Sad-Ass Music #8: A Chat with William Fowler Collins

William Fowler Collins is the New Mexico-based artist, known for creating his own distinct style of sonic desperation through his releases on labels the likes of Type, Digitalis, Utech, and Root Strata. Most recently, he dropped his newest slab of...

William Fowler Collins is the New Mexico-based artist, known for creating his own distinct style of sonic desperation through his releases on labels the likes of Type, Digitalis, Utech, and Root Strata. Most recently, he dropped his newest slab of droning bleakness, Tenebroso, on Handmade Birds in August of last year.

Collins is the absolute end-all, be-all go-to guy to for the type of all-embracing, dark, and atmospheric music that drone lovers bury their heads (and souls) into. A rousing combination of buried electronics, both electric and lap steel guitars, and field recordings. His music, dense and bordering on spiritual, while cinematic and surrounding, speaks to listeners through a spectrum of fields. It's penetrating emotionally. Also, the dude can rock a cowboy hat like none other. Shit.

You could absolutely, in my opinion, go so far as to classify Collins's music as sad, however, the term sad becomes purely a layer to what he's creating. So I figured he would be a perfect person to converse with regarding the emotional effects of music and how sad music carries listeners to a certain plane of being. I wanted his take on location and its effect on the creation of such music, as well as other inspirations and influences on his art; cinematic and otherwise. I also wanted to reach out to him about specifics of how the nature of bleakness reaches into the realm of sad music.

I'd like to thank William for his contribution to this column, and without further ado, I offer you the musings of one Mr. William Fowler Collins...

First off, I would just like to know your general definition of music, as something that reaches people on an immediate, emotional level?

I think that my idea of music is probably too broad to fit within a definition. I include extramusical sounds (anything not created by an instrument), as well as anything that is traditionally considered "music" (made by instruments). Music and sound can reach people on an emotional level. Unless one subscribes to the idea that a particular chord sequence or frequency can elicit an affective response then I think the listening experience is highly subjective.

How do you think emotion and music correspond on the most basic level?

Music has the potential to express basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger. It also has the potential to evoke these emotions in the listener.

How does music interact with you, personally, on a day-to-day basis?

I listen to music daily. Hours of it, I'd say. I'm most likely obsessed with it at this point. That said, I also greatly appreciate "silence." I think true silence is impossible to achieve, but the absence of music and extraneous sound is a nice relief for me.

What does "sad music" mean to you? How do you define it?

I would say that it would be defined as any form of music that communicates the feelings of sadness. Music that evokes loss, despair, sorrow.

Is sad music something you find yourself reaching for more so than other types of music?

Not necessarily, although much of what I listen to on a regular basis would be considered dark and some of that music would certainly include sadness.

What are some of the saddest artists, songs, records you've found? What do these say to you? Say about you?

Off the top of my head: Arvo Pärt, Bob Dylan's Blood On The Tracks, Lou Reed's Berlin, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, Roy Orbison, Neil Young, Karen Dalton, Xasthur, Nortt, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, George Jones, Dusty Springfield's Dusty In Memphis, Grouper, James Jackson Toth (Wooden Wand)...

These are but a few. I think it says that, to me, a very real, human element comes through in this music. I must identify or believe in what it is that their music is communicating. Additionally, the music might have some association with a time in my life and that would trigger sadness or traces of sadness.

You're known for making bleak music. I think that's a term that is thrown around about a lot of different styles of music. Bleak isn't exactly a broad term, but I can see how it can be molded to fit everything from Basinski to Neurosis. How do you feel about that as a description of what you're doing?

I don't mind it at all. I personally feel that there's a bit more going on than bleakness, but I would never wish to dictate how the music is heard. Bleak is certainly not inaccurate.

How do you think bleakness in sound/landscapes fit into a generalized world of sad music?

I think the setting in which the music and/or soundscapes are made can definitely impact the output. I also feel that music/sound can evoke a feeling or impression of a real or imaginary setting. Living in the desert has no doubt had an impact on my music. But I also find myself imagining fictional settings when working on an album.

Setting is an interesting thing. Listening to music while within or moving through, a particular setting can really color things in a cinematic way. When I'm working on music I'm often thinking of "scenes" or "chapters" rather than "songs". And of course things don't have to be linear or narrative, and music is great that way. It can remain abstract and nonlinear just as books or films can.

Do you think your music is sad? Very obviously, music is absolutely circumstantial and open-ended, one man's sad is another man's rage? Do you aim to approach music from a depressive angle?

Yes, there is sadness in some of it. Definitely. I don't aim to make music from place of depression. I doubt I'd be making anything if I were depressed. Quite the contrary, actually. I love the exploratory process of making new music, even if some of it is expressing true feelings of sadness or darkness.

Do you think music creates the same sort of reaction and dialogue that can be taken from literature or film?

I believe it can, yes. I feel that my own inspiration to make music often comes from literature and film.

As I continue writing about something as important to me as “dark” music, or shit, just MUSIC in general, I've continually felt the urge to reach out to artists whose music I've enjoyed and been influenced by, on a genuinely emotional leve. I could not be any happier that William was willing to sit down with me and answer some questions regarding this world of sound I'm so intrinsically attracted to. It's an honor.

I hope with this initial call and reponse, this will open a new door for the "Sad-Ass Music" column, allowing further rapport with musicians I have come to respect. I can't express my appreciation to William and the future artists who choose to sit down and have a quick chat with me regarding this stuff. It's very important to get an outsider's opinion, aside from my own, because, as I've said before, I am only a small cog in this mechanism. The grand scope of music, sad or otherwise, cannot be a story told by only one fan, or even a group of fans; it has to come from everywhere.

I'm thankful, always, to those who read this colum, show support, and now I'm happy to those who are helping to contribute, I am in your debt. Thanks again to William and all the readers!

Please seek out the music of William Fowler Collins, and all the artists mentioned here today. I'm sure you'll stumble across something that'll shake your world up real good, and maybe you'll bury your head under the quilts for a while.

I LOVE YOU. Keep diving.

Check back next month when I talk shop with Dirty Beaches' Alex Zhang Hungtai.