Wednesday, July 20, 2022

New interview with Kill Shelter (Pete Burns) and "Asylum" album review

 The second album from Edinburgh-based darkwave artist Kill Shelter (the musical pseudonym of multi-instrumentalist and producer Pete Burns) further extends his unique uniting role at the forefront of the current global goth revival. Not only does his music successfully combine the two oft-warring factions of the contemporary scene - the synth-based, dancefloor-oriented dark electro sub-genre and the guitar-based, trad goth rock strand – but having collaborated with many of the leading up-and-coming “wave” artists on the debut Kill Shelter album Damage in 2018, he has broadened the range of contributing artists on the new release Asylum, which gathers together luminaries from the past forty years of the alternative music scene, uniting in the process fans of different generations, whilst imbuing the whole project with the unique Kill Shelter sound.

From the very first bars of Asylum’s opening track Time Will Come, it’s clear that the sophomore album will be a heavier and darker affair, with Burns’ trademark guitar riffs very much to the fore, but more muscular and impactful than on the previous album, and now enhanced by his own bleak baritone vocal, as is also the case with the re-recorded version of Buried Deep, which features regular collaborator Karl Morten Dahl (Antipole) on guitar.

The two singles released thus far further showcase the range of sounds on offer, with the on-trend bass-driven EBM rhythms of The Necklace (featuring vocals - and lyrics - from Johan Lange of Sweden’s Agent Side Grinder) contrasting with the more complex arrangements of the dark synthwave of In This Place, with singer Stefan Netschio of German legends Beborn Beton lending the track a classy Depeche Mode vibe, with Burns’ own classic syncopated spooky guitar line adding an extra element to a song which opens out wonderfully from an angular trip hop intro.

The ethereal tones of Valentina Veil (of VV and the Void) enhance the dark electro of Queen of Hearts, the stark matter-of-fact innocence of her voice (which is reminiscent of Lush’s Miki Berenyi) magnifying the lyrical theme. There’s also a touching vulnerability to goth royalty William Faith’s vocal on Cover Me, which like many of the tracks begins with a trademark Burns guitar motif (with accompanying mournful synth chords in this case) which will comfortingly return at various points during the song, which is arguably the closest in overall sound to the prevailing vibe of previous album Damage.

The other two tracks of the eight core songs to appear on Asylum – the European and American editions both additionally feature two different short Kill Shelter instrumental compositions, which are more cinematic soundscapes than full songs – both feature sudden changes in tempo, with current darkwave scene darlings Ash Code contributing fully on Feed The Fire to what becomes a full-on dancefloor stomper of a chorus after a surprisingly stark verse section, whilst the final main track All of This, which features the legendary Ronny Moorings (Clan of Xymox),  has a particularly epic and anthemic feel to it, with some up-tempo shimmering beats and more classic Kill Shelter guitar motifs. There’s a clear melancholic feeling which is only emphasised by a lyric, beautifully sung by Moorings, which speaks in portentous, almost Eldritchian tones of the uncertainty and essential ephemeral nature of modern life – “Lost in time… all of this will come to pass, all of this will fade away, all of this is yours to lose some day.”

Both lyrically and musically, for all of its variety Asylum is a much more homogenous affair than its predecessor, with Kill Shelter’s sound becoming as distinctive and easily recognisable as that of his most frequent collaborator, Antipole. Eager to find out more about the current album and future Kill Shelter projects, I contacted Pete Burns and was delighted when he agreed to the interview which follows.

Asylum is available on Metropolis (US edition) and Manic Depression (Europe edition) Records, and is perfect musical nourishment for dark souls who identify with any of the myriad sub-genres of the current - or indeed historic - scene.




1.You’ve been a busy man over the past two years since I last interviewed you, with remixes, one-off Kill Shelter tracks and of course the collaboration album with Antipole. I remember that in our last chat, you said that you already had the second and third Kill Shelter albums planned out – has this second volume Asylum turned out as you had expected back then?


