Rozz Williams interview
Seconds #27 1994

For more than a decade, Rozz Williams has been giving us a glimpse of his inner world - a surreal, unexplained landscape of visions and nightmares, broken mirrors and burned books, strewn with more questions than answers - never shying away from the harsh and the ugly, but somehow managing to create beauty. His path has led from a childhood influenced by Bowie and Cooper, rebelling against a religious upbringing, through a convoluted, serpentine maze of black magic and drug-induced haze, into perhaps a clearer light. Through it all, he has created an incredible catalogue of work, songs that are dramatic yet honest, shining like black diamonds.

Rozz started the band Christian Death when he was only sixteen. Their first album, Only Theater Of Pain (Frontier) shot the band to the forefront of the LA Death Rock scene, gaining notoriety through rumors of Satanism and perversion and lyrical insinuations of ritual violence, sex and blasphemy. This first band soon broke up, but when French label L'Invitation Au Suicide contacted Rozz about a tour and a deal, he relocated to Europe, backed by former members of the band Pompeii 99. L'Invitation Au Suicide picked up Only Theater Of Pain and released an EP, Deathwish, consisting of three re-recorded versions of songs from Only Theater Of Pain, "Dogs," previously a compilation-only release, and two new songs. New albums were recorded, beginning with Catastrophe Ballet, wherein the mysterious admixture of attraction and repulsion come into fruition, with complex many-layered melodies set to surreal, eroti-tragic image-laden lyrics. Here, the deep questioning and searching that lies behind images that might initially seem merely shocking became more evident. Catastrophe Ballet and Deathwish were picked up by Italian label Contempo, who also released the 1985 live album The Decomposition Of Violets. Also in 1985 was recorded Ashes (Nostradamus). These albums were all accompanied by booklets which added to the aesthetic of the band, containing a bizarre mix of medical illustration and text, poetry by Baudelaire and turn-of-the-19th-century Symbolists, drawings and engravings by Max Klinger, Gustave Doré and others, as well as the traditional song lyrics.

At this point Rozz left the band and recorded the less-than-satisfying Anthology Of Live Bootlegs. Afterwards he started his ongoing electronic side project, Premature Ejaculation, but those tapes were not widely available. While his sidemen carried on under the Christian Death name, he did a reunion tour with the original band - things became, to use Rozz's own word, "confusing."

In 1991, he came crashing back into the Gothic scene with his new band, the raw, dark Shadow Project, named after the research team that investigated the bodies of Hiroshima casualties. The music was given a new edge by long-time partner Eva O., who had contributed backing vocals to the first album. Shadow Project disbanded by late '93, but Rozz signed with Cleopatra, who have released seven Christian Death CDs, the spoken-word Every King Has A Bastard Son, and a Premature Ejaculation CD.
Rozz's newest project is called Daucus Karota; an EP has just been released on Triple X. On this venture, Rozz has opted for a stripped-down, rough-edged Rock & Roll sound, but the style remains immediately recognizable as Rozz's own, escaping all labels as he follows his unique vision.

What does Daucus Karota mean?
It was a character from a book called The Drug Experience, which was a compilation of different authors and their personal experiences with drugs. This was a hallucination of the author that he had while on opium. The character had mandrake roots instead of feet. Each time he took a step he had to plant the roots and uproot them again. I was struck by that; I liked the idea of the whole growth and pattern of taking each step, kind of planting yourself in something, getting it done, taking it where you want to take it and moving on.

What is the difference between Daucus Karota and Shadow Project or Christian Death?
It's a good question. I think with Shadow Project and Christian Death, the differences were subtle to most people. To me, there was a vast difference in how I was looking at things, how I was writing about my experiences. I think a lot of people didn't really catch on to that because a lot of what I was talking about was coming from the same place, questions I had about things. I had the same viewpoint of the world. But with Daucus Karota ... it's hard for me because I see things the way I see them. I've gone through a lot of personal changes lately and that's reflecting in how I'm writing now. Also, in the style of music, I'm stripping things down a bit more, especially since Shadow Project, which had keyboards and a lot of stuff like that. With this, I'm back to a four-piece band and going back to my roots in Rock & Roll.

Did you change band names to end conflicts involved with the name Christian Death or to indicate a different outlook?
For me it was different. Well, for one thing it was Eva and I. Aside from looking at things in one way with my own perspective, I was also looking at things through her eyes and also through her lyrics which was something new for me because I've never sung anybody else's lyrics. I felt a connection with how she viewed things so it wasn't too difficult for me in that respect. I viewed it as different but I still questioned a lot of the same things that for me personally hadn't been answered in Christian Death. In a sense, that certain thing of questioning and looking for certain answers was part of Shadow Project.

