If you don't already know William Fowler Collins, you soon will. After self-releasing a glorious, beautiful, solo guitar masterwork entitled Western Violence & Brief Sensuality in 2007, Mr. Collins is gearing up for his follow-up album Perdition Hill Radio to be released by the venerable UK experimental label Type Records on July 7th.
I met William electronically (that's fancy-talk for "online, not in real life") many moons ago, when I ranked Western Violence... one of my favorite releases of 2007. Since then, he has been a frequent visitor (and comment-leaver) on my silly little website/blog. We've often chatted with one another about life, music and...uh, what else is there anyway? He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one of the prettiest places in America and a favorite spot for me to visit on cross-country drives. He's a fan of field recordings, as am I. I have interviewed him once before (which you can read by clicking here), and last week I had the pleasure of witnessing his live show for the first time (a review and more photographs can be found here).
If you think I'm sounding a bit like an ass-kisser, that is simply not true. Everyone likes William Fowler Collins! John Twells of Type Records (a very nice gentlemen himself -- he handed me a bottle of Duvel at a festival here in Los Angeles mere minutes before melting my face with a performance as moniker Xela) says, "[William's] debut was fantastic and something that kept finding its way back to the CD player, so I asked him to stay in touch. When he sent the early demos of Perdition Hill Radio I knew it was something I had to release...it had everything, you know? Darkness, subtlety, restraint, and a lingering power that was impossible to put your finger on." That's some mighty fine praise!
In preparation for the upcoming release, I again asked William if I could interview him about his life and Perdition Hill Radio. Please enjoy the following friendly chat, and make it your business to seek out the music this gentleman has recorded. MP3 samples can be found at his personal website, WilliamFowlerCollins.com.
EL = me, Evan LeVine.
WFC = Wiliam Fowler Collins, duh.
EL: Ready to answer some questions, sir?
WFC: Sure, dawg -- just not about math, please!
EL: How the hell do you get your guitar to sound like that?
WFC: I record the guitar and then process it with a program called SuperCollider2 (website), and effects pedals.
WFC: "Oh, and the dobro is unprocessed... recorded onto a micro-cassette recorder."
EL: What kinds of pedals? ...Or do you want to keep the mystique of the William Fowler Collins "sound"™ a secret?
WFC: "Mostly delay pedals and reverb, and distortion, of course."
EL: But you incorporate other elements, like field recordings and weird instruments?
WFC: "Yes. I have field recordings I've made on my micro-cassette recorder...I play them through the guitar so the guitar itself becomes a processor."
EL: You don't have to quote yourself, you know...
WFC: Quote me on that.
EL: Did your approach differ at all in regards to instrumentation and recording techniques on this album, as opposed to the last one?
WFC: Not so much, though this album has more of a theme to it. The last album had more variety, as it was my first proper release and I wanted to demonstrate my range of interests.
EL: What is the theme?
WFC: That's a good question. Nothing too specific, but this one is certainly darker...I like to keep it open for interpretation. Some people get a really harsh, dark feeling from it. Some get an ambient, atmospheric vibe. It is a bit of both and more, I suppose. What do you hear when listening to it?
WFC: Oh - please don't quote my spelling errors!
EL: Don't worry, "We'll fix it in post" is a common mantra here in LA.
EL: The track "Dark Country Road" is an especially intense, harsh track. To me, it sounds like being lost a thunderstorm, but I wonder where you intended it to take the listener.
WFC: Even with the "Beggar's Banquet" slide guitar at the beginning!? I guess I wanted to ground them with the recognizable guitar sounds, then stretch the piece out to where it fades into deep, dark field recordings. The "train" sounds toward the end are from a Tibetan singing bowl played through my electric guitar. (Click here to see a photo of William playing the Tibetan singing bowl!)
EL: The latter part of the song -- with the ever-slowing/rumbling thunder -- is quite evocative. Like a Salvia trip. The rush from an impending...something...hurtling towards you.
