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Raymond Watts of PIG talks about the new PIG album, working with Alexander McQueen, being open to collaboration these days, and what’s next for him

Photo Credit: Gabriel Edvy
Raymond Watts of PIG talks about the new PIG album, working with Alexander McQueen, being open to collaboration these days, and what’s next for him

 

Raymond Watts, the the founding member of the post-industrial music project PIG, has been involved in the industrial music scene since the early 1980’s.  Also a founding member and lead singer for KMFDM, Watts has also been involved with various other bands over the years, including a UK tour with NIN.  He took several years off from recording after the 2005 release of Pigmata, where he focused on writing music for fashion and film for Chloe, Marios Schwab, Halston, The Row and did sound design for the exhibit Punk: Chaos to Couture at the MET about the effect that punk had on couture.  During his hiatus, he reunited with his friend John Gosling who worked with famed designer Alexander McQueen and composed music for several of McQueen’s fashion shows.  McQueen commissioned the two to embellish Watt’s instrumental track “Inside”, from the PIG album Genuine American Monster, for the retrospective at the MET called Savage Beauty, the last show McQueen did before his death.  In 2016, Watts released his first album in 10 years, The Gospel,followed by 2018’s Risen.  Watts recently released the new PIG album CANDY, via Armalyte Industries, an album of covers of artists such as Kylie Minogue, Prince, Elvis, The Spice Girls and Olivia Newton-John.  “I chose CANDY as the album title because the songs may seem sweet, inviting and harmless at first glance, but ‘candy’ suggests there’s something sinister beneath,” says Watts about the new covers album.  “It’s like a lure or precursor to something dark and dreadful … What is the interest due on that sinful pleasure and what is the true cost? A bit of a metaphor for our times.” Aside from the standard CD and digital download version, there are four additional and highly-collectible vinyl editions. The vinyl (which will only be available via www.armalyte.com) come in the “Fur Edition” (numbered and signed by Raymond Watts and Eden Martin; quantity 30), the “Sand Paper Edition” (signed by Raymond; quantity 40), the “Candy Stripe Edition” (numbered and signed by Raymond; quantity 60), and the “Standard Deluxe Edition” (gatefold vinyl with a die cut sleeve on double, heavyweight vinyl with insert; quantity 170).  With plans to write more music going forward, Watts has a US tour in September/October planned with Cyanotic and A Primitive Evolution.  You can stay up-to-date with PIG and all upcoming music, band and tour news, as well as stream and purchase his music, via the following links.  Check out his cover of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” featuring Sasha Grey below, as well as his cover of “If You Go Away”.
 
You just released your latest album, Candy.  What can you tell me about the album?
 
It’s a funny one.  It’s a funny record, I think.  I think that sometimes it seemed slightly more challenging then I thought it was going to be.  It’s maybe not the kind of record that you listen to back-to-back.  It was also a collaboration, which takes it in a slightly different direction.  When you collaborate you have to have a little bit more give and take, and that’s a good thing because you go to places that you wouldn’t normally go.
What inspired you to do an album of covers and how did you decide which songs to cover and which songs to cut?
I’ve always liked…there’s sort-of the great American songbook of the classic classics, but I was drawn more to what people might consider more trite pop songs like the Kylie Minogue and Olivia Newton John songs.  I like the idea that they’re seen as bubblegum pop music.  They seem like they’re just about broken hearts but the lyrics are actually confessional and all-encompassing and quite kind-of weird in a way.  They could be about addiction, but they have the ability, from my point of view, to be dark in a way that’s all-encompassing.  I think it’s quite interesting to take a pop doing and maybe bring out something a little bit darker in it.  I also like cover versions.  Back in the ’90s I had a little thing called PIG Orchestra with some guys from other bands…an English band here called Swervedriver.  I did some work with them and various other people who were around.  We just sort-of went into the studio and did some ridiculous cover versions.  Some of them have seen the light of day and have been released.  So I’ve done cover versions of songs going back many years but I wanted to do a whole album of them.  The way we chose them was to literally go “Oh I really like that one” or “I wonder what kind of mess we can make of this one”.  We covered the Elvis song “If I Can Dream”, which seems so epic…songs where you go “Oh that’s so humongously enormous”.  It’s like climbing Everest.  We decided to give it a go and if doesn’t work we can leave it by the wayside.  It was great.  It was real great.  There were no massive decisions.  We were like “Oh, let’s try that one.  Now let’s try that one”.  It was interesting.
What led you to decide to release the 4 vinyl editions of Candy and how did you decide how many of each to produce?
 
