As the guitarist for nu-metal lightning rods Limp Bizkit, Wes Borland has had a unique perspective on the rise and fall of a genre and the nose-dive of the music industry. He left the band in 2001, returned in 2004 and has continued to tour and record with them, although he says he now feels like a "permanent tourist" in the band and its world, while putting energy into projects like avant-industrial act Black Light Burns and playing with his girlfriend, Carré Callaway, in the rock band Queen Kwong, as well designing his elaborate stage outfits and painting.
Now, on the eve of his 40th birthday, Borland is taking inventory, pulling the plug on Los Angeles and relocating to the Midwest, with his eye on a fresh start. He still performs in Limp Bizkit, most recently making news for jokes he made about a decidedly dude-rock cruise that his band was headlining, but his mind seems set on future ventures. Borland called us while overseeing renovations on his soon-to-be-former house to talk about where he's headed, his brief and disillusioning stint as guitarist for Marilyn Manson, his sword-fighting career, and what he still gets out of being in Limp Bizkit.
AllMusic: As you get older, what remains exciting to you about music?
Wes Borland: I’m bracing for my upcoming midlife crisis; I’m in the last week of my thirties, so I’m wondering if what I have planned in the near future is possibly that or if it’s something else. We’re selling our house here in L.A. and moving to Detroit. We have a bunch of plans, and L.A. is not invited to be involved with them anymore in the future, because I’m sick of it here. I really want to come up there and take part in what’s happening in Detroit and how exciting it is right now. I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity there, so artistically, as far as my music goes, I've shut down, I’m not doing anything, I've decided to not do anything until I get to Detroit and build my new space there. I’m just going to have all blank canvases, all blank hard drives, and go. I’m coming into this weird place, where I really like playing shows with Queen Kwong and the Black Light stuff will happen when I get to Detroit, and I’m still touring with Bizkit, but that’s basically it for me right now.
I’m most excited about nothing musically. It’s a horrific time, I think, that we’re living in right now, for music. I'm watching all of these bands I know that are trying to struggle just to make anything, to make any kind of living whatsoever, they can’t. A dishwasher makes more, and a lot of them have to wash dishes to even be in a band. I think that’s directly affecting where music is now. It’s kind of like this society, in many ways, especially during the recession, where there’s no middle class, you’re either scraping the bottom to try to have two nickels to rub together or you’re completely manufactured on top, selling out yourself in every possible way that you can in order to make a paycheck.
AllMusic: Do you feel like you're on the outside of that situation looking in, or is it still relevant to you?
Borland: It’s relevant to new endeavors. Luckily enough, I have a great day job in Bizkit where I was fortunate enough to be involved with a band that was on the coattails of that, of a time when you could have success in music, where you could make a living selling records and make a living touring, and now we can make a living touring, because we have a really solid fan base that isn't going anywhere, whether they’re people because they’re actually interested in what we’re doing in the future or people who are there for nostalgia reasons, they come to shows, they buy tickets. In a way, that makes us almost like a great-functioning organism that can’t have children anymore. We’re on the way out, our kind is on the way out, and it’s really unsettling to know what the future is for people who weren't as fortunate as we were.
AllMusic: With Bizkit as a known commodity you must feel less pressure, it's a stable gig.
Borland: For sure, it takes tons of pressure off of me. It also allows me to work on a bunch of other projects without having to struggle to keep my shit together. It’s great, and I enjoy doing it, which is a bigger plus. But it’s hard right now, it’s so hard for people. I know this is beating a dead horse, but I really hope for the sake of people who are interested in being in bands or making music, I hope something changes, some new idea comes along and allows them to monetize online sales or something outside of the treachery that is Spotify.
AllMusic: You must be aware of the irony there, since Bizkit did a free tour sponsored by Napster in its heyday.
Borland: That was definitely a preemptive “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” thing. It was like, “This person is going to ruin everything, we might as well take their money before they ruin everything, because with or without our participation, it’s going to happen.” And I think it caused a lot of controversy at the time to be the opposite of what Metallica was doing. Wouldn't that be great if none of this had ever happened, had we not done the Napster tour? I don’t think so.
AllMusic: In many reviews of the band's shows and albums, especially after you left, there was this repeated sentiment that even if people hated the band, they still found you intriguing. Was that amusing?
