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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
is the difference between Daucus Karota and Shadow Project or Christian
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
about "positive magic" paths such as Wicca?
Well, to me I feel that it's basically the same idea.
make a large distinction between "black magic" and "white
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
Shadow Project completely finished with?
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
The Halo Experience.
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.
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?"
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.