Brian Williams talks performing for the Church of Satan and exploring the incomprehensible
There aren't many musicians who have pioneered their own genre of music, but that's exactly what Brian Williams has managed under the name Lustmord with the so-called “dark ambient” genre, a designation that has long earned eye rolls from the musician.
“I'm not a dark person,” said the Wales-born Williams from his home in California. “For me, whenever anybody finds something dark in [my music], that reflects more on them.”
Williams prefers to describe his music as “primal,” employing found sounds and textured electronics to explore outsized concepts such as deep space, which forms the backbone of his Dark Matter album, a work he'll likely sample when he headlines COSI Planetarium in a rare live performance on Saturday, May 26.
It's interesting that someone who's an avowed atheist keeps getting attached to religious projects, be it scoring the just-released “First Reformed” or performing for the Church of Satan's 40th anniversary.
[Laughs] Yeah. The Church of Satan thing, I approached it with a sense of humor. And the [director Paul] Schrader movie is a serious movie, and I quite like it for that reason.
You've incorporated elements of religious music in your past work. What's the draw in that for you?
It's the focus of that spirituality or belief system. There's so much powerful music that comes from a religious background because there's so much raw energy and spiritual focus put into it, be it Armenian choral music, or Tibetan and Buddhist bonpo. People really put their hearts into that music.
Do you still have the robe the Satanists gave you to perform in?
Yeah. I wasn't going to wear it [to perform], but my wife said I should since everyone else was wearing one. … I thought it was a bit silly to put a robe on. They were nice people. What I liked about it was no one was trying to convince me to adopt their way of thinking. It was funny, after the show I was hanging out with my wife and there was this wide circle around us, which I thought was strange. Then over the next few weeks there were a few people writing to me online: “I really wanted to come up to you, but I was scared.” I was like, what the hell? A room full of Satanists and they were scared. C'mon, guys.
That was the show that really got you back to performing live, too.
It was, yeah. That was a test run, that's how I looked at it. I hadn't played live in 25 years. Then when they said it was going to be on 6/6/06, that's why I did it. If I'm going to do a show it's got to be on 6/6/06. It's so “Spinal Tap.”
You do seem drawn to playing interesting, non-traditional spaces, such as abandoned power plants, or even COSI here in Columbus.
Yeah, it makes the whole thing more of an event, I think. … If you're going to do a show at all, I like it to be a place that isn't a regular rock venue. There are a couple times I've done those and I've regretted it afterwards. It always tends to be kind of a half-assed kind of deal.
Does performing in a planetarium make you more likely to explore the music on Dark Matter (an album that samples deep-space sounds)?
It does to a degree, actually. … Quite often I'll do the not-obvious things just to keep it interesting. But if I don't play some of the space sounds in a planetarium it kind of seems like a bit of a shame though, no?
Why do you think you're so drawn to exploring those bigger concepts?
I like stepping back and seeing the bigger picture, because when you think of life and the meaning of life, the picture is pretty damn big. It's so big you can't really comprehend it, and I've always been interested in that lack of comprehension. We can talk about things like deep space and life, and there are all these things we can talk about in abstract or philosophical terms, but our brains aren't really capable of truly comprehending the scale of things. … I like exploring that, and having a sense of our place. There are really a few answers to that question, and none of them are simple.
Does tackling those ideas in your music bring any sense of clarity for you? Or does it only deepen the mystery?
It doesn't explain everything; I just like going there. It's interesting that people invariably refer to my music as “dark,” which has made me roll my eyes all these years, though I'm over that now. I don't find my music dark at all, and I'm not a dark person. I think what my music is, maybe, is primal. I go to this primal area and people react to that and they find that primal element somewhat dark, though I can't tell you why. For me, it's also interesting because this is instrumental music. … There are no lyrics. There's no overt “message.” So, for me, whenever anybody finds something dark in it, that reflects more on them than on me. It's where they choose to go with it.