What happened with the Christian Death name?
Around mid-to-late '83, I was contacted by a French label wanting to do a European tour with Christian Death. I told him, "I'm not with that anymore, the band doesn't exist." So the guy said, "Can't you come up with some musicians?" So I found Valor and his band Pompeii 99 - we had played shows together before Christian Death broke up - and asked them if they'd like to tour as Christian Death. They did, so we did it, recorded a couple of albums as Christian Death and then I felt I was through with what I was doing with them. I had come to the point where I wanted to move and do different things and I told them that. I told them obviously whatever music Valor was writing was his music. I preferred for them to not use my lyrics or the name. They agreed to that. Later on, I was surprised to find out they were still carrying on. At this point, it had become confusing to many people and myself as well. "Well, which Christian Death is it?" That whole thing is pointless. I don't really care anymore and I feel like I've moved on. I'm not interested in trying to label it under Christian Death or anything else for that matter.

What are your greatest literary influences?
There's a lot of writers who have influenced me. William S. Burroughs, the whole cut-up method which reaches back to the Surrealist movement, which is very influential. Burroughs, Rimbaud, Artaud, a lot of absurdist, Surrealist writers have influenced me personally in a way of looking at things more indirectly but pretty much to the point. I've never been influenced by the typical, "Oh yeah, baby, let's party tonight"-type of thing. It's kind of blank. I don't really understand how that's really reaching anybody because you're not really delving inside yourself to question anything about yourself or the world around you. Party music or whatever, but to me it's more important to deal with real live issues.

Is the Satanism label valid or was it all theatrics?
At this point, I feel I've really come full circle spiritually. I was raised very religiously. Through my doing Christian Death I acted out a lot of rebellion against how I was raised. A lot of the things I didn't get at the time I saw as hypocritical and false and that started out as just a mild rebellion against them. If your parents or someone in an authority position tells you what to do, the reaction is usually to do the opposite and experiment with that because you're just hearing one side of it, not the whole issue. It started out as a rebellion against how I was brought up and then turned to a more serious thing. I got involved in a lot of black magic practicing myself at home. Now I've come to realize that after quite a few years of that that I'd been put basically in the same position that I was fighting against in the first place with all the things attached to that side of it that you're supposed to live your life this way and everything must be a certain way. Now I've broken out of that.

Were you following anyone specific, like Crowley?
Not at that point. When I started, I ran into a lot of people who read the lyrics and asked me if I followed Crowley. I'd heard of him but at that point it was more taking it upon myself and coming up with these doctrines. But then as I got farther into it, I got involved with Crowley. But like I said now I feel that was the same trap I was rebelling against in the first place. Now I feel I've become more focused.

Could you describe this new focus?
I believe in God now. Well, deep down inside of myself, I always did. To be a Satanist, you have to believe in God because it's based on the theory that there is a God. What you're working for is the force that's opposite God. There were a lot of times when I was like, "None of that's real and what you believe in your mind is what's real." A lot of that idea still holds true for me because I can talk to a lot of people and say I believe in God. They can say, "I don't," so that's reality for me but not necessarily for them. I guess I can say I have a better rapport with God now. It is a personal experience for me. I couldn't say that everyone should follow what I'm doing personally for myself right now because it probably wouldn't be right for a lot of people.

You believe in God now. Do you believe in Satan, too?
I believe in Satan. I was so deeply involved in that side of it as well that I know that that force exists. I guess now in my life I'm just focusing in more on the positive side of things. I've spent so much time in my life really dwelling on the negative things surrounding me, and the negative side of me... that becomes such a heavy burden after a while and really not a fun thing.

How about "positive magic" paths such as Wicca?
Well, to me I feel that it's basically the same idea.

People make a large distinction between "black magic" and "white magic."
To me, that's silly. It's the same thing as Catholics saying the Protestants are wrong, or the Lutherans are wrong. "We're the only right religion, and we're the only good religion." All of that's just silly. It's silly to argue about this is the right, this is the wrong. If you know in your heart what's right, that's where you're going to make your mind up. You don't need the reassurance of a group of people telling you that's the correct way to live. I feel that's the same trap. "I'm a white witch as opposed to a black witch." Well, you're still calling yourself a witch, you're still labeling yourself, putting yourself in that condition. When you get that deeply involved in something, you're not allowing yourself to be anything but what you've labeled yourself as. And I think that's a dangerous thing.

