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.
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.
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.