Rozz Williams interview
Vibe (1997?)

Rozz Williams Talks Till He's Whorse
By Johnny Walker

Former Christian Death singer/lyricist Rozz Williams often gets lumped under the "goth" musical tag, which, given your particular vantage point, could be a good or bad thing, but which in the current rock scene almost certainly delegates you to a "cult" status with little chance at making an impact beyond a certain group of fringe dwellers who hang at places called The Batcave. But while Williams certainly has, throughout his career, delved into the riskier topical areas of "dark" human experience, he has often done so more in the spirit of artists like Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs, Jim Morrison and Lou Reed than in anything which would connote goth icons like The Sisters of Mercy.

Those familiar with the posthumous album by the Doors, An American Prayer, might recognize the formula here, as Williams breaks from his usual business of rock and rolling to deliver an impressively well-crafted solo album which mixes spoken word with an empathetic musical backing courtesy of his longtime musical cohort, the singularly named Paris. Only Williams goes much further in his transgressions into the darkest recesses of the human mind than The Lizard King ever dared, as he and co-lyricist Ryan Gaumer poetically evoke the apocalyptic psyche of the kicking heroin addict, which both men were at the time of The Whorse's MouthÕs composition.


"Raped," for example, is certainly one of the most chilling tracks ever committed to disc, in which what can truly be described as the "evil" voice of an actual obscene phone caller "named" Frank Lee--obtained by Paris on a reconnaissance mission through an abandoned California police station--is pasted together with a collage of samples ranging from gay porn advertisements to "Porky Pig" cartoon music to create a striking collision of childhood innocence and total amorality, the Alpha and Omega of the human psyche where good and evil merge into one blinding microcosmic fireball. Lee's ominous final warning, "Be Aware!" is not one that listeners, especially those with children, with soon forget.

Other tracks here impress with the postmodern chamber music that Williams and his collaborators conjure up, featuring shards of classical piano, clanging industrial effects, and eerie flute, with Williams' mannered vocal presentation--a love it or leave it feature, admittedly, which some may find slightly pretentious in tone--riding over the top, creating striking, surrealistic, often excremental imagery along the way.

Who's In Charge Here

"Who's In Charge Here? (Beneath the Triumph of Shadows)" moves narcotically along, its hypnotic percussive undertow cushioning Williams' verbal images of "viral disease" and a decaying, fiery world of "no boundaries, no limits." "A Fire of Uncommon Velocity" features a chamber-like musical setting featuring piano and viola, its ennui-laden aura close to that of An American Prayer, as Williams, in the throes of withdrawal, laments the elements which "gave birth to this unfortunate man-child... denied by those who fake at life."

If any title here sums up Williams' overall stance, it's the bluesy "A Brother of Low Degree," with its "Walk On The Wild Side" bass-line and Genet-like attitude, in which the narrator finds solidarity among those who, by accident or by choice, stand opposed to the bourgeois world which values those only for their use-value in service of the great capitalist machine. "I was hot to trot and ready for action, any action... introduction to the underworld" Williams defiantly intones. And, as he rummages through the wreckage of his existence, cataloguing a litany of hate, self-loathing, and occasionally, bliss, one gets the impression that Williams regards all of his experience as ultimately edifying and instructive, that he really wouldn't have missed it for anything: "Let me assure you that I was a brother of low degree" he says, "and those were the days."

A Brother Of Low Degree

The Whorse's Mouth, then, is not light going--but hardly any art worth its salt is. In fact, it's a heroic effort by a talented artist whose many years of toiling away in the rock and roll "underground" haven't crushed his artistic spirit one iota. Considered alongside his stunning recent album with avant-jazz diva Gitane Demone, the glam-cabaret classic Dream Home Heartache, The Whorse's Mouth is further evidence that Rozz Williams is just now reaching his artistic peak. Hopefully the kind of ludicrous pigeonholing which allows similar works by people like Burroughs and Kathy Acker to be proclaimed by critics as genius won't deter potential listeners uninterested in the whole "gothic" scene which Williams repudiates from checking out this vital, troubling album.

