I found this excellent interview with the Skull from 1978; the best I've read with JW... James is a smart man, great anecdotes here, too. I'll post it in 2 parts.James Williamson: Real Time Musician From Kill City
Jon Savage, Sounds, February 1978
A PHONE CONSERVATION with James Williamson at his present home in Claremont, half-an-hour outside Los Angeles. Mainly to talk about the newly released 1975 Pop/Williamson album Kill City. But as talk unfolds over an hour and a half other subjects are covered in some detail. Williamson's present preoccupations - Artificial Intelligence/ Computer Music, his attitudes to punk and Iggy's current output, and his days with Stooges, from his joining them to their last gig in Michigan 1974.
THE STOOGES. . . ha! Such legends! Such myths! Strong enough that they're still with us, more and more powerful with each retelling. In there, one album: Raw Power, where Williamson's razor-sharp guitar shards (best heard on 'Search & Destroy') set the style for a generation. As simple as that -but for those who weren't there and yet in one way or other have been affected (which means this writer and many of you) there are many questions to be asked.
Which Williamson answers with candour, courtesy and good humour. Although "very disillusioned with the music business, and the entertainment business in general", and implicitly by his present activity very far from those days, it's possible to detect a certain awe and relish in his voice as the Stooges days are recalled.
Whatever: those are over. Having set the style in one area, Williamson has moved on: we can only await any future products of his interest in computer music. Can we start with Kill City - the actual date of recording, when presumably the vocals and much of the instrumentation was put down?
We tracked the album in the summer of 1975 - it actually was an entire album, aside for a couple of things - but what happened at that point was that it never got finished: we got the basic tracks on there, the vocals and a few of the overdubs. After a certain point we tried to stir up some interest in it but couldn't go any further: it was a problem of money, as nobody could fork up the kind of money that was needed to put it together. Had somebody fronted the money for Kill City?
No. That way it was done was that Ben Edmonds and I got together and decided, well y'know, what's going on, why aren't we doing anything? Well we had no contract – CBS had kinda shelved us - and everybody wanted product at that time, to hear what you were doing. We decided, well here's this guy Jimmy Webb who's got a whole studio up at his house so why not go up there? Webb was kind enough to let us use his studio, we just went up and tracked everything there. Now he doesn't have the best studio in the world, but it was adequate. It worked out all right. But one of the troubles with the whole thing was - see when you let a tape sit on the shelf, especially when it's not stored under ideal conditions, it causes a lot of problems. So here I was, sitting with this tape with all these problems and I had to go back in and really do a whole number on it to make it come out right. What, that the tape slows down or the quality goes?
On a multitrack tape you're dealing with 15/16 tracks. You get print-through and all the stuff goes all over the tape, so you've got this mush. And that combined with the fact that it wasn't finished meant that I had a perfect opportunity to finish the album, having most of the guys who were on the album in the first place around, except for one, and I had a couple of people around who I thought were really excellent too. It was just kind of a fun thing to do last summer, and I finished it up and it turned out fine. Who actually played on the original album?
Scott Thurston did piano and Brian Glasscock did drums. And a guy named Steve Tranio who's credited for some tracks played bass. We had to bring him in at the last minute because the bass player we wanted to use couldn't do it, and he didn't work out too well - he's good on some of the things but not on others, so we knocked him out of some of the tracks and retracked him. The saxophonist, John Harden, I brought in last summer (1977) - I didn't know him and after that was finished l heard him play around LA - l was really anxious to get him on the tracks: it's what they needed, y'know. Did the Sales Brothers come in later?
No - they did some backing vocals on the original and later I brought them back in just for a few things like 'Master Charge' which they're completely on, and Hunt was on 'Lucky Monkeys'. I tried to work them in there.
I saw them with Iggy's band the last two tours. They're with him.... I don't know, he may be doing something else next tour – I talked with him last week - but I'm not sure. He changes his mind so fast... I don't know what's going on. Were 'Master Charge' and the 'Night Themes' added later?
The 'Night Themes' were the original tracks. I did some speculating in my review that maybe 'Master Charge' could only have been added after the whole situation had passed. Iggy sounded pretty messed up on the album and maybe that's one of the reasons why it wasn't finished?
That was true. He was seriously ill at that point and I had to actually bring him out of hospital every day to do the tracking ... It was a really, uh, unusual situation, but the thing that's good about his singing on that - his voice isn't as good as on some of his other stuff, but he's like really singing out of his asshole; y'know, really valid singing ... true feeling ...' What made you finally release the album?
I decided, well here's this document and it's a valid piece of work and everything. People have been asking me for years what the hell I'm doing and when I'm going to have product out, and why aren't l doing this and that, and I didn't have any real answer that they'd accept. So l finally said 'Well hey: I'll put this album out and that'll be something, y'know’. And ... it's definitely the best thing we did- so l feel like it should be out. All that I know now is that you're studying computers. I don't know exactly what you're doing.
The computer area is very complicated and unless you're gonna do something like work for a company or be a key-punch operator it's not an easy thing to get into – but I've gotten really interested in an area called 'Artificial Intelligence'. What it is - it includes the area of computer music, but that's just a sub-group - it's a series of programs to make the computer act as an intelligent being. At this point computers mainly function as machines: they can solve problems really fast, think really fast, but they can't come up with solutions of their own.. Could you explain a little about computer music, if it's not too complicated?