Borland: It’s great, I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I think mostly those are people that don’t like Limp Bizkit and they don’t understand Limp Bizkit, but because I am sort of a permanent tourist in the band, in a way, because I’m into such different things and have such a different background and participate in so many things outside of the band that are foreign to them, that people can cling to those things or detect those things because they have something that they find interesting. The things I find interesting, the people who are saying that also find interesting. So it’s really just a matter of opinion, because there are tons of people who are Limp Bizkit fans who don’t get what I’m doing at all, that are there for the band and can tolerate me being there, but they’re definitely not watching me onstage, they’re looking at Fred and glancing over at me every once in a while and making a weird, confused face, then looking back. That’s why I look at it as a permanent tourist kind of thing, because I’m in their world, even though I’m a part of it.
AllMusic: If anything, you've upped your game in the costume department. Is that still fun for you?
Borland: It’s the best. It’s more enjoyable than it’s ever been, because I don’t give a shit anymore as far as what people think, so I just really want to do what makes me interested. I guess I care what they think, to a certain extent, just from an entertainment point of view, I’m not going to do something that’s completely un-entertaining. Coming up with new costumes is almost more fun than coming up with music, because it’s something that I just completely can do 100 percent on my own, without any outside interaction and be in my own head. I think it’s important for people who aren't exposed to art very much to get a little dose of art, I guess, if I dare call myself an artist. I've been told a few times that I am, so I’ll just repeat that moniker. It’s an opportunity for a Democrat to vote in a Republican state.
AllMusic: Is that an outlet you'd potentially pursue, designing costumes for other people?
Borland: I've done it twice, I made an entire costume for Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio and I made a hammered steel element and some electronics for one of Jeordie [aka Twiggy] from Manson’s costumes that a friend of mine was making, and she didn't do any blacksmithing or anything, couldn't handle the metalwork, so I did that in my studio at home. Those are the two instance, that’s it. I really would much rather be on my own train of thought, instead of taking orders from people or trying to make someone else’s ideas or taking their creativity and manufacturing it, I enjoy it more doing it myself.
AllMusic: You brought up Twiggy—you were in Marilyn Manson for what felt like a split second, how do you look back on that experience?
Borland: It was actually eight months, but I only played two shows, then went to the studio and watched him do a bunch of blow and fall asleep a few times. I like him so much, he’s really funny, he’s super interesting, I've had many, many all-nighters at his house where I wasn't allowed to leave, where he’s like, “Don’t leave yet, look at this, I have to show you this book,” where he’s just on a 52-hour straight "stay up writing and painting" session thing, and I’d have to tap out at 5:30 in the morning. Those nights were exhausting but really fun, to get to be around him. I was a big fan when I was younger, so that was a dream come true. But the dream was over after being in it for eight months. I love the guy, but I think that he should take better care of himself, health-wise. I’m just afraid he’s gonna die. I hope he realizes that at some point.
AllMusic: You have to wonder who around him would be able to tell him that.
Borland: And a lot of the times when I thought he was making a mistake or having a misstep with what he was doing, like mixing partying with work, he would explain that it was very Hunter S. Thompson of him and everyone would be intrigued by how strange his actions were, and I was going, “Oh man, I don’t think that’s how they’re taking it, but I hope you’re right.”
AllMusic: A glance at your Instagram seems to show that you stay pretty active, mountain biking and such. Have you always taken care of yourself or is that a more recent development?
Borland: I've always been pretty active and done something. I was doing a lot of martial arts in the past and got into German longsword, actually, which is a bizarre thing, but it’s a western martial art, a medieval martial art. I had to stop doing that because I almost got my finger broken by an opponent’s sword, even though I had gloves on, so I just said, “No, this is over, I can’t jeopardize my hands.” Now I ride my bike, a lot. I mountain bike all the time. I've got to keep limber for as long as possible.
AllMusic: Have you made any friendships with other musicians over the years that have surprised you?
Borland: A lot of the people I've met in the nu-metal or bro-rock genres that we've played with at festivals have been really nice people who I’m not necessarily a fan of their music, but they’re very nice, cordial people, and I like talking to them. I like Mark Tremonti a lot, he’s a really nice guy. Last time I saw him he was really wanting to get into oil painting, and I wrote him a bunch of instructions on what colors to buy and how to mix and what mixes with what to make it happen and tried to give him a crash course in how to improve quickly as an oil painter. He’s a great guy, and a good guitar player. Things like that happen sometimes.
I’m also really good friends with the guys from All-American Rejects. Their drummer, Chris [Gaylor], is an amazing swordsman and studies kendo and aikido, and is insane with a samurai sword. I was on tour when I was playing bass in From First to Last in 2006 [fronted by a skinny kid named Sonny Moore, now known as Skrillex], we were out with them and Fall Out Boy and I used to sword-fight Chris every day. He’s really good.
Wes Borland's current project is renovating his house and sleeping on a blow-up mattress with his cat, Miss Britches, who is worth checking out on Instagram.