wrote in '98 when a dear friend died. It's very much a tribute to friendship and liberating ourselves from the things that keep us held back from enjoying life in full.

Tomaz: It's a pity that this pandemic struck right now. You should be now touring hard for your anniversary, promoting the album,... So, the plans went down and I hope that this shit will be over soon. How do you deal with this lockdown and how did it affect you? Do you have already scheduled any gigs for next year or not so distant future?
Maeth
: Well, Corona frenzy has affected all of us due to its persistency and, in our case in the UK, due to the awful way the British Government has managed it. We lost part of our family to it: very sadly Paul lost his Dad. Paul contracted Covid himself as well, as soon as we were back from Belgium when we performed at Porta Nigra Festival. He was bed-bound in pain and very drained for two full weeks. He's no man flu type. I have seen him going out with 40 degrees temperature... he's proper Yorkshire Viking! However, Covid knocked him out. I think I have caught it too but having cfs/ME I am used to similar symptoms so if I had it, I couldn't tell the difference. We coped quite well with lockdown. We have a lovely net of friends/neighbours here, so when we were self-isolated we always had friends to help out and we helped friends as well when their turn came. We are lucky to live here in Scarborough with the beach within walking distance. The fact that the weather was gorgeous helped as well.The good news is that even though we are having some sort of lockdown again, we have a full UK tour scheduled with Inertia and Black Light Ascension, with Form as an opening act in 2021. We are also back to Belgium as a special guest in August for the Sinner's Day Special Festival with Front 242 and Neon Judgement (covid permitting of course). We are also waiting for the new rescheduled Uma Obscura Festival in Sweden. More dates will be confirmed as soon as possible.


Paul: I think the lockdown/covid measures have affected everybody, it's not been good for anyone's mental health, particularly in the creative industries here which have received no support, I see this as criminal negligence. I came to the conclusion a while ago though that the best we can do these days is to be kind to one another, stop reading the papers/watching the news as all they do is divide and distract. Bill and Ted got it right 'Be excellent to each other' – if we all did that the world would be so much happier.

Tomaz: I see that some gothsters can't stand the fact that The Danse Society is continuing and evolving with a new line-up, making new music and pursuing new trajectories. You have quite some haters, at least on social media. What is your response to them?
Maeth
: I believe if you don't have any haters you are not a real artist. Arts is thought-provoking so it's bound to produce love or hate. Hate is a form of love, in fact, it's more often fuelled by obsession, which ends up draining the hater and feeding the target. When you hate someone you spend the same amount of energy as when you love, with the difference that you get nothing in return. Let the concept of hating someone you don't know sink in. A blind belief in someone's lies for their personal gain, to manipulate people into converging against someone. Sociopaths need that to feel powerful. That's where every kind of wars begin, however, time shows that nastiness backfires. I have been fat-shamed, slut-shamed, I was addressed racist and sexist comments, I even received death threats when I replaced Rawlings. Do you think this changed who I am? Frankly, I am only concerned about making music and enjoy my friends family and supporters. On social media I simply block and go ahead; Not worth spending much time on it. We (as artists) choose to live our lives doing the things we love and value the people that love our music. The support is immense. Our new album is nearly a sold out. Our gigs have shown different generations joined together dan sing our new songs, even before they were released in Sailing Mirrors. A brave choice to choose a female vocal to replace Rawlings was bound to be difficult to process for some, but as with Dr Who, getting stuck in a predictable loop ends up repeating itself. Musicians can evolve or become a parody of what they used to be. We choose to evolve. So a few haters really don't make a difference. I can only tell them that I appreciate we can disagree, however, what they do with their time is not my problem. Just stay safe, everyone!
Paul: I give them no thought, they are inconsequential in my world, someone named the haters 'energy vampires' - they feed on reaction, so I don't give them one - if I see trolling I just ignore. I've got far too much to do to waste energy or even thought on these people. I guess I'm a socialist at heart, I can listen to differing opinions, but they don't affect my mood, only I can do that. I wish everyone peace and love.


Tomaz: Unlike many bands who reformed after many years of absence, The Danse Society is not just recycling what was done in the 80s, but instead of that, you do new and different music, trying to be original as much as possible. Congratulations on that!
Maeth
: Thank you. That's the idea! We are far too creative to choose to spend our creativity chasing our tail ad libitum.
Paul: I appreciate your comment, the one stipulation I personally made when we reformed in 2010 was that we wouldn't just rehash old material, that we would evolve just like the old days and explore new sounds and new forms of music. I always find it amusing when people say you are nothing like the old Danse Society, well which old Danse Society are you talking about? No Shame in Death Danse Society or Say it Again Danse Society or perhaps you mean Wake Up Danse Society ... I can't be bothered with the 80s and 90s bands who tour regurgitated songs every year or two, it must be so boring, I get there are people, who want to re-live that scene/era and bathe in past glories, but I personally get no buzz from that, for me the real excitement comes from the 'new song' experimenting with sound and form, trying out something new, innovating. That's why Sailing Mirrors is such an eclectic mix, from the title track to "Hiding In Plain Sight" to "Invincible" they are all very different, but ultimately they are all The Danse Society.

Tomaz: Another topic for the end... Tell me which song in your discography means the most to you, and which one do you prefer to play live?
Maeth
: Too many to say. There are a few: "If I Were Jesus", "Sailing Mirrors", "We're So Happy", "The Hurt". I think "We're So Happy" is the one I most enjoy playing live! I'll never forget performing that at Lumous in Finland (heart-shaped eyeballs here!).
Paul: Ha! Tough one, so I would say this is a very personal question – "Clock" was the single that started it all, so that's special and "Somewhere" was the one that got us the record deal. In more recent years I think "Star Whisperer" from VI was special to me, the songs from Sailing Mirrors are still a bit fresh as yet, when you work on something for so long you have to give it a break before you can listen to it with fresh ears again and really appreciate it. Playing live is another kettle of fish, I love the dark powerful songs, "The Hurt", "Come Inside" from the old repertoire and I loved playing "Valerio's Theme" and "Kill U Later" recently on our tours abroad. We have a big live playlist so its fun to change it up as often as possible, we never stick to the same set.
Maeth: Hint hint! As the band are celebrating 40 years of The Danse Society music, a double CD will speak this more than our words. From the very beginning until now, you will taste the flavour of evolution all along. Thanks so much for asking the questions – we hope you have enjoyed reading them – hope to see you soon on tour – peace and love Paul and Maeth and The Danse Society.


Photos by Paul J James Photography

Discography:
- Seduction (1982)
- Heaven Is Waiting (1983)
- The Danse Society [Compilation] (1984)
- Looking Through (1986) (as The Danse Society International)
- Demos Vol.1 (2011)
- Change Of Skin (2011)
- Scarey Tales (2013)
- VI (2015)
- Futur1st [EP] (2018)
- Sailing Mirrors (2020)

Line-up: Paul Nash (guitars), Maethelyiah (lead vocals), Jack Cooper (bass), Sam Bollands (keyboards), Tom Davenport (drums)
The Danse Society links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube