At the occasion of his astounding performance at the 2011 edition of MaschinenFest in Oberhausen, Germany, we had the opportunity to talk to Brian Williams aka Lustmord, one the earliest and most influential dark ambient artists.
A l’Arrache : So you started performing live pretty recently, although you already have a long career back…
Brian Williams : Actually I started in 1981, I played three gigs…
ALA : With SPK ?
B. : No, by myself, SPK was later, in 1983.
ALA : Why did you stop playing live back then ?
B. : Good question (laughs). First of all, I wasn’t really happy with the way things could be done live at the time. You see, I’m known for having a sound, and in 1981 I didn’t really have it yet, was still trying to find it. So playing live back then was sure fun, but not really interesting, if that makes sense.
ALA : Maybe it was also harder than it is now because you had to carry much more voluminous gear…
B. : Exactly.
ALA : Which equipment did you use ?
B. : Actually for the first few years, I had a very few gear : I had one synth, the EMS VCS 3, but I didn’t have any recording equipment, so I used what friends would let me use, borrowed things for a while. Then I gradually amassed more equipment, so it wasn’t very practical for playing live.
ALA : So, the first people to book a gig of yours again after all these years were the Church of Satan, weren’t they ? How did you feel about it ?
B. : Well, for 25 years I didn’t play live and didn’t mean to, but after all this time I felt like I should do something to mark the occasion, and playing live seemed to be a really good idea. So I started thinking about how I could do it and make it interesting, because concerts performed with laptops are often really boring, I wouldn’t pay to see that, so why would I expect other people to pay for it. Then the Church of Satan called me up, as they do… (laughs). They were planning their first public ritual ever, with members of the Church from all around the world going together, for their 40th anniversary, which was the same year than my 25th anniversary. But most of all, it was on 06.06.06. For me, it was like Spinal Tap, how can you say no to something like that ?! I suited my image, which is all very dark, and I said : if I wanna play live at all after 25 years, I have to do it on 06.06.06, because it’s so funny !
B. : I wouldn’t say funny, I would say fun. It was my wife and I in a room full of Satanists, who were all like “Hail Satan”, and I was like “Yeah, whatever” (laughs). But they were very nice. I made fun of them a little, because how can you not make fun of the Church of Satan ? (laughs). I’m an atheist, but they were OK with that, nobody tried to persuade me to join, because if they had, I’d be gone.
B. : No. What happened then is they asked me to play, and for the first time I considered performing live with a laptop, which I would have found really boring in the past. But at about the same period I went to see Kraftwerk live, who I haven’t seen live for a long time, and there they were, four guys with laptops, and it was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, the sound was amazing. So I realized, yes, you can perform with a laptop at some point. So it did the Church of Satan thing, using this software, Ableton Live, and that was actually a test for me. I could improvise live, which for me is the whole point. Even is the audience don’t really see it, you can have a lot of things going on (playing virtual instruments, manipulating audio with effects in real time).
ALA : What about the videos you use in the background ? Did you create them by yourself, of was there some other visual artists involved ?
B. : Mostly it’s me. The problem was I hadn’t any money to pay somebody to do it for me, so I had to learn to do it myself. So I spent a few months learning to use this software, After Effects. I also had three friends helping me, Dominic Hailstone, Metas Meir and Adrian Wyer. About 10% of the footage is actually from them. Ultimately I would like somebody to be on stage with me and doing the visuals live, but at the moment I just can’t do that. I’m using high definition video, and the computer I’m using couldn’t handle that. Doing it live would be harder, but also more interesting.
ALA : I once read in a previous interview of yours that you absolutely don’t listen to music similar to your own…
B. : It must be true then (laughs).
ALA : (laughs) What kind of music do you listen to the most ?
B. : I listen to dub a lot, for example. I basically just like beats, grooves. I also listen to some atmospheric music sometimes, but not the kind I make. I know people call my music “dark ambient”, and I listened to some to other music which are called that, and that just didn’t interest me.
ALA : So you don’t feel like you’re a part of this scene ?
B. : Well, first of all, I don’t think there is a scene, but if there was, it wouldn’t a scene I’d belong to. I worked with The Melvins or Tool for example, and they’re completely different from what I do, but they’re my contemporaries, I feel much closer to them than to any drone artist. We have completely different ways of doing things, but we understand each other, we speak the same language.
ALA : Speaking of these collaborative work you did with Adam Jones and Buzz Osborne among others, have you got anything new coming up in this field ?