Since he made his musical debut in 1982 at the age of 16 with the group Christian Death [Only Theatre Of Pain, recently reissued by Epitaph Records], four high school buddies from Los Angeles fired by the energy of punk-rock but also wanting to incorporate the more theatrical aura of punk's immediate predecessors--Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop--into their work, Rozz Williams has been what is usually known in rock and roll circles as a "cult figure." And, while it probably hasn't done wonders for his bank account, this status has kept his work relatively pure, free from the kind of considerations that have led his aforementioned heroes astray when they finally gained mainstream recognition.

Despite recurrent bouts with a debilitating heroin habit, Williams has remained prolific through the years, churning out intriguingly dark music in a variety of styles and guises, from the "death rock" (don't call it "goth") of Christian Death and Shadow Project, to the industrial ambience of Heltir. His latest works for Los Angeles-based Triple-X Records, from an inspired collaboration with ex-Christian Death cohort turned avant-jazz diva Gitane Demone called Dream Home Heartache, featuring inspired covers of Roxy Music and Jimi Hendrix, to his brand new effort The Whorse's Mouth, which mixes "spoken word" surrealistic depictions of his (successful) efforts to finally kick the habit, show the singer gaining a newfound artistic maturity post-addiction, more fully integrating not only musical, but key literary influences like Genet, Baudelaire and Rimbaud into his work.
Williams remains, however, definitely--and defiantly--non-mainstream, a man of extreme tastes, as the following interview confirms. Who else could find time for both Jesus Christ and Aleister Crowley? And hate Nine Inch Nails but not object to Marilyn Manson? Rozz Williams is one of a kind.


Rozz Williams and I had a bit of chancy time meeting up--he's the kind of guy things, well, things just happen to, you know? After a few false starts, we finally connected via telephone, and immediately things began going awry: "I'm trying to turn the volume on my TV down, but it won't go down," said the voice on the other end of the line, "and I'm trying to turn the power off and the power won't go off! Maybe I should just unplug it! There..."
The electricity issue being settled, we could begin:

You're a big topic of conversation on the Internet. On alt.gothic yesterday I read a hot rumour: You're actually dead.
Actually I am [laughs]. You're talking to one of my several spirits at the moment!

Congratulations on The Whorse's Mouth. I noticed a marked Jean Genet influence in the writing, the way he always strives to transmute low, "gutter" experiences into art. The title "A Brother of Low Degree" is very Genet-like.
[Flattered] Thank you. Well, I am--if it's not obvious to many people, it's obvious to a few, I'm a great fan of Genet. The imagery that he evokes has definitely been something that stayed with me since my teen years--he's definitely an influence. I feel that even the lowest point in life and experience can definitely be made into something higher. Basically this piece was made as therapy and to help get out of a bad situation. In order to do that, we (Williams and co-writer Ryan Gommer] had to dwell in that dark space, to get back out of it. And I think Genet does that too. God, poor man!

"Raped" is one of the most chilling pieces on The Whorse's Mouth. Where did you come up with the section featuring obscene phone caller "Frank Lee?"
That was a very, very interesting find. We do a lot of scavenger hunting, finding abandoned places--Paris [musician and frequent Williams collaborator] had come across an abandoned police station out in middle of somewhere. He and a friend went in and just started rummaging through things, and they came across this tape. And it was a tape of this guy who had been making obscene calls to this woman, but referring to her child...

It's chilling--what a voice!
I was like--oh my God, Frank Lee is my hero. I was trying so desperately when Triple-X records was doing its subsidiary label, Hollows Hill--they were asking me if I had any ideas for a name, and I said, let's call it Frank Lee Music!' They were like: "We can't do that, we might get sued!" I said, "This obscene phone caller is not going to get a hold of you [to complain]!" There's also both Porky Pig and gay porno music in there: the combination of sounds and music in that one was quite fitting.

