I caught up with Wes Borland from Black Light Burns this past month, who most people know as the guitarist with the strange contacts and costumes from Limp Bizkit. Wes has had an interesting career to follow over the years as he’s been involved in a myriad of other projects- ranging from his sick sense of humor in his solo projects BIGdumbFACE and Goatslayer, his stunning, deranged paintings accompanied by chilling instrumental tracks on his myspace, his contributions to the Underworld films’ soundtracks and various artist’s albums and tours, in addition to guitar workshops in Malaysia, and finally work with his band, Black Light Burns, that he fronts himself.
Unfortunately, I have failed as a reporter, having forgotten I was not in Europe anymore; I was promptly escorted out with my friends for having a measly sip of red wine toward the beginning of the concert . (Yes folks, that’s the States, for ya…) Consequently, I missed the entire live show. However, through a strange series of events over the course of the evening including neglect of laws such as public pissing (and subsequently narrowly avoiding prosecution), wreaking havoc in faux French accents, trying to sneak back inside the concert hall through an air duct we finally caught up with Wes and his mates in the bus for a brief interview-conversation on the band’s new album, painting, boxes with tits drawn on them, and how to repair 2000 year old skulls.
Claire: So what are they watching? (On the tour bus television)
Wes: They’re watching the show tonight. They pranked us on stage- we played a few shows with them and their (Combichrist’s) tour manager came out on stage dressed as Fred Durst and yeah, it was, MILDLY embarrassing.
Claire: Well, if you can laugh at it then it’s good, I guess!
Wes: Yeah! It was funny. You still have a heart on your forehead. (Referring to Dennis)
Wes: Your underwear are in the bathroom upstairs. Get them! He wore just underwear and a shirt on stage, and, cowboy boots.
Dennis: I’m in trouble for it…
Both: With who!?
Dennis: Uh, Hitler.
Wes: With Marshall? A friend of yours?
Dennis: My girlfriend. She is seriously mad that I wore underwear.
Wes: We’re just burning tape here SORRY CLAIRE!
Claire: Not a problem, So if I understand correctly, you don’t have a record label right now?
Wes: We don’t!
Claire: Are you looking into any record label right now?
Wes: Combichrist, the band we’re touring with right now, their label might possibly want to sign us. It’s Metropolis. There are a few other things that have come up and we’re looking for the right home.
Claire: What is the music on your new album like now?
Wes: It’s a lot more guitar-based and the record is basically done. We did a lot of the drums to tape and we used a lot of vintage gear. All of it sounds very organic and I think the record has more confidence than the first record. Whereas the first record was kind of a sad sack of potatoes in a lot of ways. This album has a little bit of a swagger to it, and a gusto that the other did not. It’s also a little sharper than the first record, and a little more fun, like, youíre a invited to the party. It’s not NO, we’re just going to play a bunch of songs that are sad and reflective. There’s a lot more texture to the record.
Claire: Regardless I thought the stage presence was excellent before. You know, from what I remember. (Referring to last BLB show I saw in 2006)
Wes: Well thanks! But yeah, it’s WAY better than it used to be.
Claire: Who’s composing right now? You started out Black Light Burns working with Danny Lohner and several others.
Wes: The first record was with Danny and the covers album was with the whole band involved. Our original bass player who was involved in that left the earth, just kind of dropped off the face of the planet. We had to enlist Dennis, here, and we’re much happier with him involved. It really brings the whole band up to a new place.
Claire: What can you expect from a live show?
Wes: I, I would expect..
Claire: Water thrown on you, that I know.
