Gothic Text files Christian Death Interview

This interview was printed in the February 1994 issue of ?*@# (exclaim)
416-535-9735; 7B pleasant blvd, unit 966, toronto, ont m4t 1k2
By Mopa Dean

This interview took place approximately a year ago between Rozz Williams and I. Since then, Shadow Project (his band at that time) has broken up. His betrothed Eva O. has not lonly left the band but Rozz's side as In fact, Rozz toured Europe [in '93] with Shadow Project but without Eva or their drummer Pans, both of whom had gone off in their own musical directions.

Nevertheless, in the spring of 1993, Rozz reunited the original Christian Death to do one last concert in L.A. Apparently people transversed the continenet to catch a glimpse of the final chapter in the history of Rozz Williams and Christian Death. From this final concert a CD has been released, _Iconologia_. To say the least, it's probably one of the best aural fixations I have succumbed to this year. The energy and intensity are not only all there, they have increased 100-fold from when I was fortunate enough to witness their aural atrocities in late 1988 at the now defunct Apocalyse Club.

Fortune almost smiled upon Williams when Cleopatra Records decided to take him under their corporate wing. With his older stuff being reissued by them, and Shadow Project (then his main work) being carried by Triple X records, you would have thought he'd finally made the grade. But in the goth tradition, the black cloud prevailed once again. Cleopatra used his cult following and name to promote their label. Bills remain unpaid, rumours abound of bootlegged merchandise, and Williams is virtually penniless.

But not beaten. If it wasn't for his manager Amy Joanes actually taking an interest in him as a human being, as well as an artist, I think that we would not be without him. However, rising from the ashes of his many demoralizing defeats, he has reunited with the bassist from Shadow Project and rallied a new and faithful group to his side called Davcvs Karota A CD release is scheduled for the spring of '94, as well as a live Shadow Project CD.

The saga continues. This phone interview will let you know every- thing you wanted to know about Christian Death but were afraid to ask.

Q: You were brought up in a Southern Baptist family?

R: yes

Q: Did you always live in southern California, or did you move there?

R: I was born here and remained.

Q: I take it that it was a strict family situation, heavy on the fear-of-God stuff?

R: Yes, actually I was pretty amazed by the amount of stuff my parents put up with while I was living in their house. They had experienced all that before with older brothers and sisters, so it was fairly strict. The fear-of-God thing was pretty set and I blindly followed it until I reached a certain age. Then I just began questioning my belief system.

Q: What made you immerse yourself in gothic sub-culture as opposed to punk?

R: I think I began getting really influenced by that whole punk scene around the age of 13 or 14-I went through that whole thing like the shaved head. I was always interested in what people called "the darker side," whatever that was, and the kind of look that you would see in the old horror films. So I let that become more of my persona.

Q: The whole imagery of it - pale skin, black clothes - appealed to you more than other sub-cultures?

R: The idea of sub-culture appeals to me no matter what it is, but I was more drawn to that look, and feel.

Q: What was your inspiration to put Christian Death together? Why did you do it?

R: Good question...I guess out of boredom. I was always interested in music, I felt it was time to do it, coming out of the punk scene [1979]. I thought it was ideal that anyone could just put together a group and make it work. Then, of course, it became a little more detailed after starting it and realizing that it was something serious, not just a one-off situation. I had to put a lot more into it. Also I did it to get a lot of things out of my system, things that had been put there while I was growing up in my family. A sort of exorcizing of demons.

Q: Who was in the original line-up?

R: Myself, James McGearthy on bass, J on the guitar, James brought George Belanger in to play drums. We just kind of worked small shows around town, rehearsing in the garage. Then we started getting a cult following, which led to the interest from record labels.

Q: You had Rick Agnew in the band at one time?

R: James and George met up with him, we did a couple of shows with The Adolescents around town. He liked the group, and we were impressed with his guitar playing. J was kind of uninterested in what we were doing at the time so we asked him [to leave] and he said yes.

Q: What was the primary influence when the bank formed? Was it the gothic scene in Europe, or the punk scene in California?

R: Well, a lot of it was influenced by the West Coast punk scene. I was into the Germs, the Alley Cats. At the same time, music I was listening to when I was about 9 years old and on also had an influence, like Bowie and T-Rex. At the time I wasn't really aware of the whole gothic scene. I hadn't heard Bauhaus or other groups before. I'd only heard of it going on...

Q: _Only Theatre of Pain_ was your first LP. How was it received?

R: It was received pretty well. I was happy to see it on a religious tele- vision programme that my parents used to watch. They did a special on satanic influences in music, they had the record on and broke it. That rather impressed me, I thought if these people knew of it and have such a strong feeling about it, I'm sure other people are doing the same.

Q: What was your parents reaction at that time?

