William Bennett interview by Judith Howard (originally published at williambennett.blogspot.com) - February 2007
Judith Howard: Firstly, before getting on to the new material, last time around we didn't get a chance to talk about Asceticists 2006. A year later, how do you now feel about its impact?
William Bennett: Very positively. I mean, when these things come out it's very difficult to tell, especially when you start messing about with new sounds - you need time to reflect upon whether they really work, and when you've just recorded the songs you seldom have that luxury of being able to sit on it to find out. In many ways, although many of the ingredients on A2006 were already present on other albums, now we feel ready to charge through some of the new doors it's opened in terms of sounds and words.
JH: So, in what way the sounds for example?
WB: Well, there are much more clearly now acoustic elements to the music - which kind of contradicts the description (even in our own FAQ!) of being an electronic band but, as I've often stated, we've never been dogmatic about means to ends; or too concerned about alarming the old-schoolers. The one rule that was applied to A2006 which was in keeping with the conceptual approach, and it's something that has in fact always been adhered to, is that there is no gesture towards convention, towards pre-established ways of doing things. I felt that if, for instance, percussion - or even melody of a sort - was going to be used, it would have to be done in a way that presupposed that percussion (or melody) hadn't yet somehow even been invented.
JH: Is this what you've mentioned before in connection with your notion of 'asceticism'?
WB: Yes, very much so. Also when I've referred to minimalist art. For me, the emotional charge comes from the denial, from not doing something that could quite easily be done. It's a very powerful concept that has the potential to overwhelm the senses through sublimation. A simple mainstream example might be in the film In The Mood For Love where there isn't even a kiss between the leading protagonists yet the electricity and intensity is palpable throughout. And of course there are many potential applications for this which are predicated on there being something to deny in the first place, and naturally that's the really difficult part.
JH: How do you stop it from being merely frustrating or tantalising?
WB: Because at the same time you're also delivering and heavily gratifying in other ways, and that's all happening on an unconscious level. Now, we're just talking about sound here, because when you add the words, and the filter of the artwork, and also the context of the work itself (in terms of people's already established associations with what you do), it can be really fucking mind-blowing when you get it right. It has the potential to break right through and take you out the other side.
JH: Would another example of this be the Dogme films by Lars Von Trier and others?
WB: Yes, an excellent example. In fact, although it isn't considered a Dogme film as such, Trier's masterpiece The Five Obstructions is almost a moral tale on how well this - what I refer to as 'asceticist' - principle has the potential to work. And it's only when you first get it that you realise how much you can really transform.
JH: Moving on to this new album, can you tell us a bit about the title 'Racket'?
WB: Well, I think there is the obvious reference to the music itself - a couple of years ago I heard some old-school noisers using the word to refer to music they didn't like and found it deliciously ironic, and perhaps a measure of how utterly staid 'noise' has become over the last decade or so - a genre so bound by convention at times it beggars belief. Getting back to the album title, it also has a second and third, more personal and psychological meaning that will become apparent after hearing the music.
JH: OK, I won't press you on that - some of these song titles are intriguing, can you say anything about the songs themselves?
WB: Yes, there are seven songs altogether of which four feature vocals. Of these I sing on Dyad, Philip on Bahnhof and Mouthy Battery Beast; and Dumping More Fucking Rubbish is a new much-expanded version of the song from A2006; that is, much longer, completely re-recorded, and with some other lyrics that didn't make it onto the original. The remaining three are instrumentals.
JH: What about this much talked-about third part to Cut Hands Has The Solution and Killing Hurts Give You The Secrets?
WB: That would be Pains Part Of The Dilemma which for various reasons is not going to be included on this particular album, I hope there'll be a chance to release it soon however.
JH: There's talk of other projects for you and Philip Best this year?
WB: Philip is also working on some new Consumer Electronics work (in addition to the Nobody's Ugly vinyl coming out on No Fun next month). As far as I'm concerned, it's really going to be an exceptionally busy year: in addition to finalising Racket and preparing each edition of the Whitehouse Vinyl Series Collection, there's another very exciting new musical project that I'm involved with getting ready to roll out starting this summer.
