Robert Williams Interview

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raveninblack
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Robert Williams Interview

Post by raveninblack » 18 Sep 2005, 15:56

I was gonna give this to Crass for the pdf but it wont fit in with the next issues' MIB theme, so here it is. This is the transcript, I've not put anything in other than the questions/answers.
Here goes:

Robert Williams

CS: As a starter, how did you actually become involved with Hugh and
Nosferatu?

RW: Hugh saw me playing drums for Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band in San Francisco in the fall of 1977. We hung out for a few drinks
after the show and exchanged numbers. The following summer we were back in San Francisco recording Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) and Hugh was in town producing a band called Leila and the Snakes so Hugh rang me up. We went girl hunting at the bars and ended up jamming on the Magic Band's equipment in the recording studio throughout the wee hours, thanks to my shmoozing the studio staff. Hugh and I were rotating instruments. That night we played guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums but not all at the same time of course.
Around Xmas time Hugh called me from England and asked me to book some nice recording studios and a good engineer. He told me we were going to make an album with mainly just the two of us on the instruments and that we'd make up the songs in the studio.
And so we did it. Some call it a classic.

CS: I believe that the album was recorded in L.A. so what did you two
get up to when you were not in the studio?
RW: Nothing really. We just slept when we weren't recording. We logged
lots of hours. We loved it. We couldn't wait to get back into the
studio after hearing tapes of the progress we had made each night. We'd
sleep until 3pm fix ourselves up, go out for a nice meal, and drive over
to the studio we rented for the night. The studios we used were 2nd to
none. Top of the line equipment, best 2nd engineers or they were fired,
best tape, and the best two talented young musicians with boundless
energy that we could possibly muster up.
Fleetwood Mac built the infamous Studio A at Village Recorders in West
L.A. and Hugh and I managed to be the first ones to use it through a
little nudging to Lindsey Buckingham. That was an amazing and state of
the art room that we got at the price of one of their normally great
rooms. We rarely went out to have fun. Our 'havin' fun' as it were was
working in the studio making music on what we thought was(an) immortal
being logged in through the sands of time. Being recorded having done
something special in a medium considered by professionals at the time
as the way to preserve and archive such once in a lifetime performances.
As it turns out the oxide on the tapes from those days are vulnerable
to deterioration to the point of unlistenability.
Tapes from that era mostly have to be baked in a convection oven at a
certain temperature to even give one final playback a chance to be
copied digitally.
Sometimes the damage is so great that many blame it on the petrol
crisis from the 70's when formulas changed to save money on petroleum based recording tape. Basically, you get someone with experience to bake the tapes and prepare the tapes for one last pass accross the recording heads. You cross your fingers, thumbs, legs and everything else and hope your tapes survive the transfer over to the digital medium but you know you'll hear some high end loss somewhere at some point.

CS: How long did it take to record the album? You did it all at night
didn't you?
RW: I don't recall but I think it started January of 1978 and we
finished the mastering that spring. There was a bit of down time here
and there between the start and finish.
Yeah, we lived like vampires. The studios were best in the middle of
the night because there were no phone calls, and very little noise outside
the studios. L.A. wasn't over run by helicopters back then.

CS: Did working at night influence the feel of the work you were coming
up with?
RW: Well, it did turn out to be a kind of "dark album" if that's what
you mean. Even "Wrong Way Round" has its sinister undertones with Ian
Dury singing on it.

CS: As a collaboration, how did you go about coming up with the songs?
Was it Hugh bringing ideas for songs to you, riffs, lyrics etc and then
you working out your bits or was it a case of jamming in the studio and
bouncing ideas off each other?
RW: We both brought ideas to each other. It was for the most part an
equal collaboration. I played more instruments but Hugh came up with
most of the lyrics. We found and utilized our strengths early into the
project.

CS: Can you tell us what was YOU and what was Hugh? Obviously
percussion was all you, but you played other stuff as well didn't you? Any lyrics yours?
RW: I wrote and sang the title track, Nosferatu. As far as instruments
go, there are too many to list but in addition to drums and varied
percussion, I played bass and keyboards. Hugh played most of the guitar
parts, but also bass, and keyboards.
Some of the percussion I played included marimba, tubular bells, tuned
roto toms (Wrong Way 'Round), waterphone ( a stainless steel vase
shaped thing with a large surface base. The 'vessel' is containing
about an eighth of an inch of water that one turns slowly as one strikes or
bows it with a violin bow. It's a very haunting sound and is used in
combination with Ian Underwood's (Zappa keyboardist) Oberheim
Synthesizer during the intro of Irate Caterpillar. Irate Caterpillar is
my favorite song on the album but that's because I was given a chance
to stretch out musically rather that suffer the usual restraint from
most projects, sans Beefheart. Beefheart used the drums like a brand
new paintbrush.