Live, you use a lot of theatrics - makeup, cross-dressing?
Growing up, I was really into David Bowie, Alice Cooper, the whole Glitter Rock scene that was going on. I liked the idea of incorporating aspects of theatre with music, so that was an influence that definitely carried over from my childhood. When I first started doing the cross-dressing and things like that, it was basically a joke at first. I told my band at the time, "I'm going to start wearing a dress, are you guys gonna be comfortable with that?" - just kinda pulling their leg. And then I did it. And then after doing it it became almost like I didn't personally have to go out on stage myself, I could become someone else. I felt more comfortable that way, because sometimes I'm a bit shy, and it's hard for me to actually do something like that, if I can't become someone else on stage. But now that's kinda changing for me too and I really feel that the whole cross-dressing thing and makeup thing - although I still feel comfortable with that, and I enjoy doing it from time to time - but over the years it's also become a very limiting thing for me, because people expect to see me in a dress. At this point I'm really concerned with wiping away a lot of those walls and limitations that have presented themselves to me because that was my intention in the first place, "Oh, I'll wear a dress, I've never seen anyone do that." Now everywhere you look there're guys wearing dresses, and it's not really anything that helps me in any way. I feel like I should be able to wear a pair of pants on stage! And people are like, "Oh God, what's he doing in pants!" Well, you know, it's just clothes.

Was androgyny or bisexuality a part of the band image?
Probably the androgyny of it, because of Bowie. I liked the idea that he could cross over the boundaries. At that time, for him to be doing that was even pulling away from the whole scene of most bands. It's like, you don't have to do this thing, you can take it in another direction here, and do whatever you want. But yeah, the androgynous part of it was a pretty conscious idea in my head, and then maybe influencing men and women or whatever. I've experimented a lot well, "a lot", oh, I don't know if that's true, but I mean, I was experimenting sexually at the time, so I guess that brought itself into it as well, but that wasn't really my intention. I didn't intend to get up on stage and really say anything that personal about myself, labeling that I'm gay or I'm straight, or I'm bisexual or anything.

I heard a rumor that at a party you showed porno tapes involving yourself and some, ah, young men. Is that true?
Even if it were true, I wouldn't tell you! It could cause a lot of problems! No, actually, no. I think maybe where that came from is I did have some videotapes of one friend of mine doing like kind of ... we called it the "Disney bondage tape," so you know ... there was no sex involved. It just happened to be someone who was over eighteen with two guys who were around thirteen, fourteen. And just ... like in handcuffs, and making a whole joke out of it. It was actually nothing pornographic. I have to make that very clear! Very, very clear! And it wasn't me in the video either! It was a friend of mine!

To what do you attribute the loyalty of your cult following?
I'm really appreciative and thankful for it but I don't really know. I'm a big fan of Bowie; I went through a lot of changes that he went through, and up to a certain point, liked every one of them. After Scary Monsters, ah, he lost it. But even after that period, I would still buy his albums and give him a chance. I bought Let's Dance. And Tin Machine as well. I bought their albums because he was someone I'd always been interested in, so I wanted to see what he was doing, keeping up with his projects, seeing whether I liked them or not. Maybe I've sold things because someone liked one or two things that I'd done, but then they'll still want to go out and see what the other things are about and then hopefully they'll enjoy them as well.

Was it you or your record company that decided to simultaneously release so many recordings, most of them live?
It's been my decision. They haven't put anything out without asking me, although there have been a couple of things bootlegged that I wasn't asked about. As far as the live thing, I just felt that there really wasn't too much documenting the live aspect of Christian Death. Maybe the Anthology Of Live Bootlegs, which really was something I wasn't involved in and didn't really like the outcome of. And I'd gotten a lot of letters from people: "When is Christian Death playing, when can we see them live, are there any live tapes that you have?" So I kinda figured, well, I'll put out some live things, people seem to be interested in that aspect of it. As far as studio things, I spend a lot of time writing, and it gets to the point where I'm like, "Wow, I've got so much stuff that I better do some of it, put some of it out, and focus in on new stuff I'm working on."

