After the demise of the endlessly (and legitimately) influential Orchid, Will Killingsworth would have been more than justified in basking in his place in post-hardcore history. Instead, he’s been keeping even busier since the band broke up in 2002. He has played guitar in Bucket Full of Teeth and (more recently) the outstanding Ampere. He has also continued to release records through Clean Plate records and engineer dozens of bands in his house, also known as Dead Air Studios.

By: Sam Sousa

In my opinion, you’re one of the best guitar players in the underground. Is this a concerted effort to excel at your instrument?

Well, I don’t think I can really agree with the premise of your question, but thanks. I’ve never set out to be the number-one guitar player or anything.  I think all I can really say is that I do like to challenge myself, and usually write things beyond my skill level, which does keep me progressing to an extent, albeit on a very strange and personal path.

You’re a vegan, and if I’m correct, straight edge. As a traveling musician, do you find the ever-increasing acceptance of harmful consumption (meaning eating meat and/or drinking/drugs) and bars as venues hard to deal with?

I have noticed an increase in the DIY/punk/hardcore scene of meat eating, which I think is unfortunate and to me suggests some sort of large-scale misunderstanding of what I take to be fundamental concepts of said scene. Obviously, people can do whatever they want, and that’s fine, I guess I just expect more from punks in general. I think in it’s simplest form that vegetarianism is a respect for life, and meat-eating is reckless, selfish violence. In my opinion, these are base concepts and ones that anyone who takes time to think about the world and their place in it can arrive at simply.  Meanwhile, none of the bands I’ve played in have played many bar shows, and I would not say there’s a notable increase in that for myself, but we also actively try to play all-ages shows, so maybe that is why.

As for an increase in drinking or drugs, I can’t say that I particularly have encountered much change. I’ve never really associated myself with any realm of the straight edge movement, so there have always been people of all persuasions in my immediate circles. Also, I think that such decisions are a lot more personal and different than whether or not to eat meat. Are these things hard to deal with? Sometimes, in certain circumstances I guess, but I would say for the most part, no. I’m not some crazed zealot who can’t stand living in a world of people with different lifestyles. I think the most one can do, or that I’m comfortable doing, is to try to educate people about issues and try to lead by example.

I certainly didn’t expect a zealot, but in Southern California, the all-ages venues of my youth are closed, and in their place a series of various- sized bars and dance halls have risen, almost all of which offer some variant of alcohol. Even a tiny show I caught in a warehouse was nothing more than a glorified kegger. Don’t get me wrong, I drink, but ultimately I feel there is a time and a place. There is an O Pioneers!!! song about this same subject, about this continuous embracement of the party life as some sort of moral alternative. Why is it that more and more we don’t truly present an alternative or new mindset to the mainstream, instead of toasting ourselves for being aware?

Well, that’s a big question, and I’m not sure I can really provide an answer for it. How much the DIY scene is separate from the rest of society is a good thing to ponder in regards to any aspect, not just partying. I’m not sure it’s totally black and white though in terms of what said “scene” is doing or how it’s acting. I have met plenty of people who do amazing things and are working to build a community that is different and with different values than society at large, although rarely specifically stated as such. I’ve also met people who don’t really get it, and I guess hopefully will some day, but who knows?

In the present day, I sense a lack of some of the political awareness that was around, or at least felt more in the foreground, ten years ago or so. I think that everyone is responsible for that, not just those who “don’t get it,” but I’m not comfortable dismissing the whole scene as posturing or anything because of this. I think the best that people can do is to try to act on their beliefs and challenge themselves to create the type of community that they’d like to be in. I’m not sure I have a specific comment or well-formed stance on the reality of party-shows that have the emphasis on partying. Personally, they’re my least favorite to play, mainly because it seems no one’s really that interested in the music. If every show I went to was like that it would be pretty depressing. However most shows I attend in Western Massachusetts and the surrounding areas tend to not have too much of the party element, and when there is, people are, thankfully, generally still there for the music.

What do you think of the amounts of money record collectors pay for releases you have been involved with? Orchid records fetch quite a bit on the internet.

I think that to an extent vinyl is a fetish and collectable item to everyone who owns it, and people like to have a limited or color vinyl copy of a record whether or not it is valuable. I think there’s a couple sides to people paying high dollar amounts for records. What I think is disagreeable is people buying limited items from bands and labels and then immediately turning around to sell them for more money. This is rude to the people involved who are not really making much profit off of it. However, if a record has been out of print for several years, and there’s not that many copies, clearly it might cost a decent amount to acquire if it’s sought-after. I think that’s just a reality that’s somewhat pointless to get frustrated about. I once paid a decent amount for a Crossed Out 7”, and now someone is paying a similar amount for some Orchid record. So it goes.

From Orchid to Bucket Full of Teeth to Ampere, there is a clear strain of thought against monotony and mainstream culture. How much input do you have in the process of writing, both lyrically and musically?

