> New Noises – A Conversation with LUSTMORD (Brian Williams)
Lustmord (aka Brian Williams) wields the weapon of sound unlike any other. From collaborations with the Melvins to Tool to Jarboe and Coil, Lustmord has long been the purveyor of sounds that reach into the depths of the consciousness. I had the opportunity to chat with Brian about his own passion for music as well as his news of his upcoming album.
What was the initial pull for you to create music? How did you arrive to where you are now in regards to what you create?
That’s a good question. By the way, sometimes I’ll be a little bit vague in my answers, and it’s not because I’m being deliberately vague. It’s just that I don’t have a straight answer, but that’s a good example of that kind of question. It’s a good question, but I can’t put a specific time or anything that happened that I knew kind of thing. It was more kind of an organic process, I guess. I’m formalizing my answer as I’m talking as you can probably tell [laughs]. No, but it’s kind of hard to describe. Which it shouldn’t be, because it’s not that complicated. This is basically who I am. I’ve always had my perspective on the world – the way I interact with my own world and my own life has always been the same. Kind of growing up I was, of course, aware of many things including music and, of course, when you’re in your formative years and when you become a teenager, especially in my generation, music was quite important as far as your identity and state. It’s just discovering the world in terms. I was always discovering cool things and music was a big chunk of that. It just seemed to be the kind of thing I’d be interested in doing, but I never really followed up on anything. I didn’t do anything about it.
I didn’t take music in school or anything like that, mainly because my school the choice was either music or art. You couldn’t do both. And I chose art, and I went to art school for a year or so before we mutually agreed that I should leave. I did that more as a delay in getting a real job, you know. I went to art school, didn’t like it, and left. During that time I was there it was the same time the whole punk thing was happening, the industrial thing was happening. I was really wowed by what they were doing, and I was really inspired by all that stuff and more than just musically – it was philosophically – all that stuff that was going on was really interesting. I actually got to know some of those people like Throbbing Gristle, and it’s actually them that originally asked me “Why don’t you do it?” And I thought, “Well, yeah…why don’t I do it?” [laughs] So I started kind of messing around, and I wasn’t really aware of it as such, but I started doing some sounds, and people were responding. I didn’t think about doing any albums or anything like that. I wasn’t expecting, when I started doing this stuff, that I’d be talking to somebody about it thirty-three years later. I was just doing it for my own amusement – expressing myself. It wasn’t really important. It’s still not that important to me. It’s great when people hear it or are into it, but I’m just doing it for my own amusement, really.
It’s through people like Cosey that wanted to hear it who suggested other people listen and then the next thing I know other people are hearing it, and then people are talking about releasing it. It’s not something I set out to do. When I left art school, which I was really good at fine art, but when I left art school I just didn’t do any art at all. And I haven’t done any since then apart from album covers and stuff like that. Not real art in the sense of drawing and stuff. Which never bothered me – going to art school, interestingly enough, stopped me from drawing. But what really happened, and I don’t know why I’ve been so slow in realizing this, but what happened was that I moved from drawing to doing sound instead. That’s how I express myself.
That seems like a natural progression to me.
Well me too, yeah. Well, that was why it was such a long, rambling answer [laughs]. It’s just so obvious.
With that, as far as your creative process – what’s your general approach to instrumentation and composition? From the inception to the birth of the sound itself what does that arc look like?
The reason I started doing this stuff…and it took me a couple of albums to find my own voice because I was distracted by my influences and stuff which is normal, but what I was trying to with, for example, the album Heresy – and any album before that I was starting formulate this sound, but the sounds I wanted to hear – they just didn’t exist. Like most musicians, I love music, and I have a very eclectic and large music collection and a wide taste in music as long as it’s good and original. But there were some things I really wanted to hear that didn’t exist. It was one of the “I’m going to have to do it myself kind of things, so I could hear the sounds I wanted to hear. And that still remains a big part of my motivation. Also this stuff – it’s inside me. And that part’s hard to describe, but this is why I do it. I don’t have much of a choice. This is in me, and I have to get it out. I’m not tortured by it or anything, but I’m always creating sounds. As far as the process, for me I’m very much an ideas guy. Concepts and such – I’m stimulated by so many things.
