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Interview

Graham Williams Recalls Working with Danzig, FFF 2013 Lineup and Booking Future Artists

Photo of Danzig

Band Photo: Danzig (?)

Since 2006, Fun Fun Fun Fest (FFF) has given the people of Austin, Texas a reason to cheer, laugh, sing, dance, mosh and play air guitar. While not as prolific as ACL (Austin City Limits) or as expansive as SXSW, which covers most of the city, Fun Fun Fun Fest is unique in the entertainment it offers.

Although every year presents plenty of heavy acts, Napalm Death, Tomahawk, Municipal Waste and Pallbearer are scheduled on this year's Black Stage on November 2-4, there are times when distorted guitars are absent. These moments are best served taking in a comedian’s act, riding a mechanical bull, playing video games or simply discovering a new band. Metal heads with wrist bands in need of further straining their neck tendons can attend a FFF Nites show for free and throw their horns to bands such as Brutal Truth.

Last year’s installment brought in Danzig, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Eyehategod and many other loud and extreme artists. Danzig’s set was dubbed “Danzig Legacy” because he performed shorts sets of all of his bands—Danzig, Samhain and Misfits. However, the festival was forced to cut his set short soon after launching into the Misfit’s segment. His reaction caused FFF co-owner Graham Williams to blog about the fiasco, which went viral on the Internet.

Since our article containing William's comments on working with Danzig became Metal Underground.com's most read article of the year, we figure we should ask Williams a few questions concerning this debacle. Additionally, he commented on the history of FFF, his criteria for booking artists, this year’s big surprises and what artists he hopes to secure for future festivals.

Darren Cowan (Rex_84): When do you start booking for FFF? Does this start immediately after the festival?

Graham Williams: Pretty much. We’re kinda always working on it, but it picks up after we wrap up each year and more so end of the year/early following year. We also do a good amount of booking right after SXSW, as there are always new bands in town that we get to see over that week and add them to FFF if they’re available. I saw Danny Brown and a few others during SXSW and I just had to get on Fun Fun Fun.

Cowan: Who are some of the local bands playing this year’s festival?

Williams: There are bunch. Not just Austin locals, but other Texas area bands like Powertrip and A.Dd+ from Dallas. From here there are a lot—some big ones like Black Angels, Octopus Project, The Sword and the like, but lots of great newer bands that are kind of up and coming or maybe just not as known to many of the FFF regulars: Fleshlites,Golden Boys, The Young, Love Inks, Orthy, 100 Visions, Ume and many others. And man, like dozens of local comedians on the Yellow Stage.

Cowan: You mentioned in an interview with ATX magazine that you don’t want to book certain artists because they will water down the festival. You used The Red Hot Chili Peppers as an example. With four stages, a wide-assortment of musical styles and other things such as mechanical bull riding for entertainment, what do you consider the flavor of your festival?

Williams: It’s hard to say. Not to oversimplify it, but it’s just fun. It’s everything cool. It started when I booked this club Emo's for a long time. It’s kinda sad, as it’s changed a lot in the last few years and become something different than it was, but years ago, when I was working there and started FFF, I kept a careful balance of everything progressive. What independent music was all about. It, mostly stemmed from punk, but wasn’t just one things. There are a ton of different kinds of bands on Sub Pop Records, Matador or whatever. Most of the labels, blogs, zines aren’t just one genre. Not that that’s bad and many are (even big ones like Pitchfork tend to lean indie rock), but I liked the idea that a venue or a fest could be more like a cool record store, rather than one person’s specific record collection. Like people could go check out a hip hop act and then watch a hardcore band or comedian at the same show, my iPod on shuffle, basically. In the end, you have all these people with varied taste, coming to the fest, but you also have all these people that are just into one stage (black/metal-punk, blue/ hip hop-dj/electro, orange/indie, yellow/comedy, etc) and that works too. It’s all the same scene. And more often than not, people come to see certain bands, but end up watching others and finding out about new music.

Cowan: Do you look for artists that have a cross-culture appeal such as Brian Pohsehn?

Williams: Sort of. I really just look for acts that are cool and hit our audience. There are tons of progressive, edgier comics performing these days. It’s different than before, so you can book comics that get what we’re doing and appeal to FFF fans. I mean, I’d never book Jeff Dunham or Larry the Cable guy or a 100 other comics that are just telling jokes that people eat up with no real substance or thought behind them. It’s just like music and booking someone like Muse or Black Eyed Peas. There’s lots of crappy mainstream stuff and we try and avoid that. As opposed to cross cultural, I’d say we’re looking for sub-cultural artist or something like that. If you mean from stage to stage, then there is a little of that (different audiences like Black Lips, Superchunk, Public Enemy or David Cross), but again, I like to think, it happens by default and we don’t have to search for it too much. Good music/comedy is just good.

Cowan: Dead Horse, Danzig, Eyehategod, Slayer all mesh punk with metal. Who are some of the bands capable of crossing over genre lines this year?

