BLACK LIGHT BURNS – Grinning Like A Slit
Industrial metal outfit Black Light Burns formed in 2005, the brainchild of Limp Bizkit / ex-Marilyn Manson guitarist Wes Borland. Completing its inaugural recording line-up was guitarist / producer Danny Lohner (ex-Nine Inch Nails), synthesist Josh Eustis (Puscifer), and drummer Josh Freese (ex Guns ’N Roses / ex-Nine Inch Nails / ex-Slash / ex-Seether / Devo), Borland handling vocals as well as many additional duties.
“It was kind of on the heels of another project (The Damning Well) that I had where I was looking for a singer,” Wes remembers. “It was a project that I was developing and working on that didn’t really go anywhere. It was a transition between me counting on other people to make things happen and having that feeling of depending on other people, and switching from that into just trying to depend on myself and getting things done by myself. The outcome of that transition was Black Light Burns, with me saying to myself ‘I’m just gonna figure out how to sing (laughs), start a band, and not try to form a band anymore.’”
The moniker Black Light Burns isn’t a reference to ultraviolet light, as some listeners might assume. “When I started writing the first record (Cruel Melody) the name of the band at the time did not refer to a black light, as in a purple tube of light which makes your eyes glow,” the frontman verifies. “It was more thinking about the opposite of good feelings, and some sort of visualisation of people and suffering in some way. I was going through a really rotten time when I made up the name, a very transitional time. It wasn’t all bad but was just a very hard point, and Black Light Burns seemed like a ringing title. It kind of represented that period of time, so that’s how Black Light Burns got its name.”
June 2007 inaugural full-length Cruel Melody opened the group’s account. “I was at Danny Lohner’s house a lot, who was the producer of the record,” Wes shares. “I worked with him constantly, and had Josh Freese come in. We had a lot of collaborations on that record; we had Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde, Josh Eustis from Puscifer. Just all these great people worked on it, and were involved. It was a really trying record to make because I was kind of going through the steps of learning how to be a frontman, and learning how to record vocals. There were a lot of good times making that record. We had a lot of fun doing it, but I feel the second record was more fun to make. It was more of a free experience than the rigidity of making the first record, which was a little more ‘It has to be like this’. A lot of that was from Danny and it totally worked, but now this record works in a different way because of the level of experimentation and the lawless freedom that went with making the album.”
Industrial acts inform Black Light Burns’ material, but not exclusively. “There are obvious influences like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure kind of thing, but I’m also really into Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Death From Above 1979, Lightning Bolt, The Strokes, Iggy Pop, Portishead, Godspeed You! Black Emperor,” the axeman cites. “There’s so many things that I try to take from and filter to put this sound together. I haven’t tried to put this together intentionally. I think this is just the sum of what I listen to, the sum of all the influences that I have and the music that I like. That’s what Black Light Burns is.”
A guitarist by trade, Black Light Burns sees Wes occupy the microphone stand for the first time in the man’s musical career. “I just had reach a point where I had something to say,” he feels. “I had lyrics and poetry that I wanted to express in music, and I just haphazardly learnt how to do it. I tried taking vocal lessons, but… I’m sure those helped in some ways, but most of it was just working with Danny Lohner on the first record and having him push me to sing different things in a certain way. He’s a great vocal producer, and that in many ways made me what I am today. It basically made me realise that I have a certain range to work in, that there are some things that I can do and some things I can’t. I don’t have limitless vocal talent. I have definite parameters I have to work in, so I just figured out where I could push myself. To make some kind of vocal noise that expresses what I want to express.”
The singer’s vocal influences prove to be an eclectic list. “I really like Julian Casablancas from The Strokes – I love his voice,” he enthuses. “I love Nick Cave and Tom Waits, Michael Hutchence from INXS, and then all of the other influences that I mentioned from those other bands. I really like those guys’ voices, and Sebastien Grainger from Death From Above 1979. I just love the harsh voices that all those guys have.”