Another influence I noticed: Jim Morrison's An American Prayer.
Ohhh, I'm flattered--that's actually one of my favourite albums! That's a lovely piece of work, I really, really like it.

I wrote a piece recently comparing the Morrisonian notion of the rock star as compared to that of someone like Beck. To me, Beck as a Rock God says something about the times we live in. The rock media has been relentlessly hyping the guy, for reasons that we can only speculate about.
Yeah. He's got what--three turntables and a microphone? I don't know--don't get it. That's something beyond my thought patterns. I mean, obviously, the Doors, the same type of thing happened to them, but I did sincerely think of Morrison as a poet--if you read his poetry books, you see that, if you just read his lyrics without listening to the music, you realize that the man was a poet.

Beck to me is just a middle-class little guy.
Well let me tell you, I have twelve turntables and twenty-five microphones and the devil has no haircut compared to my cut!

Next week, you should be on the cover of Rolling Stone then!
Standing next to Howard Stern.

Stern's turned over a new leaf: he did a "Sally Field" the other night on Leno over his movie: "You love me, you really love me."
I wish somebody would turn a GIANT leaf over on Howard Stern. As for Sally Field, she's nuts! The movie Sybil was incredible, but now any time I see her on anything, I think of Sybil. And she actually acts like that now!

That's what living with Burt Reynolds will do to you.
[laughter]. Oh my god, yeah! I mean, look at Loni Anderson! What the hell is up with that? And people talk shit about Michael Jackson, I'm sorry.

On a more serious note, French writer Jean Cocteau once said that, having known opium, it was difficult to take the world seriously. Do you have that problem?
Oh, I have absolutely no problem taking my world seriously... but there are two different worlds.

Are you able to maintain your own world?
At this point in my life, yeah. It took a lot of struggle, but it was well worth it to get were I am now with my own world. The outside world is something completely foreign to me. Obviously I have to go to the grocery store, I have to go outside, you know, but for a long time it affected me in a way where I would become very agoraphobic: I didn't want to have to look at that. I wanted--I think like most people, I wanted to remain entirely in my own world and never have to see anything outside.

Which is where heroin comes in?
Heroin is the great escape--but it's also the great escape to nowhere, unfortunately. So definitely in my own world I'm a much happier guy than two years ago when The Whorse's Mouth was written.

Perhaps one theme is that art is another--perhaps superior--way of creating your own world?
Definitely--I know that's what drew me out of it was being able to just sit, and just every day write out something, whether it was one word, one line, or an entire page. There are periods of time when things become kind of stagnant, and I find myself just sitting in a chair staring out the window, or at the television set. So then there are times when you have to just break out. I recently went to these two William Burroughs exhibits that they had down here, and also a Man Ray exhibit, all in a period of one month, and I just went over and over again, and I would come home and just be like, constantly working. That's always a nice thing: definitely therapeutic and it keeps you away from a lot of other things... [Art} is a form of escape, but it's a form of escape that's not negative.

What brought about the collaboration with Gitane Demone, Dream Home Heartache?
Gitane's original idea was to cover [Iron Butterfly's] "In A Gadda Da Vida" [laughs]. I was like, 'That's an interesting thought, but take a listen to 'In Every Dream Home, A Heartache' and let's think about that one!" Oh my God, Roxy Music was so incredible!

I saw [Bryan] Ferry do that on his last tour--amazing.
You bastard, I hate you! [laughs]. It was going to be just a limited edition single, but then I flew over to Amsterdam and getting together with Gitane's band and rehearsing, and it was one of those things where the album was written in the studio, and recorded when it ws written. Working with [producer] Ken Thomas was a very good experience. He's worked with Bowie (Hunky Dory) and Current 93, who I admire a great deal. He was an incredible producer to work with: very understanding and open to the idea of how we were doing it--perfectly attuned to that.

Do you see yourself going further in that direction?
Gitane and I have spoken on doing some more work together. But right now I'm concentrating on getting back to a rock, four-piece band.