Wes: Probably water yeah, and there’s a lot more dancing now? There’s 50s and 60s dancing, we do the twist really. All the songs on this tour sounded (?) instead of fierce to me, more dancy. Less of an element of taking ourselves seriously, I think. When facing crowds like Combichrist-crowds, and this is the best tour I think we’ve ever been on- we’re trying to woo people who are not there to see you into watching your set. So, we ended up having to come up with new techniques, like joking with the crowd and being more hands-on. We wanted to get them involved, kind of take the piss out of ourselves in a way. We’ve got one song left, if youíre here to see us- then we’ve got one more, and if youíre not here to see us, then youíre in luck– because we only have one more song It’s the good news and the good news and everybody’s happy even if they aren’t into us. So that’s the attitude.
(Screams & laughter from the social area of the bus can be heard.)
Wes: Wow, now theyíre getting loud.
Claire: Is it like this all the time?
Wes: Yeah we’re very tired. Itís like a baseball party.
Dennis: Everybody likes baseball!
Wes: No, no one likes baseball. NOBODY likes baseball. Are you going to have more Redbull?
Claire: So I really wanted to talk to you about your art. The thing about art is that of course when you see it’s online, the image itself is there, but you don’t see the media used or get a real feel for it. Is there a lot of texture to your art?
Wes: Yeah, earlier paintings are a lot more Van Gogh-ish and have built up texture and the recently I’ve been working on panel and doing smoother, thinner paintings and using a lot of galkyd. Shiny.
Claire: Helps it dry faster, too, no?
Wes: It does help it dry faster and helps you work at a quicker pace. It also gives the black more depth and makes it black-black. And I’ve been trying to get a smoother look. Also because I was having trouble photographing the ones with a lot of texture because I was getting shadows and highlights in the wrong places, so I tried to be Mr. Smooth lately in my paintings as much as possible.
Claire: You paint a lot of surrealist and mythological themes, I’ve noticed.
Wes: Yeah, I try to draw from my own imagination and mythology, history, and folklore from different cultures. I try to incorporate all kinds of things mainly to raise a flag, so people say, OH I know what that is. I know who Lamashtu is.
Claire: There was this part in the Dave Navarro interview in which you talking about doing pornographic themes, but you were saying maybe you wouldn’t to avoid strict shock value.
Wes: I was thinking about doing a series of paintings of gay pornography or something but then I don’t know, there are a few lines with my parents being alive that I can’t cross.
Claire: Haha! Oh, I see.
Wes: I don’t know- it’s like, well, not being alive- but in the future, I won’t be able to cross certain lines, but I want to SO much. But, I think I want to go in a direction that has not even shock value but one that has more deranged and it ends up, most people don’t like that, most of my friends are like you should do straight portraits and complete realism all the time.
Claire: Mhmm, well, humans faces are really the most fun to draw, personally.
Wes: Yeah! Humans are really drawn to the faces of other humans. But I always have this problem with wanting to paint wildly and do anything and put it together. It’s a balance, I’ve heard really great artists say that you have to basically march to the beat of your own drum and ignore everyone else and do what you do and people will beat a path to your doorstep, but itís hard when you’re getting praise for doing just very standard portraits. It’s easy to just go in that direction. But I’m happy with a lot of them and I am going back and forth between the absurd and the real is a good thing.
Claire: Are you into the occult? The photos of the coffee table-looking book that says on it, ‘Order of the Black Light’- What is it?
(Tour bus engine begins! Short pause to see how much time is left.)
Wes: OK- so the books are yeah, I mean I guess Iím into a lot of the occult and the Crowley stuff to an extent, but the books have a lot of Masonic themes.
Claire: Did you know there’s a Freemason road over here?
Wes: Is there!? The whole concept of the Order of the Black Light just had a nice ring and we followed the path down that Masonic road, and I think Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 3 kind of had a big influence on that too.
Claire: Who is that? I think I’ve heard of him.
Wes: Matthew Barney is a sculptor and a filmmaker, who has children with Bjork, and is a New York artist who did a series of films called the Cremaster Cycle. The third film breaks down the whole Masonic order and puts it into this weird, surrealistic sort of perspective. The only thing you can get that is not black market pirated versions of his film is the end- Cremaster 3, called the Order. I’m basically just taking in a way Masonic themes and plugging them into different aspects of our band to show my respect and admiration for him by doing the book. We just couldn’t do a vinyl of the record, so this is the closest thing to having a collectors piece.
