Rozz Williams interview - Carpe Noctem issue 1 vol.3
Two Shimmering Sides of a Euphonious Sword

by Andrew Corson

I've been, sitting in front of a blank screen for some time now attempting to come up with a definitive statement describing the incredible diversity and importance of the work of Rozz Williams. My difficulty most likely stems from the fact that my own relationship with his music has been so personal and long lasting that I am having trouble drawing any kind of broad generalization from such an intimate place within me. His music has been the soundtrack to many of the major happenings in my life, as well as faithful companion when others fade away. I have grown along with his many changing images and sounds, from the punk-laden dirge of early Christian Death to the violent experimentations of Premature Ejaculation and Heltir, to the murky guitars of Shadow Project through the melancholy yet strangely contented reunion with Gitane Demone in Dream Home Heartache. Artist, poet, musician, he is truly a man of 1000 faces, and I have taken confort in the presence of these faces during shaky times of transition as well as grounded stability. His refusal to be pigeonholed has inspired me during times of introspective self-exploration, and I have since emerged a more confident person. These are but a few of the way's he has touched my life and though his work, may have similar meanings to others. I write these words from a perspective that is truly personal. That being said, I will give up trying to come up with some profound, all-encompassing summary of his influential work and simply present selections of our recent conversation (yeah. I know what a cop-out).

You recently joined Gitane demone an a/bunt and a tour. What prompted the reunion?
We hadn't seen each other in quite awhile. I was doing a tour in Europe, and she came to one of the shows in Germany. We just got together again as friends and stayed in contact over the phone. She suggested maybe doing a single, which was really what the album was going to be. We just kept doing it that 'way, over the phone, and then I got over there and it turned into a bit more than a single.

So you hadn't kept in touch over the years?

No, it had been, oh man, probably about 1985 since I had seen her last. Of course, things weren't too well between me and everyone at that point. She had made sonic attempts to contact me, but I was a bit upset. But, you know, when I saw her again I just kind of put all that behind me.

How did your tour together go?
It went well. It was a lot of fun. Some crowds vary, as usual. Mexico City was great. There was a riot there, so that was a lot of fun.

What incited that?
What they were telling us was the economy is so had that generally kids don't have any money to do things with. So, when a concert comes to town, that's the one thing that they will save their money for. They crammed in too many people in the hall and fights started breaking out, and the cops were gassing people outside because there were still people out there. It was Interesting... But, the tour went very well.

I caught it in San Francisco and in San Jose

San Jose was a little crazy for me, I was a little our of my mind that night. I think after awhile.
sometimes. after touring its like you just kind of have a little nervous breakdown and then try to get
back into it again.

One of the things I've noticed when watching different bands play to gothic crowds is that the audiences are often exceedingly rude to the performers. There were a lot of people talking, and this is something that happens all the time, I'm certain you know... When the music is as quiet as what you were doing with Gitane, it is hard or distracting for you to perform to people who either aren't getting it or don't care?
It irritates me sometimes. I'd prefer to have people throwing chairs at me or hating me so much than to be just so indifferent to it to sit there chatting about what they did at work that day or whatever. It's like, "Well, what did come here for?"

How do you feel about the gothic scene today? Has the mentaly changed much over the years?
I dont know. I dont consider myself a part of the gothic scene. I dont go out to the clubs, so I don't really see it much unless I'm doing a show, and then sometimes it seems a wee bit superficial, you know. It's just funny seeing the whole image and dress and style and everything, which can be really great, but it seems like for a lot of the people, thats their main concern. They dont have many questions behind what they're doing.

It doesn t go any deeper than that. Do you see it as more of a fashion show these days?
Yeah, a lot of times, which is kind of sad, you know? Yeah, it can be a great fashion show, but there are other things to talk about and look at and realize.

You have be a big part of that scene, directly or indirectly, but you seem to constantly change your musical styles. Do you find that you have a core audience or does your doing different projects confuse people?
l think it seems to be changing a bit lately. You know, for a long time it was basically a core audience. Everybody would come to whatever show it was; if it was Premature Ejaculation, Shadow Project, or whatever, expecting the same thing, I guess: But now, it has started to get more diversified. I've noticed that we did a couple of Premature Ejaculation shows recently and the crowds were more varied, and I saw some faces that didn't exactly seem to fit into the whole gothic thing. It's always nice ro have a variation.

One thing I noticed when watching a Premature Ejaculation show was that nothing I heard that night was similar to what I was familiar with from the albums. Is Premature Ejaculation primarily improv?
Well for most of the shows, we don't rend to say, "OK, we're going to do this piece from this CD and this one from that one." It's generally just done either improv or making a backing tape and then improvising over it.

