Believe In Angels
~interview by Thomas Thyssen of Pagan Love Songs
(photos by Chad Michael Ward, CD cover by 3quartermoon)

Shortly after the release of their last thrilling album Perfect, the L.A. four-piece The Last Dance experienced their worst nightmares while being on tour when founding member and long-time drummer “Lucky” Ivan Dominguez died. This left an unfillable gap in the band and as you can tell, the times after this terrible loss were covered in darkness for the remaining band members. Nevertheless The Last Dance tried to canalise all their energy, all their melancholy, all their sadness and all the passion they had in order to write a new album – Whispers in Rage – which in fact was already in the planning stages when Ivan was still alive. Driven by the goal to release this full-length cd to honour Ivan Jeff, Rick and Peter wrote maybe their best album up to now. You can feel the genuine emotions oozing out of every single tune and songs like “Whispers” and “Nightmares” truly make me shiver.

Of course – as the possibility to interview The Last Dance arose – I did not hesitate to do it and I want to thank Jeff Diehm (Vocals), Rick Joyce (Guitars) and Peter Gorritz (Bass) for their and the good time we had while doing this interview. 

Thomas: First of all congratulations on your new album guys. It has been a while since we’ve heard something from The Last Dance so it is great to welcome you back. How long did you work on the album and what's its name Whispers In Rage all about?

Jeff: The album title I think really reflects how we felt about the songs and our experiences leading up to doing this record.  Usually, coming up with an album title has been more of an afterthought.  You can’t really title something until you have begun to hear what it will become.  Since many of the songs share the theme of our tragedy and survival, we thought it was fitting. 

Rick: Thank you Thomas…we spent more time on this album than any other.  We thought it deserved it.  Upon returning from our last European Tour and then my holiday in Ireland, the months of Oct through December I completely dedicated to writing this album, as did Jeff and Peter.  Everyday with the exception of Christmas was spent writing or working out ideas or coming up with possibilities for each song.  It was both a difficult and rewarding time, writing all the emotions that we were experiencing into the music.  We then spent January through April recording and mixing the album, and brought in some wonderful and talented people to both perform as well as co – produce it.  The album title comes from a lyric in our song "Whisper".  This song has been the opening live song for TLD for the last year or so.  It was a song that always set the mood for ourselves when beginning a show and it was a song we loved to play together, all of us, Ivan included.  The title reflects the vast array of emotions that went into writing the album, as well as the diversity between particular songs and their aggressiveness vs. subdued style.  The title also reflects ourselves and how we are dealing with life now.  Calm and together as always, but screaming inside and rather angry at times.

Thomas: The new album - at least in my humble opinion - has indeed got a very good flow.  You begin to listen to track one and suddenly the record is over. The  fluency is really remarkable. Where do you see the biggest development in comparison to your last album Perfect and what do you think are the biggest improvements on the new record?

Jeff: I had really thought that this album had more diversity than we have ever had before.  Diversity can be a dangerous and wonderful thing.  On one hand, no diversity makes for a pretty stagnant listen (unless you happen to be really fond of the single-sound that it has).  On the other hand, too much diversity can ruin an album’s flow.  I think we did a good job of this, but those sorts of things only happen by accident.  You really have no idea how a project will be when you’re concerned with writing small parts.  Only as more and more songs are nearing completion do you begin to sense where the whole thing is going and how it might be perceived.  I like the general flow of the album.  There were a few songs that we felt didn’t really meld well enough on our first track lineup, so we re-organized a great deal of it to tell a story with the music.  I think that the opening and closing tracks are particularly fitting.

Rick: Again Thomas thank you for your compliments.  After completing the recording process, we actually recorded 15 tracks, we actively worked on the song lineup for the album paying more attention to it than ever before.  After dropping a few tracks that we felt did not live up to the rest of the album, we settled on an initial track listing as Jeff mentioned, but also gave copies of the album to people we trusted, Patrick at Dancing Ferret Discs, Bella Morte, and Kimberly, our band publicist.  Upon hearing their opinions or the album and the track line up we reorganized the album and are very happy with the line up now.  I agree that album fluency is important and I appreciate everyone’s input who helped make Whispers in Rage what it is.  The biggest development as you call it or difference from previous albums and this one is really the way we went into to it mentally as well as our approach to how the songs were written.  First of all we did this album because we had to, if that makes sense.  Dealing with the loss of Ivan created a serious darkness in our world and we needed something to fall into so that we would not disappear within ourselves.  Also we needed to this album for Ivan and his memory.  The plan to write and record Whispers in Rage was set before Ivan died, and we felt we owed it to him to complete what we had planned already to do, and to continue our musical dream of TLD that he shared with us.  Honestly falling completely into the writing of this CD saved me in many ways. 

