Rozz Williams interview - Industrial Revolution book
I don't even know if I'd consider us Industrial... We're basically just a couple of insane people who make a lot of noise. Rozz Williams, 1992
Rozz Williams erupted out of the LA underground in the late 1970s, the 16 year old figurehead of Christian Death. Starting life as a straightforward punk band, by the time of their first album, Only Theatre of Pain, in 1982, Christian Death had metamorphosed into a shimmering bat-black demon, both anticipating and advancing the Gothic scene then bursting through in Britain.
Over the next two years, constant live work perfected Christian Death's unique vision of B-Movie snuff rock. But their second album, Catastrophe Ballet was to be their last. Christian Death shattered on the eve of a major European tour, leaving Williams with nothing more than the name, some songs, and an irate LA-based trio called Pompeii 99, who had been scheduled to support the Death on the road. It was this band, with Williams on vocals, which was to carry Christian Death into the second half of the decade.
The union did not last. Shortly after the release of Ashes in 1985, a disillusioned Williams quit. And while the rest of the new-look Death soldiered on, a state of bedraggled happenstance which survives to this very day, Williams turned his attention to PE, an outfit which he first worked with as a part-time project in 1981. In an age when Performance Art had from necessity exploded far beyond its original confines, into an arena where only the vilest was valid, the original Premature Ejaculation lost little time in making their mark. Williams remembers one show where his partner started eating - and simultaneously regurgitating - a very dead cat he had found.
I've always been a great believer in provoking a reaction, says Williams. I would rather make a record that is loathed by ten people, than one which is ignored by everyone; I'd rather play a show which the audience walks out of en masse, than one they just stand around and talk through.
Very few people stood or talked through a Premature Ejaculation show, and the group swiftly found itself unable to get a booking anywhere in LA. Concentrating instead on creating taped soundscapes, it was this area which Williams returned to, when he and Chuck Collison formed the Happiest Place on Earth.
Premature Ejaculation was reborn late in the year, when the group - whose past excesses had still only partially been forgiven and forgotten - found itself with the opportunity to work live once again. The duo also resumed recording, recreating the visual excesses of their live work in sound, a brilliant potpourri which frequently defies the often conventional instrumental line up of guitar, keyboards, sampIers and percussion. Innovative to the point of savage futurism, PE's stop-start recorded career remains the ultimate test of the liberated mind.
Williams' next outing, Shadow Project (formed with Superheroines guitarist Eva O), continued his interest in fusing music with art, and like Christian Death, Goth with industrial noise. Throughout the Project's two albums, an eponymous debut and the colossal Dreams for the Dying, Williams' refusal to be bound by even the most elementary rules of rock has lifted him far above the run of the mill Goth scene, until even conventional songs (the classic 'StaticJesus' included) appear to be taking chances far beyond their audience's requirements.
Not content, however, with this one finely-tuned string to his bow, 1991 also saw Williams re-invent Christian Death, taking to the road with a brand new line-up and, earlier this year, returning to the studio to cut The Iron Mask for Cleopatra Records. A well-wrought collection of Christian Death's finest songs brought savagely up to date, he describes it as the fruition of the vision which the original Christian Death were never to execute fully. Like David Bowie, his most celebrated influence, Williams has long since proven himself capable of transcending whichever genre he might be dropped into; unlike Bowie, however, there are no traces of dilettante transcience to his work. As much as any act to emerge from the cultural terrorism of the 1980s, Rozz Williams both earned and deserved the otherwise over-used tag of genius.
Interview Rozz Williams/Premature Ejaculation
The first Premature Eiaculation shows. in LA in 1981 excited considerable negative attention for their attention to horrific detail - the dead cat and so on. Is this why the band disappeared for view for so long (four years)?
Partly. We did a couple of shows which weren't very well accepted, and it became very difficult for us to find any more gigs after that. We went on experimenting as far as making tapes ourselves, and doing things like that, but that was essentially the end.
Then you regrouped with Chuck Collison in 1985....
I met up with Chuck and we began working under the name The Happiest Place on Earth,a street performance installation. Then I decided to delve into making soundscapes again, so we revived PE and started doing shows again.
Had people forgiven you by that time? Or forgotten?
It was strange, because a lot of people had forgotten PE; they mistook the PE shows for Christian Death! But they had not forgiven us, which is why we started just doing things with tapes and so forth. We weren't too sure about doing shows, until a friend, who ran a club called the Crypt, asked us to come down.
Did she know what to expect?
We warned her. She said "why don't you go ahead and put on this show?", so we said okay... hopefully you'll be ready for it, and hopefully other people will.
We did the show and people came expecting to hear Romeo's Distress, and to see me clad in black, and instead they were assaulted by various noises and video images and meat flying, and eyeballs being thrown at them and so forth. A lot of them were not that keen - quite a few came up to me that evening rather upset and disturbed.
Which of course was the point?
If the ad you are seeing says Premature Ejaculation, then it is not Christian Death or Shadow Project. It is Premature Ejaculation, and we have our own set of fans or whateveryou would call them, and our own set of rules. People weren't that thrilled by it, but we continued with it because no, our whole point isn't to thrill people, or necessarily entertain them. It is basically to visually and aurally assault them.
What instrumentation do you use on stage?
Various samplers, metal pipes, piece of meat which we mike up, anything we can find. I try to veer away from guitar work, because I bought so many guitars to use at PE shows and by the end of the evening they'd be completely destroyed. We don't like to limit ourselves in any way. We did one performance under a freeway underpass and there was a junkyard next to it, we did by invitation only, so there were thirty or forty of our friends there, and we just began to make sounds under there.
How does this translate onto record?
The tapes and records are usually done in a more conventional manner, although I learned early on, when we weren't able to find clubs to play at, that you can manipulate a lot soundwise, just with a regular tape recorder and a tin can. You can do quite a bit, so we just try to keep it open and do as much as we can with what we have, and it goes from extemely intricate patterns and extremely complicated material, to very minimalistic stuff.
Do you find your records have a different audience to the live work?
There is a cross-over now. When I toured with Shadow Project (October 1992), a lot of people were asking me about PE and where they can get the material that's available. It is kinda nice to see people know the difference now
How do you and Chuck prepare yourselves for PE?
ll give Chuck a call, or he'll give me a call, and we can hear it in one another's voice, when we're speaking to each other, it's time to do another show. Its almost a release mechanism; we can only take so much of what we see around us and sometimes it gets to us and we decide we're gonna spit this garbage right back out, distort it and maybe make it a little clearer for people to see.
Do you succeed?
I think a lot of people don't really get the point but that's okay; if they come away with an idea about it, and maybe see things in a different light, better or worse, then that's good, and if they don't, if they come away scratching their heads and wondering "what did that mean?", well that's okay as well, because obviously they're not working with too much to begin with !
It must be difficult to have coherent thoughts when there's eyeballs and pieces of meat flying at you !
I suppose it can be a bit much at times, but as I said, in the same way as our soundscapes vary from one extreme to another, our shows do the same. Sometimes they're very subtle in their approach, and sometimes they're veryassaultive. It depends on the mood we're in. We do have a very serious message that we're trying to get across, but it's very difficult sometimes because of the way it's presented. A lot of people turn away from it straight away, because of the graphics we use, on our records or at the shows, and they don't really give us a chance.
Couldn't you modify the images without losing the impact of the performance?
Not really. But it's okay, because we're not in this to force ourselves on people. In fact, that is probably our most important point, that you have to realize you cannot allow yourself to be forced into any situation that you don't want.