CS: So how did Ian Dury and Mark Mothersbaugh put their bits down? Did
they come over to the studio or was it done elsewhere and then they'd send it over?
RW: I produced both of those sessions while Hugh was away fulfilling
Stranglers commitments. It was simple, Hugh told me to tell Ian to do
a Fairground barker and Mark Mothersbaugh brought in some lyrics he'd had a while and just fit them in. Both verses that Mark sings are identical.
We made a copy of his vocal and flew it in on the end bit, which had
no vocal. That's easy to do now with computers but back then there was
considerable skill needed. The interesting thing is that the first
verse is in 6/8 time and the last verse is in 4/4.

CS: Other than the songs that made it onto the album, were there any
other songs that were left over and never saw the light of day?
RW: No, otherwise we might have added some bonus tracks to the reissued CD.

CS: Which track, for you, defines the album?
RW: Probably "Losers in a Lost Land."

CS: As an outsider to the world of The Stranglers, how did you view the
way Hugh worked and collaborated with “anotherâ€
Last edited by raveninblack on 19 Sep 2005, 19:22, edited 2 times in total.
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theraven1979
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Post by theraven1979 » 18 Sep 2005, 17:16

Well done Carl - fantastic


Jim
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It taught me how to laugh again"

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Post by ThruBeingCool » 18 Sep 2005, 17:43

Yeah, excellent work. First time I've heard RW's version of events re-Nosferatu.

Never realised he provided the vocals for 'Nosferatu' (the song) - always thought it was Hugh.

Very interesting piece indeed & worthy of a B.U.T pdf article.

Nice one!

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Post by gizzard » 18 Sep 2005, 17:50

Nice work Carl!

:grin:
''I THINK THE STRANGLERS ARE CRIMINALLY VULGAR, VIOLENT AND VORACIOUS, AND I OFTEN WONDER HOW THEY GET AWAY WITH IT.''

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Post by Dom P » 18 Sep 2005, 19:42

Cool. He sounds a bit sarky... was he like that? Or is it just the way his answers look in print?
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Post by theraven1979 » 18 Sep 2005, 19:48

I've exchanged a handful of emails with him and got a similar impression - He has a bit of an edge about him I reckon. Nothing wrong with that.

Jim
Dom P wrote:Cool. He sounds a bit sarky... was he like that? Or is it just the way his answers look in print?
"I bathed in sun and walked in rain
It taught me how to laugh again"

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Post by adriana » 18 Sep 2005, 19:49

Thinking ahead, one pdf could be devoted to Nosferatu, Euroman, Fire and water etc.

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theraven1979
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Post by theraven1979 » 18 Sep 2005, 19:54

Or a roll call of missing collaborators and what they are up to now


Jim

adriana wrote:Thinking ahead, one pdf could be devoted to Nosferatu, Euroman, Fire and water etc.
"I bathed in sun and walked in rain
It taught me how to laugh again"

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doninblack
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Post by doninblack » 19 Sep 2005, 14:40

Good one, Carl. Very interesting.

Did Jim pay your expenses for a trip to LA for this?

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Post by raveninblack » 19 Sep 2005, 19:26

doninblack wrote:Good one, Carl. Very interesting.

Did Jim pay your expenses for a trip to LA for this?

I WISH!!!!

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Post by theraven1979 » 19 Sep 2005, 20:13

Mind you we did consider flying over at one point


Jim
raveninblack wrote:
doninblack wrote:Good one, Carl. Very interesting.

Did Jim pay your expenses for a trip to LA for this?

I WISH!!!!

:grin:
"I bathed in sun and walked in rain
It taught me how to laugh again"

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Post by adriana » 20 Sep 2005, 08:21

Excellent interview, I think that just about answers any of the questions that occured to me. No extra tracks then.... that's a great shame.

Mr Williams certainly comes across as a bit of a character.

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