It's been an eventful ten years for DEATH IN VEGAS'S prime movers RICHARD FEARLESS and TIM HOLMES. They've already moved both commercial and critical mountains with their two groundbreaking albums "Scorpio Rising" and of course the darkness-embracing "Contino Sessions" and have roped in many of their biggest fans such as Iggy Pop, Bobby Gillespie and Dot Allison as vocal collaborators.
Recently, their reputation seems to have faltered a little because of their aborted sessions as producers of the next Oasis album, and they've also parted company with their record label, Concrete Records. However, with new album "Satan's Circus", their devilish influence is as tactile as ever, even if their current, Krautrock-inspired direction has polarised critical reaction thus far. W&H decided to mark the occasion by making a strategically-placed call to DIV Central and spoke to main man Richard Fearless, who was happy to elaborate once he'd woken up a little.
Richard sounds more than a little disorientated, even though he'd been expecting our call. Whether it's a cold, lack of sleep or plain old over-indulgence, we can only speculate, but once he gets into his stride he proves himself to be articulate, enigmatic and never less than interesting.
We're here mostly to talk about "Satan's Circus," but come on Richard, spill the beans about those Oasis sessions first off: what really happened?
"Ah, it just didn't happen," replies Richard, almost too nonchalently, scotching thoughts of gargantuan excess and punishment beatings of ex-drummers in one simple statement.
"It was just...differences," he continues, sighing.
"I mean, it looked good on paper, but they're just different to us, and it's not so easy for them to make a radically different kind of record the way we can. We did actually do a whole month of recording with them and got a full album done, but we didn't get a single track mixed. It just never took off. There wasn't animosity, far from it, but it wasn't working either, so that was it. It was a mutual decision to end it then."
Richard continues to brush this off, but you can't help thinking this debacle has possibly coloured the critical reaction to the new DIV album "Satan's Circus." Whichever way you care to slice it, the album IS quite a departure to the rockier vistas of the band's two previous records. But Richard, was it always the intention to shake things up like this?
"Well, to a certain extent the new record is stylistically very different, yeah," Richard concedes, "but then again it's not at all. The thing was that with "Scorpio Rising" we spent about a year just discussing the vocal collaborations for it and then the scale of making it was so huge what with orchestrations and everything that I felt it overshadowed the record itself."
He pauses to regroup for a moment.
"So after that I made a point that the next one would be a departure. In that sense it was a conscious decision made before we'd laid a note down. But the sound of the record evolved over a period of time. It's actually very much a reflection of what we've listened to over the past decade and it's almost like a return to Death in Vegas's roots. The response has been great from people who've followed our career since the beginning."
Yeah, but it seems to have polarised critical opinion...
"That's fine," says Richard firmly. "You can't please all the people all the time and I kind've wanted to provoke an extreme reaction with this one," he finishes with a slight darkness in his voice.
OK, but it's undeniable there is a distinct Krautrock influence and the likes of Neu! and Kraftwerk inform a number of the tracks, like "Ein Fur Die Damen" and "Sons Of Rother." Are Tim and yourself big Krautrock buffs?
"Yeah, totally," Richard confirms.
"I mean, you're right that people like Neu! and Michael Rother are in there, but there's also avant-garde composers like Steve Reich and the Detroit techno pioneers like Carl Craig. They're also a big deal to us and they're equally important."
"Actually," he continues, "the thing that was different to us this time around was the lack of outside influences we took in while making it. I've pretty much stopped reading the music press and for various reasons stopped buying new stuff. In the sense of contemporary music, we've shut ourselves off. Sometimes not knowing what's out there can be a positive thing. Plus we really wanted to make an electronic album with longevity, like (Kraftwerk's) "Man Machine", which still sounds so fresh today. That's the problem with electronica: it can easily date."
Time will tell in "Satan's Circus"s case, but it certainly has some fine moments. One track that stands out is "Heil Xanax", but what's with the title: I'm led to believe Xanax is actually a prescription drug for combatting anxiety?
"Yeah, that's right," Richard replies.