Black Light Burns lent support to industrial assortment Combichrist for an extended spate of concerts during 2009, Wes’ first proper foray as a live frontman. “It’s great – I love it,” he beams. “It’s a wild experience. It took time to learn how to do that. I learnt just through trial and error what works live and what doesn’t, and what you can say and what makes no sense. I just try to be really personable with the audience. I don’t try to go up there and say in some demanding voice ‘Are you guys having a great time tonight?’ I keep it really conversational with the audience, which can be awkward sometimes. It’s fun for me though to actually talk to people individually during the show (laughs). It makes it different every night. Some nights we would have 200-300 people, but we’ve also had nights where we’ve had 20 and that becomes hilarious. We’re talking about if we can buy anyone a drink, or if anybody would like to hang out with us after the show because there are so few people in the audience. We just tailor the show to whatever situation we’re in, and try to keep it very down to earth.”
On February 21st, 2012, it was publicly announced that Black Light Burns had inked an album contract with Rocket Science Ventures / THC: Music. “They were the distributor for Cruel Melody when we were on a different label,” the axe-slinger notes. “They were partnered with that other label, and that label – I Am Wolfpack, who put our first record out – dissolved. We went to Rocket Science because we knew them from putting out the first record, and asked them if they would like to do the second. They were very happy, so that was it.”
August 2012 outing The Moment You Realize You’re Going To Fall – Black Light Burns’ sophomore full-length proper – marks the first release under that contracted agreement. “The recording process was different than the first record in some ways, but in some ways the same,” Wes reckons. “I did most of the demoing and writing for the record by myself. Our old drummer plays drums on about seven of the tracks, and then our live guitar player Nick plays some additional guitars on a few of the tracks. We had a violinist (Jana Lou Annis) play on ‘Burn The World’, and that’s it. Most of the rest of the record is me pretty much playing the instruments, writing the songs, programming, playing bass, and what not, and was done by myself in my home studio without any contact with anyone else. I sort of locked myself up and finished most of the record, and did most of the lyrics on my own.”
The mainman’s immense involvement perhaps suggests Black Light Burns is more of a solo project than a group. “It is a band, because I don’t like the idea of a solo project,” he corrects. “I like to think of things in term of a band. I like working with other people in a sense and having other musicians not to collaborate with so much, but just to put their own twist on something that I’ve written or done. It is a band. We have members who play on the record, but we also have kind of a band member that doesn’t play an instrument. She does all the videos and photography, and that’s my friend Agata Alexander who directs the videos – she’s like a fifth member of the band. It is a collaboration to an extent.”
Mistakes were purposely retained, and not fixed during post-production. “It sounds way better to me, and way more human,” Wes critiques. “I think fixing mistakes should be done to a certain extent, but I think a lot of it should be left in. That’s what makes a song or a record sound like it’s on fire, because you can tell a human is at the other end banging away on their instrument. It’s more like reading someone’s diary than reading a magazine article or something. I don’t know. There’s more of an urgency when you leave in mistakes, and you get this air of wildness about it. I think people connect on a human level way more with that than they do with a song that’s overproduced where everything sounds perfect and like everything else. It’s so anti-computer, even though it was made on a computer.”
Tracks were cut as they were authored. “A lot of the parts were written on the spot as they were recorded, but we didn’t record all at the same time in one room,” the guitarist explains. “When you’re experimenting and doing different things, there’s this whole different environment than a band just being in a room going ‘One, two, three, four…,’ kicking off and doing it. It’s not like that. Recording a Black Light Burns record – for me – is more like making a collage. I keep adding and subtracting, putting things in and taking things out. A lot of the drums and the vocal takes are just like ‘Bam’, one take. The rest of the record is a wildly textured forest of elements that were crafted very carefully with careful intentions, but also there was a lot of chaos to recording. We had many instruments and pieces of electronica that were homemade. Some of them are broken, and make broken noises that you can’t ever repeat again. A lot of the gear we were using was chaotic, so I can’t put it in terms of how many takes it took to do a song because the songs weren’t done that way.”
