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Resurrecting Dead Can Dance

©Robert Sebree
Dead Can Dance

Lisa Gerrard discusses the ethereal duo's return to active duty, their new music and their evolving approach

By Litsa Dremousis
Special to MSN Music

Since Dead Can Dance first rose like a bonfire three decades ago in Melbourne, Australia, the band's core members, vocalist Lisa Gerrard and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Brendan Perry, have created songs that seem channeled as much as written. Drawing from such disparate cultures as ancient Greece and medieval Ireland and a throbbing collage of Middle Eastern sonance, Dead Can Dance's oeuvre is best suited for, say, the creation or destruction of a planet, not for hoisting a glass at the pub.

Which makes for a lovely contrast when Lisa Gerrard first says hello via phone from London, the duo's home base since 1982. Her voice is warm and her tone friendly and authoritative, like that of your favorite professor or, indeed, the best storyteller in the pub. She is eager to discuss Dead Can Dance's new record, "Anastasis," out Aug. 14 -- the band's first release of all-new material since 1996 -- but she also makes a point to learn the pronunciation and origin of your name. The woman whose vocals can pierce centuries laughs easily, all the while discussing how she and Perry create their mesmerizing songs and, also, why she is pleased her solo film scores ("Gladiator," "Heat," "Whale Rider" and several others) have garnered accolades.

Gerrard held forth on this and more right before Dead Can Dance commenced with their first world tour since 2005.

MSN Music: Your new record, "Anastasis," is this gorgeous swirl of primal emotions and extraordinary musicianship. It's the first Dead Can Dance record of all-new material since 1996. What prompted you and Brendan to return to the studio now?

Lisa Gerrard: Well, we never really decided that we were never going to work together again. It was never contrived and always organic between Brendan and I. We were always doing our research, and he always had this love of poetry and music and orchestra, et cetera, and I have always been the abstract, kind of musical composing entity. Because of the abstract nature of our doing things, the combination of us doing things, Brendan creates something primal and very artistic and I follow through with an emotional, abstract composition that surrounds that work, so we tend to have a lovely complement.

Part of what always appealed to us about working together has been taking a much different road. At the end of the last tour, we were going to make an album and we realized we hadn't spent enough time together to really contribute to the whole ethos that came naturally to us in the past. We started to realize we had something that was really unique between the two of us that we'd always had and probably taken for granted. And then we started to rebuild our bridges and then, you know, Brendan began to create sketches and I started to build on those. And, obviously, after a century and a half working together [laughs], that's how we ended up with the album. The good thing is, we had a lot of dialogue beforehand, and that's why we were able to make the album. Because we'd been doing concerts and we didn't necessarily have that dialogue between the two of us, or the time for that dialogue. So we recreated our philosophical kind of chariot.

From what I've learned about touring, it can be incredibly gratifying but incredibly draining. So even if you're performing together each night, you wouldn't necessarily have time for a dialogue.

No, we don't. Because after the concert is finished, I have to go immediately back to the hotel room and I rest my voice. The way I sing, there is no way I can go out or even drink in my room. I absolutely have to rest my voice.

I would've been really surprised if you'd said, "Oh, we go back to the hotel room and get smashed." It would be impossible to do that and sing the way you do.

I know! But occasionally I do have family or friends back to my room afterward and they'll drink a bit. So, I'm sure that if someone looks at the bill the next morning, they'll say, "Oh, that Lisa Gerrard says she doesn't drink but, by golly, when she gets back to the minibar -- wow!" [Laughs.] Let's talk about the album.

Definitely.

I think Brendan's work on this album is part of a really interesting and dynamic evolution. I think that there's something really interesting about his approach to music, very much about sharing knowledge and challenging the true potential of the human being and delivering information leading to greater depth of mind and human understanding. And I think that's really important. And the work I do, coming purely from the voice of the soul, it wakes up and ignites and hopefully creates the fire of wanting to take a chance and maybe have a look inside the soul. Getting our work relationship back together during rehearsals and what have you, something wakes up and becomes stronger, and it's great because you realize, "My God, what we're doing is a life's journey." It's a life's journey and there's great solace and great joy and communication and friendship. You wake up the human spirit. And that's what we want this album to be, what we want it to convey. Let's stretch our wings and go deeper. We've been given all this information from the ancients, and let's carry that forward instead of falling into this horrible sort of tumbler of mediocrity.

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You talk about remaining true to your ethos. The band has never been swayed by what's purportedly cool. One of the things I found remarkable is the anticipation for "Anastasis" has been very high, yet Dead Can Dance --

-- And it's just so endearing. I mean, I have a 20-year-old daughter, and she said, "Mum, all my friends love your music and I don't want them to love your music. I want them to love me !" [Laughs.]

You've been nominated for an Academy Award and nominated for a Golden Globe --

Oh, I've won a Golden Globe! [Laughs.]

Oh God, Lisa, I'm so sorry! [Laughs.]

The only reason I wanted to win that Golden Globe [with Hans Zimmer for "Gladiator"] was so my father could see it. You know, that generation values trophies. That's when my family realized I was doing something. [Laughs.] I think my family had always thought, "Well, you know. That Lisa, she's a lovely girl, but what's she doing with herself?" Now suddenly, they could quantify what I was doing.

It's tangible. They can look at it. You never went Hollywood, per se, even with all the acclaim you've received in the film world, and even in television. Instead, you launched your own label in 2009, Gerrard Records, to give lesser-exposed artists of quality a larger platform. What has been your favorite part of working with new artists?

Look, it's amazing. But what I haven't done is give it the right amount of attention. What I'll probably be doing on the tour is asking people to send us demos. I've got four artists with work coming out, and I'm really excited, but I really want more people to start sending in work. So, I might be announcing it from the stage.

Litsa Dremousis' work also appears in The Believer, Esquire, Jezebel, Huffington Post, McSweeney's, New York Magazine, The Onion's A.V. Club, Slate on KUOW, NPR, and in sundry other venues. She is completing her first novel. On Twitter: @LitsaDremousis

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