R: Well, they questioned it at various times, but, I'm not sure, they're not very good at expression, it was more me feeling what they thought without them saying it. A weird situation - I knew they were not too pleased without them anything. Except one time, I had a copy of it in my room and I didn't want them to hear it. I then went on vacation for two weeks. I came back and they'd found it. They were not too pleased with a lot of the lyrics. But when I explained to them, what it was about to me, they left it at that.

Q: Were you practising satanic rituals because of your upbringing?

R: Well, I was practising a form of magic, and that's an odd thing. I still do, but don't consider it satanic - it's not a God type of thing or religious thing. It's more of spiritual thing, a learning thing.

Q: When did you put out _Death Wish_?

R: _Death Wish_ was recorded before _Only Theatre of Pain_. It was made from sessions from the compilation _Hell Comes to Your House_. The label that put it out bought the tapes and asked if we would like to put it out.

Q: Was that Contempo in Italy?

R: It was a French label called Invitation to Suicide. They approached the band and wanted to know if we would tour Europe and do a new album. So we went over to Europe in 1983 and started working on _Catastrophe Ballet_.

Q: So the versions of songs on _Death Wish_ are the original demos for _Only Theatre of Pain_?

R: Yes. Actually _Death Wish_ was more of a punk rock thing to me. _Only Theatre of Pain_ has the polished versions of those songs and started to bring in elements of our personal feelings.

Q: What are you dealing with in the song "Death Wish"?

R: Hard to say. I don't understand a lot of my songs myself, usually not until years later. I think it was the same reaction to the learning process that I was brought up with. You're told there's this wonderful God and this beautiful Heaven for you when you die. You're also told that death is a horrible thing and you know you should be afraid of it and live in fear of it - which I found ridiculous. It's a contradiction to say there's this wonderful place waiting for you when you die but you should be in fear of dying.

Q: When did you meet Valour[sic]?

R: That happened towards the end of the original line-up ['82-'83].

Q: Why did people start leaving the band?

R: We were having a lot of problems, most of it to do with drugs. That was becoming more important than the music, for some of us. We went through a lot of personnel changes. People I can't even remember at this point in my life were there. I can't remember because there were so many people drifting in and out. I just saw the whole structure crumbling and I just thought that this should end, or if nothing else, this is going to grow stale. So near the end of that period we did a few shows in L.A. and met up with Valour. His band had opened a couple of shows for us. Then I started seeing him kind of socially. Invitation to Suicide then gave me a call about touring Europe. Of course that was an appealing thing to me so I called Valour and asked if his band wanted to back us up in Europe and that's how that came about.

Q: How many albums did you do with Valour?

R: Just two: _Catastrophe Ballet_ and _Ashes_, which was released in '85.

Q: Then you split up.

R: Right.

Q: Were you working with Gitane DeMone[sic?] too?

R: Yes, she was in the group at that time. She was in his band and married to him at the time.

Q: What were she and Valour like to work with? I see the band as changing its sound and going through a change at that time.

R: Gitane was great to work with. She shared a lot of ideas I had at that point. I think the change in musical direction came from that. I felt I had Properly rid myself of the religious demons inside of me. And I had always been interested in surrealism and the Dada movement, so that began to surface in my thoughts. I kind of purged myself, and she was interested in a lot of the same things. That helped to move it in the new direction in terms of sound and lyrical content. Some of it had to do with the religious things. It was just a strong symbolism for me, I didn't see it getting more experi- mental, but more open, lyrically.

Valour was nice enough to work with for a while, but I saw the same thing happening again. It seems to happen quite frequently - watching my creations dissolve in front of me. It had a strong purpose at the time, but when interest in the band starts waning, I feel it's time to move on.

Q: Is that why you went your different ways?

R: Basically. I wanted to move into a more experimental situation and they wanted to stay in a musical format. I was a lot more interested in sound structure. I went on to do _Premature Ejaculation_ since I saw no point working in a medium I was not happy with.

Q: How do feel about Valour using the name Christian Death after you left the band?

R: I didn't appreciate it, and it was done completely without permission. When I decided to leave the project I asked them not to use the name because it was something very important to me. I had no problem with them using the material they wrote. A year later I found out they were going under the same name and even performing songs from _Only Theatre of Pain_, which they had nothing to do with. That rather bothered me.

Q: You took no legal action?

R: No, because I felt at the time, although I was angered, I felt that I had to carry on with my own thing and I didn't want to involve myself with some long and drawn-out legal thing. I felt it was much more important to do what I felt good about doing.

Still, I didn't appreciate the fact. I took their word that they would not use the name and would carry on under a different name and perform their own material.

Q: What about Valour now going around saying that he's the original Christian Death?

