Interview: John Collins on Rozz Williams’ ‘The Lost Recordings’

By on 28 February 2011

Rozz Williams is a legendary name in the international Gothic scene, famous for his groundbreaking bands Christian Death and Shadow Project. However Rozz’s interest in music went far beyond his rock roots, and he frequently experimented with industrial noise and performance art under monikers such as Premature Ejaculation, Heltir and 1334. Many of the recorded results of this work were never released commercially and only a handful of original tapes exist in the world.

But now Malaise Music has begun remastering and reissuing ‘The Lost Recordings’ of Rozz Williams on CD, giving many fans their first glimpses at the true depth of one of music’s most complex artists. I spoke to John Collins, an avid Rozz Williams collector and ‘The Lost Recordings’ series supervisor, about the extent of Willams’ experimental work and the daunting task of re-releasing such a vast catalogue.

Dominion: Could you give us a little background on yourself as to how the ‘Lost Recordings’ project started?

John Collins: I was a teenager and living near Brighton in the late 1980’s, listening to bands such as The Sisters of Mercy, The Cramps, Bauhaus, The Cult, The Virgin Prunes, The Cure and Fields of the Nephilim. One day a friend gave me a mixed tape of Christian Death songs (featuring both Rozz Williams and Valor Kand as singers), and my interest grew from there. At that time, Christian Death were based in London, so I was able to go to many of their shows around the UK and got to know Gitane DeMone – a friendship which lasts to this day. I’ve remained a fan and collector of Christian Death, and all affiliated projects, ever since.
The idea of ‘The Lost Recordings’ project came about after Rozz’s close friend and house-mate, Ryan Gaumer, contacted me in 2008 offering me ten cassettes of rare and unreleased home recordings that he had kept from Rozz’s possessions. I had met Ryan in Paris at an art exhibition a year or two earlier, and he knew I was a very keen collector and would treasure the cassettes. He also knew that I was the main contributor of material for Rozznet, and hoped that I could make the recordings available for other fans to hear. Further enquiries established that a further set of original cassettes were in the possession of Ron Marrs, the Rozznet webmaster. It was at that point it became possible to think about finally releasing these lost recordings to his fans.

Dominion: For those more familiar with Rozz Williams’ iconic and influential Christian Death and Shadow Project work, how important was the experimental work to Rozz?

Collins: Rozz equally enjoyed standard and non-standard musical formats. His interest in the former came from his love for early Bowie, Alice Cooper, Roxy Music and Iggy Pop, and his interest in the latter from listening to SPK, Current 93, Throbbing Gristle and Death In June. He started his first experimental project, Premature Ejaculation, in 1981 with the performance artist Ron Athey, and he concentrated on it after he decided to leave Christian Death in 1985. He found it very refreshing not to have to incorporate his vocals or lyrics as he was not restricted in what he could do. His Heltir project especially allowed him to vent a lot of anger. It would be wrong to say that Rozz preferred any of his projects or musical styles over any other, as they each meant something different to him. Each allowed him to express a side of his personality that the others could not. However, Rozz was always very proud of his experimental work and he was very protective about his personal cassettes, many of which make up this current project.

Rozz Williams

 

 Dominion: A lot of the Premature Ejaculation/Heltir/1334 recordings were only released on audio cassettes and have become rare collectors items. How hard was it to find the recordings in good enough quality to work with?

Collins: We have chosen to only include recordings that are not commercially available, so we are working with Rozz’s original cassettes, or cassettes that were released through the Happiest Place On Earth (HPOE) label back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. We have not been able to source the original cassettes for just a handful of recordings, and for these we are working with first generation copies made by two close friends of Rozz -Erik Christides and Andreas Hofmann.
Although the cassettes are between 20 and 30 years old, they are still in surprisingly good condition and so working with them has not been so difficult as one might imagine. I think that the main reason they are in such good shape is that they have been so well treasured, with the previous owners listening to copies they made rather than repeatedly playing the original cassette tape and risk wearing it out.
In additional to this, we are working with the owner of the HPOE label, Chuck Collison, and original masters of many of the HPOE recordings will be available to us, if required.

Dominion: How long did the remastering process take for all the recordings and did you run into any major difficulties in doing this?

Collins: With over 30 titles in ‘The Lost Recordings’ series, it is easier for us to work on each recording separately as they are due to be released. The series may take four or five years to complete, so we have not yet attempted to remaster each and every recording.

Dominion: How has Rozz’s artwork been adapted for the CD packaging and how did you overcome the hurdle of releases that were sourced but had no artwork?

Collins: The artwork has been more of a challenge than the remastering. We are fortunate enough to be able to use Rozz’s original cassette artwork in most cases, so we are working with the best source possible. However, the dimensions for a cassette cover and a CD cover do not match, and so it is not as simple as to copy the cassette artwork and put it on the CD sleeve. This is particularly a problem when the original artwork has multiple images on it, such as on ‘Premature Ejaculation Part 1’ and ‘…Part 2’. We had to spend a lot of time deliberating where to place each individual image so that they not only fitted on the front and rear CD sleeves, but also looked good next to each other. Also, some of the original artwork is fading, or of grainy appearance. Our aim is always to remain faithful to the original artwork, but to also enhance and improve its look where needed. So you will sometimes see colours amended, or images slightly altered to make the artwork look its best. A good example of this would be on the forthcoming release ‘6’, where we have darkened the background and intensified the red blood vessels to make a very striking effect.
There will be a handful of releases in the series where no original artwork is available. We will consider what to do with each one individually as they are due to be released. It is possible that we could use concert photos or flyers for the live recordings, or use other of Rozz’s art that we own ourselves, or we could simply use the Malaise Music skull logo.

