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Burning the black light with Wes Borland

pic_borland1Though best known as the guitarist of Limp Bizkit, Wes Borland is a man of many talents. He is an accomplished painter and his skills as a versatile musician and songwriter are on full display in his new band, Black Light Burns. The band;s debut, Cruel Melody, produced by Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails), draws heavily from Borland;s industrial/goth rock roots. When the band;s recent tour with HORSE the band stopped at the Recher Theatre in Towson, Md., Borland sat down with Greg Maki and Jason Price of Live-Metal.net to discuss Black Light Burns, Limp Bizkit, painting and more.

Live-Metal.net: First, I really like the album.

Wes Borland: Thanks.

I;ve heard that at least for part of it you kind of pulled things from other things you had been involved with.

I didn;t pull any of the music. It was just sort of the intention was, like, I finally got it right after a really long time of kind of messing around with other people and trying to get together other projects that just weren;t quite right.

Would you say that Black Light Burns is closer to your musical roots and interests than Limp Bizkit was?

Uh, yeah, by a long shot.

What are some of the influences that led to this?

I would say everything I;ve ever been interested in, from Concrete Blonde to Ministry and Nine Inch Nails to Einstarzende Neubauten, Skinny Puppy, Bauhaus, Joy Division to stuff like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Fiona Apple. A pretty wide range of different kinds of influences. Even Iggy Pop and Faith No More and stuff like that. These are all just bands that I like. I wasn’t trying to emulate any of these bands. I was just trying to not think too much and make a record that came naturally. Instead of having any set plan, I just wanted to write songs that I liked and not really have any rules.

How much influence did Danny Lohner have on the sound?

He produced the album, so he had quite a bit to say as far as the direction of the sound design and different areas of the album. It was his call to get Josh Freese involved, which was, he’s obviously an amazing drummer. I wrote everything, but a lot of it was Danny’s direction as far as the different, that was a compromise between the both of us and a collaboration, as far as the sound and the direction of the record.

What does the name Black Light Burns mean?

As far as names and paintings and songs and stuff like that, there’s enough there where people can interpret, they can probably piece together and find the meanings if they do their homework. I think it’s more fun to let it just be and let people kind of interpret for themselves because it takes a pretty important aspect of the art form, in my opinion, away if you just spell everything out.

Did you always know when you were making the album that you were going to take a different group of people on tour?

Yeah, I knew that Josh and Danny are super busy and they weren’t gonna be able to go on the road, even though I tried to get Danny for a long time. He just likes his house and his dog and producing bands and doesn’t want to go on tour anymore. He will be involved in the next record. I’m not sure what the extent of it will be. I’m working on it right now and it’s gonna be a different group of people involved in the making of the record.

So are you working on that while you’re on the road?

Pretty much, yeah. Working on the ideas. It all develops and it takes a long time to kind of develop the meat and potatoes of the record, what the tone is gonna be about, what the album is gonna be about. But that’s all coming together lyrically and musically it’s starting to incubate and take shape.

Do you see it as a full band or more what you want to do and who you want to work with at the time?

It is a band, and I hope that one day it becomes more of a band. I’m in a place where it’s easier for me not to compromise with anybody, like somebody writing a book, just sort of writing a record. It’s become very easy for me to move between instruments, kind of because I’ve been forced into making records the hard way. I have a hard time communicating with other musicians and I also feel bad when I say, play this or do that. I’d just rather go, you know, I just would rather do it all myself and not have any help from anyone else unless it’s a drummer or something that I just absolutely can’t do, like play drums or be in a string quartet or something like that.

Do you feel like in the past in Limp Bizkit your creativity was stifled?

[Smiles] Yeah. As far as working with Fred Durst, it’s incredibly stifling and infuriating to dry to do anything at all. Every move that I would make in that band would be scrutinized by someone that I just, it’s weird because it’s hard to be scrutinized and told what to do by sort of a bossy bully that you don’t respect, musically, at all. So it became, for me, sort of a meditation how much could I endure. I don’t know, sort of going through the paces with that band was always sort of an experiment in misery, I guess, as far as trying to deal with him as a partner or a fellow bandmate. It was just really a pain in the ass.