Do you find that more satisfying?
I find it all satisfying, because it's therapy for me, and helps me get through my days. But right now I'm needing to get back to a more rock-oriented thing, especially with performance, because I really enjoy... I mean, I really enjoyed the tour I did with Gitane and working in a cabaret type of style, was really nice, but at the same time, during the tour we did for it, I would find myself sometimes on stage while she was doing a piece, or I was doing background for her, I'd be sitting in a chair sipping champagne, and I was like, "Well, this is nice, but I wanna be bouncing off the walls and climbing off the amps!"
Right now I'm working on getting the new Shadow Project album ready. It's kind of... I think it'll take a few people by surprise. It's more acoustic-oriented. With Eva [Eva O., former wife and frequent musical collaborator] finding Christ in her life, and me doing the same in a different manner... she's completely--that is her life now, and that's great because I've never seen her happier, and I've known her for like, fourteen years. She's opened my eyes to some of the positive things that can be attained by just realizing that force.

[Triple-X Records'] Bruce Duff told me he thinks [Shadow Project's] Dreams For The Dying is one of the most genuinely evil records ever recorded.
I've heard that from a few people. At the time, Eva and I were at the height of our hatred of everything: the world, ourselves, each other, the world, everything that was going on. We were also in lockdown at the studio, because it was recorded during the riots in Los Angeles, so we couldn't leave, because of the curfew. So when you'd turn on the TV to try to have a break, all you'd see are things being burned down and people being beaten. It reflected on to the album. I think it's going to surprise people with the new one, because it's completely opposite from that.

I hear you're also working on a film?
It's a short film, at the longest an hour. My friend Nico is directing: he's done film work before and owns a cult video shop in Amsterdam. I had done this photo-shoot... at Halloween a couple of years ago, I found this incredibly frightening pig-mask at a thrift store, so I decided to be "The Pig Man." From that stint, there was a photo-shoot that I did. I started thinking more about the character of this person, who he was and how he thought of himself, and the film stems from that. It's a really quite a dark look at... let's say, if I weren't doing this on film, you would be talking to me from a prison cell right now. I'm living out some fantasies on film. I'm writing and co-directing with Nico: it's black and white, no dialogue, and I'm going to be doing a soundtrack for it."

You're often pegged with the "goth" tag, but your roots seem to be glam-rock: Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop:
If you looked through my record collection, you'd find a lot of various things: like, right now, Liberace is staring at me. But yeah, that's what I grew up with--what made me want to do music, was hearing at a very early age, Bowie, Iggy, Marc Bolan and Alice Cooper. I grew up in a family heavily influenced by music, my parents were very into country music, which I didn't care for that much, and my dad listened to a lot of early blues stuff, which I liked. My two brothers and my sister, who are all older than me, were into like Lynyrd Skynryd, Allman Brothers, some of which now I can appreciate, but at the time, god, it was awful! My sister at least was into The Doors, Janis and Jimi. I loved like, The New York Dolls and Mott The Hoople.

Mott The Hoople were a great band who have somehow disappeared from the annals of rock history.
I know! They were such a great band--it's amazing how overlooked they are: Mott, The Hoople, and the live album. I was in a thrift store yesterday, and I saw the live album, and I was so pissed off, I found the live album, 50 cents, and I'm like "Oh my god, found my treasure for the day!" I went to check the record to make sure it was in good shape, and it was a completely different record by a completely different band! I was so pissed off, I wanted to destroy the whole store [laughs]. And then I had to go through every single record and look to see if someone had put that record in a different cover--I was there for hours looking! I'm like, "I gotta have it!"