WFC: That's some traffic noise from a road near my house and some processed guitar, made to provide the deep low end you're hearing...There was no Salvia involved, i can promise you that.
EL: I heard many distant sounds whose origins I tried hard to uncover, but they could just as easily have been guitar...Did you use as many field recordings as on Western Violence & Brief Sensuality...?
WFC: Probably about the same. With this one I also incorporated some AM radio noise.
EL: Hence the Perdition Hill Radio title, I take it?
WFC: Yeah. Actually I was thinking of the title first and toward the end of the recording process I started recording the radio sounds.
EL: Why the title first? Did it just sound nice, or was there something more to it?
WFC: I had just been messing with the idea of "Perdition Hill Radio," then while working in the studio I began incorporating an AM radio/walkman into a mix and went from there. Seemed appropriate, flirting with the radio theme without a major commitment.
EL: So how many times did you listen to that Weakling record (or insert your black metal record of choice here) while you were working on this?
WFC: Weakling? I don't know that. Right now the US Black Metal in my collection consists of Xasthur...Whom i have been listening to constantly.
EL: Would you go so far as to say those harsh elements on Perdition Hill Radio sound like black metal? Every press release I've read so far seems to imply that.
WFC: Well, I think the influence is there, but to make such statements puts my life at risk. The hardcore black metallers will find me.
EL: Yeah, but, since you're a solo guy doing everything by yourself, you're like the American answer to Burzum! ...And I doubt anybody wants to fuck with that guy.
WFC: In talking with John Twells from Type Records, we decided "Black Ambient" seemed to be a fair description of the overall sound. Words generally fail to capture music, though.
EL: That raises a good question. How did you meet John?
WFC: I actually haven't met john in person.
EL: Well, how did you get in contact with him?
WFC: I believe I sent him my first album and we began emailing after that. We kept in touch and he told me to send him new material when I had some. I did so and he responded positively. He puts out The Alps, and I am friends with 2 of them. He also knows Gregg Kowalsky, and I went to Mills College with Gregg. Small world.
EL: Smaller world! I met both John and Gregg a couple years ago at the Bottling Smoke Festival, and they were both super nice people.
WFC: Yes, they are. Talented guys, inspired and passionate.
EL: So the last album was very influenced by the area around you and New Mexico in general. Has that remained a part of this record, too?
WFC: I think the location plays a background role, yes. I live across the road from the mountains which, during the winter months, are very dark and ominous in appearance.
EL: That was my next question! Did you do more hiking around the area in which you live to gather the field recordings used on this record? I think I remember you saying you're right across the street from the Sandia Mountains?
WFC: There's a wide open, post-apocalyptic feeling about New Mexico. I actually got the field recordings closer to my house.
EL: Wait a minute -- closer than across the street!?
WFC: In my yard
EL: Oh...that is closer!
WFC: Yes. Yet, not so dark, huh? I should have said that I got them from a bear's cave, in which there were human remains.
EL: Ancient human remains. Older than time itself!
EL: You've been performing live a lot recently (or, at least more than when the first record came out). How has your live show developed since we last spoke?
WFC: I have 2 different approaches. I have a couple of duos going, and for those I use laptop, radio, effects...they involve huge, electronic sounds. As a solo musician I am using guitar and effects plus the Tibetan singing bowl, a cello bow, a calligraphy brush, a slide, my micro-cassette recorder...
EL: Do you still use the laptop live or are you going for a more organic approach now?
EL: Oh, wait, i just noticed you said laptop. What a dumbass!
WFC: I do use it still, yes. It depends on the venue, though. I prefer a sound system that is suited well for electronics. (ie. subwoofer, decent sound quality, etc.)
EL: Who else is involved with the duos? How do they contribute?
WFC: One is called Heavywater, and features Jim Roeber on electronics and clarinet/sax if he feels so inspired. The other is Mesa Ritual with Raven Chacon. That is both of us on electronics and/or guitars. Both are really fun projects and have performed live with Barn Owl and Metal Rouge, respectively.