Personal issues colour the record’s lyrics. “A lot of it is a continuation of events that happened in my life during Cruel Melody – a lot of it is the aftermath of that,” Wes confesses. “It has to do with loss and love, a complex relationship, and then a lot of it has to do with me being frustrated with Western world problems. People are very upset about meaningless things, or they’re making problems just to have something to complain about. They’re sat in their chairs watching their televisions, becoming zombies, and not living their lives. Just basic frustration. There’s kind of a thread that goes through the whole thing I guess where I’m wishing for some sort of cataclysmic event, or an apocalypse so that everybody can get back to a state of where they really find themselves, or something. I don’t know. That’s the lyrical content of the record, which also goes down different paths. Sometimes I speak very specifically about things in songs and sometimes my lyrics are more abstract, painting pictures or ideas. It’s the collage thing again; sometimes the lyrics make up a collage of ideas that form a whole when you listen to the whole song, or analyse the entire set of lyrics.”
What exactly occurred during the creation of Cruel Melody is something the vocalist doesn’t wish to share. “It’s evident in the lyrics, or not evident in the lyrics,” he muses. “It’s just a bunch of personal stuff that happened to me which involved other people, and had a big effect on my life. I’ll just leave it at that.”
Black Light Burns has been involved in the action horror franchise Underworld since 2003, their involvement spanning across four movies to date. “Danny Lohner – who produced the first record – also produces the Underworld soundtracks,” Wes comments. “He puts soundtracks together, and gets all of his friends to do songs and remixes and stuff for those soundtracks.
“For Underworld (2003) an instrumental version of ‘Coward’ off of the first record was actually in the film, and for Underworld: Evolution (2006) I did some remixes with Danny. For Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009) I had a song (‘I Want You To’) on the soundtrack that’s off of the new record, and then Underworld: Awakening (2012) had a song called ‘It Rapes All In Its Path’ on it. It was originally going to be on this new record, but I gave it away to be on that album because we had so many songs. I just passed it along – it had to be exclusive for one year. If we possibly released a new version of this record packaged with something else later on, we’ll add it as another track.”
Music video content augments the issue of The Moment You Realize You’re Going To Fall. “There’s a title track video for ‘The Moment You Realize You’re Going To Fall’ called ‘Chapter One’, and it’s on our Black Light Burns Vimeo page,” the frontman reveals. “We’ve also filmed a video for ‘How To Look Naked’, and that’s a huge, extravagant video. The third video will be for a song called ‘The Colour Escapes’, which is the fifth song on the record. That’s gonna be filmed in September.”
Recording sessions for a seventh Limp Bizkit studio full-length are firmly underway. “We’ve been in the studio working on different material,” Wes divulges. “There are our normal heavy, groove, rap rock type songs, and then there are also songs that are a little more club and hip hop heavy that we’re doing with the Cash Money producers in Miami. We’ve done several studio sessions so far. Some of that stuff is being mixed now. Things are going ahead. We’ve got tons of ideas, and lots of different songs and directions that we’re going in.
“We’re working with several directions, so there’s three different directions going on right now. We might actually start going in a third direction which we’ve been talking about recently, but it’s too soon to explain or think about what that’s gonna be like. We’re just brainstorming. Yeah, it’s all going really well. Some of the stuff is similar to Gold Cobra (June 2011). I think Gold Cobra sounds like a Limp Bizkit record, and that’s kind of just how we sound. I think there will be similarities, and there will probably be natural progressions that go in different directions depending on how we’re feeling. There’s no release date as of yet, but I think what we might be doing is releasing some stuff before the record comes out as singles.”
The Moment You Realize You’re Going To Fall was released on August 10th, 2012 in Europe (excluding the UK) and on the 13th in the United Kingdom, all through Ninetone / Membran. The album was subsequently issued in North America on the 14th via Rocket Science Ventures, and on the 22nd in Japan through Columbia / Nippon.
Interview published in August 2012.
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