Claire: So this will be available on the site at some point?
Wes: It will be available on the site! I think we have about 300 copies.
Claire: What about your new album- when will that be out?
Wes: Yeah, it’s as SOON as we get a label, it will be out. Songs are all finished.
Claire: You guys are productive!
Wes: Thanks, 17 songs. We’re playing one of them, at these shows we’re opening with, it’s not great as far as crowd-response-wise, but…
Claire: Not industrial enough?
Wes: No, not familiar enough. It has kind of a country, sort of a chug-a-chugga to it. Nick Cave-feel to some of it. The new record is really important; it’s the next version of our sound. The plan right now is to put out a record with 14 songs and to have one song in the record that’s interchangeable for different countries. For the European release, it will be missing the American song and will have the European song, because when you put out records in different countries, they usually ask you to tag on a song so that people don’t pay for the import. We try to make everyone important by putting a different song on every record, so that no one has an extra one.
Claire: That’s considerate! So Dennis, how did you come into the picture?
Dennis: I knew a guy, who knew the guy, who knew a guy? I worked for him for a while and there were some issues with Sean, and I stepped in.
Wes: Now it’s a done deal! Dennis is THE guy.
Dennis: I just play with local Louisiana musicians whenever I get a chance.
Claire: Is that where you’re from?
Wes: He’s from Lafayette.
(launch into conversation about Creole dialects and historic tours and swamp rides, and crawfish.)
Wes: So, how many times did you go to the catacombs? (Paris)
Claire: Just once, believe it or not.
Wes: It’s a kind of claustrophobic.
Claire: (Remembering suddenly a blog from BLB’s page) Wait, you have one thousand year old Peruvian skulls?
Wes: TWO thousand year old Peruvian skulls.
Claire: Ok, Iím going to need to hear about this. How did you get a hold of that?
Wes: There was a store in Los Angeles called Necromance that deals in a lot of oddities, and Nancy the woman who owned it, got a line opened to Peru and a guy that was shipping Peruvian skulls stretched it out to the US. They were about to pass a law for it to be national treasure. This is terrible I’m such a pirate! These things were going to be national treasures so this guy was trying to get them out and sell them as fast as possible. So, she said, I can get you one and Adam Jones from Tool, who is an old friend of mine, and collects bones too, said, I just got one, it’s a great price, you HAVE to get it. So, this thing came in and I got it and picked it up and a SPIDER crawled out of the eye and went AHAWIWHWHHW. Dust came out and everything.
And then I was moving and staying at a friends house and I had all my skulls packed in a box. And I put them in the corner of the room I was staying in and they were there for months. Then one day I noticed that the box had collapsed a little bit. My friend had a house keeper that came once a week and I went,”whaaaat?” It was next to some drapes, and I went to open it up and usually I could see the bridge of the nose and the whole thing had collapsed and was destroyed.
So I basically launched back and fell on my back, about to burst into tears. I regained my composure, put it back, and the thing stayed broken for three years. I left all the pieces where they were, unwound a whole roll of toilet paper to make sure nothing moved and taped it shut because I wasn’t ready to deal with it, then I guess about five months ago, I got the whole thing out and laid it out like an archaeologist. I tried a bunch of glues but ended up using Elmer’s and paper towels like paper mache and started putting pieces together and using this to hold the inside of the skull together. I put the whole son of a bitch back together!
Dennis: Did you see our merch?
Claire: No! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go in!
Dennis: Not as cool as the skull.
Wes: We made a light bright that says Black Light Burns- it cost 10 bucks. Just Christmas lights through cardboard. We’re trying to get people’s attention so we could outsell the other band.
Claire: Is it working so far?