You’ve talked about how one of your only creative outlets in that band was your makeup on stage. How important was that then and how important is image to Black Light Burns?

That’s just me trying to blur the lines as far as what I, I’m lucky to have two different outlets, a musical and a visual outlet that I enjoy one just as much as the other, doing both things. The visual element, like painting and sculpture and makeup and all that kind of a thing and the research and the technique and my whole life involved with that is one thing, and the musical involvement is another. Over the years, unintentionally one has kind of drifted into the other one to the point of me just really wanting to achieve this level of blurred sort of communication between the two. I’ve never been able to just work on music, as far as the creation process of making music, and in a short period of time gone and been able to produce visually. It’s almost like a switch that floats back and forth, so to go from one to the other has been hard to do. I’ve wanted to get to a point where I can kind of effortlessly move back and forth between the two. So that kind of joining of those two things is, I guess, why I’ve built guitars in the past and why on stage I like to do something visually entertaining. For me, at this point one doesn’t go without the other because I’m just trying to cement them together so much.

When you were younger, which came first for you: music or painting?

Painting. And if I had to give up one for the other, I’d definitely give up music and just be a visual artist.

You recently launched the Borland Gallery. How often do you think you’re gonna be updating things there?

Pretty soon we’re going to be putting up a store that has prints and stuff like that, ’cause a lot of people were asking to get prints and those are a lot more affordable than the paintings would be and I’d be much more willing to part with prints. The paintings are a lot more sentimental and harder to part with. They’re also huge and I’d have to charge a lot of money to feel good about getting rid of them. But prints are gonna be a limited edition thing that are actually also gonna be very high quality and large. So anybody that’s asked for them is going to receive now if they want to get something. So that will be updated soon.

Getting back to the band, was it hard to re-work the songs to play them live?

No. I had so long to think about how it was gonna be done live that it was pretty easy to make the transition, as far as either two guitars were gonna be playing or one guitar was gonna be playing with bass and drums, so I could play some of the set and then I could not play some of the set. Vocals, obviously. We were originally gonna have a keyboard player, but it became just easier to have everything sequenced on a laptop and just whatever a machine made, it would be OK for the laptop to reproduce that, and whatever keyboard parts could be played on a guitar instead of being the original keyboard parts were yanked out. We just kept stripping down the original sessions until the bare minimum of what was necessary to make the song sound like an album track was there, so that we had a full band with the backing tracks or whatever the computer was playing be an icing to the band. We slip in and out of it because some songs we’re completely dependent on the computer and then some songs we’re not at all dependent on it and if it burst into a ball of fire we would be fine, whereas others, the whole set would come to a screeching halt. So it just depends.

Are you comfortable being a frontman?

Yeah. Singing and playing guitar, whatever it is I’m doing, it comes from the same place and it’s just a different way of expression. It’s not really apples and oranges to me. It’s just sort of the same. It’s a different vehicle to achieve the same result.

What kinds of fans are you seeing coming out to the shows? Are there people who have followed you from Limp Bizkit, people who have never heard of you before?

There’s people who are brand new fans of the band who’ve never been interested in what I did before. Then there’s a whole Nine Inch Nails crew that comes out because they’re fans of Danny and of what he’s done in the past. And then there’s Limp Bizkit fans, obviously, and people who are also fans of Big Dumb Face and other stuff that I’ve done. And then we get some From First to Last fans because I toured with them all last year and they’ve become familiar with me.

I played bass with them on the road all last year and played on their second record. It’s a weird mix of people, but I think we’re trying to find our audience because this is gonna be a disappointment to a lot of Limp Bizkit fans. They probably think I use the word “phat,” p-h-a-t, in everyday conversation and that I like bands like Disturbed. Much to their chagrin, they’re mistaken. I don’t smoke weed and I don’t, like, [making finger quotes] party and I don’t, I don’t know, throw my hands in the air and wave them like I just don’t care. So that whole group of people, if they can’t make the transition, then, you know, I hear Godsmack is on tour.

How did you hook up with HORSE the band for this tour?

As soon as I heard HORSE the band, I was just kind of smitten with them and the cleverness and the energy. When we found that they were available for the tour and were interested in doing it, we snapped them up as fast as we could so they wouldn’t book any other plans. All their fans, of course, leave right after they’re done, but it’s fun for us to have them out anyway.

