When we spoke with Wes Borland last winter, he was fed up with Los Angeles and in the process of packing up his guitars, fiancee and cat to move across the country and start a new life in Detroit. Now he's settled in, built a studio, and released his first music post-relocation, an album called Crystal Machete. For the first time, he's released a true solo record, not a side project like Big Dumb Face or Black Light Burns, and it's easily the polar opposite of the music he's made in his best-known role as the costumed guitarist of Limp Bizkit.
We called up Borland to talk about the new album, called Crystal Machete, why he's putting Black Light Burns to rest and if he's found the peace of mind in Detroit that he wasn't getting in Los Angeles.
AllMusic: You've lived in Detroit for over a year now. Is it what you expected?
Wes Borland: It’s totally what I expected, and more. The people that I’ve met in Detroit are so awesome, and I’m becoming really good friends with them outside of just being neighbors. It’s such a refreshing change from the low-grade, constant agitation and anxiety that I had from being in Los Angeles, dealing with traffic all the time, dealing with termites in Laurel Canyon, being claustrophobic because I didn’t have enough space, paying way too much to live. All the things that I didn’t like about Los Angeles are gone out of my life now. My quality of life has gone up tremendously since moving to Detroit.
AllMusic: It seems pretty tough for people to talk themselves into leaving the big coastal cities.
Borland: People get FoMO, fear of missing out. “As soon as I leave, that’s when my big break would have come, that’s when I would have gotten this job, this project going,” they’re so afraid. That’s the way I was for so long, but when I put in perspective, “OK, who am I getting work from as far as soundtracks and movies and remixes?” they were all people I deal with through email, they’re going to do it with me online instead of me having to be there. I thought, “OK, so I did this shitty movie that I didn’t like, had a terrible experience where a guy ripped me off,” I was going through saying, “All these things that I was afraid I’d miss out on were actually miserable experiences that I won’t miss out on at all.” I had to do the math and go, “I can live anywhere and it doesn’t matter, I might as well go where I can expand and set up my studio the way I want.”
AllMusic: Did you know how much work it would take to build your studio?
Borland: I knew I had a huge room to work with, but it had not been set up for sound recording, so I knew that there was an amazing amount of carpets and acoustical panels and stuff I’d have to bring in to make it possible to get good-sounding drums and recordings. In the whole moving process, I hadn’t written or recorded anything in about a year and a half, because of having to shut down my studio in L.A., so I knew I was going to make a record the second I was done. I set up the studio knowing that I was going to make two records back to back, one of them was going to be Crystal Machete, and as soon as I was done with that we were going to start work on the second Queen Kwong record, which is my fiancee’s band. Everything I did was a very specific set of things, and I had a very strong game plan, so it didn’t take a lot of time.
AllMusic: Have you always been good at building things and using tools?
Borland: I was a sculpture major at an arts high school. So from sculpting with mixed media, wood and plaster and using power tools, and having a background in metalworking and blacksmithing and welding, I ended up being able to apply to all of those skills to home improvement and building. So in building the studio, I knew how to work all the equipment, I was familiar with all the tools, I just never done something like built a wall before. It turned out it was a lot easier than sculpting.
AllMusic: What made you decide that Crystal Machete should have your name on it instead of being a new project with a new name?
Borland: It was a record I’d thought about making for years, and one I began to attempt to make at different times, but when I wanted to make a record like that, it became another project, like Black Light Burns. I’m unofficially, kind of officially, closing the door on Black Light Burns for good, I think. Anything’s possible, but I think that I’m done with that. I just don’t feel a need to visit that project anymore. I think what I wanted to get out of it and say in it and do in it, I think that’s a wrap. With my age and how I’m feeling, as far as my level of happiness in life, my musical taste, and the amount of touring I did on Black Light was immense, and I wanted to do a project that I didn’t have to tour and would also showcase sides of me that I had never gotten to clearly show before.
AllMusic: What was the idea that started you working on the record?
Borland: It was making a soundtrack to a movie, like I sort of did on the last Black Light record, Lotus Island, which was an alternate soundtrack to The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky. I thought Lotus Island was cool but it missed the mark as far as the production value, and as far as being an example of what I was doing on some of the films that I worked on, musically, I thought it was not representing that well. A lot of times, after I make a record, I really don’t want to hear it again. I also haven’t been into a lot of music recently, so I wanted to make something that I liked, something I’d want to listen to.