Wes: Noooo! Doesn’t work, Claire.
Claire: Have you ever stolen anything from the catacombs?
Wes: No, they searched my bag!
Claire: The trick is you wait until the last opening, around 4, and make sure you’re one of the last people in then you linger around until they are at that point so adamant about getting people out so that they can go home, they don’t check anything!
Wes: You got a WHOLE skull?
Claire: No, because I thought they were going to look through my bag! They did last time I was there. I have a little bone about this big.
Wes: Do you know anybody who’s gotten a skull?
Claire: No, but I know it can work.
Dennis: I would take a tooth and sneak it out in my butt.
Wes: But you could probably just walk out with a tooth in your hand, I bet.
Wes: The catacombs is such a cool thing I wouldn’t want to take a skull from it. I went once- I want people to see that. There’s gotta be MILLIONS, do you know how many? Did they tell you?
Claire: Nope, they rushed us through.
Wes: There are zillions of skulls. Hey, was there a crazy black guy that’s like, “hayyy did yaíll go down!!?”
Claire: No! I wish?
Wes: Ah, they did when I was there. This insane black guy that was like pushing people through, going, “oh ya’ll are CRAZY!!!”
Wes: I mean he was French, but.
Claire: Have you ever been in the one in Italy?
Wes: No, which city?
Claire: I don’t remember actually, I haven’t been yet.
Wes: Probably Rome.
Claire: Probably! Oh yeah, how were your art shows?
Wes: The one in Chicago was really good. I had one in LA that was great with Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio and Kevin Llewellyn who’s a really great painter that I’m friends with, then I had one in Philly and they lost my painting. It disappeared.
Claire: Which one did you lose?
Wes: It’s a painting of my wife Anna with a mask and I made resin frame which took a really long time. UPS left them like six notices and they just didn’t pick it up.
Claire: Did you get it back?
Wes: Yeah, when I finally hunted it down it they said “ok it’s at the store, it’s at the LA store”, I called them and they went, “ah yeah”, because I use them all the time to ship paintings and they said, “we just didn’t have your number on the last thing but I’m glad you called”. So at some point someone drew a big three on your box, and someone else put nipples on the three (laughs), so we just want to let you know that there’s a pair of giant tits on your painting package and I went, “ok” and they go, “is that ok with you”? And I went “YEAH! Ok, that’s okî”. I went into pick it up and I said “i’m here for the box with the big tits on it!” They went “ohhh yea that’s been in here for a long time!” So that’s my UPS Philadelphia gallery opening story.” So that show didnít happen at all. They asked me to send it back.
Claire: Were you already all the way out there when it happened too?
Wes: No, I was somewhere else, but I talked to them and they were just like “yeah can you send it back?” and I went a) I’m not home, and b) NO! After you completely blew it.
Claire: They have a lot of nerve to ask that much.
Wes: Yeah, especially because it costs a couple hundred bucks to ship it’s ridiculous.
Claire: Well, I was wondering if you wanted to talk about Goatslayer and Bigdumbface, if either of those have a future?
Wes: I mean, yeah they’re fun and they’re things I did before. I don’t know what I will ever do with Goatslayer and Bigdumbface, those are the kinds of projects that you have to be in that retarded mood. Yeah, I donít feel like I have that much time to spend time anymore.
Claire: Oh, what are you talking about? It’s genius! I love it.
Wes: Thanks, no, I mean, there MIGHT be more Bigdumbface.
Fellow who comes in to announce time until but take off: Sorry to interrupt, last call’s in one minute!
Wes: In one minute? Ok, we’re movin’ out, Claire!
Claire: Ok! Let’s see, so what’s a message for the WORLD?
Dennis: WHERE’S MY SON!!!!!???!!!! *leaves*
Wes: DON’T TAKE ANY SHIT FROM THOSE SCOUNDRELS OUT THERE, AND QUESTION AUTHORITY AND BE YOURSELF!