My Place: Gazelle Twin shows us around the converted church she calls home

Elizabeth Bernholz discusses the ghosts of her new album, Black Dog, and just how obsessed she is with Alien

Elizabeth Bernholz shudders at the thought that Margaret Thatcher might have once been in her house. She’s heard that Thatcher’s father would have been at one point, as a visiting pastor based in the nearby East Midlands town of Grantham. Converted churches like those that Bernholz lives in – this one a small isolated brick building on a patch of village green – come with such ghosts, which is essentially what’s brought us here.

Somewhere close by is a traditional red telephone box that someone dressed in a full length mourning veil when the Queen died, but Bernholz had grown wise to the conservative values of her neighbours long before then. She moved to the area in 2014, her sister having owned the church before her. Politically and culturally, it has very little in common with Brighton, where Bernholz started making industrial art pop as Gazelle Twin in 2009, but she realised just how out-of-step she was with the place when she looked for fellow Remain voters following the EU Referendum, and found none. Her fears and frustrations at Brexit became Gazelle Twin’s third album, Pastoral (2018); a protest record that slashed at British nationalism by climbing inside it, where mangled electronics and songs called ‘Better In My Day’, ‘Tea Rooms’ and ‘Jerusalem’ were as absurd and disturbing as they were sure of themselves.

The maniacal creature that Bernholz delivered Pastoral as (a permanently grinning Saint George’s Cross of a Morris dancer known only as The Jester) kept Gazelle Twin’s identity a secret, following her previous disguise for Unflesh (2014), where, looking like a David Cronenberg horror character, she performed in her old P.E. kit on account of it representing a time in her life when, relatably, she felt most “like a freak”. Apart from her bared teeth, her entire face was obscured then too, inspired by seeing the then masked Fever Ray performing in 2009.

Her new album, Black Dog, takes a different approach. It’s the first Gazelle Twin record where Bernholz is in plain sight (as you can see), and unlike Pastoral, it’s influenced by her childhood home as much as her current one. Her most down tempo and foreboding work yet, it’s an (intensely dark) exploration into ghosts, not because she currently lives in a church, but because she believes her childhood home in Kent to have been haunted, including by a cone-headed presence that her and her family took to be a black dog. She was four when she first saw it and she’s been facinated by every angle of ghost ever since, “the entertainment value of it, the psychological stuff that might be going on that creates it, to even scientific explanations of it.”

For the past five years she has immersed herself in the paranormal, and in doing so also discovered a startling list of similarities between stories of hauntings and the physiological effects of PTSD and depression. So that’s gone into Black Dog too. And her experiences of parenthood. And what her two sons’ memories might be of growing up here in this home. “I did start with ghosts but by then I realised it was about my own experience with anxiety and depression and fear,” she says as we make our way upstairs to the eaves of the church and into her small studio, where her Gazelle Twin archive is waiting for us to dive into.


I’ve been using this vocal pedal since day one, to create all of the vocal effects that I do, live. It’s one of those pieces of kit that’s been just the thing I’ve needed. There are loads of better pedals out there, but I’ve just stuck to this one.  I don’t really nerd out on kit like some people do. I’ve got my Moog modular synth there, and I love playing with it, but I prefer making real sounds and sampling them, and working with voice mainly.

When I started writing songs as a teenager, it was guitars and synths and overdubbing things of cassettes, and then I started to just listen to choral music and classical music, so I started making my own choral music layering up my voice. Singing in Latin! I was really into it. Seventeen/eighteen. I really loved it and still do. That’s always been the bedrock of my music – choral music and harmonies.


As I was building the Jester costume for Pastoral I was looking into all of those weird traditional costumes, with ribbons and maypoles and hobby horses. This was an eBay find. It’s so creepy, with the wheel on the bottom and the little ponytail. It goes in the attic; I can’t have it out. I don’t like it, but as soon as I had it, I felt like, ‘this is a weapon’.


The suit is what I’m wearing now for this tour. It was my favourite colour as a kid and I wanted to pick something that was slightly androgynous, with an ’80s feel, as I’m a child of the ’80s. The shirt was made from the fabric of my wedding dress. There a lot of stuff about my relationship in the album as well, that’s not explicit, and that’s something that’s very personal to me. I bought the suit new but wanted it to feel a bit ghostly, like it has been stuck in a cupboard, so I stamped it into gravel. I’ve really gone at it.

