William Carlos Williams
Telemarketing… that happens to be one of the first subjects I discussed with Rob Mallard of the band William Carlos Williams. Was it revealing? No, considered everyone detests those pesty inquires. Trust me, surprising revelations are ahead. For instance, all members were in other bands, but it took one kitchen shift at Eats (Atlanta eatery), five boomboxes, and a conversation about music to bring these guys together. Soon after, they formed William Carlos Williams and began playing as the open mic night house band at Dottie’s. By the second show, they had special guests (like Nancy from Nashville Pussy) play a few songs with them. July brings their second release on ShoeString Records, Collection Plate, and recently brought two of the members, Rob Mallard and later on Wes Daniel for a talk that brought up such subjects as White Women, record collections, CMJ…
So, why White Women?
Rob: There was a lot of negative feeling within the band about the title, but it stuck. More than anything it stuck. The name of the band itself would have caused enough for people to stop and say “what’s that?” Put White Women on there made them stop twice. I think it probably was a ill-thought-out moment maybe. I think the title could of been a little less fronting. In the short term, I think it backfired.
But it was released, what less than 6 months ago?
Rob: Since last August. So it’s right at 6-8 months. But its radio time has come and gone, at least in its first run
Yes, but it could be picked up.
Rob: It still has press coming out about it.
What were some of the other titles?
Rob: Self-title the album, obviously. The band name itself has caused a bit of confusion. We had a write up in Cadence, which is the journal of improvised jazz and blues music. That is the best monthly journal of our genre, which I feel we’re a little on the outside of. It’s a fantastic publication, it covers an enormous amount of music. They reviewed our album, but they wrote about it as some sort of posthumous release by the poet William Carlos Williams. It was a very confused review, they thought that he wrote all the songs. In reality, we got permission to use the name but beyond that there is no connection other than the fact he is somewhat of a working man’s poet. Which kinda describes our music. I think a title puts a record out with a certain amount of attitude behind it. Looking back, I think we felt solid enough about the record that we were cocky about it, because it’s that solid of an album. In its genre it’s 95 percent perfect, in my mind.
I listen to it. I like some jazz — not Sun Ra but Monk, Charlie Parker. I think when you put on a jazz album there is a certain mood it’s intended for. I mean, I wouldn’t put on Monk while mowing the lawn. There were some quiet parts and some busy parts, which made me think about different things. It snaps your attention.
Rob: It’s southern music for sure. That music is very southern and it’s in the jazz category but it’s definitely not African-American music. No one in the band is African-American, even though there is a great deal of respect — 90% of our influence in the jazz world is by African-Americans. It’s a black idiom. Going back to titles, why not call it White Women? Because if you listen to the music, there is no way you can think that band is racist, so it’s a challenge in that respect.
Referring to the piece, “And You’re Stuck In Traffic While Your Piano’s Home Having Cocktails With the Termites Termites”… cocktails, traffic. There is a theme happening on White Women.
Rob: That’s the centerpiece of the record. I know we have that tendency, “Every Woman is an Exploding Rose” is another. To do whatever we wanted to do at that level, and hope it gets taken on its merits. To put yourself on that limb, as far as you can go and still see, well… will people still take you on your merits? Everything challenges the listener, the band name, the music, the name of the album. Everything carries a bit of attitude but we don’t feel that way. We’re just trying to make good music. Challenge the listener, challenge to the critic.
[Wes joins us at this point.]
If you had a last supper, who would be your guests?
Wes: Slayer, Charles Mingus, the Stones, Caroliner…and my cat Peter Falk.
Wes: Yeah, he is a killing machine. That’s his job, to kill all day, chipmunks, rats…
Rob, your invitation list for your last supper?
Rob: Friends, family, Coltrane and Hendrix for sure. Al Green could do the blessing, Charlie Parker, Monk, Bessie Smith, Jackie Kennedy…
Jackie for the conversation?
For the insight, of those tumultuous years. Invite Marilyn Monroe just to piss her off.
Previously, we were discussing the title White Women..
Wes: White Women…It’s such an important theme in our lives. It’s played such a huge role, from mother to friend to companion.
Rob: A tribute. It’s a retrospective thing, it’s about the past, it’s about the future
Wes: It can change any day.
Rob: Let’s talk about the new record, which is called Collection Plate. A much easier title!
Wes: It’s the hugest record. Its music is big, it’s quality not quantity. Both have different themes
Rob: The first was a retrospective of three years as a band, composition, ideas, coming together. Collection Plate is a response, but only over the course of 9 months or so. Less about the composition, more about the making of the music. The first dealt with the band coming into its own.
Tell me about the Knitting Factory
Rob: That club used to be cool, now it’s borderline dump. [laughter]
Wes: We actually had a great experience there.
