Kill Shelter interview

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The British musician Pete Burns embodies Kill Shelter in his musical project, an alter ego with which he develops the work of a multi-instrumentalist to create sound scenarios that mix styles such as Darkwave and different variants of Post-punk, with electric guitars and electronic textures.

Kill Shelter has participated in Honoris II (Tribute To The Sisters Of Mercy & The Sisterhood) and Honoris III (Tribute to Bauhaus), both albums released by the French label Unknown Pleasures Records and Industrial Complexx. However, the Edinburgh-based producer has been particularly active over the last year with two great albums, the most recent of which was released last July and is surely one of the best contemporary works you can listen to if you are a lover of Gothic Rock and Darkwave.


First of all, we are interested in knowing your background, since Kill Shelter has only been active for a few years, what other projects were you involved in before you started releasing music as Kill Shelter?

I’ve been writing music for years under various guises. I’ve written music for TV, Radio and Film and have work published by Sony BMG and Universal as well as a series of underground and independent labels. I’ve always been passionate about creating music. I had the name Kill Shelter for a while and I just wanted to write music that came from the heart, that didn’t adhere to any strict genres or have perceived creative boundaries. I love production and have produced a lot of material over the years. I’ve never lost that passion and I’m always learning – every track is an opportunity to create something new or go on a journey that you’ve never taken before.

Damage was Kill Shelter’s first album, originally released on Unknown Pleasures, a label you have collaborated with several times, how did this link with this French label come about?

I had been a big fan of UPR for quite a few years and I particularly like the label’s uncompromising approach – it embodies everything an independent label should be: determined, single-minded, passionate, defiant and obsessive. They have released some outstanding underground albums over the years and definitely take a broad church approach to the music that they release. I had been speaking to Pedro, the label founder and owner, over the years and I’d remixed a few of the bands on his label. He got in touch saying, “if you are planning an album, and if it’s good, then I’d like to release it”. That was a special moment for me as I have a lot of time and respect for Pedro and I will always be grateful for his support. I sent him four tracks from the album and he requested more. I think he made up his mind pretty quickly and that was that. Damage had a home and the Kill Shelter journey began in earnest.

Your participation in Honoris II and Honoris III was sublime, how have bands like The Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus influenced you?

That’s really kind of you to say. Thank you. And thanks for your support. I don’t think I’ve really unlocked the art of cover versions yet as it’s not something I’m used to doing. Hearing encouraging feedback means a lot.

In terms of influence, I still have the early Sisters EPs as well as FaLaA – they are some of my favourite records ever made. I still go back to them. They definitely evoke a spirit from a particular time and they are records that mean a lot to me. Lyrically, Eldritch was on another level for a while and, along with David Sylvian, has written some of my all time favourite lyrics and songs.

Bauhaus are a really interesting band on many levels; artistically, creatively and conceptually. They definitely embraced the scene but importantly they have remained unique. The combination of Murphy, Ash, J and Haskins is incredibly dynamic and never obvious. They’ve never been scared to experiment and that’s a powerful thing.

Saying that, I’d hate to be a carbon copy of those bands and I wouldn’t have chosen to cover them had it not been for Pedro at UPR. I don’t want to be The Sisters or Bauhaus but I’m not afraid to talk about my influences and their importance to me. Great songs become the soundtrack to your life and that’s more than enough for me. I’m happy to be developing my own voice and hopefully people will stay on this journey with me.

I’m not used to covering other people’s songs and they were both very daunting covers to take on for different reasons. Nine While Nine is a brilliant song and lyric but it’s really hard to sing. They only did it live a few times and possibly for that very reason. She’s in Parties is a classic single and my all time favourite Bauhaus track along with Silent Hedges. I did learn a huge amount in the process of doing the covers and it definitely pushed me way out of my comfort zone which I think has proven to be a good thing for me personally even if it’s not necessarily reflected in the music yet.

You have worked closely with Antipole, you even released an album together, what does Antipole bring to Kill Shelter’s music?

Karl has become a really good friend of mine and I think we work particularly well together. Our styles are very complimentary. There are no egos in our collaborations and we are definitely on the same page musically. Antipole brings a more wistful energy and he has got a really natural ability for picking out the “blue” notes in a scale which give his work a particular character. I think the blend of his hypnotic themes and distinctive guitar tone mixed with his melodic sensibilities sit really well with the Kill Shelter sonic palette. I like the fact that we both had our first releases on UPR and that we’ve maintained our friendship way beyond just creating music together.

We talk about you as a multi-instrumentalist musician, what equipment and sound processes do you use to create an album like Asylum?

I always start with the guitar – that’s my “go to” instrument. Most of the riffs are written first then I build up the tracks from there. The original guitars may be replaced or removed entirely during the production process. There are a few tracks, like The Necklace, which were written on the bass. Whatever happens I generally start with a stringed instrument.