Cruel Melody is the first release on Ross Robinson’s new label.

Yeah, correct, I Am: Wolfpack.

Obviously, you’ve known him for a long time.

Yeah, about 11 years.

What made you decide to go with something brand new?

I’m so tired of major labels and liars and people who just are completely two-faced pieces of shit at these labels that don’t care at all about the artists and don’t care at all about being honest or having any kind of morality at all. And the intentions of Amy Brandt, who’s Ross’ partner in the label, and Ross are so pure and so full-on and interesting. Their whole goal is to take a new angle on being a record label and that was intriguing to me because I needed something fresh and I needed to be with people who are like-minded and not arrogant sacks of garbage, basically, which is what I’ve been dealing with for the past 10 years. So Ross is such a sweetheart and has such good intentions that there’s no one else I’d rather be with. He’s one of my best friends and has been for a long time. It seemed too good to be true at first and I thought for sure it wasn’t going to work out, there was gonna be some sort of problem. But no, it ended up working out. I’m really surprised that it did, but it did.

Does it feel like there’s any pressure being the guinea pig, the first release?

No. There’s sort of a love, I guess, for us that they won’t have for anybody else because we were their first thing. Maybe later a hatred, but right now we’re all trying really hard to make it work and they’re learning as they go, as are we. You can only rely on your past experience so much because the music industry is on such unstable ground that the way to approach it changes all the time. So you’re constantly being presented with a new landscape. Now it’s hard to know when the whole digital media thing comes in and all the problems and pluses that come from that. Navigating it is interesting and I think it takes new people who are willing to risk in different ways because the old people right now are just trying to stop the bleeding of their labels by just merging with other like-minded people at other labels. They’re just sort of doing the same thing and they’re treating the music industry like they’re trying to approach it in the same way that they always have, which I think is a mistake. They have huge overheads and they’re set in their ways and hopefully it’ll be the end for them unless they learn how to swim in this new world we live in.

What kinds of things do you think bands need to do differently to survive today?

Have greatly reduced expectations and not want to make millions of dollars. I think because of that the truer artists and the truer people who actually care and want to be in the industry will stick around and the other people will move on to ringtones and stuff that they can make money off of. There obviously was a time, especially in the ’80s, where people were getting these huge record deals that were just insane and now we definitely don’t live in that kind of a time. So I think lowering expectations and making records for an incredibly low amount of money, which it’s lucky that everything on the market now is starting to sound really good, as far as digital recording. Even the lowest version of Pro Tools sounds great and you can make a record on it. I find it really cool that for very little money you can make a record in an industry where the deals are very small now. You can still make great music for not very much money. It’s really just sort of become a thinking man’s world again, to where you’re actually having to push yourself and your own creativity to make a good record instead of the disgusting sitting in studios with a bunch of beer and a deli tray for hours and hours, just letting the clock burn. There’s so much disgusting behavior that I’ve seen in the past of people just sitting around wasting thousands of dollars a day to do nothing. It’s an interesting position to be in for me to have sort of seen that whole thing and to see a fortune just go up in smoke because of bad decision-making. It’s lucky for me to be here now and be able to sort of do this again and do it in a way that’s completely, I guess, more frugal but still putting out as much energy as possible. I’m about to go broke because I’ve been pouring all my money into this. It’s crazy how much money was wasted in Limp Bizkit, how much came in and then went directly out, like on really big, stupid stage sets that would only be used for like a month and then thrown away and these crazy, like, let’s fly here or let’s fly there with the crew in first class and stuff like that. When I think about all the money that was blown, it makes me sick. This is gonna be done a lot differently and intelligently and I think it’s gonna work. As long as I can continue to do this for a living without having to go do something else to make a living, I’m gonna be super happy with my life.

Do you think you would be able to appreciate what you’re doing now if you hadn’t gone through some of that other stuff?

I think I would appreciate it no matter what. Even though I went through all that stuff, it feels like this is the start of a new beginning and everything is brand new. But it gives me more of an appreciation now that I did go through everything and more of an attitude to do things the right way this time around instead of doing things the foolish way, which was what was done before.