Does Chuck Collision do most of the music with you filling in the gaps? I mean does he do the underlying soundscapes?

It always changes. We take turns on who's going to mastermind the basic tape behind what's going on and the basic idea of what's going on. If it gets too confused, then I take over, and if I get too confused, he does, [laughter]

And the confusion may add something wonderful to it?
Yeah! [laughter]

You're covered a wide array of artists, from Bowie to Roxy Music, Lou Reed. Hendrix, Iggy Pop, Gary Numan and one of my favorites, Alice Cooper. What about Alice attracts you to him?
Oh, I don't know. I just grew up loving Alice Cooper. I mean, up until he started putting out garbage [laughter]. I think the last album that I really liked by him was Muscle of Love or Welcome to My Nightmare. But, yeah, I liked his theatrics, the harshness of his music. I've always been attracted to theater and music, which brings up Bowie and that whole kind of grand period of the 70s that I like.

Were you a Kiss fan?
Oh, yes.

Kiss is my all-time favorite band...
Yeah, Kiss rules. I loved them growing up. My walls were papered with Kiss posters. I've been listening to a lot of Kiss and Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin lately

Yeah, I heard Sabbath in the background earlier. I'm glad to hear that, because Kiss and sabbath are my life's blood right now.
I'm glad to hear that. That's amazing, because most people ask me about my influences, and some people are just so off clue. "Alice who?" [laugh] I can't believe you don't know who that would be, especially if you're in this gothic scene and you wouldn't even know that, that's bizarre! So, it's good to hear somebody who knows a little bit about music history.

You cite Charles Manson as an influence and you also dedicated Still Born/Still Life to Jeffrey Dahmer. What's the fascination with killers?
I think, to me, it's that they've crossed a barrier that... well, obviously, you're not supposed to and you're not allowed to, supposedly. It's kind of a fascination with that. I'm fascinated with people who go beyond what they're told or what's normally thought of as correct and appropriate. I'm not necessarily condoning murder, but I find it fascinating, to see what would take a person over that line.

Push them to that extreme... to that level of moving away from everything that society says is OK?
For me, its interesting to try to get a mental picture of where they're at and where that line actually gets crossed because, of course, I've felt like killing people, but I keep myself behind the line. It's interesting, to me that some people don't. They choose another way of doing it.

You use a lot of Nazi symbolism, swastikas and those sorts of things, on some of your collages, on your album covers, and you had a swastika on a mask that you were wearing during a show recently. I know the swastika was not originally a Nazi symbol, but are you interested in it in the same way that you are interested in murders?
Well, for one thing, it's a symbol that i really like. I think it's.a beautiful symbol. You know, a lot of people have asked me "Are you fascist?" which would be pretty difficuIt for me to be. I just find the imagery really striking and it always demands some sort of attention. I don't know if I would say that I romanticize the.imagery, but it's just very Intriguing to me. So yeah, I like using it a lot for my own esthetic reasons and also because it does garnish some sort of reaction from people when they see it.

Do you think that people assume that you romanticize it?

I think a lot of people either think that I'm a fascist or that, i'm making it into some sort of romantic thing.

Do you think that perforners have any responsibility about the images and the messages they send out with their art? Do you feel a responsibility to people who might take your usage of a swastika as an endorsement for what the Nazi's did?

I think performers have a responsibility to perform. You know it might not always be something that some wants to see or whatever, but to take on responsibility for something like all this bullshit, of "Well, this kid killed himself because he was listening to Judas Priest." It's like, "Well sorry, the kid killed himself because he wanted to kilI himself."

I'm sure there was a lot going on in his life that had more to do with suicide than Ozzy Osbourne or Judas Priest.

Right, and I think the same thing whith that is if someone were to go out and by my Helter CD and see swasrtikas on it and think "Wow, that's really cool ! I'm gonna shave my head and be a skinhead now," or something, you know, that's their choice. It's not my responsibility to take on for them.

So in the end, what's you're saying is that the responsibility...

...Is that I have no responsibility at all ! [laughing]

I read that Kurt Cobain's suicide had a rather profound effect on you. If this is true, how did it impact you ?
I don't know if it was a profound effect. I was never a fan of Nirvana. I was in that whole thing where, "Well, this is so popular, it can't possibly be that good." I've never seen Star Wars because it was just too popular. I have this thing, which probably isn't the best way to look at things, when something is immensely popular, I feel that I kind of
have to back away.

I've often felt the same, so I know where you're coming from...
OK, so you can understand. I felt the same about Nirvana. I was in San Francisco for a Premature Ejaculation show, in the hotel room and we were watching television and the news came over. At first I was kind of callous about it, but then I heard a little bit more of the music, plus he had been working with Pat Smear from The Germs, who I love a lot, so I decided, "I'm going, to actually give it a listen and see what I think." So, I went out and bought In Utero, which I think is a great album. The night that I heard the news I did my Kurt Cobain impression on the guitar as kind of a tribute. Not that I thought, "Oh wow, what a great guy, he killed himself," but there was some sort of respect, but not because he killed himself. I know how difficult the music business can be, and I'm sure for him it was even more stressful.