I’m really pleased with the way Asylum turned out, but it was more complicated than I had originally anticipated. When we last spoke, Nik, the concept was pretty much mapped out and I had actually planned to make it a double album! Unfortunately, there were a lot of things that affected the production including contributors pulling out for personal reasons, ill health, hospitalisation and in some cases, people just going completely off the radar. It’s been a difficult few years for everyone, so there were some doors I just didn’t want to push. I’m really delighted with the quality of the contributions on the album and even though it’s different from my original intention in terms of scope, it really has some very special moments, and I definitely wouldn’t change it.


2. The title, Asylum, has modern political connotations, but was also used to refer to mental health institutions in previous generations. Are you aiming to change the political landscape, to raise awareness of mental health issues, or is the music itself intended as a place of virtual sanctuary?


Like all my work, there is a duality to the concept and you are right, I was keen to raise awareness of both political and mental health issues. Asylum goes beyond that too. Domestic abuse went up by over 30% in the last two years and that’s a terrifying statistic. There’s a lot wrong with this world and it just seems like things are getting worse. I would have hoped that we’d have become a more advanced society by now. It’s heart-breaking really. I hadn’t thought of the music being a virtual sanctuary but I love that idea. I think we all need an escape.


3. The cover for Asylum at first glance is very reminiscent to that of Damage, which was a close-up  photo taken at the incredible abandoned former Yugoslav army holiday resort of Kupari in modern-day Croatia. Were you just looking for a similar visual aesthetic of a bullet-hole, or is there deeper symbolic meaning in the sharper, cleaner lines on the Asylum cover photo, and will this be reflected in the third part of the trilogy?


I have to say that you really know your stuff, Nik, and you certainly pay attention to the details. I get the feeling I’m going to have to work really hard for you not to second guess me now!

I had the idea for the cover, along with the concept, before I started the recording process. It’s actually part of a triptych that I made but in the end, I only decided to use one section. I wanted the cover art to look like it was handmade rather than found. I deliberately didn’t overwork it as I wanted the finished piece to have a raw but unusual energy.

The label device that holds the logos and the album title will be consistent across the series but the cover art itself may not follow the same aesthetic approach. I’m in two minds about that at the moment (laughs). Whatever happens, the covers should all feel like they are part of the same series - that’s really important to me.


4. It might seem strange to be asking this when Asylum is only still on pre-release, but I was wondering how far ahead is the planning for the third Kill Shelter album? For example, do you have the music written, and do you have the next tranche of collaborating artists already working on their individual tracks?


I’m always thinking ahead so that’s a very fair question to ask. I have some tracks put aside and there is one track that is complete and mastered but I’m not sure if it will make the release or not. Going through the process of making Asylum changed my perspective on a few things so I will remain open minded about where the third and final album in that series goes but, as you’d expect, it has a concept and working title.

I’ve also got a few concepts mapped out for future releases too. I think I take comfort in being organised in that tiny part of my life.


5. Many physical releases in the (sadly) niche world of contemporary coldwave/darkwave/goth music are released by different companies in the US and Europe, but on this occasion you have selected different tracks for each version of Asylum, with a core of eight tracks common to both releases, but with a further two tracks each which don’t feature on the other version. Was this simply a way of releasing more tracks, or is there a particular message in those extra tracks which you felt was relevant to that particular continent?


I feel really lucky and honoured to be working with both Metropolis Records and Manic Depression Records so I wanted them to have something unique. The covers, liner notes and listings are different so it made sense to me to include different tracks to make each release special. I really love the idea of music being collectable and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to do something a bit different with the formats and the territories. The tracks all come from the same place but are different sonic interpretations of the main concept.

 Shipping costs can be very cost prohibitive for people so my main reason for the split release was to make the physical formats accessible and hopefully affordable for people. I also hope that it helps to broaden the spectrum of people that have heard of Kill Shelter. I still think it’s a very well-kept secret even in our niche world.


6. You released an early version of the core tracks, Buried Deep, on a DarkItalia compilation a couple of years ago. Was the plan always to go back and rework the song with your most frequent collaborator (Karl Morten Dahl from Antipole)?


I was keen to revisit Buried Deep and it made sense to have Karl add some of his guitar work to the track to give it a slightly different feel. I redid the vocals and some of the lyrics, changed the structure and, with the addition of Karl’s guitars, I think it became a stronger track. It’s still tonally very complex but I can listen to it now without only hearing the mistakes that I originally made (laughs).