JH: You're being rather coy...
WB: (laughs) All will be revealed in due course I promise! In fact it's anticipated for there to be at least 3 volumes of this new project this year and it's something I've been building up to doing for a long time.
JH: Something I wanted to ask you about is a controversy I've noticed that has arisen in recent years regarding your pretty hard attitudes to bootlegs and piracy. Perhaps you could clarify where you stand on the issue?
WB: Essentially, regardless of what is said, for me this issue is not one of finance or even copyright ownership so much as one of artistic autonomy. We're not part of some big powerful capitalist partnership label, it's just a small operation and it's why it's so imperative that everything is done through Susan Lawly - rather than accepting all the kind offers that are often made to us. It's the only way to make sure the material is of a consistently high standard and represented as it was intended by ourselves. There really aren't many labels or artists who can exercise that degree of integrity, and I tend to think most people totally appreciate that. Seeing those horrendously poor quality Heemann pirates punted around used to really upset me for this very reason, and it's not like they were ever for any other reason than to make a quick unseemly buck. I've been told that Ron Lessard gets all snotty about this, and he's entitled to his opinion, if he wants to encourage people to bootleg stuff then that's his business, but it's definitely not my style - I passionately believe in what we do and I want it to come out exactly the way it's intended by us, and for people to know that's exactly what they're getting with any Susan Lawly item.
JH: OK, that makes sense. Will Whitehouse albums be available for legal downloads? I noticed even Nurse With Wound and similar going down that path.
WB: There are no plans for that at present because I still believe in the artistic and kinesthetic value of a real item - the artwork, the presentation, the lyrics, the vinyl or disc itself, to me they all form part of the experience. I think this is one of the main reasons why vinyl is so stubbornly refusing to disappear, it still is the best way to experience music, as opposed to merely listen to music.
JH: Do you still listen to music on vinyl?
WB: Absolutely! And that is the principle motive for initiating the Vinyl Series Collection, something I'm really excited about on a personal level. In fact, I'm going use this excuse to treat myself to a shiny new deck.
JH: Away from the music slightly, in recent months you've started your own blog, you've also set up MySpace and YouTube accounts - perhaps you could tell us a bit about this development?
WB: Each one was set up for different motives really. As far as MySpace is concerned, after speaking to some people at some of the shows last year it dawned on me that MySpace was where people look for information, like concert and release schedules, for the band - bypassing official sites. Furthermore, there seems also to be a new generation of people that use these social networking sites for most of their communication - email almost being secondary - so overall it seemed a good idea to establish a presence there even though on a personal level I find the experience quite a hassle to manage. I've also come into contact with some great individuals there who I'd otherwise never have known.
JH: You mean on a personal level or for music?
WB: Actually for both.
JH: And the blog?
WB: The blog was set up on a complete whim and I've found it a lot more fun than I'd have ever expected - my initial feeling was one of what the hell am I actually going to say! It's even quite therapeutic when you've got something to get off your chest to no-one in particular; and I think the practice of regular writing helps keep your thoughts active and provoked, just as I always enjoy reading others' responses or comments.
JH: How about YouTube?
WB: Well, YouTube is very useful for the label for storing clips of archived video footage online for people to see because we were rapidly running out of space at the official site anyway.
JH: Finally, I know you've been doing talks and seminars, can you tell us how you think this fits into your work?
WB: Doing talks is something I really enjoy on a personal level, it seems to come quite naturally, and I know with that crazy music it's hard for many people to reconcile it with the human being. That's something I accept as part of the territory, and at times have even encouraged, nevertheless there's a definite value to providing a clearer framework to the thought processes and ideas and motivations; I was always a bit afraid of demystifying, and now on the contrary, I've learned that there are in fact useful ways of making certain aspects of one's work explicit, or discussing or sharing one's specialist interests, that can further enhance the experience and I think without in any way losing any of the magic.
©2007 Susan Lawly - this interview may be freely used in part or in full for copying or publication.
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