You've had a long-time partnership with Eva O. I know that she has changed directions somewhat as far as her theological views, and I also noticed that you, on Dream Home Heartache, included God in your "thank-you" list. Have your theological beliefs changed as well?

I guess for a very long time, because of my own religious upbringing and how I came to view organized religion, I was kind of dead set against it. The past couple of years now, I've come to realize that by doing that, I was just doing the same thing that I didn't like about these organized religions. I was going to the other extreme and basically following the same rule, just under a different title. And now, I reel. that I found God for myself and there is a relationship there, but it has nothing to do with organized religion, going to church every Sunday... for me, that's not how I take it. It's a very personal thing for me. So people are like, "Oh, so now, you're what? You're Baptist? You're Catholic?" And no, I just have a relationship with God.

Your own relationship that does not need to be filtered down through a church and a minister...
Yeah. Some people, that's how they work it but I can't work in it that way.

I think your comment about becoming the same thing you were against is really interesting.

It's turning so far to the extreme from what it was that I was turning from, that it just endedup being the same,
where I got, into this whole, you know, Satanist thing and all of that. Basically, I'm just doing the same thing,
just calling it something else, and if it weren't for the doctrines of Christianity or Catholicism or whatever, then there would be no Satanists anyway. They would have nothing to counteract.

Many of your lyrics seem very introspective and very personal. I'll read five reviews of the same album and get five different interpretations. Does this bother you?

Oh no, I enjoy it quite a bit, actually. I prefer not to really sit down with any one person and try to explain what I'm doing. I prefer it when people do get their own interpretations and make their own conclusions about it, because my lyrics, especially for me, are very, very introspective and very personal. I put them out there for a reason, but I deliberately make them open to interpretation because I don't want to just... there's too much that I don't want to just say, but it's still something that I need to release for myself. So, no, I love people to take anything I do any way that they can.

For me, "Flowers" on Dream Home Heartache really had an impacf. I think it's one of the most impressive things you've ever done. There's an honesty there that brings me back to it over and over again.
Thank you. You know, I've gotten really good reactions over that one, which makes me happy because I'm quite proud of it, myself. That was a tough one for me because it's a little more direct than a lot of my other songs as far as speaking about something to do with my personal life. It was kind of weird for me to do because I was getting over this heroin addiction, and just sitting down and writing that song about it, I was not even sure about releasing it at first. It was like, "This is too personal." But, I'm glad I ended up doing it, anyway.

Yeah, you really put yourself out there, and I think that makes the song that much more potent. I don't want to dwell for too long on Christian Death, but I do want to touch on a couple of things. First, was the reunion in 1993 with Rikk Agnew and George Belanger your way of putting an end to those songs, to that era?
Well... that was a very interesting situation. We had actually gotten back together and were rehearsing and writing new material, discussing
possibly doing another album together with the original line-up, but after the show, that was quickly decided against-at least by me.

What made you come to that decision ?
I realized that it would be too much working with these people. I mean, on the night ot the show I was really upset because Rikk just walked offstage and we had to finish the show without a guitar player, and I just knew that I couldn't deal with that kind of unprofessionalism again. It's too much at this point. If I'm going to work with people, I want to work with people that I know are going to be there doing what it is that they need to be doing instead ot going crazy. I've worked with too many crazy people.

People letting their personal baggage get in the way of their work...
Yeah... Not to say that I'm not crazy as well, but I can seem to maintain it somehow.

How did you feel about the documentation of that show? The video and the CD?
I was surprised, actually. The CD is all right. I don't generally listen to my own music, but it's all right. It bothered me that because of what happened at the show, we had to have another guitar player come in and overdub on the songs, and then this ridiculous crowd noise that they pulled from some live rush album, or something, and put between the songs, I thought was a little corny. But the video I was surprisingly pleased with, aside from the scantily clad girl tied to a post.

Yeah, that was pretty bad. But hey, theatrics...
But not the kind of theatrics that I want on the same stage with me. [laughing]

Well, I'm glad to hear that.
It was a little Spinal Tap-ish.

