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QRD #33 - the Father's Day issue - June 2007
about this issue
Martin Bowes of Attrition
Benjy Johnson of Benjomatic
Sam Rosenthal of BTFABG
William Amundson
Josh Howard author of Dead@17
Peter Ulrich of Dead Can Dance
Aaron Molina of If Thousands
D.A. Sebasstian of KSK
Alan Sparhawk of Low
Shane Sauers
Rune Flaten of Origami Arktika
Tore Boe of Origami Republika
Chris Olley of Six by Seven
Timothy Renner of Stone Breath
Patrick Ogl of Thanatos
Mats Gustafsson of Broken Face
Jason Wallach of Unquiet Void
Chris Wade of The Wades
Nevada Hill of The Zanzibar Snails
Wayne Barnes
Dan Sostrom of Tonevendor
Colin Newman of Wire
Joe Kendrick of WNCW
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Interview with Peter Ulrich of Dead Can Dance
June 12, 2007

Peter Ulrich is most famous for his work with Dead Can Dance, but more recently he has made some solo records that have included guest appearances by his daughters.

Name: Peter Ulrich
Bands: Dead Can Dance, The Peter Ulrich Collaboration
Website: www.themysterium.info

QRD – How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be a professional musician?

Peter – I never came to that realization - it just happened.  I was trying to make a career for myself as a publicity officer in London theatre when I had a chance meeting with Brendan Perry & Lisa Gerrard & was invited to join Dead Can Dance as their drummer.  I had no idea where it would lead & I didn’t accept the invitation in order to “make money” or “become professional” - I just loved their music & grabbed the chance to be a part of it.  It’s actually a bit misleading to describe myself as a “professional musician” as, although I have made some money out of music over the years, I have never earned my living from it.  My post-DCD solo career probably still costs me more than I earn from it, so I am actually still dreaming of one day becoming a “professional” musician!

QRD – What are a few highlights of your musical career?

Peter – Being given my first pair of bongo drums, aged about 10.  Just about every musical instrument I have ever bought - it still gives me an enormous thrill to acquire any new instrument!  Joining my first band - Mischief - & gigging with them around the pubs & clubs of East London.  Just about everything with Dead Can Dance - that was truly amazing & I still find it hard to believe that I had that opportunity.  Going into the studio in 1990 to make my first main solo recordings.  Releasing my two solo albums in 1999 (Pathways & Dawns) & 2005 (Enter The Mysterium).

QRD – At what age did you decide you wanted to become a father?

Peter – I don’t remember ever consciously making that decision.  I think from a pretty early age I wanted to fall in love with a beautiful woman & have kids - I never had any doubts about it.

QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your family has had on your career?

Peter – That’s very difficult to say.  I decided after the DCD tour in late 1990 that I would have to give up touring.  My first daughter, Louise, was two & a half, & my second daughter, Eleanor, was on the way.  Nicki - my partner then, wife now - was working full time & committed to her career, & it had simply become impractical & irresponsible of me to go away for two to three months at a time.  However, since I made that decision, I have only actually missed three DCD tours - one in 1993, one in 1996 & one in 2005.
And even then, I was briefly involved in some of the recording for the last DCD studio album (Spiritchaser, 1996).  Meanwhile, because I had officially made the break with DCD, Brendan encouraged me to seriously pursue writing & recording my own material, & this gave birth to my solo “career” which has given me a huge amount of personal fulfillment in recent years.  So, there is an element of regret that I missed out on those later tours, but that is more than compensated for by what I have achieved since.

QRD – What are some positive & negative impacts your career has had on your family?

Peter – I really hope I’ve shielded them from any negative impacts.  I can’t think of any...  but maybe they could!  As for positive impacts, nothing dramatic... but I think & hope that it has been nice for my daughters to grow up with music all around them.  They certainly both have a very strong passion for music & I think that enhances their lives.  For me & Nicki, music has always been a very important shared interest & I’m sure it always will be.  My own music is just one aspect of that.

QRD – Have your children effected the music you make &/or listen to?

Peter – Certainly.  They have both been involved in various music projects through school, & Eleanor currently plays violin in a youth orchestra.  It has been a great joy to Nicki & I to go to their various performances over the years, & this has exposed us to musics & performance styles that we otherwise would not have experienced.  More specifically, the local education service where we live has a very active team getting schoolchildren & students to play steel pans.  Both Louise & Eleanor have played in the youth pans orchestras, & for the past two or three years I have been playing bass pans in a parents group which started through one of the schools, which I’ve really enjoyed.

QRD – Have you had problems with the lack of steady money from a musical career providing the security you feel necessary in your household?

Peter – Ha ha... the answer is a resounding YES.  Luckily, I have a responsible & successful wife who has provided security for our family!

QRD – Given the limitations having a family has on being a touring musician, would you have toured more earlier in life if you’d known?

Peter – I might have done if the opportunities had arisen earlier, but it’s not something I look back on with any regret or any sense that I have missed out.  As I said earlier, I was very lucky in that the opportunity to join DCD was just presented to me.  I toured with DCD from 1983 to 1990 & had many wonderful experiences.  I have played to thousands of people across Europe & the States, & not many people get that kind of opportunity.  So I really have no complaints!