"I live in America these days and it's a big thing there, almost a cult thing. America has a huge prescription drug problem. There's so much abuse out there. But then it's something that has its' uses as well, although I'm not going to say exactly what the title means to me. I will say I like the feel of it, though, because you're never quite sure the way it's going to go. It's got a lot of possibilities..."
He trails off. I love the way the track has a serene, almost ambient feel and then Mat Flint's Jah Wobble-style bassline introduces itself. That dub element.
"Yeah, it's great," Richard agrees.
"And I'm pleased with it because it's difficult to get a dubby electronic record right. I don't want to diss bands who dabble in that area, but it's easy to end up with the obvious "white men do dub" result and it can be horrendous."
Absolutely. But to hark back to the German aspect, why did you name one of the tracks "Anita Berber" after the notorious Nazi-era Berlin cabaret star? She's not an abvious point of reference in a track that sounds quite gentle and ambient to these ears....
"I was studying and researching a lot of characters from that period last year," Richard explains.
"I'd been reading her biography. She (Anita Berber) was a stunning woman, incredible looking and she was this aristocratic, blue-blooded character, but her story's very tragic. She'd be at all the Berlin cabaret clubs with monkeys around her neck and doing huge bags of cocaine. She was beautiful, but mercurial....totally crazy actually."
So how does she inform the song?
"It was more that I was thinking about her at the time," says Richard, a little cautiously.
"We had the tune before it had that title. It was partly that the album was influenced by Germany to a large degree. Actually, you should read abou her yourself if you don't know her story. There's an amazing book called "Voluptuous Panic" you need to check out."
Noted. But to backtrack a little, I can hear other sounds outside the Kraut sphere in "Satan's Circus". The ominous loops and atmosphere of "Black Lead" suggest Cabaret Voltaire to me. Are they an electronic-based band who've been of importance to you?
"Yeah, very much so," Richard concurs, "though perhaps more with Tim than me, though perhaps that's down to age (laughs)."
"But "Black Lead" was one of those great songs that just flows out of you. We got the bassline and we were pretty stoned...the next thing I knew it was finished. Great. Usually we work on stuff for months and change all sorts of things around, but that was a nice one to get as if from nowhere."
Excellent. To return to an earlier point, though, the lack of any vocals (save the textural ethereality Susan Delane adds to "Heil Xanax") is one of the things that seems to have been alienating reviewers. What are your thoughts on working with vocalists again in future?
"Oh, we will of course," says Richard, a little surprised.
"It's not like it's a lifetime ban or anything, but it's where we're at just now. The next move is I suppose the obvious one, and that's to do our first soundtrack. It's something we've always wanted to do."
Have any such projects reared their heads then?
"Yeah, the right project has come along already," Richard divulges, "but I can't tell you anything more at present, as it's kinda secretive right now. Having said that, we're still always getting offers to produce and remix. We're always actively on the lookout."
Right. Meanwhile, the current live incarnation of DIV is very keyboard and sample based rather than the rockier version with drums and two guitars. You've just come off a UK tour. How did the audience take to the new version of the band?
"The dates were really good," says Richard with some enthusiasm.
"'The Guardian' yesterday was raving about us. They hated the album, mind, but there you go. The reactions on our own website have been mixed. I think some people are finding it difficult to take as at times it's just the two of us and Terry (Miles - keyboards) up there and they're used to a full band."
"I mean," he continues, "it doesn't work in a classical rock gig environment, what we're doing right now. For instance, we played (London super club) Fabric recently and that was great because we came on after a techno set and that made sense. But in other places it wasn't so good. But ultimately it's what Tim and I wanted to do, it's like we were earlier on, but with loads of loops. The shows gradually got better and better as we went along, we felt."
OK, well our time's almost up, but now you've got a new album out, you're in the running for a soundtrack and you have your own label in Drone Records: where now for Richard Fearless and Tim Holmes?
"The plan is...we have a five year plan!" Richard laughs.
"Tim's a great engineer, we both produce, we have our own studio and I do a graphic design studio, so we'd love to develop Drone as a label and take people under our wing. We want to make it possible for talented people to make quality albums rather than be pressurised by the big corporate machine. So yeah, we want to charge into that and see where it goes. You need to keep excited about what you're doing and we still are. Very much so."
"Satan's Circus" is out now on Drone Records.