Brian Williams of Lustmord on how you have to be a little bit crazy to be creative
You often say in interviews that you're crazy. Which may be a bit of a joke. Why do you feel that you're crazy, and how do you think being crazy benefits in making the kind of music the you do?
Oh, that's quite interesting. I wasn't aware that I've often called myself crazy. I think I often allude to the fact that you have to be crazy to do what I do. I really hate calling myself an artist because it sounds so pretentious, but if you create something...this is kind of a long involved conversation. The gist of it is for me is a two part answer:
For me, among people that do things like music or anything creative, there are two groups of people. There's people who want to be famous, which usually they will be, people say rich and famous, but rich is a side product of being famous, and they will just do what needs to be done to be famous. They'll screw the right people, sexually or otherwise. They'll be at the right place, they'll do all the right things to fit their image. They'll do whatever it takes to be successful and usually they'll be successful -- not always, because there is a bit of luck to do with it and some degree of talent. If you don't have talent, you'll get talent and you'll steal from other people etc.
There's another group of people who create stuff because that's what they do. They can't not do it. It doesn't matter if they're incredibly successful or they're incredibly destitute, they will still do it because that's what they do. It's not just expression, that's just what they do. I kind of fall into that second camp. It's great that people will come to my shows or buy my records, but at the end of the day, if they don't, I'm still going to do it.
I'm not doing it for them, I'm doing it for me. I've had a great life. I haven't had a real job for at least three decades. I know some really good people. I've just been to Moscow to perform, and I've traveled ,and it's great. But, of course, it's really hard to actually make a living. It can be really stressful because you never know when the money's going to flow.
To choose to do this for a "living," even though most of the time you're barely making a living, is kind of crazy because the sensible thing to do would be to get a regular job and settle down and stuff. Even though those things have their own stresses and uncertainties but at least you have a regular paycheck or some stability.
But when you choose to do something like this, you do have to be a little bit crazy. But it's not a choice, and that's the fucking problem. And that ties on to another part that deals with the whole question of creativity and madness. I'm kind of half kidding. But you have to be a little bit crazy to be creative. To be creative, you have to think outside the box.
So creative people, some of them are a little bit crazy or "characters" with little quirks and it goes all the way to a little deranged to completely psycho. I think that's the price you pay with creativity. I am joking about it but at the same time but people who come up with these crazy ideas, or that sound crazy, do these great things that are great artifacts or great pieces of music often die penniless. In many ways that could be seen as crazy but what the hell are you going to do anyway?
What purpose do you think creative people serve in society and why does society need them?
For me, what's the point of a great poem or a great symphony or a rock album or a movie? I enjoy all those things? What's the purpose as far as the species is concerned? Does it make us any better as a species? I don't think so, not directly. I think genetically we have these people that are kind of wired a bit wrong. They're mutants I guess. They're outsiders, they don't fit in. They do this weird thing other people don't get. They appreciate what they do but they don't quite get the why.
Why do we go in masses to see an opera or a rock concert or a movie? I think the role of these outsiders is that, basically speaking, there isn't much use for most of those things in terms of evolving the species. But out of that pool of people is the one crazy person that comes up with fire, or the wheel or the theory of revolution or thermodynamics.
It's people who think a bit differently or look at the world differently. Some of them create paintings, some of them create symphonies and some of them think about abstract math and stuff like that. Out of that group of people every now and again, not very often, this big idea comes which changes everything. I think that's what they're for. The byproduct of all of that is we have artists. But that's just my opinion.
Your music seems to, in part, explore and convey a sense of space and depth in sound. What first opened you up to the possibility of creating that feeling in music and is that something you have continued to develop up to this time?
That's a good question. All I know and remember is that in the punk and industrial days there was a lot of cool music going on, not just in those scenes. A whole bunch going on in Europe and the rest of the world. But there was a certain type of music that I wasn't really hearing that I wished existed. I knew what it was, but it didn't exist, so I had to go out and do it myself. That's how the whole thing started. I started creating it because I wanted to hear it. It's as simple as that, basically.
I refer to myself as an outspoken atheist, but if people want to be religious, I have no problem with that. I think fundamentalist religions I have a problem with because they're just plain stupid, and they believe in things like the world was created in six days. They might be right, for all I know, but it seems sort of silly. But if people want to have faith in things they believe in, it's not my place to criticize.
But anyway, as an atheist, and also liking music, there's all this great music around the world, historically, not just now, which is religion-based -- buddhist music, Middle Eastern stuff -- there's all this focus on majesty and there were all these great buildings to house this music. That was a huge factor, but another factor, too, was that it would be kind of nice to have music that had that kind of resonance and a little bit of depth to it and had some higher calling but without all the dogma and the bullshit of religion. It was a feeling I liked in music.
