On Rozz Williams, and Necessity, the Mother of Invention

Rozz Williams liveThis is the story of how we came to record one of our weirdest and most controversial tracks: a 19th century music inspired cover of an 80s deathrock classic. But first … let’s set the scene.

It was the fall of 2011. Double Eyelid had been active for about 2 years. We had been moving along in fits and starts, going through a couple of different formations before returning to the original lineup of Karl, Ben and myself. There had been about half a dozen gigs, most of them disasters. I had written a bunch of songs – a few were great, but most were just so-so.

Key point: we had absolutely no quality studio recordings yet.

We were having fun – but it felt like we were going nowhere. That was about to change, though – and more quickly than I could have imagined.

By chance, I met an aspiring filmmaker named Steven Cerritos. Steven had been making shorts in the horror genre for some time and was interested in directing his first music video. The two of us hit it off quickly, and got talking about collaborating. I checked out his portfolio and fell in love with his visual language. He watched a rough Youtube clip of us performing a song called ‘Dead is Better’ and thought it was up his alley. And with this, the project of making the first Double Eyelid video was launched … before we had recorded a single track.

Most bands don’t do it this way – and for good reason! The next few months were a mad scramble as we juggled recording tracks, recruiting an actress and a volunteer production team, finding locations, mixing and shooting at the same time. But by the end of what seemed like 3 months of total chaos, we had done it. The track sounded great – thanks in no small part to the many hours put in by our guitarist Karl Mohr, who was doubling as a producer/mix engineer. The video was still being edited but was looking incredible. We had something that could take us to the next level.

At this point, the question became ‘How do we release it?’ Everyone involved was in it for the glory, so to speak – no one was getting paid. We couldn’t tell the team that we wanted to sit on it for a year or more while we worked on an album, though that might have been the smarter choice. We owed them their moment in the spotlight, so it had to come out quickly.

But the thing is … I grew up in the 70s and 80s, buying vinyl singles and LPs. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of releasing ‘Dead is Better’ as a single track. (I know people do that now, but it still feels wrong!) There was no album or EP, but I wanted to at least record a b-side, to show another side of the band. But after the insanity of recording and mixing our first track and making our first video at the same time, nerves were pretty frayed. I wasn’t sure what we had left in us.

At the time, I’d been listening a lot to a classic deathrock album, the first record by Christian Death – ‘Only Theater of Pain’ – and had been messing around on my piano, figuring out one of the songs, ‘Spiritual Cramp.’ If you’re unfamiliar, you can check it out here:

As I felt my way around the music, I noticed something odd – the chord progression was a strange one for a punk song. When I played it in more of a classical piano style it sounded like something that could have been written by the French composer Debussy.

The more I messed around with it, the more I felt like I was getting closer to a viable new take on a classic song. It hit me that this could solve our ‘b-side’ problem: when you have a song that’s just piano and vocal, you can record it without spending hours and hours on production and getting the right mix, because it just naturally sounds ‘good’ already.

I ran the idea by the guys. Ben loved the idea of having free rein to work out a new take on a classic. Karl was ecstatic that it sounded like an easy mix job. It was on – and after a session at Ben’s, a session at my place and some editing, we had it. A completely new take on an iconic song.

It was a bold version, to say the least. As the release date approached, I became nervous about how fans of the original would react. Had I desecrated a classic on our first single?

I sweated over that question for a short while but then decided to put it out of my mind. I knew it was good, and felt like I would go to my deathbed knowing that, regardless of what anyone else said. And more importantly – it showed what we could do. You could call it ‘out-there’ but the fact is that most bands aren’t remotely capable of producing a track like that. Between the a-side and the b-side, I knew we were putting our best foot forward. All we could do was wait and see how it went over.

Here’s what wound up getting released:

The amazing thing about goth audiences? They can be pretty open minded. The reaction was much more ‘holy f**k!’ than ‘what the f**k do you think you’re doing?’ Best of all, Rikk Agnew, original Christian Death guitarist and co-writer of the song, absolutely loved it, calling it ‘amazing and a high compliment … refreshing!’ on his Facebook page. That made my year.

And that’s the story of how our first ‘b-side’ came to be. And just to THANK YOU for being a subscriber I want to give it to you for free – no strings attached.

Download the Double Eyelid version of Spiritual Cramp here.

If you like the track you might also want to consider checking out our full-length album Seven Years – which actually includes yet another Rozz cover, but we make this one a full-on 21st century industrial stomper.

Love it or hate it … make sure you leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

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