From a song writing perspective we were obviously unable to really write an album together as a band so we took the song writing approach similar to how Tragedy, our first EP was written.  I personally took it upon myself to make sure the album would actually happen and committed myself to writing many of the songs for Whispers in Rage, some in their entirety, and some musically with Jeff writing the lyrics and vocal lines.  Jeff and Peter also contributed their songs as well, and when we came together to record the album we each added our own element to the songs making it TLD.  As far as improvements of the previous albums there are many.  One is the way we wrote the songs as I mentioned before.  Since the songs we primarily written by one person the emotion and energy or each is a bit more personal. 

From a recording perspective we approached things differently than before, first of all giving ourselves much more time to create and not be pressured to finish while in the studio.  Secondly we recorded both the guitars and vocals differently than ever before.  Our goal was to capture some of the live energy we are known for on stage within the album.  To do this we abandoned the traditional way we recorded the guitars and vocals.  In the past we recorded the guitars in a big room with really expensive mics, processed later through effects, etc…this time I just set up the guitar amps the way I do for a live show and close miced them with a live microphone and played the way I play…not too many overdubs to extra guitars, just played the way I played live.  As for the vocals, instead of our traditional set jeff up with headphones in front of a really expensive tube microphone, we gave him wireless in ear monitors, along with his wireless live microphone, and let him run around the room which also had a stage where we recorded the album.  Honestly at the end of each his legs were more tired than his voice.  It allowed Jeff to be free and sing the way he is most comfortable, on a stage.  Other improvements or differences from previous albums includes the additions of the talented people we had contribute.  Instead of keyboard pads we used an acoustic Cello performed by Mera Roberts (Black Tape for a Blue Girl / Mercurine) as well as the Violin talents of Rachel from The Crüxshadows.  Other musicians performed on it as well including a live percussionist (Joellanna Garcia) and another guitarist who is a good friend of mine Doug Jackson (Dave Matthews Band, +) performed some amazing 12 string acoustic tracks on “Breath”.  We even had the janitor play a live wood flute track….long story on that one…

Peter: I think it is the closest to capturing our live sound and the best sounding of our records. It is also the hardest sounding one and I like that aspect a lot.

Thomas: Is there some sort of a concept behind Whispers In Rage? I believe that I found at least a lyrical theme that reappears throughout all the album. So what do your lyrics deal with this time in particular and what is your personal favourite of the album?

Jeff: My favorite is “51501”, the closing track of Whispers in Rage. The music was recorded live at rehearsal in May of 2001 as a song idea that never got developed into a song.  After Ivan died, Rick and I were going through song idea tapes without knowing that the other was doing the same.  We were looking for song ideas that Ivan had written drum parts for that we might turn into songs, hoping to include as much of his parts or talent as possible on this record.  We came together with a little collection of ideas that we both thought were good, and this was the one that touched us particularly.  At the time, I think I was the only one who had liked it that much.  We started talking about how to include the idea or incorporate it into an album track, especially since it was a bit outside the general direction that we were taking musically. 

The idea came to us to actually include the music directly from the 4-track cassette recording, make it sound live and raw, which we ended up doing.  We did only a little bit of mastering and production to make it fit into the quality of the rest of the album.  We added a keyboard track recorded by Carl Lemmel (former TLD performing member and co-producer of Perfect and Staring at the Sky).  I struggled with the vocals for a few months, honestly.  I knew what I wanted to say, but just didn’t know how to do it.  I had nearly given up on it.  One day, driving to the studio to record, I just began to sing it.  I started to write, and the words came as quickly as I could put them on paper. 

Seems like time forgot to make this one a happy ending
though some things are never supposed change
they always do, and sometimes fall apart
from perfect ways into a place we always want to forget
living time that never will move forward
we’ll always remain here, alone in part without you
the lost, dancing alone
the lost dancer alone
you’re the lucky one who never had to say goodbye
who says the lucky go on living
and we dance to remember
we dance to never forget
not to ever be alone
to never dance alone
and in the end, we only have what we remember
in the end, you never dance alone.