When you talk about space, the universe is amazing. If you believe in god or you don't believe in god. Whether you believe it was created completely randomly or steered by somebody's hand -- either way, it's fucking amazing. I also like the sense of scale, and I try to be very aware of perspective. As self-important as we are, not just as individuals but also as a species, it's kind of irrelevant given the size of things.
When you think about the whole scale of things, we're beyond irrelevant. I kind of like that. It's good to be reminded about those things sometimes and have your feet firmly on the ground instead of thinking too highly of ourselves. I think we're great. I think mankind is amazing for all its terrible faults.
In a 2001 interview for Ambientrance you cited Apocalypse Now Redux as a movie you were looking forward to seeing. What are your impressions of that film in general, and that version specifically?
I thought the whole movie was very trippy -- not that I've taken drugs or anything; I wouldn't know for a fact, obviously. No, it was obviously based on Conrad's book. I watch all kinds of movies. I have a ridiculous amount of movies here and a really good home theater system. I'm very picky about them, but sometimes it's fun just to be like a zombie and have a couple of beers and be stupid kind of thing. There's movies in the cinema but there's not much cinema.
Apocalypse Now, for me, was cinema. Although it's based on a book, the story was told and portrayed in a way that worked because it was a movie and not anything else. It was kind of about the Vietnam War, but that was more of a backdrop, but not having been there myself, it conveyed some feeling how surreal all aspects of war sometimes are. Especially in the modern day and we have all the technology. As surreal as it was, it seemed very real, and I liked that about it. As a movie, it had great cinematography and directing.
Sometimes you go see movies on the big screen but a movie like that opens on the big screen and the very first few shots -- that was one of the very first surround sound movies and one of the first movies I noticed had a lot of sound design -- when it started, you just knew it was going to be special. It raises the bar and you're on a whole different level now.
It was like seeing Alien for the first time in the theater: When the titles came up, you just knew it was going to be good. Apocalypse Now is one of those groundbreaking movies where everything after it has been in the shadow of it compared to it. It's always nice that we have things that do show things can be better and can be done differently.
Is sound design an element of how you create music? Obviously you have a good deal of experience in that realm.
That's kind of interesting but yes, that's what it is. It's what I do, basically. It's my instrument. I ended up doing sound design in movies. It's hard to describe to people I was working with. It blurred the line between music and sound design. So my credit would be "music/sound design" because they couldn't say exactly what it is.
When I get commissions to do music on projects, it'll be various sound design components and when I do sound design it tends to have a large musical component. It's funny how I have my own style. I do what I do but I leave it up to other people to give it names.
With your recent spate of live shows, you've involved some very evocative visuals. Did you do them yourself or did you have someone else working with you on that sort of thing?
I did a bunch of them myself. When you do these things, you want to put on a big show and do visuals and stuff, that stuff costs money. I don't know if you know, but the kind of music I do isn't exactly commercial so there's not exactly an easy way to make money. So I don't really have a budget, as much as I'd like to, to pay some great video people so I ended up having to learn to do most of it myself.
A few friends chipped in, too. This guy called Meats Meier, who is this amazing 3D guy, he did a twenty or thirty second segment. There's a really good producer guy called Dominic Hailstone who did really cool stuff. He gave me a few minutes. A Liquid Dynamics guy in London generated some footage for me. I asked for specific stuff. I put it all together in Aftereffects. I had a blast doing it. It's very time consuming, unfortunately, because I'd like to do more for the shows.
I took about four or five months off to learn how to do it and another two or three to actually do it. It's all in high definition too. When I do these shows I want it to be good. All these people tell me I don't need to do it in high definition because nobody else does. I want it to be really, really good visually.
Just rendering high definition video melted my memory [in my] Mac twice, which is quite interesting. I was really pushing it but at the end of the day, when the projector is on a really good screen, the difference is substantial. That's what I do, come up with these ideas, go, "Oh cool," and figure out how the hell you do it. But you figure it out.
Is the video production process similar, creatively, to how you work with other musicians?
The people I mentioned, Meats Meier and Dominic Hailstone, I really like their style and I asked them if they wouldn't mind doing something for me, I knew whatever they were going to do was going to be cool. I didn't direct or ask for anything specific. I just knew that whatever they would do would be perfect. But which it was. We've talked about working more but these video projects are time consuming and none of us can afford to spend many months on a project and not actually make an incoming while you're working on it.
All of us have mundane things to worry about like paying our bills and stuff. As much as we want to work together, on these kind of projects, you can't go without money for that long. That's one of those harsh realities of life. Hopefully someday someone will come along to fund something like that but in the meantime we just have to hope.
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