Rob: Yes, it’s a great place to play. It’s not the best gig in NY. We actually ended up owing them $2.00. Our show had started late, we were only allowed to play for 25 minutes after driving for 14 hours. We drove 14 hours for a gig during CMJ festival. We were all pretty tanked, running late and they cut our set short.
What are your thoughts on CMJ?
Wes: Waste of time.
Rob: SXSW is a good festival, only because it’s concentrated on one street and you can actually party. But in the terms of a music industry festival, they’re all a ridiculous waste of time for the music I’m making. If you’re trying to make really commercial, mediocre music, and you’re dying to get a record contract, there is ass to kiss at those festivals. Unless you have a plane ticket, a VIP pass, and you already know you’re signed, it’s not doing you any good to go to those festivals other than to put it on your resume or fact sheet, and someone who doesn’t know shit about it thinks it’s cool. All the music festivals are nothing but conventions for people to get together. Stay home and practice.
Wes: Build up your scene locally, and don’t even deal with that shit. Those industry festivals are just as redundant as some of the bands who would be excited about it. It’s like a lot of people running around, playing shows, and most of the time there are 10-15 people in the audience. It means nothing. At one time I’m sure it did, SXSW and CMJ were huge, real cool things to be at and it made a difference.
Rob: It just furthers the saturation, which isn’t a saturation of bad music but also a saturation of good music. Way too much music. I think perseverance is the important factor, especially in making new music. To keep working and making new music. Concerning our genre of music, there are very few people that aren’t working. Some of the older musicians in that scene who have made it may not have to work, but to a large extent the young leaders of the underground jazz improvise/experimental scene everyone is still working. No one is making any real money selling records or getting radio play.
Don’t see them headlining Lollapalooza.
Rob: Well, Sonic Youth did, and that was pretty cool. To a large degree, they are the kings of the underground rock.
But early on with Confusion is Sex…
Wes: They wouldn’t have headlined Lollapalooza with Confusion. They had to do other things to headline festivals like Lollapalooza
I heard Sonic Youth’s aim of doing Lollapalooza was to get the money for their own studio.
Wes: And they have done that. It’s resulted with the series of records they are putting out themselves, all music CDs. Those things are amazing, they’re awesome. They wouldn’t be able to do that without doing other albums, like Dirty and Goo.
Rob: Washing Machine is a pretty crazy record
Wes: They’re all awesome records. Everything they do is awesome. They `re completely into it, but they had to release albums like Dirty and Goo to make money. Which is cool because they take the profits to fund their outside projects. They’re putting out a series of six instrumental records, three are available and they’re great.
Rob: I think it’s cool because this is a very talented group putting out instrumental, very underground albums. I don’t know if it’s star 10 on the improvise scale, yet they are interesting albums. That it is happening is great, yet they’re mediocre in their content, compared to other releases in the improvisational, instrumental genre. I wonder — if it wasn’t Sonic Youth, would anyone buy it on its sheer music merits? The new record sounds like lounge. I heard it once.
Wes: I haven’t heard it at all.
Rob: They were one of my all-time favorite bands, so I’m very critical.. I like the musicians that see what is and start new genres, like Charlie Parker and Coltrane, to R.E.M. to Ozzy to Sonic Youth to Public Enemy. All these people created markets for themselves, and they’re not necessarily the only ones who are making that music, but they have created enormous international markets for what they do.
Wes: It’s like Sun City Girls, Caroliner, and Thinking Fellows Union. Really amazing bands that try to keep it real for that kind of thing, which sounds like a cliché. Basically, making the most fucked-up records they can make, because they really like that shit.
You have to, because it’s not a corporate genre, experimental music is not found on 99X rotation. Only band you’ll hear from time to time is Sonic Youth, and that’s because of Lollapalooza.
Rob: Not true. Beck is one to use a lot of noise in his music.
Wes: The Sun City Girls were around for years and are so effective with all the noise. I could never see someone like David Geffen seeing a live performance of the Sun City Girls and saying “that’s the next thing I’ll sign.” If he did, I would be tremendously surprised. Just those guys sticking to their guns for years, making that crazy fucking music. Repeatedly make the most fucked-up album and having the next album more fucked-up, make it disturbing and satisfying at the same time because they know what they like, keep intensifying what they like which becomes disturbing to the average listener.
Rob: Their commitment to being non-commercial allows you to make your music, and also forms the basis for lot of new music. It has to be non-commercial music, because there isn’t any commercial genre for that type of music. It wouldn’t be new. Every time we make an album, that was on the tip of all our tongues — to make the most fucked-up record we can, but every time we did it, there was structure. I wasn’t able to let it go at that improvised free-form level. There is so much you can do in the studio, in the compositional and recording process, to stretch the outside elements of music, really pushing it. I think we got a classic rock album, but they’re really great in that way. I think that has caused some problems within the band, that the record wasn’t fucked up and strange enough. I think it could have been more fucked up with a bigger budget and more time.
