All photos by Andrew Gura
First, congrats on Volcanic Sunlight. It’s a fantastic album. Tell us: Who’s this Saul Williams we encounter on this album versus, say, the Saul Williams we saw on Niggy Tardust?
This is Saul Williams (it’s me…typing). I confess: it was me who wrote Volcanic Sunlight. I did not use a character, or my anger, to hide behind. I decided that there was no longer anything to prove and/or hide. It’s an age of transparency, after all. Volcanic Sunlight is a gift from my inner rain-forest that bears the distinction of being lit from within- which is to say the leaves are greener underneath. Witness the rise of the underground.
The album strikes me as very musical. How do you make sense of your musical journey to date? When you look back over your albums, what’s changed? What’s gotten stronger in terms of the how you come to a music project? Is there anything you’ve let go of?
On my first album, I could not get over the fact that I was being given an opportunity to share ideas, which I thought were important, on a large scale. My goal was to scream from the mountaintop. When I finally stopped screaming, to catch my breath, I was suddenly entranced by the songs of birds, the feeling of the wind, and expanse of the forest that spiraled down beneath. I chose a path, studying trees, plants, animals, and life, along the way. After years of wandering, I reached the ocean. I swam beneath it’s waves, holding my breath, until kissed by a woman who flooded my lungs. I learned to breath underwater and slowly and slowly found myself singing along to the songs of the traveling whales. They sang of mountains beneath water and of a fire, deep within. I journeyed to those mountaintops and learned the ancient hymns. And now the horns are blaring. And, now, the trumpet calls. To be completely honest, I’ve let go of it all.
It’s interesting, but the album has an old-school sensibility, despite feeling very current. What I mean is this: I’m struck by how it’s very much book-ended by “Look to The Sun”, with its breaking dawn feel, and “New Day,” which closes the album on the note of musical sunset. I guess what I’m asking is how deliberate were those placements, and did you write with an idea to create distinct beginning, middle and endpoints for the album?
Very deliberate. Volcanic Sunlight is intended to be a journey. Not, necessarily, an intellectual journey, more of movement and of sound. I believe very strongly in placing all of my projects in the context of a beginning, middle, and an end. Yet, I see ends as new beginnings.
I spend a lot of time imagining the journey of the listener. In fact, that is sometimes the funnest part of the process.
Right after college, my wife spent three months in Paris. She was very much aware of not being treated as “black”, but as American. She said it was very freeing. How have you experienced Paris, and how has living there impacted or influenced your creativity?
Maybe each city has it’s own personality. I get along with Paris. Its’ appreciation of the arts and the accessibility to it’s many museums, galleries, theatres, etc. makes it a wonderful place to be. I’m also inspired by the lifestyle which places as much emphasis on “down-time”, and love, as it does on ambitious pursuits. Yes, I feel balanced here.
I imagine by now you’ve had some opportunities to perform this album. What song do you most look forward to performing?
I imagine an artist’s greatest fear is not having anything fresh to say. What’s the one thing that you do to stay inspired and to make sure you don’t, as one of my friends says, “exhaust your notebook”?
Everything I say is fresh. I use no preservatives or chemicals. But then, who drinks fresh whiskey? My products are naturally aged in barrels that span from wood to gold. The aging process is respected and ancient truths are told. The history books say freedom was sold. Them MTHRFCKR’s was cold. But how is it that they’re still in business? Big business loves X-mas. That’s an X not a cross. Some gifts are given and never lost.
Love it! Thanks, Saul!