“You just need to keep the channel open. Make what only you can make. Try not to judge whether it’s any good or not. Experiment with different methods if that’s what interests you.”
Jules Maxwell, a songwriter and composer, is currently the keyboardist of DEAD CAN DANCE. His composing work for dance and theatre makes him a truly outstanding, creative artist who is active in many fields leaving his individual trait in each of them. He agreed to answer a few questions about the new album ‘Cycles’, working for the theatre, and cooperating with Lisa Gerrard and DEAD CAND DANCE.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: Your new album ‘Cycles’ was out in March 2022. It’s your third after ‘Songs from The Cultural Backwater’ and ‘Nocturnes’ that is entirely yours. What are the major emotions and motives you wanted to reflect on ‘Cycles’?
Jules: At its core, ‘Cycles’, and its predecessor ‘Nocturnes’, is an attempt at meditative music making on my part. Compositionally the pieces are constructed from simple cyclical piano motifs. They are living sketches of specific times or places or emotional states.
RoD: ‘Cycles’ feature meditative, fragile, and very reflexive music. I wonder what cycles you had in mind while composing it?
Jules: Cycles of life. - Cycles of the moon. - The cycle of windscreen wipers on a car window. - Cycles of the seasons
RoD: Was composing ‘Cycles’ a different experience than, for example, working on ‘Burn’, where you cooperated with Lisa Gerrard? Is a meeting of two strong individualities a challenge? Does it require a compromise to reach the effect that would please both artists?
Jules: It was completely different. Lisa’s voice led me through ‘Burn’. It was my North Star. With ‘Cycles’ I followed my nose. When we recorded ‘Burn’ it was challenging for both of us. But when I took it home to work more on it, Lisa allowed me complete artistic freedom which was generous and very practical. Lisa loved what I came up with. There was never a sense of compromise. I think it is helpful if you are doing lots of different things and not just stuck on one project. Lisa has always been busy with collaborations and I have too. So we were both able to accept ‘Burn’ for what it was. We had already moved on.
RoD: Do you feel that making music requires continuous experimenting and reinventing in your view? What is your approach to the creative process?
Jules: You just need to keep the channel open. Make what only you can make. Try not to judge whether it’s any good or not. Experiment with different methods if that’s what interests you. Or plough the same furrow if that’s what interests you. Both are equally fertile approaches. Talk to people. Lift your head above the frey and see who’s there with you.
RoD: You were opening the concerts for DEAD CAN DANCE during their European Tour - it’s is massive, it includes 23 cities. What is your impression of the tour? It's interesting because you performed both solo and as a member of DEAD CAN DANCE, so I’m curious to see your perspective on these two experiences?
Jules: Opening for DEAD CAN DANCE makes playing with DEAD CAN DANCE much easier. By the time you walk on stage to play with them you’ve already had the adrenalin rush of performing yourself. You’ve already talked to the audience. You’ve also had the opportunity to play your own music which is empowering in a different way to playing your part in the band.
RoD: In what way does taking part in such grand project as DEAD CAN DANCE influence your individual work? Does it influence it at all?
Jules: Understanding the mechanics of DEAD CAN DANCE’s music from the inside is very educational. It is much simpler than it seems. This has had a huge influential on my music making. And to experience it from the inside for hundreds of shows over the years cannot fail to have an impact. I’m very fortunate to have done so.
RoD: The theatre is a powerful entity of its own, and yet you work in both fields - combining both creative worlds. How would you say your interest in music and theatre complement each other?
Jules: I think I’m actually more interested in drama than I am in music. Working in theatre and dance permits me to be very sparse in my music making. Theatre rarely requires virtuosity from a composer. You need to be able to know how to subtly support the action in your interventions. As the French percussionist, Lê Quan Ninh said to me once, “The first thing a musician accompanying dance must do is listen” “Because dance is full of music already”.
RoD: What are the things that you’d still like to achieve as an artist? Will you be giving more concerts with ‘Cycles’ apart from DCD European tour?
Jules: I always have numerous projects on the go so this gives me momentum and I don’t need to think too much about where I’m heading. My wife’s mother is a painter and from her I have learned that I need always to have three workings “canvasses”. One which I am putting the final touches to. One which I am completely in the middle of and which I have no idea where it will end up. And one which I have just started, just begun to mark with my brush. I want to perform ‘Cycles’ and ‘Nocturnes’ more and more because,theoretically I can do it on my own. That feels good and possible. I am performing it in Berlin this week at an event organised by my record label. I will also be performing it in November in Portugal as the opening for seven shows which Lisa Gerrard and I have set up where we will perform the Burn album for the very first time live.
Pictures by Charlotte Deryshire (with hat) and Tony Wadham