What are your feelings toward Valor and what happened with Christian Death?
I still feel basically the same. When the split happened it was agreed that they would carry on. Of course, Valor told me that they were going to be changing the name to Sin and Sacrifice, which became the Sin and Sacrifice of Christian Death. and then, of course, just Christian Death. And he agreed upon not doing any of my material
from the earlier albums, which of course he ended up doing, anyway. And so, that for me know, I expected honesty in this decision that we had agreed upon and then he broke that. So, I wasn't too pleased about that. Still I'm not, especially, since I've heard him a lot in the press lately talking about how I've ruined the name of Christian Death. In 1980, 1982, he had no part in it, whatsoever. I don't see where he gets off claiming it as his, but he seems to think that way.

How do you feel about the fact that he still tours and releases albums under the name Christian Death?
It doesn't bother me so much anymore because it has been so long. The only thing that bothers me is when I hear that he still does material from Only Theatre of Pain, which he had nothing to do with. That bothers me because he's making people believe that he had a part of something that he didn't.

I've noticed the phrase "Featuring Rozz Williams of Christian Death" stuck to the covers of some of your non-Christian Death albums and on advertisements for your shows.
Is this your choice, or would you prefer to move away from being known primarily for Christian Death ?
Its not my choice. It used to quite bother me, but now it doesn't really bother me wether it's there or not. I imagine for the most part thats what I'm best known for, and so they figure that could be a selling technique.

Are you still working with Cleopatra?
No, I haven't, and the last thing that was done through Cleopatra was that terrible Death in Detroit, or whatever it's called.

I was reluctant to buy that partly because I was a little disappointed with the quality of some of your albums on Cleopatra, especially some of the live stuff that came out. But I'm glad to have it, especially that show from Halloween, 1981. I'm sure that was just a bootltg.
Yeah, all of those were taken from really old cassette tapes that I had laying around.

Have people reacted to those at all? For a long time you hadn't put anything out, at least that you could find in a record store, say, and suddenly Cleopatra comes along with The Iron Mask and the live stuff plus the two studio albums. What kind of reaction did you get from people about those?
Some people asked, "Why are you putting out so much?" and I was thinking the same thing, too, after awhile, because I heard that from a few people I was, like, "Why am I putting out all this stuff?" Iron Mask was a total mistake. I wish that had just never happened. The live albums, a lot of people have said the same kind of thing about the quality of them, but they liked having them just to have some live documentation. The two studio albums got a good reaction, so that was nice. But at the same time, really when I think about it, it's three studio albums, one that shouldn't have been done and two that I like, and I was writing new material. So when people would start asking me, I was like, "That's what I do. I write songs and make records." I don't generally pace myself and say, "OK, well, now it's 1996, and I'm going to do one album this year, and then in 1997 I'll do another album." It the songs are evolving and if the band is working together well, then why not?

What was the problem with The Iron Mask ?
It was a very rushed project. We were in the studio for not even a month, so that was just really quickly done, and I was getting ready ro move at the time. I feel it we had more time to work on it, I would have been more satisfied. I'm not really happy with the production on it.

And there was your spoken word album, Every King a Bastard Son, which I thought was fairly impressive.
Thank you, thank you. There's a new one coming out. I like Every King, but this is a bit more proressional, a bit more music-oriented.

That's one of the things that struck me about Every King it's how music-oriented it was, with strings and,
Ace Farren Ford doing his thing.

Yeah, a lot of soundscapes. I guess I would probably put that one kind of similar with Heltir and Premature Ejaculation with the soundscaping, and then the new one is more like songs. It's mostly keyboards and bass.

I just put Every King on again the other day after not having listened to it for awhile, and I was really taken aback by the anger that was there.
Oh yeah, I was pissed ! That was a difficult one for me to do as well because a lot of the stuff on there is kind of like "Flowers" for me; really personal and intense things I was going through at the time. That one was a little bit hard for me at first. When I first heard it, I was like, "Oh God, I shouldn't have done chat, I shouldn't have let
people know that," but I think people can still make up their own minds on that, as well.

I've heard rumors of an acoustic Shadow Project album in the works.

It was put on hold because of the studio that we were working in, and we've been waiting for a call back to let us know when we can go back in and finish up, but it seems to be taking an awfully long time. I don't know what a lot of people will think, but it's quite different from the other Shadow Project records.

But then again, people have probably come to expect you to do things quite differently from what you have done before.
Yeah, I hope so. It's finally nice, after a few years now of not having people show up to Premature shows, or Daucus Karota and yell out, "Romeo's Distress" It's nice that that's starting to fade away.

I noticed that at the last three shows I saw I didn't hear any of that kind of heckling.
It was nice that people appreciated it when we did do the older material as well, but we would do shows and people were calling out songs from the new album. So that's kind of nice, to be able to just think, "Well, maybe people are finally getting it, you know." If you're an artist, your art is constantly changing in one way or another. To me, if it's not, then it's not worth doing any more, if you're just doing the same thing over and over again. You know, what's the point? If you've done it once, that's enough.

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