QRD – Do you think being a father or a musician has a greater impact on your community?

Peter – Wow - that’s a tough question!  I suppose in my local community, I have more impact as a father.  Once you have children, your life changes instantly from being self-centered to child-focused & much of your local social activity becomes dominated by what your children are doing & the new people you meet & interact with as a result of your child’s development & activities.  So it is being a father rather than being a musician that tends to govern what I am doing in my local community.  But as a musician with an international recording deal, I am reaching out to a much wider community in which any impact I have is clearly much more as a musician than as a father.  Is that a bit too much like stating the obvious?

QRD – Would you rather see your child eventually become a musician or parent?

Peter – As far as I’m concerned, they can become either, neither, or both - as long as they’re happy I don’t mind.

QRD – Both family & music seem like things that will take up as much of your time as you’re willing to put in.  How do you end up dividing your time?

Peter – That’s true, but the demands on my time as a father are more pressing & really have to be dealt with.  Music is what I do when I can make the time - family needs to take precedence.  Having said this, Louise is 19 now & is off to university in September, so she is very independent now.  Eleanor is 16 and, although I will gladly help her through her college & extra-curricular activities over the next couple of years, she too is becoming increasingly independent & less demanding on my time.

QRD – Do you have a split/secret life between being a parent & being a musician?

Peter – Err... no, I don’t think so.

QRD – What do your children think of your music?

Peter – They are ambivalent about it.  It’s well outside the mainstream of their current tastes, but they quite like some of the songs & they tend to remember the words better than I do!  I think they quite like the fact that the old man has a recording deal & a couple of CDs available - it can occasionally give them a bit of useful kudos with their peers.  & very occasionally they encounter someone who has heard of DCD & is highly impressed that their dad was once the drummer!

QRD – Do you think you could ever do a musical project with your children?

Peter – They both sing some backing vocals, & Eleanor plays a bit of violin, on a song called “Through Those Eyes” on Enter The Mysterium.  It was great getting them involved, & a real thrill for me to have them featured on the album.  A lot of people have commented on how well their voices work in the song.  I’d like to get them involved again in future, but I don’t know if they’ll have time to fit me in!  Also, Louise set up a MySpace page for me, which has been a really big help in promoting my music over the past year or so.  So, yes, we can definitely work together if time allows - but I’m more keen that they go off & find their own projects to get involved with.

QRD – Any words of advice to young people?

Peter – Not really.  Any broad advice is too obvious, & any specific advice needs to be tailored to the individual.

QRD – Could you send a photo of yourself with your kids for the article?

Peter – Oh... I didn’t know that was coming.  My daughters haven’t agreed to be photographed with me for several years now - they have their reputations to consider.  I’ll see what I can do, but don’t hold your breath.

QRD – 
2015 update - any new insight from eight more years of fatherhood?

Peter – Well, yes, eight years is a fair stretch of time & the developing lives of one’s children emphasize that more than probably anything else.  When you interviewed me in 2007, my daughters were both still teenagers.  Now, Louise is 27 & Ellie 24.  They have both graduated, both have good jobs in communications/PR/marketing & Louise has recently bought her first home with her boyfriend.  Happily, we are a very close family & all meet up, go out together & visit each other regularly, which is lovely.
On the musician front, this has been a contributory factor to me being able to spend more time on my music & also to have more freedom to pursue music.  Consequently, you contacting me at this moment happens to find me based for the next few weeks in New York for rehearsals & promo in the run up to the first live performance of my current project, The Peter Ulrich Collaboration.  This will be my first major live performance since I was on tour in the US with Dead Can Dance back in 1990!  The concert takes place at Webster Hall on Saturday June 20 - which, if I’m not mistaken, is the eve of this year’s Father’s Day.  My wife & Ellie will be coming over for the show; while Louise is demanding YouTube footage, as she can’t get the leave from work.
The Collaboration is a project I’ve been working on very closely with New York producer Trebor Lloyd for the past few years & which has so far spawned two albums - The Painted Caravan in 2014 & Tempus Fugitives which was released just last month.  Up to now it’s been entirely a studio project, with me writing & recording my contributions at home in London & Trebor bringing in all the other contributors in New York, where the recording & production has mainly been done at the Engine Room Audio studios.  Over the course of the two albums we’ve involved over 50 musicians & a correspondingly vast range of instruments.  Contemplating a live performance therefore threw up something of a “challenge”, but Trebor has assembled a mini-orchestra of around 14 -15 & from where we are in rehearsals so far, I am incredibly excited about this show.
My daughters, of course, now appreciate the significance of me doing this.  Throughout their lives they have been aware that I used to be live performer, but they have only ever seen me make a couple of guest cameo appearances with friends.  So they’re quite intrigued by this latest development - & I like to think quite impressed that their old man is about to tread the boards again.  So this year, I’m particularly looking forward to the day before Father’s Day!