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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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Photography provided courtesy of Kill Shelter