Aug 2022 08

Kill Shelter has already become one of the current post-punk and darkwave scene’s most exciting acts, with founder Pete Burns speaking with ReGen about his working process and his numerous collaborations.


An InterView with Pete Burns of Kill Shelter

By John Wisniewski (JWis) & Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

The last five years must have been quite a ride for Edinburgh-based musician/producer Pete Burns as he has steadily guided Kill Shelter to become one of the post-punk and darkwave scene’s most exciting acts. Although still a relatively new name on the scene, his list of collaborations reads like the curriculum vitae of a seasoned veteran. His 2018 Damage debut featured a number of guest appearances from the likes of Hélène De Thoury (Hante.), Nate Jespersen (Ultrviolence), Vadim Kristopher (The Shyness of Strangers), Ashe Rüppe (Delphine Coma), and Karl Morten Dahl (Antipole), with the latter proving such a fruitful collaboration that the two recorded the highly acclaimed A Haunted Place in 2021, an album heralded by several publications as among the genre’s best for that year. On top of that, he’s provided his skills in production, mastering, and mixing to the likes of Night Nail, Palais Ideal, Original God, and The Wake. July of this year saw the release of Burns’ sophomore outing as Kill Shelter, Asylum, on Metropolis Records in the U.S. and on Manic Depression Records in Europe. As with the preceding album, the new record sees Burns working with a host of intriguing guest musicians, including such legends of darkwave as Ronny Moorings (Clan of Xymox), William Faith (The Bellwether Syndicate, Faith and the Must), and Stefan Netschio (Beborn Beton), along with fellow luminaries of the current post-punk revivalism like Agent Side Grinder, Ash Code, VV & the Void, and yet again, Antipole. With the album already gaining momentum with audiences, Pete Burns took the time to speak with ReGen Magazine about his history and working process in Kill Shelter, touching on his many collaborations, his musical partnership with Antipole, his thoughts on performing live, and even discussing some of his greatest influences.


Would you tell us about your background and what sparked your interest in music? When did you begin playing?

Burns: I’ve always been interested in making music for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is cutting my finger quite badly after sliding it up the neck of a steel string toy guitar too quickly. It didn’t put me off though. My brother bought me a classical guitar for my ninth birthday and that’s really where it all started. He had an electric guitar and some effects at the time, and I was fascinated by it, especially when he played it through a flanger and copycat delay. He bought me my first electric guitar for my 13th birthday, and I’ve played almost every day since. I’m by no means a good guitarist and I’ve never had lessons, but I know enough to be able to express myself and that’s all I’ve needed really. I’ve had a love of drum machines all my life too, and once I got an Atari ST and Pro24, I started to get into programming, which is something I probably do the most of now.

When did you form Kill Shelter?

Burns: Kill Shelter started in late 2017. After having written music for TV, radio, and film and having had various publishing and record deals, I wanted to produce music that didn’t have a specific audience in mind and just came from the heart. It was an outlet for me to express myself musically without the need to be defined by any particular genre. I had the name for a while and in a way, it encapsulated everything I wanted to do with the project; thought provoking, unapologetic, and challenging.

Were there any favorite bands that were particular influential for you and perhaps motivated your approach to making music?

Burns: Definitely. I listen to a lot of music – sometimes that’s to be transported somewhere else, and other times it’s to learn about craft and production. I tend to favor tracks and albums over bands, although my all-time favorite band is the early ’80s art rock band Japan, along with David Sylvian’s early solo material. First and Last and Always by The Sisters of Mercy has also stayed with me – both Sylvian and Eldritch, for a period, were incredible vocalists and lyricists and were incredibly influential. I’m a big fan of John McGeoch, Gary Marx, Robert Fripp, and Robin Simon, and they’ve definitely influenced my guitar playing, if not my songwriting.
I love The Prodigy, especially the early stuff, and I’ve probably seen them live the most, along with Orbital and Depeche Mode. Other standout inspirational albums for me include Fiction Tales by Modern Eon, Systems of Romance by Ultravox, JuJu and “Peek-a-Boo” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, along with a host of others.

You released your first album, Damage, in 2019; would you tell us about that process? What sorts of lessons did you learn from it that you applied going into Asylum?

Burns: I had a very clear idea about what I wanted to achieve with Damage. It was a very emotional and difficult time for me personally, and getting the chance to work with so many talented people made a big difference to my life at the time. Damage was written without expectations. There was no waiting audience and nothing to compare the work to, so it was quite liberating in a way. The album itself came together quite quickly, much faster than Asylum, and I think that shows in part of its character. I tend to throw myself into my work and I really wrapped myself up into the writing and production of Damage, and the collaborators were great and inspiring to work with. Like every experience in life, I learned a lot during the process.



Would you tell us about your composition and songwriting process? From what do you draw your greatest inspirations?