Well, I think all the lyric writers of the aforementioned bands come from similar places in regards to their outlook on society and life in general. I wrote pretty much all of the lyrics for Bucket Full of Teeth, with a couple minor exceptions, and have not contributed to any other bands’ lyrics, except for a couple extremely minute suggestions that don’t even really count. Musically, for all of these bands, I usually have some sort of idea for a song, perhaps complete, perhaps in pieces, that is presented to the group and then reworked until mutual satisfaction is reached.

Is it your intent then to create an emotional tone through a song, even if linguistically, your input is limited?

In general, I would say yes, although I used to think more consciously in those terms, now I think it’s more of a subconscious part of the way I just think about what “works” and what doesn’t.

How do you deal with complacency and aging in an entirely youthful, short-fused scene?

Age is strange and I try to do my best to ignore the numbers and just live how I see fit, I guess. Although I think it makes it harder sometimes to be impressed by new bands. Something that seems new and exciting to a 17-year-old can feel a little old and boring to a 30-year-old, but I can’t fault anyone for when they were born or what they’ve been exposed to. I think for me, the best I can do is to try to make unique, challenging, memorable music or releases that people can relate to on some level.

Ampere has quite a number of split releases. Is this a result of friendship and mutual admiration between other bands?

In short, yes. I think everyone we’ve done a record with has been a band we’ve been good friends with, and played several shows with, or toured together. I think that such things are what make the records special, and not just random pairings.

One of the greatest things about a record is its ability to combine great music and be an aesthetic wonder, in particular the recent Ampere/ Funeral Diner split on Clean Plate. What was the impetus for this design?

I’m honestly really pleased with how that record came out, I feel like it’s pretty unique in its design. The idea wasn’t anything more than me having some ideas for themes or general imagery, and the concept for the vinyl etching between the bands, then letting those ideas turn into a concrete reality in our friend Mark’s hands. He is a very talented artist and I have been impressed many times by both his etching skills and line drawings. Ultimately, he deserves most of the credit. He had to etch the art on the music side of the record with the grooves already cut into it, and without touching them at all, even with his hand, fingers, etc. One mistake and the record would have been ruined. I honestly am in awe that he pulled it off every time I think about it. Meanwhile, I did the inside cover/lyric art, but I really doubt that that’s what you’re referencing.

Is Dead Air Studios an extension of having played music, or do you consider it to be something you do separate of the bands?

Well, my interest in recording was initially and still is a direct result of my playing music, first borne more out of necessity, and then something I had a continued related interest in. At the same time, it is quite separate from playing music, and certainly when I’m recording someone else’s band I play a very different role than when I am playing music myself, as I try to have a more hands-off approach in terms of what a band I’m recording wants to do, or how they play and create their songs.

How did Clean Plate come to be?

Honestly, I was in high school, driving, and listening to a tape of a compilation that had recently come out, and thought to myself, “Hey, I could probably put together something like this,” and that was about it. That first planned release was the compilation Start A Riot, even though it was Clean Plate #4.  At that point in time especially, I was interested in getting as involved in punk as I could. I was setting up shows, contributing to varying degrees
to a few zines and playing in a band. I guess it just seemed like another way
I could get involved with this scene I identified so much with. Years later, I still identify just as much with it, although in some activities my interests and involvement intensified, and in others it dwindled.

You state firmly that Clean Plate is not a business, but a “stupid
kid putting out records,” and that your main focus is Dead Air. In all honesty, I have a kid, a job, a wife, graduate school, and a million other things going that I can barely manage. How do you manage it all?

[Laughing] Well, Dead Air is, for the most part, my job, so it takes up usual job time, although usually in longer days, but less days a week than a traditional job. Clean Plate, depending on what’s going on, sometimes takes no work at all. Other times I’m very busy. An example of such would be before this recent Ampere/Daitro tour, trying to get out four records at the same time, and then doing mailorder for all of them.

The main reason I state that Clean Plate is not a business, besides the obvious--that it’s not--is because many kids seem to be under the impression that when they order a record, it will be sent out that day because I have no life, work, etcetera outside of the label. For most small punk labels I think these kind of expectations are outrageous. The people that do them have lives and jobs and responsibilities outside of mailing out a 7” the day they receive a letter or paypal notice. I don’t want kids to have to wait half-a-year for their records, and definitely not to be ripped off, but we have to be reasonable in terms of what we expect of others. And to anyone who’s ever been worried about their mailorder from any label, please write a nice note asking about it, and not something like “It’s been two weeks, what gives?” or “Didn’t get my records.” People doing DIY labels are not in it for the money. Trust me, there’s none if you’re just releasing punk vinyl. It is purely out of love for music, and writing rude notes is only going to drive these dedicated music lovers to never wanting to release a single record again.