Rick: As I mentioned before, our concept behind Whispers in Rage was to complete the project we had planned to do last year before Ivan died.  After our loss it became very clear and ever so important to complete actually continue as a band as Whispers in Rage was our tool to do that.  I would say the overall topic or theme of the album is that we have experienced the darkest time of our lives, we were hurt, sad, angry and almost to the point of loosing ourselves, who we are inside.  Both the music and the lyrics reflect that and come from those emotions as well as that drive to continue onward as a band and honor our friend by doing so.  My personal favorites are “Nightmares” and “Voices”.  I wrote both of these songs and they are extremely personal to me.  “Nightmares” was the first song I wrote after returning from holiday upon deciding to take it upon myself to make sure TLD continued and did this album.  It was one of the hardest songs to write, the first without Ivan, and honestly a lot of tears went into it, from writing the guitar leads to the lyrics and vocal lines.  “Voices” was a different approach stylistically for me in song writing…kind of a sadness vs anger trying to exist in one song.  In some ways it by itself represents the album title, Whispers in Rage.  Both musically and lyrically “Voices” deals with how close our band our family was, how much closer we are now, how the voices I still hear sometimes drive me insane, and how together we are still one musical voice, only now we are screaming.

Thomas: You recently signed a deal with Dancing Ferret Discs in the US in  order to have your stuff properly promoted and released in your home-country.  How did you get in contact with them and how is it like to finally found someone to work with!?

Rick: Yes we are now working with Dancing Ferret Discs here in the US.  We are definitely excited about it and appreciate their belief in and efforts to support The Last Dance.  The way this came about was through The Cruxshadows and more specifically through Rogue.  Rogue engineered and recorded Rachel’s (also from The Crüxshadows) violin tracks for us.  After hearing a few of the new tracks from Whispers in Rage while still in the pre-production stage, he called me and told me how much he liked them and thought we should contact Dancing Ferret when we were finished with the CD.  We did just that.  On his end Rogue spoke to Patrick at DFD on our behalf encouraging him to sign TLD….big thanks to Rogue for that one.  In April Patrick went to Convergence 9, a festival here in the US that we were headlining and he saw our live show as well as met us in person.  Soon after he offered us the deal and after we worked out the details, TLD became a DFD band.  Until now TLD has always done everything ourselves here in the US, from album releases to touring.  It is nice to have a company behind us now that believes in us and is willing to act on our behalf to assist our musical future and dream.  It is also awesome to share a label with The Crüxshadows, as we have become friends with them over the last year and no we it is easier to  work together on some goals and projects.

Peter: It's great to finally have a U.S. deal with someone who believes in the band and has a good business sense. I think good things will come out of it.

Thomas: Rachel from the Crüxshadows plays violin on Whispers In Rage as well.  Whose idea was it to incorporate her skills into the album and what do you think of the result?

Rick: Having Rachel play violin was my idea.  After meeting her and hearing her play with The Crüxshadows I simply fell in love with the way she played and expressed herself on the violin.  As a person she is wonderful as well, someone I am proud to now call a friend.  I thought it would be awesome to have her play on a few tracks of ours, so I pursued it and it worked out beautifully.  It came about like this…Last year at Dragoncon in Atlanta both The Crüxshadows and TLD we part of the event.  At was at this event that our two bands started to get to know each other and establish a friendship.  Rogue was especially cool and supportive towards us and our recent loss.  I watched their show from the backstage, and was very impressed.  I especially enjoyed Rachel’s violin style and had fun hanging out with here at the all night parties.  2 months later our two bands met up again, this time in Germany at the Herbstnaechte.  There we spent more time hanging out together and as we were in the beginning stages of our album planning one afternoon I asked Rachel if she would be interested in playing violin on a few tracks and she said she was.  A month after that The Crüxshadows US tour brought them to Hollywood and we went to the show to see them again.  Rachel and I spoke more about her playing on the album and Rogue said he was willing to assist as well.  When writing some of the songs for Whispers in Rage I heard in my head what would be possible as far as violin, being somewhat familiar with Rachel’s style already.   I sent a few songs to her when we were ready and gave her my ideas and encouraged her to be creative as well, again going back to the fact that I love her style.  Rachel wrote her parts and Rogue recorded them, and them sent the tracks back to us to add into our multitrack recording.  The end result I think is completely awesome.  Rachel’s element helped bring the songs she played on to life, as she wrote and played beautifully according to the style and emotion of each songs intention.  I definitely appreciate her efforts and willingness to aid us and add her creative uniqueness to Whispers in Rage….can you tell I simply adore this girl!!!  Go Rachel!

Thomas: You are very famous for your live-shows being so energetic and driving.  In my mind you've captured this feeling with Whispers In Rage more than ever before on a record. I am pretty excited about hearing the new songs in live-versions. What do you think about this thesis and speaking of live-versions: I've heard that you once again arranged a new live-version of "Do You Believe In Angels?", arguably the biggest hit of TLD. Is that right? What's so special about this song?