Let me see if I can boil it down. One of my big problems is that I don't read music, and that's a BIG problem: I know a lot more about mathematics than I do about music. Relating mathematics to music - music is intervals, and it has mathematical correlations. So what you do, you get together with somebody who is a musician, and can read music, and you break down everything: time, tonality, harmonics etc into mathematical terms and then you feed it to the computer, OK? Now the computer can then do anything it wants to: it knows what the basic format is. Then you have to use your own judgement if, say, you want to compose something on the computer you then tell it: 'Let's try using six more harmonics on this passage, or let's change the time in here'. You have complete control because the thing can scan, can break things down into microseconds, right, SO fast - things that are totally impossible on real instruments become possible - so that the music that just comes out there is just phenomenal.
I'm not far enough in that I've actually done anything yet; I work at it but, y'know, it's a long drawn out process - you don't get good for a long time. I've heard some things by some people - Stanford (University) is one of the main areas: they have one of the best Artificial Intelligence laboratories. I'm not up there yet but I'm planning on it. it's just phenomenal music ... really good... nothing like synthesisers or anything like that: it really sounds REAL. Another thing you can use computers for is for regular music. You can just record music and you process it directly into the computer - y'know, live music - and then, when you want to change something, you type in what you want to change, and it gives you a lot more control than usual. The studio is in real time, so you're really dealing with your reflexes and things that are so touchy that they can't even be -y'know all the weird little noises and so forth - some of them can't be controlled very well in the studio, on a computer they can be. It's a good thing: you can choose properly. . You could have used it on Kill City.
I would have if I'd had one available to use: that's one of my projects. if I can get a big enough budget I want to take the tape up to Stanford and process it that way. I'd love to do that but you gotta have the bucks. There's a great difference in your playing between 'Search & Destroy' and the Kill City album...
Oh yeah. It was a completely different thing. The whole concept of Kill City was different. The difference in sound has to do with a couple of things: one of those has to do with the fact that the tape the sound was muddy from sitting on the shelf for so long, and the second was that I maybe overcompensated for Raw Power having had those guitars so upfront: I couldn't stand that. I think a band should play together... How do you feel about the fact that since 1976 there's been a whole breed of groups and a whole breed of guitar players, who are very heavily influenced by Raw Power?
I think it's as funny as hell. (laughs). I couldn't believe it when I first started hearing that, but now I turn on the radio to some stations where they play this stuff, and I hear these guys are...l mean it might as well be ME playing! And... y'know, what can I say? I don't even play like that anymore, number one, and, number two, what I ever did, the only thing I ever did was just because I was a kid and could hardly play guitar at all. The way l could play in a band was that l had to play my own music because I couldn't play anyone else's: I wasn't good enough. It's very encouraging for new bands though (Penetration are mentioned as an example.)
Yeah I know, they've got all these names. What kind of guitar were you using
A basic Les Paul. Maybe a lot of the sound comes from the fact that I was using an AC-30 amp for the rhythm track, and that was that sound, y'know, that almost broken up sound.. and then I just used Marshall - just straight amplification: I was never one for using a whole bunch of stuff, I just liked to keep it simple. You know also there are these big myths built up around the Raw Power days in England. This whole deal of everybody smacked out groveling on the ground - all this kind of thing. At the time when we were over in England, we had just gotten off of drugs. We'd been back in Detroit when we got that CBS contract through DeFries - We'd just come off that shit, y'know, and we were actually pretty good almost the entire time, at least through most of Raw Power there was very little drugs involved. A lot of drinking and just the regular dope scene but by the end of the album we'd met a few people and sort of slid back. . . by the end we were playing around with that, but I wouldn't say that was our heavy period of drug abuse.
But by the time we got but here to California, that's when the dope really started up again: y'know, when you have a problem with drugs, you never get over it. And - I mean the sort of thing we were doing just completely generated the whole thing and we were in way over our heads. We had a lot of money, and DeFries was way into putting you up at the best places and here you are: these kids, basically, with these fabulously wealthy LA people and. . .just fantastic accommodation, and we had money to burn so we just burnt it on dope. We ended up by getting into it pretty deep. That was before Kill City.
Yeah. At that point Jim as still going through emotional problems and his career was pretty shot : nobody wanted to pick up on him. He was actually in an institution at that time because he had a problem - he couldn't afford real drugs but would take pills and stuff - his mind wasn't functioning right. So he got kind of straightened out a little bit there, and when he was well enough to do it, I would bring him over to the studio and do it. And by that time you were clean.
Yeah. I don't take drugs anymore but you don't ever get over that shit. I'm basically an addictive personality - y'know I'll drink too much, say -but I don't have a drug problem anymore. I mean, it just ruins your life, that's what it does, at least at that time anyway, and anybody that can see beyond it won't get into it - it's just that certain people, myself included, have to try things like that. It's just ridiculous. There's a whole rock 'n' roll myth built around that. Exactly. Well I was really involved in that. The basic thing about that rock 'n' roll myth is that you're trying to pose yourself as - you've got more balls than anyone else, you can handle more shit than anybody, and that what makes you powerful - but that's also what kills you. Like the pictures of Sid Vicious overdosed in America.
Yup. That's the way it goes, y'know. And especially with those guys - they must have been having a hard time of it, because they're young and they've been getting so much press that shit really turns your head around, you know. But - in the end I can't see any meaning in it. I can't see the usefulness of it. It's really destructive. It really is, and I don't want to continue to perpetuate that whole thing - it's not valid to me anymore.
...interview continues here