AllMusic: You've said that you made yourself follow a list of rules when it came to making the record.
Borland: The list was immediately in my mind. The first rule was, “I don’t want to use any distorted guitars," the second was "I don’t want there to ever be a standard human voice, it has to be an Apple computer speech voice that’s manipulated into vocals or it has to go through a vocoder or something,” there needed to be an element to strip the humanity away from it so the voice becomes more like an instrument.
AllMusic: And the third rule was that you had to make it all yourself. Do you find you work better in isolation?
Borland: I feel like collaborating is always a downer. I’m so strong-headed that mixing what I want to do with what other people want to do often has a not great result. The main reason I work alone is because I’m so let down by working with other people all the time, as far as people not coming through or haggling over who wrote what, being on someone else’s schedule, that’s not good for me. Most people are all talk or you have to schedule something, they don’t have time, they’re working on other stuff, they’re too expensive, so I ended up saying, “I’m going to learn how to do everything myself, out of necessity, because I don’t want to pay people to do this stuff that I can do on my own, and I don’t want to be tied to someone’s fate or destiny or schedule or whatever.”
AllMusic: Did you find that the "no collaborators" rule hurt you when it came to any particular instrument?
Borland: Drums are always the hardest part, but with the right mix of electronic drums and being able to edit, I can record drums, no problem. I’m the most obsessed with drums and drum sounds but also have the hardest time executing drum performances. A lot of the drums are a mix of live and programmed and edited. Almost all the drums are partially synthetic, like the kick or some toms, but it will have the shaker and bells and tambourine and cymbals and snare so it will sound more realistic and organic.
AllMusic: How do you come up with song titles for a mostly instrumental record?
Borland: It was swinging between some elements that were kind of funny to me, corny in a funny way, and some elements that were way more serious, based on ideas or things that happened in my life. A lot of it was generated from being really excited about making a record and thinking about a sci-fi movie from the 80s that this was a soundtrack to. I did a lot of research into the synthesizers that Vangelis was using on Blade Runner and Tangerine Dream was using in Legend, so I either got virtual versions of these, and I’ve also amassed a pretty good synth collection, where I have some Moogs and Oberheims and a lot of 80s string synths that were used in these films, so I’m lucky to have a library of synths that I can pull from and bring that feeling from those films.
AllMusic: It seems like movies have become linked pretty closely to your music.
Borland: I love movies like Diabolique, Suspiria, and I finally got all the way through Beyond the Black Rainbow, which was a more recent film that looks like something from that era. I love Phantom of the Paradise, that late 70s kind of stuff, early 80s, synth-heavy period, where film was experimental and mainstream at the same time, so you had budgets for people to be weird, and they don’t make movies like that anymore, they don’t give people those kinds of chances to make bizarre films. Even the B-movies now, we have Sharknado or whatever instead. Something like It Follows was such a great indie horror movie, that was great, the John Carpenter-esque soundtrack was unbelievable. That’s one of my favorites recently.
AllMusic: Will Queen Kwong be your main outlet for live performing going forward?
Borland: Yeah, and I still get to play in Limp Bizkit, so I get to go play a few shows in some cool foreign country here and there during the year, then Queen Kwong has shows throughout the year. That’s van touring, and I really like that because I like driving, and I think a lot when I drive. Maybe after a few records of doing my own thing I could see getting a drummer and a laptop setup and some string players and a guitar amp and playing a couple of shows, doing London and New York and Detroit. It would be hard to pull these records off in a way that I felt good about the performance, so it would have to be something very visual, which would take a lot of time to get together, but maybe after a few records I’ll have a live show that works in a cool way that doesn’t bore the shit out of people.
AllMusic: Are you still having fun in Limp Bizkit or has it become like a job?
Borland: It’s more like a letting off steam thing, getting to go play one of those shows and have a few drinks onstage and shoot the shit with my guitar tech between songs and just laugh and be goofy and play these old songs that are ingrained in me so much that I don’t have to think about them. It’s fun, getting your rocks off in a fun way and blowing off steam. It’s like going and doing a stunt scene in an action movie or something like that, it’s just fun for an hour and a half.
'Crystal Machete' can be ordered via iTunes. Limited edition vinyl will be available in the summer.