Jeff: We had always tried to make records that would capture the essence of the songs, even when we couldn’t afford to make them sound as good as they could have.  We self-produce everything (as well as paying for it), so it’s always been a bit limited.  Out music, however, began to develop and grow past the nice sounds on the records.  It was just more fun to play faster and more energetic material.  We also developed as performers, and can really keep an energy going from the stage.  For Whispers in Rage, we decided to make a better attempt to capture the thing we are best known for.  So there is a lot of live feeling to this record.  I recorded most of the songs with my wireless mic.  We drank more and allowed people into the studio to observe.  Keeping it more of a personal experience has its rewards, and the album came out a lot like the live show. 

Rick: I do agree that this album captures our live sound and energy better than any previous.  As Jeff said this was our intention going into it and we made adjustments to the way in which we recorded this time to capture the live element of TLD.  AS for the new material, we have debuted some of the songs here in the US already and they have gone over extremely well.  Crowd favorites at this point are “Nightmares” and “Wonderlust”.  As for “Do You Believe in Angels”, yes for some reason, and I am not complaining, this has been the song we have become known for.  We continue to play it in our live set primarily because crowds enjoy it but also because this is still a special song for the band and for me personally.  Recently we upgraded our live show as far as equipment, etc go and in doing so I also decided to re arrange our live version of it.  It makes it fun for us as it keep the song fresh and new in a way, kind of like how we re-wrote “This Tragedy” and “She’s Dancing” last year specifically for our European audience and tours.  The new version of “Do You Believe In Angels” has a few more twists and a bit more added energy….as I said it keeps it fun for us to play.  Why this song is so special is really an interesting question….why did you ask about it?  That might give you your answer.  On a personal level I wrote this song years ago when I was dealing with a dramatic time in my life and the song really became a therapy for me to deal with life and move on as Rick being myself and not being what I was pretending to be.  On a fan / crowd level many people have related to this song and gotten something from it, far more than I ever would have envisioned but hey that is great and I am happy people have taken to this song they way they have.

Peter: It was definitely a goal to capture the energy of the love show on record. I think that we got close and thank you for noticing, Thomas. Live they will be even more exciting and powerful I think. It is definitely our most "rock" album.

Thomas: What is the cover-version of the Oingo Boingo classic "Dead Man's Party" (Hello to fellow DJ Rick A. Mortis from S.F. at this point!) all about?

Rick: “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo is a cover song that we decided to do for Apollyon Records Halloween Compilation last year.  This song turned out to be the last song Ivan ever recorded with us, as well as the last song he played live with us in Leipzig, Germany, July 31,2002.  Ivan would have appreciated the irony in that, and we have to as well.  For these reasons this some has become very special to us and because Ivan recorded it we decided to include it on the album.  It is also the last song we play in our live set now, a sort of remembrance and celebration.

Thomas: Over here in Germany you've been working with Apollyon Records for ages now. What is your relationship like and are you still happy in this old marriage? ;-)

Rick: Yes we have been working with Apollyon Records for many years now and honestly they have always supported us and believed in us and we appreciate that.  We have also established friendships with them as well.  Back in 1995, Apollyon was the first company to believe in us and stand behind us.  We will never forget that.  Over the years their commitment to TLD has continued and even recently Mark from Apollyon told me that he will always believe in us.  As for calling it an old marriage, that it bit not like our situation, as we do not have to do the dishes, or wake up next to them every day.  We have a business relationship that also includes a friendship and a loyalty brought on my history.  It is more like old friends who do not see each other too often but when they do everything picks up were they left off.

Jeff: We’ve sort of grown up with Apollyon.  They support us as much as they are able, and have really been the secret of our success so far.  We’ve appreciated those opportunities, and it is a comfortable relationship. 

Thomas: I always close interviews with this question: Your Hopes, plans and dreams for the future!?

Rick: As always we have hopes and dreams for the future.  But now they hold a greater importance than ever before.  We want to be sure to continue the dream Ivan shared with us and to honor him by continuing onward putting more into TLD than we ever have before.  We have plans for more tours, and of course more albums….in a way this is a rebirth for The Last Dance and there is plenty more inside us where “Whispers in Rage” came from….wait and see.

Thomas: The famous last words of the last dancers...

Rick: Usually I always say something almost rock star here, but this time I would like to extend our deepest thanks to everyone in Europe who has stood by us and supported us through our dark time.  It means so much to us and to Ivan’s family and it encourages us to continue.  I have often ended interviews by saying, “Believe in Angels.”  This time I sincerely mean it.

Peter: It's not time for last words yet....

Thomas: Thanks a lot once again dudes. Good luck with your new album and I  hope to see you soon, very soon... 

TLD: Thank you Thomas….see you soon over here in L.A.!

The Last Dance:

USA/World: Dancing Ferret Discs -

Europe: Apollyon Records