Oct. 2007 Cover Story: Goth By Default

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Goth By Default
An Interview with The Last Dance

When I first heard about the premiere for Almost Beautiful, I thought it would be interesting to see what the Goth scene was all about and get a taste of Goth music. Up until that time my primary exposure to the scene was through the movie The Hunger.

What I got instead was a well-conceived documentary about a group of ordinary guys who just happen to play music that is appreciated by the Goth community. It is my humble opinion that their music has a bit more general appeal – I heard quite a bit of similarity to bands such as Depeche Mode and Red Flag. (OK, not exactly main stream, but not really uber-niche either.)

Also, what was very apparent in the movie was the love these guys — the core group of musicians of Jeff Diehm (vocals), Rick Joyce (guitar) and Peter J. Gorritz (base) – have for music and playing in front of a live audience. They are also closet comedians.

After the premiere, the audience, comprised mostly of journalists, minor celebrities and a small group of The Last Dance fans, had the opportunity to question the director and the stars of the movie. This showcased how intelligent, articulate and well educated these musicians really are.

THE GENRE TRAVLER (TGT): In the movie, Jeff said The Last Dance was a “Goth band by default.” Why is that?

Jeff Diehm (JD): Neither Rick nor I were really into the Goth scene much in 1990, when we started the band. We did like most of the music, but our exposure to that scene was pretty limited to helping out Ian, a drummer-friend who was in a Goth band. We did lights and stage help and things like that.

I was immediately drawn to the scene, because I liked the imagery and the cute girls in corsets. As we started to do some music, Ian became our first drummer. We were just making music for whoever would listen, but Ian sort of opened doors to do shows through people he knew from the scene. 16 years later, we’re not really out there hustling our music outside that scene because it’s enough work to maintain what we have inside it. As the creators of the music, our time and resources to push for greater success are sort of limited. So we just do what we do for the people who like it or show up.

TGT: How was The Last Dance formed?

JD: It was Rick and I in the beginning, just writing songs in his bedroom. Most of the first songs were me singing lyrics that Rick had written, but I started writing soon after. Eventually, I started doing some of the music too, but Rick has always been the primary music writer and writes about half the lyrics. Peter replaced our original bass player at least 10 years ago, and we’ve been through a ton of drummers. The only drummer since Ian that actually filled the role of full-time drummer was Ivan1. After he passed away, we’ve gone back to using two different guys, Tom Coyne and Stevyn Grey.

TGT: When you created the band, what did you originally have in mind and how has that vision changed over time?

JD: In the beginning, I think we spent about as much time talking about music as art, as we did actually working on music. It was good coffee shop conversation, and really helped set the groundwork for what we do today.

Early on, perhaps fortunately, we decided that [The Last Dance] would never be about money. It was supposed to be music that would be there for someone who needed it. If they needed music to enjoy, we’d do it. If they needed something more, the music would be there for them to connect with. We’ve done quite a bit of both, and it’s a good feeling.

TGT: You’ve played at several Goth music festivals. Do you have a favorite?

JD: My favorite [festival] really isn’t a Goth music festival at all. DragonCon in Atlanta is more an all-purpose sci-fi, horror, fantasy convention with all the comics and gaming and Storm Troopers you could ever want to see in one location. They feature many kinds of music, but they’re particularly fond of Goth bands, probably because they like the imagery. It’s a great time, and certainly worth the money.

Peter Gorritz (PG): As far as Goth festivals, it would probably be the Whitby festival in England. Mostly because I love the town of Whitby so much! It’s a seaside town and I just love the smell of the ocean, and the look of the place. You feel like you are a few centuries in the past when you’re there. The festival itself is very well run, and the selection of bands usually very good. Overall, it’s been consistently fun for me.

Judgment Day in Austria is another favorite of mine, very well organized, great sound, and another amazing location. And, as Jeff mentioned, as for an overall fun and amazing event, DragonCon is pretty hard to beat.

TGT: What do you consider the band’s musical inspirations?

PG: They probably change all the time. We are all influenced by different things as well as by each other to a great extent. I’m very influenced by Rick and Jeff, because they are the primary songwriters and my style is very different from theirs. So when I work on band music I try to both write in a vein similar to theirs and I also try to push the music in different directions once in a while.

Personally, my style is quite different and my tastes are very different from theirs. I consider myself to be more of a composer than a songwriter. I basically am a rock, blues and jazz guy who likes to explore musically, and that brought me to Goth and more alternative styles.

But at the end of the day, I probably relate more to what people in this scene would call “mainstream” music. To me it’s more roots music really – American roots music with a bit of the music from other cultures thrown in.

