Thursday 7 July 2016

***SAETIA & HOT CROSS exclusive interview w/vocalist Billy Werner***

This is surreal. This is an interview with one of my all-time favourite vocalists and a huge inspiration for myself and I'm sure countless others, Billy Werner from Saetia and Hot Cross took the time to correspond with myself via email over the last few months and here's what we got. Linked beforehand are:

Saetia 2x12" pre-order (for Canadians only):
orders close this Sunday night

Band reviews
Hot Cross

Related interviews
Casey Boland
Chris Story

Cease Upon The Capitol
Colin May
Seth Babb
Jamie Behar
Kerry Pries
Stephen Pierce

Steve Roche
Tom Schlatter
Van Johnson
Will Killingsworth

Can you guide us through your musical history? (mostly in terms of what bands and genres you drifted through liking over your lifetime)
I come from a musical family, so I was hearing music and messing around with records and instruments from a very young age.. I was raised on the same music most people with Baby Boomer parents heard - Beatles, Motown, Billy Joel, etc. I took piano lessons super young but I think I was probably too young. My first real serious instrument was the drums. I started playing them when I was 11 with some basic instruction and inspiration from my uncle who is a super talented and competent percussionist. Got into metal around 10-11 years old (1987-1988) and punk and hardcore soon followed as I found college radio and was a regular listener to WNYU and WSOU (Seton Hall), both of which had shows dedicated to hardcore and thrash metal. I also loved what was then called "alternative music".. so the Smiths, REM, Depeche Mode, etc. As I hit 15-16 I met the skaters and weirdos in my high school and started going to NYHC shows around 1993. My first CBs matinee was Agnostic Front, Sheer Terror, Darkside and Merauder. It was pretty intense. Shortly after that I was playing drums in a band called Surrounded with high school friends. We never released anything but we played a couple of shows around NYC. I started NYU in 1995, and got a lot more serious about my involvement in the local DIY scene. I soon became an ABC No Rio volunteer and the rest is sorta history. Saetia formed in 97 with other NYU people and most people know the rest. Around 98-99 I got way more interested in record collecting, which lead to an interest in soul and funk and DJing, which naturally follows from that. Started DJing in 99 at a small bar with soon-to-be famous people like Ron Morelli and James Murphy... During the 2000s my musical focus was Hot Cross.. That band ended in 2007. Now I make electronic music by myself and DJ when people are gracious enough to book me in their warehouses, lofts and nightclubs.

Tell us about you joining Hot Cross. I believe I was told that the instrumentalists were going to do vocals but then they found out you were coming back from England. So you wrote your parts over there and flew back to go to the first Hot Cross show aka practice. Is that correct? Can you elaborate?
That's basically how it happened. Greg pitched Hot Cross to me as "we will just put out a couple of records.. we aren't going to tour or anything." We all know how that turned out. I started writing lyrics when I was still over in London.... I got back in May of 2001.. Probably on a Monday or Tuesday.. I rehearsed with the band once, and played my first show with them in Philadelphia on that Friday. Funny story about that first show.. It was a gig with Pg 99 and some others on UPENN campus. I was supposed to meet up with Matt and Greg to take the train to Philly where Josh would pick us up and drive us all to the venue.. Well, I missed my meet up with them and the train. I think they assumed I flaked.. Keep in mind this was a good 3-4 years before anyone in the States was texting or carrying the internet at all times. I had been to Philly a few times and had some friends there, so I figured, 'why not' and got on a train to Philly and decided to just figure out the rest when I got to the city. Once I got to Philly I had a cab driver take me to Tower Records on South Street because I knew I could probably find a show flyer there.. We went there, I got the venue address and he took me to the show right as  we were going to load in. The rest of the guys were shocked I got there. The best part of that is that the train station is actually a 15 minute walk from the venue... i wish i had known that then, rather than have a cab drive drive across town twice. I'm sure the driver must have been happy with the fee.

How do you honestly feel about all the Saetia love. I would assume it is both positive and negative, but mostly positive? Is it a part of your life you're trying to leave in the past? It seems like you are embracing it when asked questions in the "Emo" music forum.
It is 99.9% positive. It's always nice to know that people get something out of stuff you've done. It's not that I am trying to 'leave it in the past' , it's just that it's.. just about 20 years ago now and it doesn't have a constant presence in my life. I would never disown it or not talk about it. I don't get that sort of approach unless you're working through something traumatic. . Anytime I have contributed to conversations online about Saetia I just want to make sure the information is accurate and folks are hearing stuff straight from the source... Do I know vinyl pressing numbers or what I was thinking when I wrote a 3 or 4-word phrase 20-25 years ago off the top of my head? Most likely no, but like any parent, if someone is talking about your kid, you may as well have a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation rather than pretend your kid doesn't exist.

What are your thoughts and involvement with the Saetia re-issues, including the cassette and 2x12"?
The live cassette and the forthcoming 2XLP discography on Secret Voice Records are the only legit reissues out or on the way. Saetia members have had direct involvement with that project from start to finish.

How did you meet Greg Drudy?
I had seen Greg at shows and around NYU campus before we actually met. I finally met Greg in an elevator in NYU's Main Building.. It was 1996 and I was going to the Hare Krishna temple on 2nd Avenue every Friday for the free feast... Most SxE kids were doing this in whatever city they lived in in the mid-90s. He was wearing Krishna beads around his neck so I handed him a flyer for the temple, which I guess freaked him out because he busted on me for literally decades for this. It's like someone wearing a crucifix complaining that you handed them information about a local church. Anyway, that's how we met.

