Interview by Ian Wise, July 2011
IAN: Can you tell me a little about your time in Birmingham (what good bands were around and what your general impression with the city was). Were you in any bands from here?
Will: I was in Birmingham from 1992-1996. There were a few local bands that were fairly cool. Nail was doing pretty cool sludgy stuff, this band Society Overload were more hardcore, and I wish there was any recordings of them, because I remember it being cool, but I might have been a confused youth. G.N.P. was around a bit, already a decade old at that point, and some others. I was in some crummy bands that no one liked, for good reason. M.D. was the first one, I think we only played a couple of shows, the first of which was at Tuxedo Junction. I'm not sure we sounded like much of anything other than fifteen year olds trying to play punk. Then I was in some crustier bands, Anguish, and Nihilism, which were getting better, but still not too great, haha. I did the Laceration stuff while I was there too, but it was just a project band that never played live and only existed in my bedroom. There really wasn't too much going on in Birmingham at the time, although I did see some cool shows, and its really where I got into punk that was happening at the time. Before that I was just into The Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, and Ramones, but was unaware of d.i.y. bands. I have fond memories of Next Door Records, which was a small hole in the wall punk record store in Five Points. I spent hours in there and it's ultimately responsible for me really getting into punk and hardcore in the way that I am now.
I: What prompted the aesthetic of Orchid? The band seemed very precise in it's presentation, but you also didn't sound like anyone else and all the visuals were very unique. Were there prominent influences that all the members shared that you think are apparent, or did the sound and visual elements come together as small pieces of everyone's contributions?
W: Honestly I think we all just kind of stumbled into an aesthetic as the band went along. In my mind some of the artwork early on, especially some of the things besides records, which are less well documented, is pretty rough! Really though I think both musically and visually it was the mishmash of our own influences that created the final output. At the start of the band I certainly don't think we had any influences that we all collectively shared, although as time went on there was certainly more. While we were all into punk and hardcore, we all kind of had different backgrounds and experiences at the time that we met each other.ﾠ
I: A lot of the records you put out with Clean Plate were very meticulously packaged and a lot of the limited run records are now collector items because of their unorthodox packaging. Did you ever make a distinction between what you were doing was an "art object" rather than just a physical medium for music? Did you design a lot of that packaging yourself or did the bands have a lot of input?
W: I guess I don't view records as either an art object or strictly a medium for music, but rather a whole package, where the pieces should be complimentary. Of course the music is the primary focus of a record, but I think that good / interesting packaging makes it feel more like something special that the recipient should spend more time with. That all said, I did at one point try to conceptualize an art only 7" for Bucket Full of Teeth, inspired by John Yates' WARFEAR, which was essentially an art book/package in a 7" sleeve, but needless to say, it never came to be. Also, in the modern day where it's easy to download any record, I think it's important to reward people that buy records with something nice and that's tangible that you can't download. As far as the design, I'd say it really depends on the release, were there any you meant specifically?
I: Actually that pretty much answers my question. I wasn't thinking about any one release in particular, but more just the approach to the idea of designing a record on a whole. Your releases aren't as esoteric as others, which made them a little more easy to understand for me (not like say, Locust). I really love the way the Failures LP is put together because it's so simple and obviously as a vinyl only release is marketed towards collectors, but the sealed liner notes make the listener forgo any collector value to get the full potential of the album, or (and forgive if me if this information is inaccurate, I don't actually have a physical copy of it and could be remembering incorrectly) the Ampere/Funeral Diner split with the etchings on the music side of the record, mixing the visual art in with the physical embodiment of the music, something you can only do on vinyl but is largely ignored by designers. I guess the only thing that I would have to really ask about in that regard is if specific things like that were thought out in terms of artistic intent or just came to be due to matters that were conceived more in an aesthetic.ﾠ
W: Well, both those records do have the benefit of having Mark McCoy doing the artwork for them, and he is incredibly talented, which shows through in both of those records, and in very different styles. With the Failures record, Mark and I brain stormed the packaging concepts together, while he actually carried out all of the visuals. With the Funeral Diner split, I had an idea in mind, both with the etching and cover, etc, and asked Mark to carry it out, and of course, use his own artistic sensibilities while doing so. For that record he did the front and back cover, as well as the etching, while I did the insert artwork. In terms of artistic intent, I don't know how to define it, or my approach. With records and packaging I think it's cool to do things no one has done before. I had seen things similar to that before, where someone had etched words between songs, or where there was etched art before the songs, but I had never seen artwork in between songs. Of course, I don't know if it was really actually a first or anything, but I guess to me it's about making a record unique and special, and trying things.
I: There has been a fair amount of backlash against the "artier" contributors to hardcore punk lately, with the chief complaint being that when too much concentration is given to the presentation, the substance in the music/lyrics is lost. Due to your very specific and obviously thought out art (that has obviously influenced a lot of newer bands), but also being in bands that are very vocal about their political beliefs in and out of punk, you seem to be on both sides of the argument. How do you feel about the current art trend within punk?