The Jester costume I made myself… as you can tell. I wanted it to be the football hooligan thing mixed with Morris dancer, mixed with jester. But it all started with the cap. That triggered the whole thing. I found it in a charity shop in Nottingham and I took a photo of myself with it on, and I was doing the Unflesh face [flashing a sinister, wide grin]. And I thought there’s something in this.

I’m glad The Jester has gone now. I loved it at the time, because I felt like it was the perfect representation of the all the mocking and jibing and piss-taking that I wanted to do. I wanted it to be silly to some degree, but also menacing. But I toured it for a long time, and one of the reasons I don’t go back to playing old material on new tours is because I get really sick of it. But I’ll always enjoy looking at the pictures and the effect that it had. It was a fun part to play.


One of Scott King’s other artworks is a photograph called The Thug From Accounts, and it’s like a waxwork or a mannequin in a suit, and this guy’s got his tie around his head – this business guy who’s turned into this tribal, roguish figure. It was something I kept going back to when I was transitioning from Unflesh to Pastoral, and I was reading a lot of J. G. Ballard about pockets of society that turn a bit feral and tribal. So I’ve followed his stuff since then – and it’s all very sardonic and V’s up to the establishment, which is the stuff that I like – and I got this last year. It’s obviously a joke, but it’s kind of the antithesis of what all of my work is about – I’m constantly living in my bad memories and making art out of them.


One of my childhood obsessions was Alien and Aliens, which I watched way too young – like, age six, because I had older siblings. I absolutely loved it. Terrified, but loved it. All of the goo and special effects, and all of the music. I’ve pretty much been obsessed with it since, but most of these have been gifts over the last few years. I’ve never been a collector of things, and I’ve tried to make this look as adult as possible.

And if you look at the teeth of Alien and the cover of Unflesh, I didn’t realise this until years afterwards, but this is what I’m doing! I’m just recreating Alien!! All of it. It’s all in there. I particularly loved the character of Newt when I was first saw it – this outsider kid. “Why can’t I be Newt and not have to go to school!?”


When I made Unflesh, in a series of photos I did I had some worry dolls [small Guatemalan dolls traditionally given to children to tell their worries to at night and place under their pillows]. I had them as a kid because I use to worry a lot. I thought I’d love to have some as part of Unflesh, as some merch. It never happened because I couldn’t get anyone to make enough of them for me, but I had a friend in Brighton who offered to make a few prototypes, and she did such a great job of them. Originally I had three, but I gave one to Cosey Fanni Tutti. She’s the only person who has one because she was so supportive of that album, and did a remix with Chris [Carter] for the remix version of the album.


I don’t buy lots of gear, but I do like recorders. The big one [previous page] is just a bass recorder. I bought it for a film score that I wrote earlier this year, but also to play The Mandalorian theme tune on. The recorder was the first instrument I learned, and I loved playing my recorder duets in assembly. I mean, it’s never going to sounds good with a whole room of kids playing recorders, is it? Kudos to the teachers that endure that. But it was my first introduction to performing and doing music publicly, and I’ve always loved early recorder music as well.


This looks like a piece of thread but it’s called a swazzle. You know Punch & Judy? You know the voice of Punch? This is what you have to have in your mouth to do the voice of Punch. It’s on string so you don’t swallow it. You have to make it vibrate. It took me two weeks to get any sort of sound out of it. It’s a horrible thing to do. I used it on one of the tracks on Pastoral. I think it was ‘Jerusalem’. And there’s a phone call of me on the phone to the local council reporting an abandoned car, and in the background is this weird, ‘ah hahahaa’. I just wanted Punch in there basically, because it’s such a weird artefact of a long forgotten time.


This is the original sketch I did for the cover of Black Dog. And then I gave it to the amazing illustrator Craig Humpston to do his version of it. I had the thing in my head, and I’d looked at his work for inspiration of my sketch, and then I gave that to him. I wanted the dog to be crying but also angry. Angry and sad – all the emotions. And it’s got an ’80s feel again. I mean, the type is also Alien, isn’t it? God, I’ve only really got one thing, haven’t I?

Inside the album gatefold is a photo of the house I grew up in – a Victorian farmhouse, similar in age to this house, but even more isolated. When I was four or five I shared a room with one of my sisters and I used to feel really scared in that room. I remember waking up feeling like I was being watched all the time. And I’d have terrible nightmares. I have very vivid memories of looking down beside the bed and seeing a small black shadow, almost with a cone shaped head, moving around. Sniffing around, in hindsight. I wasn’t scared of that. That wasn’t the scary part. But in that house I had a feeling of dread, fear and curiosity.