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?
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?
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.
often felt the same, so I know where you're coming from...
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?
What made you come to that decision ?
People letting their personal baggage get in the
way of their work...
How did you feel about the documentation of that
show? The video and the CD?
Yeah, that was pretty bad. But hey, theatrics...
How do you feel about the fact that he still tours
and releases albums under the name Christian Death?
Are you still working with Cleopatra?
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
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?
What was the problem with The Iron Mask ?
And there was your spoken word album, Every King
a Bastard Son, which I thought was fairly impressive.
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.
But then again, people have probably come to expect
you to do things quite differently from what you have done before.
I noticed that at the last three shows I saw I
didn't hear any of that kind of heckling.