Guitarist Wes Borland Talks About The New Album From Black Light Burns
Wes Borland is best known as the eccentric guitarist for rap metal outfit Limp Bizkit, but he also splits his time as the frontman for Black Light Burns. The band released the well-received “Cruel Melody” in 2007. After a few years on hiatus, the band is gearing up to release their sophomore effort, “The Moment You Realize You're Going To Fall.” A heavier affair compared to their debut album, distorted bass and an abrasive guitar sound drives most of the songs. I had the chance to speak to Borland about the band starting up again, writing in isolation, and the differences between touring with Black Light Burns and Limp Bizkit.
The band was on hiatus for a bit of time while you focused on other projects, like Limp Bizkit. Were you always writing for the band during this hiatus, or did you set it aside until the time was right to bring it back?
You know what, most of the record was written in ’08 and ’09 and recorded during that time as well. I’ve been sitting on this for three years just waiting to get a break to put it out. With no break in sight, I kind of just went, ‘You know what? I’m going to wrap up the album, tweak a few things that I’ve been hearing that bother me, and put it out this year and pull double-duty for whatever would be going on, because I can’t wait anymore.’ The stuff was starting to get old to me, and I wanted to still have a fresh feeling of some kind for it.
What kind of stuff did you tweak when you went back through this material before you released it?
A couple of the things were just adding one more small instrumental part, adding a little noise that ramped up to a chorus, putting a backing vocal on; just little things that after listening to it for a couple of years I thought needed to be added before I finished it. It’s like tiny icing on the cake.
You mentioned that you recorded “The Moment You Realize You're Going To Fall” three years ago. Was there any concern that the time away would hurt the band’s chances after building an audience with “Cruel Melody”? Were you concerned this audience wouldn’t return because of the time away?
I’m not really concerned. I’m basically expecting to go out on tour in September and play to no one, because that’s how it was a lot of the time when we were touring in ’07 and ’09. Sometimes we had great gigs where there were 300 people there, and sometimes we played for...I think the worst was 18 people in Odessa, Texas. That’s where we went, ‘Okay, let’s make the best of it.’ I do these records for myself, and for the people who are still fans of the band. Unfortunately, there was a long hiatus while I was doing other things. That’s sort of the hand that I’ve been dealt, and I just have to make the best with what I have.
You mentioned previously that this is a very personal album for you. Where did these feelings emerge from when you sat down to write this album?
Let me put this in perspective. It’s a very personal record for me in comparison to the first record, which I had a lot of help on from Danny Lohner from Nails (Nine Inch Nails), who was producing it. I had a lot of collaborations with outside artists and a lot of different people playing on it, but this one, I recorded it mostly in solitary. I wasn’t getting help from hardly anyone, and most of the songs were not only written, but recorded, completely in isolation and without any outside help. So it’s a personal record because it’s Black Light Burns, but I’m the only one to blame for this (laughs), in a way. It’s just me. If you love it or you hate it, I don’t have anyone else to point the finger at.
How much of a unique experience was it for you to be in this self-imposed isolation when you were writing this album?
Over the years, working with a band, where I am writing songs in a room or even writing with one other person in the studio, I’ve more and more gotten annoyed by that in some ways. I guess I’ve gotten more of a hermit, where I don’t actually like to work with people a lot of the time. I feel more comfortable just not having to even speak and get more cerebral in the studio, to where I’m not having to communicate ideas and convince other people to what I’m doing. It takes a huge piece of the process that is to me at this point, with Black Light Burns, is completely unnecessary to have there. I can completely confine myself, be on my own, and not deal with anyone going, ‘Hmm, I don’t know if that’s a good idea.’ So I can think, ‘I don’t care if that’s a good idea or not. That’s what I’m doing now. I’m going to pursue this road until its end and be done with it.’
Did you have these type of feelings when you were collaborating with the people on “Cruel Melody”? Did you feel that having all these ears around you took away from the music?
I don’t think so. “Cruel Melody” was kind of a learning process for me. Danny Lohner is a really good vocal producer, and I never recorded a record as a singer before. He was honing me and going, ‘No, what you’re doing sounds terrible. Do it like this. Try singing it in an accent.’ It was all these different techniques he was trying to turn me into a singer. Touring really helped a lot because I was put in the position of having to do it every night on stage. Danny gave me the chops to begin with, but I got better at it being on tour. Working with all these other people helped a lot. I learned a lot from them and really tried to pay attention to the guest vocalists and the things they were doing when they sang. After touring “Cruel Melody” for a long time and going through that process, I was ready to do a record without any interference and just be on my own. It was so much easier recording this record. Having all that under my belt just made it super easy.
Do you feel like you are getting more comfortable as a vocalist as the time goes on, or do you feel you still have a lot to learn about that?
I don’t have that great of a voice and I’ve been given certain things to work with. I had to pursue what my strengths are and how I can make expressive noise with my vocal cords that somehow works in the song. I’m pretty limited as a vocalist. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with it, and pretty used to what I’m able to do. Now I’ve pretty comfortable with what I have to work with, I would say.
Being the guitarist for both Limp Bizkit and Black Light Burns, how do you know when a riff or guitar melody better fits one band over the other?
With Black Light Burns, what I try to do is, especially on this record, I wanted to make a record that was heavy, but stayed away from a metal sound. Use guitars that were in the vein of Telecasters...that had a rockier tone and put most of the heaviness in the bass. I had the massively distorted bass with these rowdy guitars playing along with it, where Limp Bizkit the guitar tone is more metal.
Were there any clear-cut inspirations musically that fueled the heavier style of music on “The Moment You Realize You're Going To Fall”?