I use a lot of effects and processing – I’ve always been into that. I do try to treat my guitars like synths and my synths like guitars. If you then mix that with tight, club-friendly kicks and snares you are getting pretty close to the fundamentals sound of Kill Shelter.

I have a collection of guitars, some customised synths and a fair amount of hardware too. I like to immerse myself in the process. I’m not one for using presets but I totally understand the immediacy; that’s probably why I primarily write on the guitar.

I’m constantly learning and I strive to make each recording better than the last. The journey is definitely more important to me than the destination and I try not to do the same thing twice. I think it’s important to experiment and push yourself to learn but also to make mistakes. You definitely learn faster by making them.

Asylum is the latest album you have released, what was your inspiration to create this work, what exactly is the concept of the album?

Conceptually, the album is multilayered and covers issues relating to various interpretations of the word asylum. It deals with and highlights challenging themes such as human trafficking, domestic abuse, seeking refuge, disillusionment, bedlam and redemption

When planning the second album in the multi-collaboration trilogy, I wanted Asylum to reflect forty years of Darkwave. That was important to me from the outset. The first part, Damage, focussed on contemporary global underground artists and I had no plans to repeat that. I don’t want it to be a formulaic process. It was important for me that it was a statement and that it had depth of meaning but that it was also inclusive and reflective of the scene.

Asylum features some great collaborations, how do you manage these partnerships?

I’m very lucky to work with artists that I really admire and it means a lot to me when they give up their time to be involved. I try to make the process as straightforward as possible. I tend to write the track with a particular artist in mind and I’ll also prepare lyrics and a guide vocal if necessary. Everything is done remotely but that seems to work really well for everyone. The main thing is communication. I want everyone that is kind enough to work with me to be happy with the output and how they are represented in the final track. I make sure that everyone has a say and that nothing is released without their consent and final approval.

Time Will Come is the opening track on Asylum, what does it talk about?

Time Will Come is about the abuse of power and it comes from a place of disillusionment. It’s a song about being at breaking point when you realise you are being used. You can read it on a personal or political level. The track is very close to my heart and it’s the only track on the album that doesn’t use any synths. I deliberately left the guitars as I played them and the majority were done in one take. I wanted it to feel like it had a raw energy. I would normally do lots of takes and meticulously edit and refine them but I wanted Time Will Come to be immediate.

It was actually a very late addition to the album (a replacement track in fact) and I’ve been delighted to see that some people have picked up on it. I’ve been asked a lot for an extended version for clubs and DJs so I’ll see if I can harness the same energy and make that happen. It was a very liberating track to work on for many reasons. It was also a personal statement for me to have my isolated vocals start the album.

You created In This Place with Stefan Netschio, member of the German band Beborn Beton, a thought-provoking track, is both the concept and the musical composition the work of both of you?

The concept, song and lyrics come from me but we talked a lot about the sentiment and meaning behind the track ahead of Stefan tracking the vocals and also during the production process. Stefan was incredible to work with and he interpreted the lyrics brilliantly. It’s a very sensitive subject matter so it ad to be handled with empathy and integrity both of which he did flawlessly. I had the pleasure of meeting Stefan this year and we got on really well. He is incredibly professional and dedicated and he’s a producer’s dream to work with let’s be honest. He’s very talented and I’m really hoping we manage to do more work together.

You recently released a video for In This Place, do you plan to release this track as a single?

In This Place is effectively the second single from the album. We used it to launch the album on the 15th July and it’s been tracking really well in alternative single charts which is amazing. At one point In This Place and The Necklace were both in the Deutsche Alternative Chart Top Ten and then In This Place landed the No. 1 spot so I was both delighted and amazed by that.

A lot of the video was shot in Essen by Julia Beyer – she’s an incredible photographer and I can’t thank her and Stefan enough for all the work that they did on it. It really means a lot when the people you work with bring a lot to the table. They are truly lovely and talented people and they supplied me with a lot of great footage for the edit. It was a joy to work on the edit and post-production. They made my job very easy.

In Queen of Hearts you work with Valentina Veil, from VV & the Void, she is not the only female voice that appears in Asylum, but she is the only voice that gives a sweet touch to the album, did you intend to give a different approach than the rest of the tracks?

Queen of Hearts (aka House of Cards) is a song about domestic abuse. The point of view is survival and empowerment and Valentina delivered it incredibly well. The essence of the vocal is very feminine and ethereal but it carries a unique determination and strength which is intrinsic to Val’s vocal style. It’s so good. Originally I had hoped to work with her on Damage but the timing wasn’t quite right so I’m delighted we made it happen on Asylum.

In Buried Deep you trust again with Antipole, and what stands out the most in this track is the unfathomable timbre of the voice, whose voice is this and why did you choose this tessitura?