What are your thoughts on the word screamo as a genre classification?
I don't think about it much. The first time I heard the word 'screamo' used was by an old friend of mine named Alex Nakos who used 'emo screamo' to describe Frail. This was in 1994. I guess it really got some traction later on.

I feel like your vocals, especially in Saetia considering the time period, were very original. Were you trying to model them after any other vocalists or was that just your thing? Some vocals that come to mind are Roquentin (all over the place) and Some Natures Catch No Plague (much softer/slower) which have been massive influences for me and I gotta say (outside of the interview) that your vocals are absolutely incredible, both in Saetia and Hot Cross.
In the mid 90s there were a number of bands that were 'shriek-y' for lack of a better word. Frail, Portraits of Past, Heroin, the second Mohinder 7".. these are the bands that I was really feeling at the time and it was the intensity of those high pitched/pleading/high pitched vocals in front of a cacophony of noise that captured my brain and heart back then. To me, it was the sound of life falling apart and so I remember thinking, "no one has fallen apart like I have over the last few years, so I better, literally, step up to the mic and fall the fuck apart.." .. If I was a well adjusted, happy kid insulated from bad things, I don't think I would have heard music that way or made music that way.

Did you ever have shyness with your vocals? Whether it be doing it in front of other people or at a concert?Yeah.. My back was almost always to the audience when Saetia played, with few exceptions. I was way more comfortable with Hot Cross.

What do your lyrics would deal with nowadays? I'm not sure if your electronic stuff has lyrics so if not, what do you think they'd deal with?I haven't written a single lyric since Hot Cross split up. To be honest, other than an essay for the forthcoming Saetia discography, I haven't written much over the last several years. As I got more into making music, I just wrote less. Other than weird samples, there are no vocals in the music I am currently making.

What's the best concert you've ever seen? Every played?
Hm. As far as spectacles go, it's gotta be Iron Maiden in 2007 or Pink Floyd in 1994. In terms of hardcore punk, probably Neurosis at CBGB's on the 'Through Silver in Blood' tour..Neurosis in London in 2007 was spectacular.. or Man is the Bastard at CBGB's in '96.. There was the infamous Spazz/Monster X/Braid/Get Up Kids show at CBs.. Jawbreaker at the Grand... Burn at Coney Island High in 97... I dunno. So many good ones back then. Seeing Slowdive last year checked off a bucket list item, so I should probably mention that. Best show I ever played.. the first time Hot Cross played at Nine Fest was pretty special. Um.. first Hot Cross show in Europe.. playing with Envy and Melt Banana in Tokyo, which was the first time I saw Envy and the earth really did shift underneath the weight of their whole thing... We toured with them for 10 days and in  Osaka they encored with the first song on "All the Footprints..." and i remember seeing someone just run and fly off the stage and I was so tempted to do the same.. but then it dawned on me that I would probably break my head and fuck up the tour.. so I quietly started a riot inside my head and that served its purpose. I would be remiss to not mention the time Saetia played at CBGBs. So glad I had the opportunity to play there even though I remember thinking we really sucked that day.

Do you miss playing punk?
You know, sometimes I really do. If i was in a band now it would have to be overtly political. As you age, you're supposed to mellow out. In some respects, I am more frustrated than ever these days. I think the 24/7 news cycle associated with social media makes that happen, but my brain hasn't mellowed out at all. If anything, my priorities might have shifted but on a daily basis I think about something that makes me want to confront people and scream at them. I don't foresee a band situation in my future, but this should be a really fucking ripe time for young people with the time and inclination to make really furious music and mobilize one another.

Are there any political views or observations you'd like to share?Not really other than I am just as, if not more disturbed by the rise of right wing and xenophobic thought throughout the world as (I assume) most of the people reading this. On a more 'micro' level its never been more embarrassing to be part of the straight white American male demographic.

Do you still go to punk shows? If so, what were some of the latest?
Not so much. To be honest I go to maybe like 3-5 shows a year, if that. Last band I saw was Burn and they were as great as theyve always been.

I  saw you in Toronto for your Fair Trades and Farewells tour right before Josh left. I think it may have been at Sneaky Dee's and Josh said something about a parking lot debacle. Do you have any recollection of the show or what transpired afterwards?
Haha I wish I could remember. I will say that in retrospect most of the things we thought were 'debacles' were never much more than inconveniences..i think we've all gotten some perspective and bigger life experiences since those days.

What are some of your most cherished record?
Wow good question.. A very beat up copy of Pharaoh Sanders' "Jewels of Thought" which was basically the jazz album that made the entire genre 'click' for me. That LP was a game changer for me on many levels. Slowdive's 'Pygmalion' album.. Also a game changer. Black Flag's 'First Four Years'.. The entire Born Against discography.. The entire Cocteau Twins discography.. Alice Coltrane's 'Eternity' LP.. Too many to list all.

I've already interviewed Casey Boland, Steve Roche, Jamie Behar, and am currently interviewing Josh Jakubowski. What would you like to say about those fellas?
All good people I am lucky to have shared creative time with. Hope they feel the same.

What is happening in your everyday life nowadays?
I work as a project manager at a large not-for-profit organization and own a home with my wife Leah out in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I make electronic music in a home studio and DJ sometimes. I am aging like a fine, grumpy wine.

A million thanks to Billy for taking the time to answer these questions. A truly wonderful human being!

1 comment:

  1. wow this is amazing! Hot Cross inspired me to start singing (together with Black Flag I might add); thanks for posting this interview.