Brian Williams of Lustmord on how you have to be a little bit crazy to be creative
S. Alt Lustmord
Lustmord (due Saturday, April 28, at the ATLAS Institute during the Communikey Festival) is the long-running project of Brian Williams. In the late '70s and early '80s, Williams was at the forefront of experimental music and the avant-garde in England and beyond. Early on, he became friends with the members of Throbbing Gristle, and that friendship led to his becoming a member of pioneering noise band SPK, as well as some involvement with Clock DVA and one of the future members of Coil.
When Williams moved to America, he continued to work with SPK's Graeme Revell on sound work for films; you may have seen Revell's name attached to more than a few pictures over the years. In the last two decades, Williams became known for his high-profile collaborations with the likes of the Melvins, Chris & Cosey, Robert Rich, Monte Cazazza and Puscifer.
On June 6, 2006, William performed in public for the first time in 25 years under the name Lustmord, at a high mass for the Church of Satan. Not a Satanist himself, Lustmord clearly found the opportunity interesting and wryly amusing. But since then, he has performed semi-regularly around the world. We recently spoke with the lively and sharp Williams about his career in music and his ideas on the role of the creative person in society.
Westword: You were, and still are, friends with the people from Throbbing Gristle and SPK and that loose affiliation of artists -- not to say a "scene," because that's not what it was. How did you first encounter that music, and how did you become involved in that world?
Brian Williams: I can't tell you specifically when I became aware of that music, but about '76, '77. There's the whole punk thing. It sounds weird talking about this stuff now, out of context, because so many things have come since. It's become a style, you know. When that stuff was going on, it was very, very different.
You write and you cover music and know musicians through that, and most people who write about music or do music, they're really into music. And they don't just work on their own stuff, they're very aware of what's going on. They have radar that's picking up the cool stuff. So you're always looking out for not just music, but film and a whole bunch of other stuff. You leave your eyes and ears open for something interesting.
I remember reading some reviews or articles about Throbbing Gristle and it piquing my interest, because it sounded like something I could relate to and that I would probably like. Through that, I made an effort to actually track it down and hear it, and lo and behold, I did get it, and I did relate to it. I don't know about you, but when I come across something I get and really respect, I'll drop a line and say, "Hey, I like what you're doing, I get what you're doing."
The respect kind of thing. That's what I did with them, and that started a [correspondence] over a couple of years or whatever. And I went to see Throbbing Gristle quite a few times. It was more of a social thing than anything else, just like many people. Through that process I became somewhat friends with them, and over the years became really good friends with them.
I think it was Cosey [Fanni Tutti], specifically, really early on...I can't remember when Industrial Records released the SPK single. It would have been just before that. I remember Cosey telling me that they were releasing this single EP from this band, and she thought I would probably get on well with those guys, and she put us in touch. We got in touch and became friends, and thirty years later [here we are]. That's the gist of it. Like most things in life, it's simple.
It's more organic than pre-meditated.
Yeah, I think all the interesting things in life, on the whole, the organic stuff is interesting. The pre-meditated stuff usually ends up being a disappointment.
How did you come to join SPK, and what did you do in that band other than break stuff?
That's an old quote. You've been looking up old things online; that's kind of funny. We were friends and we corresponded by real mail proper for quite a while. We were on the same page and enjoyed each other's humor. They invited me down to London to stay with them for a week. There was a gig that was quite famous, I suppose, that they recorded, Live at the Crypt. They actually put the gig on because they knew I was coming down and they wanted me to check out one of their shows.
We really hit it off, and we became friends, even before they asked me to contribute some texts to the albums or some lyrics. The second album, Leichenschrei, I did some texts for and did some voice for. It was like with most of these things, some people are really [excited] about being in a band and other people are about ideas and stuff. When you're involved or in the background, you're in the circle of friends, or whatever you want to call it.
Your ideas get absorbed in the continuing process of just throwing ideas around, and some of them get used up. You kind of slipped in that way, really. In a year or two, they went back to Australia. When they came back, they were doing some gigs, and they asked me to play at the shows. I did two or three tours and we wrote material together. An album's worth of material that we played during that period that we never released.