There are things that interest me, and there’s little ideas that will bombard me from somewhere, but basically I’ll have a concept, which is where I’ll start, and then I’ll formulize that concept in my head. The stimulating part, though, is the concept. It comes in bits and pieces. I hardly write anything down. It’s all ideas in my head, really. They come together, and then I have an idea of how this might work as an album. The actual recording is what I call the “grunt work.” It’s not boring as such, but it is the most boring part of the process, because it’s actually more digging a trench – you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get on with it until it’s done. I always have a concept, and there’s always an arc – a beginning and an end. I always do albums. I don’t think of them as tracks, really. I mean, they’re separated, but generally speaking my albums are envisioned as one piece. I know exactly where it’s going to go, before I start on it.
I came to Lustmord’s music a little later in the game as I was introduced to your music by way of Tool. I kind of just worked my way backwards from there. I was honestly able to just explore Lustmord’s music thanks to the internet, and with that I’m curious as to what your perspective is on what the main obstacle is for someone who wants to create viable art in 2013?
Oh, man, that’s a good question, and I think there’s a multilayered answer to that one as well. Of course, it’s my opinion, but I think there’s two things…just talking specifically about impediment – I think the main one, the big one, is just the sheer amount of shit that’s out there. There’s nothing impeding someone from doing what you’re saying. What’s difficult is to be seen and be heard, and that’s because there’s so much shit. There’s so much stuff out there music-wise, and most of it is shit, and that’s not just my opinion. It is literally shit [laughs]. The signals to noise ratio is terrible. There’s plenty of artists doing good, it’s just how do you get it heard. I don’t necessarily think there is a straight answer to that. I think, basically, if you’re doing something good and something worthwhile, people will become aware of it eventually. There’s luck involved too. The good stuff floats to the top. They always say the shit floats to the top, but I think in this case, with music, the shit floats to the bottom.
It is possible – it’s not easy – but it’s possible. I think another impediment is that I think a lot of people just don’t have any ideas. They copy other people or rehash them, which is okay to a degree when you’re starting off. If you have a really good idea, though, you’ll persevere. You won’t necessarily be rich and famous, but you’ll find a way to make it happen, and people will be aware of it. And it’s not just music. It’s literature, film, TV – a lot of time people are creating things when they really shouldn’t be. They’re just wasting everyone’s time. It’s crap.
Absolutely. I think in regards to quality not much has changed, necessarily, it’s just that there’s so much more other shit to sift through.
There’s just so much noise, pardon the pun. There’s a few things now that’ll help you like “If you like Tool, you’ll like so and so….” It’s subjective anyway, though. Tool is a very good example, actually, going with that. Tool, of course they have a very wide audience. They have the knuckleheads and then they have the enlightened hippie-types and everything in between. If you like this it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like that. Tool is a good example of that, because they’re actually a little more complex than most. So, the reason why you’d might like them might be completely different from the reason someone might think you’d like them. It might because of some of the hard rock stuff they do or because of the ideas and concepts and stuff. They’re a progressive rock band with complicated rhythms, and they’re very good at what they do, but why them? It’s because they’re good. They play, people notice them, and they have a large fanbase, because they do what they do really well, and they’re original.
It’s funny, actually, because I’ve listened to heavier music almost my entire life, Brian, and thankfully I had an older brother who liked heavier music, so I simply stole his tapes.
Oh really? What was the turning point for you, then? Which one really made an impression?
[Laughs] Well, I’ll unabashedly say it was Guns n’ Roses Appetite for Destruction.
[Laughs] I know, I know.
I figured you’d say Black Sabbath or something like that.
I was a kid in the late 80s in the bible belt, man. Hard to climb that gigantic cultural fence we have surrounding the area down here.