I sing on Buried Deep and also the opening track Time Will Come. I used mainly my lower “chest voice” on Buried Deep as I wanted to give the vocals a certain weight and character. I wanted it to feel almost suffocating to match the sentiment of the track. It’s very close to the bottom of my vocal register and it was important that it had an intensity and heaviness to match the mood and sentiment of the track itself.

The Room, the fifth cut of Asylum in its European version, is a fragment of little more than two minutes that perhaps you use as a transition, what meaning does this track have within the album’s environment?

I wanted the album to have an element of introspection. The four instrumentals all come from the same place but are different sonic interpretations of the core idea.

Physically, the audio that sits closest to the centre of a vinyl record has less dynamic range so I wanted something that would translate well to that format. I always write my albums with vinyl in mind and it’s an important part of the production process for me.

In the American version of Asylum you replace The Room with Crossing Borders, do the two tracks have the same function? Is it the same with A Shadow of Doubt and The Cage?

Exactly. I just wanted to have something that marked each release as being unique but they share the same core idea – they are just different sonic interpretations of it.

I write a lot of instrumental and atmospheric stuff so I wanted that to be reflected on the album too without it overtaking the mood of the album. All of those tracks are improvised and the majority of the tracks are recorded in one take so that gives them a certain character.

Why do you release Asylum in both European and American versions, and why do you choose the Metropolis and Manic Depression labels?

I had a lot of people saying to me that the cost of shipping was more than the product so I wanted to address that. Having Metropolis take care of North and South America and the related territories really helped with that but it also increased distribution and reach too. It was important to me that both labels had a unique product to sell – it means a lot to me to get their support and I have a lot of time and admiration for both labels. It also made sense to me that if the covers and liner notes were different then why not make each version special from a musical point of view too.

Agent Side Grinder is an excellent partner for The Necklace, did you look for the influence of the Nordic sound to create this track?

Like all the artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I really admire their work. I’ve been in touch with Johan for quite a few years now, since remixing Into the Wild, and he and Emanuel were just great to work with on both the track and video. They really got into it and delivered way beyond what I could have hoped for.

I wrote the demo with ASG in mind and I’m so glad that Johan agreed to work on it with me. The track was pivotal to Asylum on many levels and we worked really well together to deliver the vision I had in mind. It’s a collaboration in the truest sense of the word. From the delivery of the concept, through the music to the video that supported the single. I cannot thank them enough. I hope I can return the favour one day.

In Feed the Fire you combine different voices, what role does each voice have in this track?

Alessandro and Claudia split the duties on this track and I think it works incredibly well. The lyrics themselves are written from a group perspective where “we” and “you” are divided. The different vocal treatments contribute to that sense of multiple voices aligned and bound by the same cause and way of thinking. It’s a very strong and defiant song and they really brought their personality to the track.

Ash Code did a lot of work for Feed the Fire and there’s another version of the song that I intend to complete as well which has more musical contributions from them. It’s got more of a euro Darkwave vibe so I’m looking forward to people hearing that too.

In Cover Me and All of This, cuts 8 and 9 of Asylum, two historical figures of the American and European Darkwave scene collaborate, William Faith, from Faith and the Muse, and Ronny Moorings, founder of the Dutch band Clan of Xymox, did you want to give prominence to great figures from both continents?

Yes. Absolutely. I wanted to celebrate the global nature of the Darkwave scene over the past four decades and to have William and Ronny on board was incredible. I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked with them. I wanted the album to be inclusive and to recognise some of the people who have been a major part of the scene.

I met Ronny recently and we got on really well. I have a lot of time and respect for him and I hope we get the chance to work together again. Yet another favour that I hope I can return.

Dave Heckman, founder of Metropolis Records, passed away recently. What would you highlight about his musical legacy and his work at the head of a label like Metropolis?

I feel very honoured to have had the chance to work with Dave. He was a very passionate and forthright individual and it meant the world to me to be brought into the Metropolis fold. There aren’t many labels like that in this world and he left behind an incredible legacy.

You only have to look at the list of names that make up the vast Metropolis catalogue to understand how important they are to the scene. Under Dave’s guidance they signed, supported and distributed some incredible bands including Bauhaus, Peter Murphy, Gary Numan, IAMX, Clan of Xymox, Front 242, Fields of the Nephilim, Front Line Assembly, Haujobb, The Mission… the list goes on and on. I think the fact that there are over 1300 releases by the label speaks volumes of his intent and his legacy is clear.

It was a lifelong ambition of mine to be signed to Metropolis and, on hearing Asylum, Dave made his mind up very quickly. I so wish we could have worked together longer and my thoughts continue to be with his wife, family and the team at Metropolis.

He had been helping me plan the follow up to Asylum and we’d exchanged emails literally the day before he passed away. It will take me some time to come to terms with that. He is sadly missed and greatly appreciated.

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