Graham: Hmmm…from the Black Stage or in general? From that audience, Refused would be the biggest, lots of indie types liked them after they broke up and still do, in addition to hardcore kids. Same with Against Me! maybe and some older acts like X, Turbonegro or even Seaweed. Same with other stages, though. Santigold is liked by hip hop and dance kids as much as indie rockers. Explosion in the Sky are liked by indie kids and Neurosis/Isis fans. Run DMC is liked by everyone. The comedians are usually liked by all, pretty good amount, actually.

Cowan: One of the bands with a crossover appeal is Turbonegro. Is this their first show in the States? Please tell our readers about booking them and how you view their art?

Graham: No, they’ve played the states a bunch. They broke up for awhile about, I wanna say like 8 years ago, got back together and did a tour with QOTSA and then a couple records on Epitaph. Then got a new singer. They’ve only done a few US shows with the new line up, but all reports are great.

Cowan: Run DMC is the biggest surprise this year. Were they a hard act to snag? When did you find out they reunited. Did you have to chase them around for a while before they consented to play?

Graham: Yeah it was a shocker for us, too. It totally happened out of the blue. We were wracking our brains trying to think of or find that perfect stand-out band this year with not a lot of luck. I came across their name on a roster of bands for an agency we work with and I thought it must be a mistake or maybe they just had them listed for like licensing for commercials or something, as they broke up after Jam Master Jay died. I called the agent and he said he had a meeting with them and with the 10-year anniversary of Jay’s death, they thought it would be the right time. They hadn’t played any shows yet either, so it made it more special than if they were just touring through and playing the whole country.

Cowan: Pallbearer played SXSW and Chaos in Tejas this year. Did you know about this band before these festivals? Did you arrange their playing at one of these festivals?

Williams: I actually missed them at SXSW and Chaos (Timmy who books Chaos is friends with them, so I’d heard good things), but had been reading good reviews and the songs I’d heard online were great. They’re from like Arkansas or Oklahoma or somewhere, so it’s not too far a drive to come down and play FFF.

Cowan: FFF primarily features national, touring acts, but you also give the green light to local acts. What are your criteria for booking local acts?

Williams: It’s really tough. We usually have 2-3 locals per stage, per day, not counting comics, which is another like 20 on it’s own, but it’s definitely not the majority of the booking, I’ll admit. Touring bands are the biggest ticket sellers and what people get the most excited about, since they can see locals more often. Not to say they aren’t an important part of the festival, but obviously not the main focus. How I pick them is also tough, as there are SO many great bands from Texas. Our list of bands to play each year is massive and can only fit so many. FFF Nites has made it easier to get more bands involved, though. How we pick them is just based on our taste and if the bands have been working hard in town and doing well. We book all year at a number of venues, so we see and hear a lot of bands and tend to have a good idea of who to work with each year based on that.

Cowan: This year the Fun never stops with FFF nights. I don’t recall this option being part of the festival last year. When did you develop this idea and what do you hope it accomplishes for your festival?

Williams: We did it last year, but it was a bit smaller and announced later. We just want it to be an extension of the fest. Most fests try and cash in on after shows and double charge the customer/festival goer. We want our fans to get more out of their ticket and get to keep having fun after the park closes. Plus you can’t see every band, but this gives you a chance to see someone you might have missed, since some bands play both FFF day and FFF nites. Or a super fan can see someone twice. Also, there are a ton of bands, touring and local, that we can’t fit in the schedule in the day, but have more room at night, so they get to play that instead.

Cowan: In 2011, the Black Stage featured punk rock and hardcore (The Damned, Negative Approach) on Saturday and metal (Eyehategod, Cannibal Corpse) on Sunday. Did you intentionally set it this way or was this coincidence? Did you set up the Black Stage in a similar, thematic way this year?

Williams: Not at all. If you look back there is plenty of metal/punk/hc on all the days….just some of the larger acts happened to land on certain days….like Slayer and Cannibal Corpse happened to need the Sunday and The Damned needed the Saturday, etc. I purposely avoid doing all of one genre on any one day. I want people to come all weekend and see all the different bands and discover new music. The point of the fest is to bring it all together and not divide it, so I try to avoid that. If I see a day getting toc punk heavy, I’ll make sure to mix it up in the schedule.

Cowan: FFF has featured a variety of metal styles such as thrash, death metal and grind; however, I haven’t seen many black metal bands on your bills. Do you plan on bringing in more black metal artists?

Williams: I do. We just haven’t gotten offered it. I was REALLY close to locking in Venom this year, as far as old school black metal goes, but it didn’t work out last minute. There is that fine line with black metal between cheezy and awesome. So you have to not get stuck in that booking world where I get the more novelty BM acts and all that. I’d book Emperor and a number of other acts if they asked or if they were available. Mayhem, even without the original line up, would be cool. There are tons of smaller, more obscure cool black metal acts too. Hopefully, we’ll have some more of then in the future.

Cowan: The Danzig fiasco certainly caused you a headache; however, your comments on working with Danzig went viral the next day. Did the results of his actions help bring greater awareness to your festival?