7. Clearly most of this second album was recorded during the pandemic, and as with Damage there is a stellar cast of darkwave icons who have contributed to individual tracks. Did you manage to work with any of them in the studio in person, or was it largely done digitally and independently?


Yes, all the contributions were recorded remotely. I’m so used to working that way now that I don’t even question it anymore. In some cases, I prepared a guide vocal as well as the demo and lyrics. The only track that was different was The Necklace with Agent Side Grinder where they wrote the lyrics as well as recording the vocals. Everyone on the album was incredible to work with and there were very few changes along the way. It really is quite a moment when the vocal stems come through for the first time and you hear the track move from a demo to a song. Even though the collaboration isn’t real time, I think the effect is still tangible - it’s a real pleasure to work with that level of talent. I don’t take that for granted.


8. On this new album, as well as contemporary “third wave” artists, your collaborators include Ronny Moorings from Clan of Xymox and ex-Faith and the Muse mainman William Faith from the previous “waves”. Was this a deliberate policy of embracing the broader history of the genre, or just a natural widening of your address book after the success of Damage?


It was very deliberate.

I wanted Asylum to be reflective of the last 40 years or so of underground and alternative music so it was important for me to have a spectrum of artists from each wave as well as different genres. Damage was focussed on emerging talent from around the world and felt of its time. It was important for me to take a different approach with Asylum so each album had a point of difference. I’m really lucky to have worked with so many talented people on the album and it’s their contribution that makes it so special.


9. In between the two KS albums proper, apart from the collaboration album with Antipole, you also contributed a couple of cover versions to tribute albums on your former label, Unknown Pleasures, The Sisters of Mercy’s Nine While Nine and Bauhaus’ She’s In Parties. Did covering these songs by your idols increase your appreciation of their talent, and will the experience of making the cover versions influence your own work in the future?


It really did. I’d never really done covers before so it was a challenge all round if I’m being honest. I have a lot of time for Pedro at UPR so when he asked Karl and I to cover Nine While Nine, I couldn’t really say no but I was very nervous about it. It’s one of my favourite Eldritch lyrics but it’s not easy to sing. In retrospect I should maybe have been braver with my approach to the arrangement of the track but I was so focussed on not fucking up the vocal entirely that I think that’s where all my focus and attention went. I still put my heart and soul into it though. With She’s in Parties, it was different again. Vocally, I think I’m closer to Peter Murphy than Eldritch but the register and range really pushed my almost non-existent vocal abilities. I did all the high backing vocals too and I think I surprised myself in the process. It’s made me think very differently about how I approach singing and song structure. Also, with She’s in Parties, I let my guitar playing open up in the dub outro, and even though it’s quite minimal, it’s one of my favourite guitar parts that I’ve recorded. I deliberately did it in one take, in fact all the overdubs were done like that - I was keen to keep the looseness and energy associated with just going for it. It wasn’t planned. So yes, lots of learnings that I will definitely apply going forward.


10. You always seem to have a lot of projects on the go at the same time, with the remixing of other artists, Kill Shelter releases and other collaborations. What’s next for you, after the release of Asylum? Will you be playing any live shows, or given the nature of your recordings would that be logistically too difficult?


The Kill Shelter albums would be very hard to replicate live, mainly from a guest vocalist perspective. The logistics and costs would make it almost impossible. Also, my head is in writing at the moment and not performing - I think they are two very different things. At this point I’d rather spend my time wisely and create new material while I still feel like I have something to say rather than rehearsing something I’d already recorded. When I did Damage I was adamant that I couldn’t sing and had no plans to do so. Working with Karl (Antipole) changed my perspective on that, so I’ll remain open minded.

I’ve stopped remixing quite as much now, but I have a few pipelined EPs. Karl and I plan to do another album together and I have a working title as well as the cover concept in place for when the time comes. I’ve also got two albums in my sights, one being the final part of the Kill Shelter Trilogy. I’ve got a side project that I’m working on with Cliff Hewitt (Modern Eon, Apollo 440, Jean-Michel Jarre, Schiller etc) so I’m hoping that will see the light of day next year all going well. He’s an incredible drummer but it’s very early stages at the moment so we’ll just have to see what happens.

If there’s one thing that I’m never short of is things to do…

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