Do you think WVGS (Georgia Southern’s station) in Statesboro would play it?
Wes: If I told them to. Yet I never sent it down there, I remember what that radio station is like, and if it got played in a place like Statesboro, I don’t think there would be a tremendous response to it. I don’t think the core of the students would be that into it.
We had shows on WVGS but during different years.
Wes: I had a show in `93. I thought they had an incredible record collection. I would go through it and borrow. When I had my radio show I would play really fucked-up stuff, and some people were into it, the majority of students weren’t. I mean there were 20-30 people in town who were into different stuff but I don’t think I could have played, like, a Red Krayola album and gotten a lot of phone calls about it.
Wes: I grew up in Savannah. Had a blast at Southern. Statesboro is a town where you could have started something really cool and disturbing. I had a lot of fun, a really neat atmosphere when you’re eighteen. I had a band in Statesboro, which was a lot of fun and strange too. On a small scale, people were into it. Statesboro is a completely different small farm town to play music, do drugs, and hang out. That could have an impact on people from seeing it from the outside. If you were the least bit into that kind of shit in Statesboro, you would stand out ten fold over as opposed to here.
What did your parents do?
Rob: Both educators
Wes: My dad was an air traffic controller in the Marines, did 3 tours in Vietnam, which he really loved, and my mom sold major appliances at Sears. Both of those occupations are defining factors in who I am today. Selling washers and dryers at Sears and doing tours in Vietnam for 5 years, guiding planes into Vietnam which killed a lot of people.
Any odd road stories?
Wes: Just Stewart [Voegtlin, drummer] repeatedly saying “McDonalds” every time we passed one, which on the road, you see thousands. Every time, but I keep laughing every time he did it. I never stopped laughing.
Was that your I Spy game?
Wes: That was his I Spy game, no one else. Everyone dreaded it.
Rob: That was his way of saying “I hate you all.”
Will Stewart be playing with you guys this summer?
Wes: I don’t think so, I don’t know. Today he seemed to express interest.
Rob: He is the best drummer
Wes: In the whole world.
Rob: Seriously, he is a very rare percussionist.
What do you hope to achieve in the next 5 years
Rob: To get better. Exactly what we are doing right now. Better players, getting better at synthesizing the different influences, making a response and hopefully have those responses responded to. Keep making new music.
Wes: Eight more albums, just progressively more disturbing, more fucked up, but not in the negative sense, not disturbing to put people off , disturbing as if to wonder where it came from. Absolutely no regard to anything fashion. Just to keep listening to records, everyday like we all do. We all have huge record collections, just to keep recycling all that different information, liking and listening from Lightin’ Hopkins and the Shaggs and one day bring that out into your music. To make records that reflect that diversity and not straining from that. There are a lot of bands out there without a record collection. There are guys out there playing who only have like 20 CDs. That’s absurd. There are too many bands today who listen to a Badfinger or Big Star album, keep that in mind, and make that their band. That is so fucked up, that is so fucking stupid. Taking one band and making it their band. Instead of listening to 20 random records a day and reflecting the influence of those. That’s important.
Rob: There is a lot of music that is sheer entertainment, and that’s great. Star 94 & 99X, that’s okay, everyone is sitting in traffic anyway. That’s not anything we are doing. We are trying to make music that changes the frontier of music. Honest to god. It’s artistic music thought out, crafted, honest, simple.
Wes: Honest and dishonest, simple and complex, all those.
Rob: It’s important that someone tries to challenge in a very tapped out world.. That’s how music survives, not marketing to 12 year olds.
Right, I think there is too much emphasis on what sells the most records as a barometer of what’s good. I mean look at Velvet Underground, they really didn’t sell that many records in their time, yet how influential they are.
Wes: Look at John Cage and doo-wop. They can meld it together, what other bands can’t do. They focus on that one thing because they think its alternative.
Can you name about 10 albums you’re listening to right now?
Wes: It has to be right now because next week it’ll change. What I listened today was a Lightin’ Hopkins bootleg record, the Shaggs’ Phillosophy of the World, I heard my boss sing some blues songs, In the Heat of the Night soundtrack. Actually, I bought it the other day, which I have been looking for two years. Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds – I listen to that all the time. Stones’ Beggars Banquet, Butthole Surfers’ Rembrandt Pussyhorse, any R.E.M. before Life’s Rich Pageant.
Rob: Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Third Decade in Full Force, Charlie Parker, Bird, his new collection Yardbird Suite, Nat King Cole’s Gospels and Spirituals, AC/DC’s Back in Black, Odelay, Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits, Savage Garden, Bjork, Homogenic and Post, Coltrane, Kentucky Colonels.
Wes: It’s all so important. You have to listen to your whole record collection and filter that, not just pick out one album. Bands like the Pixies and Big Star are great, but don’t pattern your band after them. It consistently happens. Gotta mix it up.