I did mostly percussion early on. And yes, I broke stuff, too. Early SPK was on the run for a few years. Later on, they were just really horrible. Early on, they were really radical and really on the top and their live show was something else. One of the things I would do would just be fucking break everything, man. The stage, the venue. It wasn't always planned. It was part of the show, destroying things and quite often oneself. I went to the hospital a few times. We were young, and it was fun. It's funny you ask me these things, because it was a long time ago and you kind of forget about this stuff, but now I'm answering, and it's all coming to the surface again.
Anyway, you'd do something and it would be pretty dangerous or stupid, and it was really cool. So you'd do it again the next night. But after a couple of nights of doing it, you realize it's not spontaneous anymore. We were actually planning to do stuff, and it was getting a bit silly, so we stopped doing all that stuff. It was all right when it was just carefree and you're going with the spur of the moment. But when it became pre-meditated and planned, it was just silly. It was very rock-and-roll.
You've worked with Graeme Revell since. How would you characterize the nature of your creative partnership over the years?
Well, I haven't worked with him in well over ten years. I moved to L.A. and he became a film composer and I worked with him for eight to nine years. He was a composer and did the sounds and textures and all the weird cool sounds you hear in movies that you don't hear anywhere else because someone created them. That's the kind of stuff I was doing. But we fell out a long time ago. The less said the better about that one. Suffice to say different versions of SPK had different people, and not a single one would work with Graeme again, that's all I can say.
You toured with Clock DVA. What was the nature of your involvement with the group, and what enduring lessons did you learn from your experiences with them?
I think I did an American tour with them and two or three dates in Germany. I remember one specific German date and four or five dates in Canada in the late '80s and early '90s. I used to have a record label years ago. I don't know how familiar you are with Clock DVA, but I think the very first thing they released, officially, was on cassette on Industrial Records, and they released their first album, Thirst. During that early period before the Industrial release, they released four or five, maybe six, cassettes that had some really interesting music on them. Very evocative and very different from what they did later.
I had a label, and I was very aware of them, and no one had released it, and I was trying to track them down with the view of releasing that material. Clock DVA had split up for quite a few years, and Clock DVA didn't exist anymore. So I tracked down Adi [Newton] and a couple of the other guys and asked if they'd be interested in releasing that material. During the course of the conversation, it turned out they were much more interested in releasing more recent material which was this band the Anti-Group -- which I went on to release.
But in the process of talking about these things, we hung out and became really good friends. During this time they also re-formed Clock DVA. We were just really good friends, and we hung out all the time. I'd go up to Sheffield where they live, and they'd come to London. I gave them advice and stuff, and I'm nothing if opinionated. I'm very honest with what I like. If I say I like something, it's because I really do like it, not just because I'm being polite. So if I don't like something I'll offer some constructive criticism.
They asked me to manage them, and we went on tour, and they asked me to come along to take care of the sound mix. I was on the mixing desk making sure they sounded half good. [As for what I took away from the experience], they were really good friends of mine for many years, but going back to the early SPK days, nothing really beats being around a bunch of really creative people and just drinking coffee or having beer or just sitting in the studio and throwing ideas around.
The whole creative process, when you're with other people, ideas get thrown around, some get picked up or someone takes one of your ideas and shoots it down, because it's shit, which is fine. Or, even better, take one of your ideas and make it even better. It's all about hanging out with people you empathize with and you're on the same page. It was quite a few years that we spent a lot of time together, and I have very fond memories of those times. The only reason it came to an end is that we all ended up living in different parts of the world.
Going back to that and to all the industrial stuff, as you said yourself, which I appreciate, that it wasn't a scene, though lots of people seem to think it was. But it was a bunch of like-minded individuals -- very much individuals, they weren't, incidentally aiming for the same thing or doing the same thing -- they did have common ideas and common goals.
Everybody was on the same side, so people did help each other out with technical advice or phone numbers or renting or loaning equipment or a hundred and one other things that people do to help each other. That was main thing about all that stuff, people actually helped each other. Later on things became more cynical. Those people are still the same but what became to be a scene became more about being a rock star and all that kind of stuff.
But all those people I'm referring to and the people I work with, even though we may have a drastic difference in our approach or our style or our aesthetic, we're pretty much on the same side doing our own thing. The main thing that unites us is the fact that we are on the same side.