Burns: I’ve always felt the need to make music and to express myself through that medium. When things aren’t going well, I always turn to writing music. I tend to be able to process things better, or maybe it’s just an escape. I definitely feel the need to be creative and things don’t feel right if I’ve not got a musical idea or distraction going on. Every time I start a piece of new music, it’s like having a ticket for an unknown journey and destination – there’s nothing like it. Thinking space is critical to feeling inspired and I always make time for that. I also keep lots of notes and I’m constantly adding ideas and fragments of lyrics as they come to me. I’ve written hundreds of pieces over the last few years, but a lot of that will remain unpublished. I love working with other people too – I find that incredibly inspiring and it’s amazing when you hear someone else’s perspective or take on something you’ve done. The unexpected directions or the introduction of something new that I wouldn’t have got to myself is what makes collaborating so compelling to me.

How has the reception been for your latest release?

Burns: The reception to Asylum has been amazing and not what I was expecting at all. I’m honored, humbled, and very grateful. The album was released on July 15 and the first single, ‘The Necklace’ featuring Agent Side Grinder was very well received, and we sold a lot of pre-orders on the back of that one track alone, so that was very encouraging and reassuring. People have really got behind the new single, ‘In This Place’ featuring Beborn Beton too, and both singles are currently in the Top 10 in the Deutsche Alternative Chart, which is incredible really.
I don’t take the people that buy my music for granted. It really means a lot to me and it’s a big deal to see people pay for something, especially in advance of hearing it. I get very moved when people put their trust in me like that.
Releasing an album is a very emotional process for me anyway, so I’ll remain on edge for quite some time. I’ll always hear the negative criticism louder than the praise, but whatever the long term outcome, I’ll continue to push myself and try to progress and make my work better.
It’s been a personal ambition of mine to be on Metropolis Records, but it feels bittersweet at the moment. I was very saddened and shocked to hear about the sudden death of Dave Heckman, the label’s founder. He was a great supporter of Kill Shelter and I’ll be forever in his debt. My thoughts are with his wife and family and the wonderful team at Metropolis at this very difficult time.

What sorts of lessons did you learn from the experience of recording Damage that you applied going into Asylum?

Burns: I think the biggest learning was being realistic about the amount of time needed. There are lots of moving parts to consider when delivering a multi-collaboration album. You have to factor in a lot of contingency for something so complex as you are dealing with multiple schedules and have to be prepared to be patient and flexible. I started writing demos for Asylum in December 2018 and I put the wheels in motion with potential collaborators very soon afterwards. The album was basically four years in production. Even with my forward planning, there were a lot of things that changed along the way. We even had to pull one track at the very last moment, so it’s definitely not a straightforward or stress-free exercise, but ultimately, it’s very rewarding.

You mentioned collaborators, which included Hante., Killjoi, Antipole, and others. How did these come about on your first album?

Burns: I’d worked with Karl from Antipole before; I had previously remixed a couple of his tracks and we worked together on the ‘Day by Day’ remix too, so he was very much front-of-mind when it came to the album. I’ve always listened to a lot of music, and I’m drawn to unique sounding vocalists. Damage is a reflection of the time. It features a lot of the underground and emerging artists that I was listening to who had really made an impression on me. I always write with people in mind, so I was very lucky to get so many very talented people on board for the first album, especially as no one had really heard of Kill Shelter at that time. It was very much a process of me knocking on doors saying, ‘You’ve never heard of me, but…’ Four years on and I still describe Kill Shelter as a very well kept secret, and I’m still knocking on doors. (Laughter)

The same question for those you worked with on Asylum like Ronny Moorings (Clan of Xymox), Ash Code, Agent Side Grinder, Stefan Netschio (Beborn Beton), and William Faith (The Bellwether Syndicate)… how did these all come about, and are there any in particular in this group that you felt really captured something special?

Burns: The writing process stayed the same, but I was really keen to have an album that encompassed and embraced the ‘four decades of darkwave,’ so that’s what I set out to do. I had worked with Johan from Agent Side Grinder before when I remixed ‘Into the Wild’ back in early 2018. I really wanted them on the album, and they were incredible to work with – very collaborative and professional. We had a shared vision for both the track and the video, and I think it all came together really well.
Likewise with Stefan from Beborn Beton. He really got into the concept for the track and the video, and we chatted a lot about the sentiment and delivery, especially given the sensitive subject matter. I got the chance to meet him very recently and he’s very personable. They say never meet your idols, but I’m really glad I did and I’m sure we’ll do other work together.
I’ve been in touch a lot with Valentina over the years and she was originally cited to be on Damage, but the timing didn’t quite work in our favor. I’ve mixed, remixed, and mastered some of her material, and I’ve been working very closely with Night Nail over the last couple of years too, who are another band that I have a lot of time and respect for.
I’m meeting Ronny from Clan of Xymox next week and I’m really looking forward to that. Like all the collaborators on the album, he was great to work with and really got the track I’d written for him. It will be nice to be able to say ‘thank you’ in person.
I’ve not had the chance to meet William Faith or Ash Code yet, but I’m looking forward to the day when it happens. Again, they both brought something very individual to the record and a different tonal perspective and interpretation to what I’d written.
There’s no doubt that everyone brought something very unique to the party and that’s what makes this process so special and ultimately rewarding for me.