When you did Iggy's "Raw Power," Hunt Sales suggested you inject it with a "heroin sound." Have drugs influenced you?
Yeah, unfortunately. As far as "Raw Power" goes, I wasn't intrigued by doing it at all. Hunt was pretty insistent about it. Once we actually went through it, kinda reworked it, I was happy with it, but it wasn't something we wanted to do. As far as drugs, like I said, unfortunately, for about fifteen years, until just recently, I don't even really recall spending more than one or two days without being under the influence of some drug or alcohol. I've gone through heroin addiction three times now. A very harrowing addiction. I couldn't say that drugs haven't been an influence on what I've done, but the unfortunate part is that I feel that now, after not being on any form of drug for a while now, I think a lot clearer. I view my life in a much clearer way, and there were possibly a lot of things that I feel I personally could have done better or definitely in a more positive mind than I did because of the drugs. But at the same time, to catch on a cliché, I don't really know that I would have done anything that much differently, or I don't regret anything. Honestly, I do regret certain things. The majority of that was because of drugs, and it was the fact that I felt basically pretty weak as a human being. The drugs were very much a crutch for me. Like I was saying about creating a personality for myself to go on stage because I was frightened of the idea of that. The drugs and alcohol played a really major role in that. It became that I couldn't even go on stage, I couldn't even think about doing a show unless I was completely drunk or completely high on something, because I had put myself in a position of fearing the audience, fearing getting on the stage. I don't really think that's a good way to live your life, by having to have a sort of crutch and not really trying to deal with your personal weaknesses in a clear light, and in a more productive way to your body and your mind.

Do you think your audience has understood you?
You know, I don't feel that a lot of people have really understood a lot of the things I've done. It's not really so much their fault as it has been mine. I don't really like to explain anything. I don't like to sit down and have someone ask me what a particular lyric meant, and tell them, this is what it means, because I feel that that is what it should be. It's not necessarily going to be what it means to them, and I feel that people should be allotted freedom to look into whatever it is they're looking into, and make up their own mind about it, and come to their own conclusions. So I've always veered away from explaining my actions or my lyrics because of that reason. But I think by allotting that much to people, as far as where they put me or how they view me, I've put myself in a corner. I'm really interested in reaching as many people as possible with my music, and right now, like you said, there is very much of a cult following, a lot of those people are considered "Gothic" or whatever. I'm not labeling them, and I don't know whether they label themselves that, but that's what the majority of people see, you go to one of my shows and probably what people think is, "Oh, a Gothic crowd." That's another dangerous thing. It's like putting yourself into a thing of having to have a label on yourself. Or allowing yourself to be labeled by other people. You really restrict yourself. You may not think that. You may think, "Well, people can label me, but I'll be what I want, I'll do what I want." And that's true, but still, that's gonna fold over somewhere. It has for me, and it's been really limiting for me at times to try to break out of that at times because of the expectations of people. Like I said before, "Why isn't he wearing a dress?" Or, "Why isn't this song more depressing?" Or whatever. And to me that's just ridiculous. I'm not depressed twenty-four hours a day in life. If I were, I doubt that I'd be here! For people to expect that of me I don't feel is fair, and for anyone else in the world to expect anything, really, from anyone ... I think that's an unfair thing to ask people to limit themselves that much because of what you would like them to do, or how you would like them to be. Sometimes you may build up an image of someone, and then you have that, and then if you meet them or whatever and they don't live up to that, that's kind of a letdown, but you've got to realize, everybody's a human being, and if you want characters, then create them on paper or something, don't expect people to be your characters. And try not to be a character yourself. It's a limiting position to put yourself in.

Is Shadow Project completely finished with?

Are you still in touch with them?
Well, Eva and I live together and are married, so, yeah, we're definitely in touch! I still talk to Paris, Eva's working with Paris on her new project.

What's that called?
The Halo Experience.

Are you planning any more Premature Ejaculation stuff?
Oh, yeah. I did a couple of shows recently, and talked to a label about doing another CD, so that's a pretty ongoing thing with me, something I don't really see an end to, because for me that's one of the least limiting things I've ever done. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I don't do vocals, so I can step back and just work. That's kind of my escape route from the trap.

Is there going to be a Daucus Karota album?
There's going to be an album; I'm working on material right now, but I don't know whether it will be Daucus Karota. Most likely it will just be Rozz Williams, because it's really richer if I just present the music under my own name - I'm not limiting myself, I can do more just saying, "I'm this person, and this happens to be what I've done." And it causes a lot less confusion for everybody! "Should we buy the new Christian Death, or is it Daucus Karota, or is it Shadow Project?"

If you're remembered for one project, what will it be?
Ah... probably the "Disney bondage film!" I really don't know. I would hope to just be remembered as myself. Not really putting myself in a box of any project that I've done, but just being a human being, and hopefully helping some people along the way.

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