W: I'm pretty sure that art has always had a large factor in punk and its records, I mean if you think about bands like The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Crass, or The Sex Pistols, they all had specific visual artists that they worked with, which I think is awesome, and that art has obviously had an important impact. I mean, if musical or lyrical substance is going downhill that sucks, but I'm not sure that good art is to blame? I'm pretty sure that great art and music with strong content are not mutually exclusive. Whether or not everyone manages to pull that off, well, that's another thing.ﾠ
I: Do you think punk has to necessarily be political to be valid? (part of reason I'm asking this is because a line in one of the BFOT essays "to continue thinking about punk as if it has the ability to change anything is a fucking mistake" or something like that, yet your bands seem very staunch. I guess I'm just trying to understand the dichotomy.)
W: Well, to be fair, that was written by Matt who played drums, and I can't say I agree 100% with what he wrote for that insert, but I guess that was part of the notion of the band, of challenging and pushing ourselves. Anyways, as for the quote, I don't think punk is really capable of directly changing much of anything perhaps, but I do think that it is capable of spreading ideas and information, and that it can make an impact on people and how they interact with the world, which can bring about change. I also don't think punk has to be overtly political to be valid. To me the concept of d.i.y. and having an underground movement is inherently political. Doing shows in houses, releasing your own music, and all these related ideas of taking things into your own hands and removing them from a larger society that you can't relate to, and don't want to be involved in is a powerful statement. This is why seeing punk bands at bars, or on TV seems tame, because inherently some of that threat, and willful disruption is gone.ﾠ
I: It just seems like house/small DIY space shows are inherently exclusive and can end up as a bunch of bands saying the same thing and playing the same music because all they do is influence each other (which sort of goes in line with a comment you made in your BFOT essay about people looking to a certain scene/sound/time period for "the entirety of their inspiration), but the idea of DIY and community is (sometimes) able to flourish under those circumstances). Being in a good hardcore/punk/whatever band seems to take courage and brains, something a lot of people involved in the punk scene severely lack, which is why we fall so quickly into bickering and message board gossip. So while it may be easy for some of us to say "do something original", people who subscribe to what is typically a very limited "scene" mindset (no matter how "subversive" the ethos/ideas of said scene are) are literally incapable of doing so. I guess what I'm asking is where you think the line should be drawn between maintaining an underground community that doesn't necessarily motivate others due to personal ethical reasons and trying to branch out to more "commercial" endeavors.
W: There's potentially a lot more to address than just your question, but to me the question is already assuming too much. Sure, there are flaws in the d.i.y. community, and its not a perfect world of open information sharing, etc, but I think that to dismiss it, or instead turn to a "commercial endeavor" because of this is foolish. Nothing is perfect, and sure the longer one is involved, the easier it is to see some of these flaws, but I don't think that invalidates it, or means its time to move on. As for exclusivity, really in the modern day very little is exclusive, and most events, even in someone's basement, have an online presence trying to get people to go to them. I think in the modern day I also see less bands talking at shows, and less saying the same thing, much less anything at all. I think most people don't want to take any sort of position on things because its unpopular. Also, I encounter plenty of 'punks' who could stand some lessons in community, simple human and animal rights, and all sorts of shit. To me, I think that is much more of a problem, than a band's potentially redundant speech or message. Anyways, I think the goal should be to strengthen our community, and if someone sees flaws in that, try to positively work towards changing it, not abandoning it. In regards to your actual question, I'm not sure I have any interest in drawing that specific line, or that I can even relate to the concept of it.
I: How did the idea to start Dead Air come up? Did you go to school for audio engineering?
W: Honestly, I knew I wanted to try to be self-employed, because I hated working, and I felt that recording was something that interested me, and something that could possibly pay the bills. I did some recording at school, but it wasn't a proper audio engineering training. Most of what I know is just built up intuition from years of doing it at this point.ﾠ
I: Do you work with exclusively punk/metal/hardcore bands or will you take whatever work you can get?
W: I try to stick within that realm. I've recorded some funk, ska, and Dave Matthews kinda shit, and it really is just feels unnecessarily painful to me....ﾠ
I: What are your plans for your current bands (Ampere, Failures, Vaccine, am I missing anybody?)
W: Failures is currently recording our 2nd LP. Ampere's LP just came out on No Idea. Vaccine, I'm not sure what our next release will be, but probably a 7"? The Toll is also working on some follow-up material. I've got some other projects but that's probably too wild to get into... All these bands have various weekends and outings planned, and Ampere should be hitting up the west coast later this year, and hopefully Vaccine and Failures will be getting off this continent at some point in the next 12 months or so, we shall see.