How about the current edition of Bowie? Yea or nay?
I saw the Bowie/Reznor tour, and I thought the best part of it was when Bowie and Trent were onstage together, but unfortunately I have no liking for Nine Inch Nails, it's all rehashed material from everything that's ever been done, which isn't saying that music doesn't lend itself to do that, but to me he's taken it to such an extreme it's ridiculous. But once he left the stage, half the audience left, and I think Bowie, his energy level completely dropped.
Bowie is basically for me, if I had to pick someone, both in music and persona, that made me want to go out and do what I'm doing now, it was Bowie and Marc Bolan [of T. Rex]. Thankfully, in a way, Marc Bolan died at a point where he'd done no wrong for me.

How about Marilyn Manson: Do you feel paternal? A lot of the motifs you used in Christian Death seem to appear in their show.
Ohhhh. Well, I don't know--I've never seen them, met them, I've just seen photographs. Gitane's son is quite a fan of theirs, so I've heard a lot of their stuff. It's not like a lot of new music that I hear, when I'm like, "You must turn that off! You're in my home and I will not allow that coming through my speakers." I can put up with it as long as it's background--it's like, so many people come up to me and say "You helped start this whole gothic thing," and my response is, "Look at what Alice Cooper was doing, look at what Black Sabbath was doing." The sad thing to me is running into a lot of people at clubs and after I do shows--I mean, great, I'm obviously flattered that people enjoy a lot of the things I've done and that I'm doing, but, then, I'm just amazed when sometimes I get into a conversation with someone, and they'll say "I never heard any music like this before," and I'll reply, "What about Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath?" And they'll say "Who?" [incredulous laughter]. I'm like "How old are you, ten?"

Manson has made much of his association with The Church of Satan, and Anton La Vey. I know you've practiced various forms of magick in the past--have you ever met up with La Vey?
I went through a period of time, because of my religious upbringing--my parents were Southern Baptist--that's pretty intense. For me, I mean, basically, aside from the fact I wanted to be doing music anyway--I knew at nine years old that's what I wanted to be doing--with this very strict upbringing religiously, I think that's what informed the first Christian Death album: I was going to the other extreme. I had already grown up in this one extreme, and I was like, "I know that this is not right for me, so....
La Vey was always more of a showman to me, which I admire about him. He obviously started out in the circus and never tried to fool people into thinking he was anything more than that. But at the time I was more interested in [Aleister] Crowley, actually practising ceremonies, the O.T.O.

I'm sure you've read Crowley's Diary of a Drug Fiend?
Oh, that's one of my favourite books! Some of his other ones were a little too preachy. An idea can stem from someone else's, but for me you have to make it your own. So even when I was doing that, I wouldn't follow [Crowley's] rituals, I would make up my own. But I started getting so far into that I realized I was digging myself in the same hole that I was trying to get away from, in the opposite direction.
I actually met Anton La Vey's son when I was living in Las Vegas with Eva. I went to church with her, which was an odd thing for me [laughs]. That's where his son was, speaking at this church, he'd become a born-again Christian! It was really interesting to talk to him and get his ideas on the whole thing.

You don't seem the type to really take up with anything organized, no matter the creed. You're an individualist, then?
I have a personal relationship with Christ, and that's mine--it doesn't belong to a church or an organization.

Do think concepts like "God" and the "Devil" are merely man's externalization of the parts of his psyche he can't accept? Or are they literal entities?
To me, there is definitely... I believe in these things as literal--it's also things you see day to day. As simple as someone passing you on the street and saying hello,' which most people do not do--they pass you by and give you a dirty look or something. It's amazing to me, living in L.A., and looking how I do right now, which is not that extreme, and I'll get cars passing by with "Yeah, you fucking this and that!" That's a form of evil to me as well. That is evil to carry that much hatred towards yourself and project that out to other people. I'm not saying I don't have hatred toward myself, there are certain things that I despise about myself, but I try to direct those things out of myself into something that can be positive: like with The Whorse's Mouth.

It seems that art is now the place where you can go to extremes, rather than always doing it in your personal life.
Right--to me the powers and energies that come from one extreme or the other is art. The balancing is something that I need to keep in my life, but in my artwork I tend to always go to extremes, because that's where I find the balance in my life, by going to those extremes [in my art].

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