JD: I tend to listen to music that is mellower than the music we play. I’m fond of electronic and moody music, and would just as well listed to a soundtrack as an album. I probably listen to more NPR than anything else, because I get nothing good out of commercial radio. I usually spend most of my free time writing my own music, which is definitely too mellow for what the band does. But it’s a good outlet, although I wouldn’t know the first thing about doing anything more than just writing the stuff.

TGT: With all the travel you do, have you discovered any tips you can share with readers for making the travel easier?

JD: Traveling for free is more fun than paying for your own trip! It’s fun to travel and do music, because it’s like you have a built in set of friends everywhere you go. It’s nice to get picked up from the airport and shown around a bit. Of course, sightseeing isn’t really much of an option anywhere we go, so I think we miss out on a lot in that sense. But other than not wearing lace-up shoes in an airport, it’s all a bunch of traveling.

PG: Pack light and pack smart. Wear shoes that you can take off quickly at the airport! Bring a book or ipod, laptop, etc. Something you can occupy yourself with. You quickly discover how much boredom and sitting around doing nothing there is with touring.

People think it’s so glamorous and exciting and it is to an extent, but there is a lot of monotony too. Most importantly, try to create your own personal space somehow, or find ways to be by yourself every now and then. At least for people like me, that’s very important. I’m kind of a solitary guy, and when you’re touring, you’re constantly surrounded by people. That can make a person like me a bit wiggy, so I try to give myself some space when I can.

TGT: Are your fans in Europe any different than your fans in the U.S.? How so?

JD: People aren’t all that different from place to place. I think that Europeans in general are a little more tuned into the idea of sport drinking and the separation of work and play, but other than that it’s more about the difference of big-city people and little-town folk.

Big cities don’t tend to appreciate the fact that they have so many entertainment options to choose from, and so the local support you can get in a big city isn’t as great, even if the numbers of people are technically greater. But in terms of the noise a group of people can make, or how many will dance, or how much money they will spend on your merchandise, I don’t really draw the lines internationally.

PG: The biggest difference is kind of subtle in our scene because it is so alternative to the mainstream, and that really unites people. But ask any musician, especially American musicians, and they will tell you that Europe is a much better place for live music and musicians. They tend to be slightly less influenced by trends and styles and seem to value the actual music a bit more. They are also less influenced by the celebrity factor and more into the musician as artist. But then again, with the influence of the Internet and horrible reality TV, I think these distinctions might be starting to wane a bit which is a bit sad.

TGT: Can you tell me about how Almost Beautiful came into being?

PG: Rocky Costanzo, the director, has been a friend and fan of ours for some time. He is an Indie filmmaker who has been developing his style as we have been developing ours over the years. He decided he wanted to do a documentary and wanted to make us the subjects of it. He’s never really been part of the Goth scene, but always liked it from his vantage point just outside of it, and that’s the perspective he brings to the film. In the end though, the film is less about the Goth scene and its bands than it is about struggling bands doing it all themselves in any genre. I think that’s the best part of it.

TGT: Can you describe how it was to be filmed on tour? Do you think it changed your experience of the tour?

JD: I don’t think it changed that much about how we act on tour or anything like that. We drive and load gear and perform and eat and sleep, and there was a camera to capture just a tiny bit of that. Having Rocky around, and an extra vehicle to sleep in, made things more fun.

He met with us before we left and had all these instructions about just ignoring the camera and being natural and all of that. We’re all pretty mellow, so there weren’t really any situations where the camera was rolling on our bad behavior. Maybe those things would have made the movie more entertaining…

PG: It made it a bit more comfortable because we actually had two vehicles instead of everyone being cramped into one van with all the gear. So, it was a luxury in some ways! Having a camera around was a bit disconcerting at first, but after a while it got routine. It didn’t change the experience for me much. We just did what we do, and there was someone there to capture it, that’s about it.

TGT: If there was one thing that you’d like people reading this story and learning about The Last Dance for the first time to take away, what would it be and why?

JD: Well, the movie is meant to give people a little education on who we are and what we do. Even more than that, it’s a good picture for anyone who aspires to or just wants to know more about what touring is like for the majority of bands on the road today. You only hear about bands with busses and big crowds, because no one wants to make movies about the small-time bands like us. I think there’s a lot of good information there that can be helpful to people who want to consider this kind of life. We don’t all get to be rock stars full time, and I’m glad that Rocky saw a vision to make a film about that.

PG: We’re approachable and pretty normal, and we really like the interaction with a live audience. So if you want to really experience The Last Dance, try to catch a show and come say hello afterwards.

Visit their website at www.thelastdance.com.