B. : With Adam, not for the moment, I haven’t seen him for a while actually, but with Buzz we actually started recording some new material, we haven’t finished it yet. We also talked about doing some collaborating live with The Melvins, but still didn’t got into it for the moment. I’m very open to work with others, but some people got in touch with me because they wanted to do drone / dark ambient stuff, but I can do that myself. That’s much more interesting working with artists from different genres, and not knowing what’s gonna happen. For example my friend Wes (Borland, guitarist of Limp Bizkit and leader of Black Light Burns, ed.) wants to do an album with me, but I don’t know when it’s gonna happen because he’s really busy. You know, all these guys are very aware of all kinds of music, not only the genres they work in, just because they love music, that’s why they’re musicians. With Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O))), ed.) we also talked about doing something together. We recently improvised live in Sweden, it was a lot of fun.
ALA : Basically which are the reasons that make you get along well with an artist more than another ? Do you feel more in touch with electronic musicians or rockers ?
B. : It’s all a matter of attitude. It’s not the sound or the style of music, it’s the way of approaching things. I come from a very early industrial scene (SPK, Cabaret Voltaire, and so on), bands who were hugely influential on what later became to be called “industrial music”, even if for me it’s not industrial at all, it’s just rock music with samples. Old school industrial music wasn’t about wearing the right clothes or making the right sound, it was more about a philosophy.
ALA : I read on your website that sometimes people ask you to work for no money and you have a hard time making them understand that you can do that, ‘cause that’s how you make a living…
B. : Well, I do work for no money sometimes, but if I do it has to be really cool and interesting, like “Wow, this project is so great, I wanna work on it”. The problem is if sometimes, people come to me with really stupid projects, and they want me to work on it for free, why would I do that ? Would you call an electrician to your house and ask him to fix your electricity for free ? (laughs). But don’t get me wrong, doing what I do is obviously not about the money, otherwise I would be doing different music. The music I make is not a way to make money, it’s more a way to worry about money, but that’s what I do.
ALA : How do you feel about being considered as a huge influence by a lot of artists from the “dark” scene, who sometimes end up making a music which is not that dark, if “dark” means anything ?
B. : I don’t think about it at all, to be honest (laughs). Actually I sometimes feel pretty uncomfortable when I meet people who are influenced by my music. Well, obviously it’s very flattering, but if they’re just doing an imitation, I don’t see the point. On the other hand there are some people who like my music but do something completely different, and that’s interesting. My music didn’t inspire them to copy me, but just to make music, which is good. Well, if some people like my music enough to copy me, it’s a compliment of course, but I’m much more interested in people telling me something like : “Your music is good and everything, but it could be better, and this is how it should be”.
ALA : You don’t consider your own music being particularly dark, do you ?
B. : I don’t, but I see why people do. My music is really slow and has a lot of low frequencies, so people think that’s dark. I mean, what’s really dark ? Life can be fucking dark, life in Africa for example.
ALA : What’s your opinion on the big technological evolution which occurred since your beginnings ? Did it change the way you work ?
B. : No it didn’t, I just have much more powerful tools, that’s all. You know, people are often interested in what equipment I use, and I’m happy to share this information, but that’s not the point, I say this a lot. The ideas are the point. If you have a lot of money, you can buy all the gear in the world, but if you have no ideas it will be pointless. On the other hand, if have ideas but lack equipment, you’ll always find a way to do something interesting. People often think I use old analog synths, tube amps and stuff like that, but I only work with computers nowadays. The way my music sounds just depends on my aesthetic, that’s all. What I do is actually pretty simple, I just choose the sounds I like. I could show people exactly how I work, but it would still up to them to choose the sounds. Anybody can make noise, noise music is pretty boring most of the time. But when people have an aesthetic and choose certain noises, that makes the difference.
ALA : Do you still use a lot of field recordings in your music ?
B. : I do, but only really old ones. I’ve been recording sounds for thirty years and I have a huge library I can pick from. And to be honest, the whole field recording thing can be a real pain in the ass (laughs).
ALA : I’d like to close this interview with a really stupid question…
B. : Oh, don’t say that, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. If you don’t know something, just ask. Not asking would be the stupid thing to do.
ALA : All right then. Have you ever been to a school for sound engineering or music production?
B. : Actually that’s a good question. The answer’s no. I more like a punk, I know nothing about music, I just know what I like. I learned to do things just by doing them, on my own.
ALA : Doesn’t that make it difficult for you to communicate with fellow musicians ?
B. : No, because if you work with the right people, you always find a way to communicate with them. Musicians I work with don’t talk to me about keys or this kind of stuff, because they realize I would have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about (laughs). We just find another way to make things work.
By Raoul Duke & Suicyco
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