[Laughs] Well that’s no excuse!
I did eventually work my way backwards to thrash and then to Sabbath and stuff like Blue Cheer and Cream, so hopefully I can redeem myself here.
Well, that’s good. People that really care about music…when you hear something really good and it’s really interesting you ask, “Well, where did that come from?”
As far as what drew you to the experimental or dark ambient side of music, what was the catalyst for you wanting to create those specific sounds?
I’m a big Dub fan. I listen to electronica. Most of my collection is things like Kraftwerk and Trip-Hop – just a whole range of beats and stuff. I don’t listen to dark music, necessarily. Some electronic stuff is, I guess, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it. My own work, which has always been called dark, I just do whatever the fuck I do. I like my own work to speak for itself, you know. The music that I do – it’s how I express myself. Basically, the music is my expression of what it is. If people want to understand it, they should just listen to it, I guess.
People have an inherent need to compartmentalize things into specific categories, and I think that’s no more true anywhere else than in music.
I agree. People like something to have some kind of tag onto it, so they can file it. What do I file this with? It’s the way our brains work. We have these little compartments we put our stuff into. It makes it easier for us to make sense of the world.
What are you currently working on with Lustmord?
I’ve just finished a bunch of stuff, so there’s a new album coming out in June. That’s the next big thing. It’s coming out on a British label called Blackest Ever Black. It’s an album with vocals.
Any special guests on the vocals?
I’ve got my friend Ina, a Norwegian singer, she’s singing on some tracks. Jarboe is on a track. And I’ve got some guy called Maynard on a track too. Oh yeah, he’s from that band Tool you mentioned [laughs].
You know, Tool is actually one of those bands I listened to in my early youth that I still listen to now. They’re one of the few I’m not the least bit embarrassed about, which is more than I can say for some of the other crap bands I listened to at that point in my life.
They’re really great people. I really didn’t know much about them until I met them. I was kind of aware of them, because they were somewhat popular.
How did you actually come to work with the band?
Adam [Jones] actually got in touch and suggested we work together. I checked them out. He came over, and we sort of hit it off immediately. We have sort of very similar interests, and we became friends pretty much instantly. Got to meet the rest of the guys and get to know them – went to a few of their shows and rehearsals. Going to their shows, you actually realize they’re quite popular [laughs]. But yeah, Adam just got in touch and wanted to work together. It kind of happens that way a lot. You get together with a rock band, you’re not going to just discuss rock music. You’re going to talk about all kinds of music like electronica, Fever Ray, Aphex Twin – all kinds of stuff. Musicians are always interested in something else.
Speaking of Fever Ray, the new The Knife record is phenomenal.
I haven’t heard that one yet. It’s gotten some mixed reviews, hasn’t it?
I think it’s been fairly positive across the board. I think anything Dreijer-Andersson is involved with is well worth checking out.
Yeah, I love the Fever Ray album. I wish she’d do another fucking one of those.
What’s on your reading list at the moment?
Oh, Jesus Christ [laughs]. I just finished a book yesterday. I usually have about five or six books next to the bed. I actually finally got around to reading Blood Meridian in the last few weeks.
What do you think about it?
I like it. It’s not my favorite. I like his other ones more, but I like the writing more than I do the story. Then again, the story is kind of secondary anyway. Next to him, I’ve got some Chandler, James Ellroy, and a few others. Of course, I love Name of the Rose and Foucalt’s Pendulum. Early Neal Stephenson, David Mitchell, Chuck Palahniuk, and so on. I’ve got Hellboyhere and a whole bunch of other stuff – Sandman. I’ve got a whole section on psychiatry and brain control. My wife actually has an entire book collection on torture and execution, of course. I’ve got a really good history selection. A History of Camouflage. I’ve got a lot of books on camouflage [laughs] and barbed-wire. A whole bunch of stuff, really. I love conspiracy theories, too. Good ones. People have a real need to believe in something. I believe in common sense.
Thanks to Brian for his time.