Well, for the bass tone, there’s two bands that come to mind. One is Lightning Bolt and the other one is Death From Above 1979. They have these massive, Marshall-stacked distorted sounds that as soon as I heard those two bands just loved the tone of their bass, especially Death From Above. I would say the other side of it is the guitars and bass from The Jesus Lizard; super heavy with some melodic and windier riffs and more Telecaster-y. Obviously, Nails, Ministry, a little bit of Queens Of The Stone Age as far as guitar tones. I love bands like Unsane and Helmet. I was really trying to go heavy without the metal, I guess.
Since there was a three-year delay between the finish of the album and its release, do you have the same feelings about the material three years ago that you have now, or as time passed, have you had different feelings?
I’ve had the same feelings always. The songs I was locked into them then, and I sort of put that part of my mind on pause. I tried not to listen to it too much. So every time I came back to it, I would go, ‘Oh okay, I’m still into this. I still think this is a good representation of what I want to put across.’ Somehow, the whole Black Light Burns part of me was frozen for three years, and I came right back into it and started again, no problem.
Do you see Black Light Burns going on hiatus again and waiting until the moment is right to work on new material, or do you hope to keep the band around for a while?
I certainly hope to keep the band around without anymore hiatuses. I would like to actively be pursuing it, whether the next release is an EP or just something to keep it going and active. The main thing that is a problem with Black Light Burns becomes the touring. I’m on the hook for so much Limp Bizkit touring that I don’t get to go out a lot. The next Black Light Burns release might be something like an EP with a video for every song on the EP or something like that. There’s still a presence, but it’s not necessarily a live or touring presence.
I’ve read reports that Black Light Burns is going to tour with Limp Bizkit, and that you are going to pull double-duty. Has that been confirmed?
That has not been confirmed, but basically whenever Limp Bizkit does a U.S. tour, whenever that actually happens, we are going to open up. We’ll see what happens. I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s always been something that’s been a dream for me, to play two sets. A lot of people freak out and go, ‘How in the world are you going to do that?’ I go, ‘No, look. 35 minutes with Black Light, then there will be a band in-between, I can take a break, and then it’ll be an hour-and-a-half of Bizkit.’ Of the many show I’ve played, I’ve always felt like I could go for an hour more, whenever we walked off the stage. I’ve always thought, ‘Yeah, I can keep going. This is awesome!’ It’ll be zero problem.
Do you psych yourself up differently for a Black Light Burns show and a Limp Bizkit show?
Bizkit has a lot more theatrics, as far as my costuming goes. I’m wearing crazy stuff and usually there’s a mass amount of make-up and masks and LED lighting and whatever retarded, stupid things I’ve decided to wear for the evening. Black Light is more scaled down. I’m a little more natural on stage than I am in Limp Bizkit. I still get psyched up to do it, and I’m sure some of the elements are the same, but Black Light Burns tours are a lot more work than Limp Bizkit tours. Bizkit tours, we have a crew and buses and it’s no problem. I have a tech and they are easy. Black Light is just the four of us in a van and trailer. We’re playing six shows in a row every week and doing all the work. It’s more of a deep plunge into the world of rock, I guess. I’m selling merch and tour managing and I’m busy all the time. I’m always psyched up during a Black Light Burns tour, but with Bizkit, I have to get psyched up more.
Going out on tour with Black Light Burns and having to do all the stuff on your own, compared to people helping you out, did that give you a different perspective on being in a band?
Oh sure. I think it’s really important. I hope that all bands that are massively successful, that the people in those bands should do side stuff like that and go back to a van and tour like that. It’s humbling and it makes you hungrier for it. It sort of reignites the fires of desire, to go, ‘I really want this. I really love this and I’ll do this no matter what. I would kill to do this.’ No matter what circumstances I’m put in, no matter how hard I have to work, this is still the best job in the world. It’s fun for me. I enjoy the drives. There’s something about going out and setting up your own gear on stage before going out to play, laughing with the crowd before you get started, that makes it seem more home and fun, in a way, compared to walking out to an intro and playing an opening song. When we do it in Black Light, we ease into it. We don’t make a big boom on stage. We just come out and start talking to people and setting stuff up, and go, ‘Oh, we’re ready? Let’s get started.’ After the show is over, I walk off the stage, into the crowd, and straight back to the merch booth. There’s no separation, so that’s pretty cool.
If you had it your way, theoretically of course, would you have this band as your main project? Because you seem so enthusiastic about the behind the scenes stuff and going out on tour and being not a huge rockstar.
I would love for it to be bigger than it is going to be or than it is. I think my expectations are low for what it’s going to do and the impact that it’s going to have. I feel like I won by just putting another record out. That’s a big achievement for me, so I’m already super happy with it. Bizkit is a completely different thing. I feel like if Black Light became my main venture, that I would miss the Bizkit shows for some reason. Black Light shows are fun and everything, but Bizkit shows are more like a party in some aspects. There’s a little more humor and light-hearted fun stuff that happens during Bizkit shows that I would miss. Is it too much to ask for both? (laughs) It’s a ying and yang thing to me. I like having both of them in my life because it lets me put out completely different...sometimes, I like not being the frontman and I just want to be the alien guitar player that doesn’t speak and gets to just play guitar and hang out and be insane and throw shit on stage. That’s comforting to me, and I would be sad to lose that and just be the frontman all the time.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
I would kind of want to tour with Ministry, just to see that Al Jourgensen thing go down. I just saw “Fix” and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s a train wreck. It’s insane. It’s an inside perspective on Jourgensen and Ministry. I think one of the quotes for the DVD was, ‘Are you sure Al wants this coming out?’ I would like to tour with Ministry in their prime.
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