Williams: In a weird way. At first, we didn’t want to say anything, take the high road and all, but there was this backlash online that day and night and people were buying his BS, so I had to say something, just to explain what happened on Facebook and shut up these people. He was soooo full of shit. He’s been kind of a joke for a long time, but one we all love. He’s like Metallica…sad but true (no pun intended), like classic songs we all love, but totally lame now as a person. He’s an emperor not wearing clothes, surrounded by all these yes-men, so he has no idea. It’s sad, because he wrote some of the best music around, but his diva-ness is catching up to him. He had a melt down at Bonnaroo shortly after FFF fest, actually.

Cowan: Danzig thought he was the biggest celebrity at the festival, but that honor went to Ryan Gosling. Besides the entertainers working the show, will there be more celebrity sightings at the 2012 installment?

Williams: [laughs] True, except Gosling was totally cool with no attitude. Shit, Gosling’s band is even better than Danzig’s music these days (they’re on anti/Epitaph, called Old Man Bones…kinda gothy, Tom Waits stuff). Probably. There are always a few. I like to think we're the anti-hero fest and that stuff doesn’t matter, but kids do like to tweet about it. I think it was just more surreal than when you see Drew Berrymore walk by at ACL or somewhere. They were shooting a movie from stage, so he was always on stage and in everyone’s view. I think they might shoot more of it this year, so likely. Terrance Malick takes like five years to make a movie, so maybe they’ll be there every year. I was more stoked to see Blake [Anderson] from Workaholics, one of my favorite shows, there. He’s a huge Slayer fan, he said.

Cowan: In a video interview, you mentioned Danzig having the power to punch a sound guy at a club, but not at a large festival like yours. I heard he assaulted someone with The Murder City Devils. Can you verify this and explain why he became so irate on stage?

Williams: He assaulted a few people, included Timmy Hefner, who runs Chaos in Tejas (and was stage managing), but that was actually his giant, fat-body guard that got up in Gabe from Murder City Devils' face, during their set and tried to kick everyone off the stage.

Cowan: You were forced to cut Danzig’s set because there is a 10 PM curfew. Why do you have to end the festival at such an early time?

Williams: Austin has crazy-strict rules on noise. Everything is zoned a certain way. Parks is 10pm sharp or you lose your ability to continue doing events. This was Friday and we weren’t about to let the city cancel Saturday and Sunday because Danzig was being a bitch. Keep in mind, his set time was 8:15 (giving him 90 minutes to end at 9:45, with 15 minutes fall back, in case things got behind). He was there the whole time and just refused to get on stage. His band was ready and in make up/costume/whatever silly stuff they had going on. They were ready to play and he just wouldn’t. Had a million excuses mainly that he was too sick, but we repeatedly told him that we were going to have to cut the set short. We asked them to cut some songs out to fit the Misfits/Samantha part, but they didn’t give a shit. He wasn’t planning on playing at all and made that very clear, so they were just going to get it over with. I think once he saw the crowd and got going, he probably decided he wasn’t going to bail half way through and they tried to do the Misfits set after all, but it was too late. Again, when he landed that morning from LA he immediately got on the phone with his manager and said he didn’t feel like playing that night and to book him a flight back. We were shocked we even got that much out of him. It was a full day of begging and waiting on him to get him to even come to the park.

Cowan: Last year, southern Texas experienced a disastrous drought. Most of the grass in Auditorium Shores was dead. Because there was no grass, the wind picked up the park’s dirt and hurled into the faces of the festival’s attendees. Fortunately, we’ve received plenty of rain this year, so the dust shouldn’t be a problem. Is there a way, though, that you can prevent this from happening at future shows or should people coming out make a greater effort to brave the elements (we used handkerchiefs over our face)?

Williams: Yeah it was a nightmare. Friday wasn’t bad and Sunday it rained that morning, so it was fine, but Saturday was a dust bowl. This year is amazing. The grass is thick and green. The city has stepped up since this and another event were so bad. They’ve been watering and planting seed, as well as have a long term plan to turn it into Zilker Park grass, so this won’t be an issue ever again. Parks had kinda let this park go, as there were so many other projects and only so many city funds, but this is their big focus now, so pretty excited about how it will look from here on out, particularly in 2013.

Cowan: Do you have a list of your favorite bands you would like to see on the festival? If so, how many of those bands have played?

Williams: This year? There is a ton. Youth of Today, Seaweed, Superchunk, Run DMC, David Cross, Hannibal Burress, Converge, x doing "Los Angeles," Refused (though I’ve seen them twice this year and once back in the day, so if I miss em, I’ll live), The Briefs, Pil, Promise Ring, I’ve been wanting to see Santigold's new live show, Danny Brown, Charli XCX, De La Soul is always great live and a bunch of others, too.

Cowan: What bands do you hope will play the festival in the future?

Williams: Man, that list is crazy! I’d like to get Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Cure, always wanted Iron Maiden, but they cost waaaayyyy too much for us or so I’ve been told, longshots like Fugazi, but not holding breath. Arcade Fire if we could ever afford it and tons of smaller old and reunion bands that seem unlikely to get like Jawbreaker, Born Against and Judge. This list could go on for years and hopefully will!

Rex_84's avatar

An avid metal head for over twenty years, Darren Cowan has written for several metal publications and attended concerts throughout various regions of the U.S.

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