 

'6'

Dominion: Rozz frequently appropriated the swastika, along with the dollar symbol, in his artwork as a metaphor. However this symbol is illegal in some European countries. How was the decision made to best alter the artwork to avoid any potential legal problems?

Collins: This was obviously something that we had to consider carefully. Without doubt the swastika symbol played a very important part in the Premature Ejaculation and Heltir artworks. However, both the record label and the distributor are German companies and it is strictly forbidden to show or display the swastika other than for purely educational purposes. Quite simply, there is absolutely no way that we can display the swastika on our website or release any artwork that has a swastika on it. So for ‘Premature Ejaculation Part 1’ and ‘…Part 2’, for example, we just removed the swastika entirely from the artwork.
We are pursuing the possibility of making the uncensored artwork available as a download for those who want it. However, we would not be able to link to it or even mention it from our own website, and the site must have no direct links with Malaise Music. In that respect the official Rozz Williams website, Rozznet.com, would be ideal but so far no agreement has been reached.

Dominion: Some of his music has been largely unavailable for a long time, what has the response been like from Rozz fans and collectors?

Collins: The first six releases in the series have all been previously unreleased. Many of the recordings have had an almost legendary status because they have been mentioned or shown in ‘The Art of Rozz Williams’ book, published by Last Gasp, but of course had never been available for fans to buy or hear until now. It is very exciting and rewarding to finally be able to make these recordings available for fans and collectors, and the response has been very pleasing. We hope that more and more people will realize that Rozz was much more than just the singer of Christian Death and Shadow Project, and that they will appreciate his other work just as much. We hope that the series will cement his reputation as one of the leading pioneers of experimental music.

Dominion: Malaise Music was originally founded in the early 90’s and has existed in different incarnations, all of which aimed at releasing rare works by Rozz Williams. This time you have support from Cathedral Records and Dark Vinyl Records, how important have they been in bringing this project to fruition?

Collins: Yes, Malaise Music and Malaise Media were two separate companies founded in the 1990’s with the intention of releasing some of these recordings, and other rare recordings by associated artists such as Gitane DeMone and EXP. However, with the deaths of Erik Christides and Rozz Williams, and with no financial backing, neither company was able to produce or release any of the music.
The support of Cathedral Records has been invaluable to ‘The Lost Recordings’ series, and without their help it may never have got off the ground. Cathedral is the parent company of Malaise Music, and has other labels specializing in other genres of music such as jazz and speed metal. Their know-how and business links have been vital in making the series as successful as it has been. Having Dark Vinyl Records as our sole distributor has also helped establish our reputation, and spread knowledge of ‘The Lost Recordings’ series to many people who may otherwise have been unaware of who Malaise Music were or what we are doing.

Dominion: When some of this material was originally released the internet wasn’t a factor for music. How has the internet aided in publicising and distributing these releases?

Collins: Certainly a new independent record label such as Malaise Music would have found it difficult to build up a mailing list or be able to afford to post out regular catalogues or updates. It would also have not been able to afford to pay for advertisements in the leading gothic and industrial magazines, bearing in mind that this releases have a limited appeal. Therefore being able to have a website and have a presence on social networking sites such as Facebook is a very cost-effective option of being able to keep people regularly updated with our activities and products. Also, publicity in the form of reviews, articles or adverts on music webzines such as this play a very important part in helping to promote the series.

 

'A Little Hard To Swallow'

Dominion: Performance art was an important part of Rozz’s experimental work. Have any live visual recordings been sourced for release or are audio recordings only available?

Collins: Rozz often said that the stage was his second home, although clubs were wary about booking Premature Ejaculation due to the nature of their performances, which often involved shocking the audience to the point of nausea and vomiting. Although there are a couple of Premature Ejaculation performances filmed by members of the audience, we did not feel that they met the quality that fans and collectors expect and deserve from ‘The Lost Recordings’ series. Therefore, only officially made recordings such as .Not The Real Criminal’, which includes some live footage and sound installations, will be included in the series.

Dominion: Which will be the next release from the series and on what date can we expect to be able to buy it from?

Collins: The seventh release in ‘The Lost Recordings’ series is called ‘6’ and it will be released on 1st March 2011, quickly followed by ‘Attempts At 7’ on 1st April 2011. We anticipate to have the ninth release, ‘Dead Whorse Riddles’, ready for the summer. In addition, a third t-shirt design with a wonderful image of Rozz taken by Dan Hendel at the Dark Harvest festival in 1996 has just been made and is now available to order from our website.

Dominion: Eventually the ‘Lost Recordings’ series will come to and end. Are there any plans for any other releases through Malaise Music by Rozz Williams or others?

Collins: With around 30 titles, it may take four or five years before ‘The Lost Recordings’ series is completed. However, Malaise Music is gaining wide recognition from many people, and a reputation for good quality products. We are in negotiations to add other artists and bands either associated in some way to Rozz, or who have a similar ethos. We are especially keen to release the long-deleted Akubi Object EP and live video, and the next Crystelles release, and perhaps C.E.D.S. (which is a 45 Grave side project). Additionally, Cathedral Records are planning to release the next Madre Del Vizio album and a special Mighty Sphincter 10″ and DVD.

Dominion: Finally, is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Collins: Thank you for the opportunity to inform your readers about Malaise Music and ‘The Lost Recordings’ series. If any of your readers would like any further information then please visit our website:

www.malaisemusic.com HERE

Email – johncollins@malaisemusic.com.

We want to help keep Rozz’s legacy alive.

Look out for reviews of the first six releases in ‘The Lost Recordings’ series on the Dominion Magazine website soon.

About Miranda Yardley

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