EL: Thinking about the tracks on this album as well as the first one...Does the super low-end stuff translate well live? And are you still mostly improvisational when you are on stage?
WFC: I started and curate a music series at an arts/technology center where I work. We have two 4-foot tall sub woofers. plenty of low end there (Official website/blog). There is improvisation, but I sketch a path or map for myself and work within that: "First I'll do this, then I'll do this next, from there I'll do this..."
EL: Do you think your technique and your sound will continue to evolve as rapidly as it has between these two records? Are there other elements of sound you hope to incorporate on future albums?
WFC: Hopefully it evolves in an organic way. I keep playing with the idea of having another moniker to work under that would take things in a decidedly darker direction. What always trips me up is that I figure unless I move quite far from the WFC sound, it will still sound like me....If that makes any sense. I've been listening to a ton of Hindustani music. Maybe that influence will come into light. I'm not sure. Nothing is preconceived.
EL: I like that! Do everything on the fly. It's more exciting.
WFC: I think so, yes.
EL: ...And if you fail, fail spectacularly and hilariously. That's my motto!
WFC: Right! Let's hope that doesn't happen, though.
EL: I'm sure it will not happen. Hey, is the photo on the cover of Perdition Hill Radio of the mountains? The ones you live near?
WFC: Yes, it is. Combined with a full moon over the same mountains...The Sandias.
EL: It's a great representation of the sound of the record. There's a fuzziness to it and a sense of impending doom.
WFC: Oh, cool. Yeah, that was my goal.
EL: So, I've listened to the album through a few times now. It ends and begins on almost the same note. It's almost like an infinite loop. Intentional or serendipity?
WFC: I didn't think of the beginning relating to the end. I wanted to end with less dark and more...melancholy? The last track on the CD isn't as dark as some of the other tracks. There is a an additional track on the LP version. 23 minutes long.
EL: How long did the recording take from start to finish? Did you run into any surprises along the way?
WFC: About 2 years I'd say. No big surprises although some of the material came together right at the end of the process. The radio sounds, for example, came at the end.
EL: What's next for you? A bigger tour? How will you juggle the huge underground success of this record with your hoity-toity job at the University?
WFC: No big tour plans. Maybe a date or two in Austin/Dallas in August with the Silver Pines, then a cool festival - the Root Strata Festival - in San Francisco September 19th/20th. That will have Grouper, The Alps, Christina Carter, Greg Davis, Pete Swanson, and several more. I'd like to get back to New York again as well. Playing LA on 5/29 with Brightblack Morning Light was a fun gig. Hopefully you had a good time. There was a good turnout and it was nice to be exposed to so many people. I think the music balances well withte Sound Art class I teach at UNM!
EL: If you had to pick one track from Perdition Hill Radio for the readers to hear, what would it be and why?
WFC: At this very moment I guess "Dark Country Road". It has some dobro playing and also some drone built from that and some heavy field recording mixes. Not to mention the electric guitar/singing bowl toward the end. Chosen for the diversity of sounds, I suppose.
EL: I think I'm out of questions, so if you think there's a glaring one I missed that you'd like to ask yourself, please do so here knowing that I will take credit for asking said question when it comes time to publish this interview.
WFC: I think this is it. does this work for you? I'm thrilled to be doing this for WFMU. Thanks for the support! I'm off to Aquarius Records to blow some money now.
EL: Oh, I have to run too.I'm supposed to leave to go to the beach...ten minutes ago.
WFC: Make sure to wear your Xasthur speedo!
EL: Ah, yes. The one with all the blood packs in the groin...
EL: ...for optimal black metal beach conditions.
WFC: Exactly. And don't forget the corpse paint suntan lotion.
EL: SPF 4,000 -- got it.
EL: Take it easy, William. Safe travels.
-- End Transmission --