Interview: With Pete Burns of Kill Shelter

I’m very excited about this interview. Kill Shelter “Damage” was one of my top albums of 2018, a truly groundbreaking piece of artistic expression which harnessed the vocal talents of some of the darkest stars in the Post Punk/Darkwave genre. I tried to ask questions which would give a firmer grasp of his process and motivations in creating this monumental and personal offering. The album just became available on vinyl and is a must have for any serious collector who values this style. Link just below


https://hivmusic1.bandcamp.com/album/damage-upr094-gothic-rock-darkwave

https://soundsandshadows.com/2019/05/18/kill-shelter-review-of-damage/

Our review of the album 🙂

(Ken) Pete this latest album “Damage” touched on so many emotions for so many people. What did this title mean and what were you trying to capture in these songs that related to it?

(Pete) Firstly thanks so much for the kind words and for the opportunity to talk about it. “Damage” was written during an exceptionally difficult time for me and there were a lot of dark thoughts and emotions that influenced both my music and my song writing in the nine months that it took to produce the album. “Damage” not only reflected my state of mind but it became a thread that ran through all the tracks – whatever happened I wanted to try and create something with a sense of purpose. Music has become so disposable and ubiquitous that I just wanted to try and make something that had some form of substance, meaning and hopefully resonance.

(Ken) You did such a unique concept of writing these songs but bringing in a who’s who of incredible musicians and singers to bring your words and songs to life. That couldn’t have been easy. How did you come up with this concept and what was your biggest challenge to overcome? 

(Pete) I’ve always seen myself as a producer first so working with other artists, especially vocalists, is something that I love to do. I’d been doing a set of remixes and had just started writing material when Pedro from Unknown Pleasures Records approached me asking if I intended to do an album and if so he would be interested in considering it for his label. So that gave me something positive to work towards, of course there was no guarantee that a) it would be good and b) that anyone would like it. At that time UPR were going to only do 100 releases in their catalog so I knew if Damage was to be considered it needed to be special and I wanted to help mark the history of the label in some way. I had a “hit list” of artists that I wanted to work with so I began writing with those people in mind. The mistake I made was writing the song first then approaching the artist rather than gauging interest levels first then going down the writing process. It also takes a lot of time to slot into other people’s schedules too so it can easily become a logistical nightmare. I’m taking a different approach with the follow up…

(Ken)  I feel like post punk/darkwave music is going through an incredible Renaissance right now, as someone who has made music in this scene a long time what has changed for you the last few years? What excites you about the future?

(Pete) Yes, there is a lot of chat about renaissance and revival and I think that is a good thing – “a rising tide lifts all boats” as they say. The scene is definitely broader now and influences and genres tend to blur at the edges and that is really exciting. I read recently that we were in the 4th or even 5th wave of post-punk now but that doesn’t mean it’s all good. I tend to gravitate towards the timeless and the innovative and that’s what I look and hope for in music. I’m always excited to hear outstanding new music so I’m forever optimistic that something very special is just around the corner

(Ken)  I watched Damage shoot to the top of so many top albums on 2018 lists, including Sound and Shadows. Did that surprise you? What is the ideal future for Kill Shelter?

(Pete) To say I was surprised would definitely be an understatement – yeah, I’ve really been blown away by the response. For an album that was released so late in the year (November 26th) I never thought anyone would care let alone put it on their “best of” lists. I’m very grateful to everyone who has supported the album including Sounds and Shadows of course.

The ideal future for Kill Shelter would be continued interest and support and the chance to release another album (or two) that were equally as surprising as the first. That would be a good start. 

(Ken)  You worked with so many incredible artists I love on this album. Pedro Code, Ashe Ruppe, Nate Jespersen, Karl Morton Dahl, Hante, many more. If you could bring in any vocalist living or dead to do a song with who would it be?

Pedro Code of IAMTHESHADOW

(Pete) I’m hopeful that the next set of Kill Shelter releases partially answers that question for you. There are so many extremely talented vocalists in and out of the genre it would be difficult to name just one. David Sylvian is still one of may favorite vocalists of all time.

David Sylvian of Japan

(Ken) These songs have such a person feel, are they about your life? Or more of a narrative about what you are seeing in the human condition? If the first what did you draw on to create them?

(Pete) There are people who write from experience and there are people who write imagined experiences. On Damage the material I wrote draws directly from very personal experiences and emotions. I’ve always found writing music cathartic in that way – even when I was growing up I buried myself in writing as a way to deal with my feelings.

(Ken) It’s so hard for me to choose a favorite track on this record, but In Decay hit a special chord for me. Ashe has told me these are your words he sang. Tell me about the background of this song, what were you feeling in Decay?

(Pete) I’m really glad you called that particular track out although it’s an incredibly personal track to me. Without being too maudlin about it, “In Decay” was written about the death of my mother. I didn’t tell Ashe originally what the real meaning was as I thought it was unfair to put him under that amount of pressure. He sang it just the way I’d imagined it though so I’ll be forever grateful to him for that. The line “at the end of forever – I come undone” just about sums it up.

(Ken) This was a complete album and concept, but music is changing. Is there still a place in the modern scene for 10+ song concepts or is the future, singles and internet hits? 

(Pete) Listening behavior has changed dramatically. Anonymous single tracks appearing on semi-curated playlists and individual tracks being recommended by algorithms based on listener preference has definitely changed the way we consume music. “Damage” was written as an album and you can hear that when you listen to it – it’s supposed to be a journey. But the individual nature of the contributing artists makes each track unique and therefore able to stand on its own too. Is there a place for a 10+ song concept album? Probably not, but who wants to be the same as everyone else. I really hope that people will discover the album and put the time aside to listen to it as a whole.


Hélène de Thoury of Hante who sings “Kiss me Goodbye”

(Ken) If you could go on tour opening for any band currently in the scene who would it be and why? 

(Pete) There’s a question. How close to the scene are Depeche Mode these days? I’m sure that would have a positive impact on how many people had heard of Kill Shelter. Gary Numan, She Past Away, The Sisters, The Soft Moon… you get the idea… 

(Ken) If you could get in a Delorean and travel back in time to talk to 21 year old you, what would you tell that young man? Would he listen?

(Pete) He’d definitely listen to the advice it’s whether he’d have the self belief to act on it. I’d probably say “you are right to be uncompromising in your music. Enjoy listening to other people’s music and continue to be open minded but the best stuff isn’t about trying too hard, it’s about being natural whether it’s in-vogue or not. This journey is yours so stop thinking about what other people think. Above all else – don’t fuck up the only chance you have. And try to stop hating yourself if you can.”

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