On the subject of collaborations, between Damage and Asylum, you released A Haunted Place with Antipole. What was the working dynamic with Antipole that the two of you decided to work on a whole collaborative album together? Can we expect to hear more from this cooperative?

Burns: I had the pleasure of meeting Karl in Cologne at the Cold Transmission Festival back in 2019 and we forged a very strong friendship. We share a similar outlook on life and get on really well. We decided to do an album together at that point. Originally, I thought it was going to be a dual guitar instrumental album, and you can hear the beginnings of that sound on ‘Every Waking Hour.’ I’d written a demo for what became ‘Raise the Skies,’ and I had put down, what I thought, was a rough vocal and Karl was incredibly supportive of it. It was his enthusiasm and trust that gave me the confidence to sing on the album. Ironically, ‘Every Waking Hour’ was the last track to get a vocal. I’d like to think we bring out the best in each other. We work really well together, and it is never hard work. Musically, we are on the same page.
We will definitely put out another record. I have a working title, concept, and have begun putting some thoughts together for the associated artwork. We’ve started preparing some demos, but it’s very early days. We are in no rush, and we are under no pressure to deliver. I’m keen that we don’t just do ‘A Haunted Place II.’ I’m sure it will have moments of euphoric melancholy, but I’m keen that we develop our sound and the arrangements too. I’m sure it will be a cathartic journey.

Are there any current artists or bands in the darkwave and industrial scenes that you’re particularly keen on?

Burns: Definitely. There’s always new stuff coming through that’s inspiring and worth listening to. As I said, I listen to a lot of music for various reasons. I really like how Phase Fatale incorporates dark techno elements and he’s brilliant at what he does. I recently fell in love with ‘It Looks Bad’ by KÅRP – what an incredible track – otherworldly and beautiful. ‘Dead or Alive’ by Trentemøller is another sublime track that I can’t get enough of at the moment. Not really new, but I’m a big fan of Ade Fenton’s work with Gary Numan; his production skills are off the charts. It’s also worth checking out Dead Lights and Ultra Sunn as there’s lots of potential there. I’ve also started mixing a brand new track for Night Nail – their stuff is great, and they are brilliant to work with.



Any future plans and projects?

Burns: It’s fair to say that I’m always busy. If I’m not mixing and mastering at The Shelter, then I’ll be working on new material. Currently, I’m working on a few collaborative EPs, including the one I mentioned with Karl (Antipole). As well as two pipelined full-length Kill Shelter albums, I’m also working on something very different with drummer Cliff Hewitt (Modern Eon, Apollo 440, Jean-Michel Jarre, Schiller, etc.), so that might see the light of day in 2023, all going well, but it’s very early days yet.
I tend not to remix as much as I did previously as I’ve been concentrating on writing and producing original material, but I’m always open to interesting opportunities when they arise. I’m also starting to think about playing live, which I’ve always said I’d never do… I think it’s probably important to start to embrace life’s opportunities when they arise.

You mentioned that you had not intended to play live, but that you are now considering it. Would you tell us why your initial impulse was to avoid it? If you were to perform live, what would be the logistics for you to take Kill Shelter to the stage?

Burns: I’m naturally introverted and it’s not a comfortable thought, but I want to embrace new experiences. Part of the issue with Kill Shelter is the complexity and the associated logistics to replicate what’s on record. I don’t think that’s a viable proposition, but creating a live set that’s designed specifically for that purpose would be an exciting alternative. I like the idea of creating unique experiences and things that are a bit different. When I did the DJ set in Cologne, I remixed and edited every track by all the artists that I played in the set, and you could only hear those versions on that night if you were there. I really liked the idea of that, even though it was a stupid amount of work for me, but I felt it was important for the people who were there to have a unique experience even if they didn’t know it. I want to take a similar approach to the live set and there are already some conversations underway. Some meetings of late have been very serendipitous, let’s just say that. I need to finish off my latest studio commitments, then I’ll really start to put thought into how the idea can develop.

As livestreaming has become part of the norm – even before the pandemic – with many snubbing it as not measuring up to an actual live performance, while others see it as necessary and a valuable tool… what are your thoughts on how livestreaming can be better utilized as part of musical and visual presentation moving forward? Not just as it pertains to Kill Shelter, but generally?

Burns: I think livestreaming has its place. It’s a way to reach people, but I don’t think it’s as straightforward as just standing in front of a static camera or two. I think we still need to find a way to properly exploit the medium to its fullest potential. Logistically, it was very useful during the height of the pandemic, and it was a lifeline for some to keep up revenue and engagement with fans. For it to work really well, it has to offer something more than what could amount to a pre-recorded gig in someone’s front room. On the one hand, you have a one-to-many broadcast, and on the other, you have the opportunity for one-to-one communication, so what does that do to the potential experience? I don’t think it’s about translating or mirroring the live experience; I think it’s about doing something new with the format so that it becomes a viable additional platform rather than a lesser alternative. It’s important to understand what the audience really wants from an artist when they are on their phone or sitting at their laptop. Context is everything.




Kill Shelter
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Metropolis Records
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Manic Depression Records
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Photography provided courtesy of Kill Shelter


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