R: Anybody who knows the real history of Christian Death will know it's not true. He seems to like to take credit for a lot of things not of his own doing, and I don't appreciate it.

Q: So when you did your reunion tour in '88, there were two Christian Deaths.

R: Right.

Q: Were there any problems over that? Did you hear from Contempo or Frontier Records?

R: It was kind of odd, there were some shows where people didn't believe who I was. Supposedly Valour told people I was dead.

Q: That's the rumour I heard, that you had commited suicide.

R: That's right. Apparently he even printed this in one of his newsletters. Which very much angered me. He called a club we were plaing in New York, and the woman who booked us informed me at soundcheck that lawyers had been calling all day representing Christian Death and that we can't play under the same name. I finally told her that if he calls back, let me talk to him. Sure enough, he called back. The whole time he had been calling saying that he was the attorney for Christian Death. To me it was another instance of what his thing seems to be about. He went into his whole routing with me, saying that he thought it was someone else going under the same name and he didn't know it was me and he was only looking after out best interests. That was really the only incident that happened.

Q: What actually sparked the idea to do the '88 reunion tour?

R: I thing basically I was rather upset hearing from so many people that I was deak, that I was in a mental institution, etc. It was kind of a way for me to rekindle what was mine in the first place. It was great to work with Rick again, I think he's a fantastic musician. And to let people know what Valour calls Christian Death is not Christian Death. It was a way for us to work together again, but, for personal reasons, it kind of took awhile.

Q: Why didn't you continue it?

R: Because around 1987 Eva and I started Shadow Project. That was more in the forefront at the time. The Christian Death thing was more of a reminder to get back together and work as musicians. But I already had plans to work on Shadow Project and I didn't want to make Christian Death a full-time thing.

Q: Do you still see Rick or anyone from the original line-up?

R: I see him every once in a while, he has a project called Yard Sale. I heard that he was playing with some of the original members of the Adolescents but I'm not sure. He has a wife and a child now, so he's busy with that sort of thing.

Q: How long have you and Eva O been married?

R: Six years. It's a very informal marriage, more of a partnership.

Q: Was it done legally or through a hand-fastening or something?

R: Neither, we had a private ceremony for ourselves - a sort of bonding thing- and then we did the legal thing, but that's not really important to us.

Q: The spoken-word album you did, _Every King's A Bastard's Son_. Is that the sort of thing you want to be doing?

R: It was an interesting project. I have done a couple of live spoken things before, but it was very uncomfortable for me and I didn't really think about it again. Then I was approached about doing one. I started thinking about the potential of it and using sound behind it and it sounded like an interesting project. I really enjoyed it, but I don't know if I'm going to go anymore, it's hard for me to say.

Q: Why did you put out the _Iron Mask_ release?

R: At first it was brought up by Cleopatra, I was not too interested in the concept, and the album did not come out the way I wanted it to.

Q: I understand that you were not around when they were mixing it.

R: Right, I was on tour with Shadow Project at the time. Originally, I wanted to rework the songs. The idea was to completely rework them and make new songs while working with a new structure, but I'd already made the commitment to Cleopatra and unfortunately it was done the way it was done.

Q: What is "1334"? I've noticed it on several of your recordings and on some of you merchandise.

R: "1334"...It's a kind of personal thing, it's the year of the Black Plague. I kind of feel like history is repeating itself, so I've chosen to take that on as my year.

Q: How about the gothic scene - how do feel about the sensationalism of it via _Propaganda Magazine_,etc?

R: I don't know. It's interesting. I never really considered myself part of the gothic scene. I don't like to label myself though I like the fact that some people are as dedicated as they are to something. It's good to see how people actually live their lives, instead of just dressing up on the weekend to go out. A lot of them have a deeper belief structure then just the fashion statement, but if it's just dealing on a fashion level I find it kind of redundant. People should keep themselves open to a lot of ideas, not just hold themselves down to one structure. There's too many things to experience and learn about. Why keep yourself closed?

Q: How about Shadow Project, who's in the current line-up?

R: Myself, Eva, Paris and Christian, our new drummer. We're looking for a new bass player since Jill Emery of Hole has left.

Q: It's a different entity from Christian Death.

R: I think it's a different thing totally, musically and structurally, but it's also an extension, because anything I do musically is an extension of the emotion and the thought that made me start doing anything in the first place. What I like to do with anything I do is push it past the boundaries. I like to break a lot of new ground and try new things, that's why the second Shadow Project album is so different from the first. We're not interested in staying in a format, we don't want to be labelled as just a gothic band. Q: Have you found your niche?

R: I think I hae, there are times I have my doubts, but I can't see myself as doing anything else but creating. I can't imagine myself being a banker for the rest of my life. I'm too involved in music and writing. I definitely think I'll continue on, whether it's writing books or music.