So I originally just wanted a sandpaper PIG logo on the front and Giles, who runs Armalyte, said “Yeah, but if we do a stencil, we can put the sandpaper behind…oh, then we can do candy stripe paper…oh, let’s do different colors, we’ll have 5 different colors…oh, we’ll have different colored sandpaper…oh, and then we can put some fur behind it…oh, let’s have some pink fur, red fur, striped fur”.  Of course, some of them were more difficult to make and are rarer, so we made less numbers of the fur ones, and then slightly more of the sandpaper ones, and then slightly more of the candy striped ones and then there’s the standard one that just has a red and black cover.  You know, I think it’s nice to change it up…if they order the striped one they don’t know which color they’re going to get and with the fur one they could get anything.  It makes things a little bit more unique.
With regards to your hiatus from making music for PIG, you’ve said you spent time living out in the country and then reunited with your friend John Gosling and did work for Alexander McQueen and wrote for films and different fashion houses.  You’ve said that when you stop doing something for a while and then come back to it, you come back to it with a different feeling.  How did your time away change your approach to making music?    
 
Well, I stopped doing gigs in about 2003.  I was just done with it.  I’d done a lot of KMFDM and had a couple of projects in Japan, as well.  It had been non-stop.  Then I went off and did other things and worked on a massive drug habit but also did loads of work for fashion houses, runways shows, installations, museums and did a couple of shows at The MET in New York.  I was working on various things.  When I came back to doing PIG stuff, I’d become a lot less controlling of it.  I was much more interested in collaboration.  I worked with Mark Thwaite, who’d played with lots of people like Peter Murphy, and Z Marr from Combichrist and I started working with En Esch again, my old partner in crime and original member of KMFDM.  I’m much more fond of not having to hold onto the steering wheel in such a manic fashion.  When I was doing PIG in the past, it was much more of a vision where I was like “It’s got to be like this!”.  Now, though, I think other people can bring in things and point you off in a different direction then the one you thought you were going in.  I still have a very strong idea of what I want to do with PIG, but I really enjoy working with other people more.  My live band changes a lot and I work with different people in the studio all the time and that has made the architecture of PIG slightly more varied.  
 
Along those same lines, your are much more open these days to experimenting with your sound.  The Gospel was much softer in sound due to Mark Thwaite’s influence, whereasRisen has more of the classic PIG sound.  What do you feel shapes your process these days when it comes to experimenting with different sounds?  Does it depend on who you’re collaborating with or do you tend to just have a certain vision?
 
It does…I do…I’ve written things with my brother Mike where he has quite a different sort of sensibility than me but I can get something out of it and do something with it where it still becomes PIG-like.  Definitely working with Mark on The Gospel took things in a much more structured song direction.  Like you said, Risen was a bit more me, sort-of exercising some PIG ghost in there I think.  Working with Eden on Candy, obviously it becomes much more orchestral.  But that does have one or two toes in areas that PIG has covered even a long time ago.  But yeah, I’m really open to PIG being able to go from quite brutal to incredibly ambient to full orchestral and everything in between.  It doesn’t really matter who brings it.   Sometimes I work with other people and I’m very happy to do that.  It keeps the songs fun and interesting, because if i leave it only up to myself, I tend to go to a deep and dark place that can get quite intense if it’s just me alone in the studio banging my head against the wall.  It can get quite extreme.
 
I read an interview with Mark Heal in which he said that you both essentially came back to music at the same time after running into each other in 2012.   Both of you were fathers and sober at that point   What was the dynamic like between you guys at that point?  
 
Well, actually that’s not quite true.  I wasn’t yet sober in 2012 but Mark was.  Mark and I have known each other for a long time, going back many, many years, having done gigs together in the very early ’90s in London.  Running into Mark was really great because I was divorced from doing PIG and was doing fashion stuff and things like that.  We did some work together and it kind-of shot a torch into the cave and there were some interesting things that I could see in the torch light.  Mark sort of helped to illuminate things, that maybe there was more treasure to be discovered.  And then things got worse for me and I had to go into rehab and got clean later, in 2015.  But we had started the ball rolling and then it was in 2016 when I started doing Risen that the ball really started rolling and he’s always been really supportive, even when we haven’t worked on stuff together.  He’s written stuff with me.  Sometimes I’ll just send him mixes and he’ll have a listen and give me an opinion.   But of course he wrote Prey & Obey” which was an 8 track which I then took and rebuilt, which was a song from Risen that quite epic and classic PIG stuff.  He’s been really instrumental in really helping to support me and I really appreciate him.
 
When you first started out, everything was recorded onto a 4 track then onto a tape and then a cassette but so much now is recorded digitally.  What are your thoughts on analog versus digital, whether it be equipment/gear or the recording process.  Do you prefer one over the other or do you like to combine the two?
 
I’m fully digital.  When I started out, I used a 4 track machine and cassette tapes and then did 8 tracks in the early ’80s.  Analog, because of the cost of it and the studio and equipment made it quite difficult to get into the studio.  Digital was obviously democratized and gave access to making music in a way that was much easier. I loved sitting for hours and hours cutting up 4 track tape and tape loops and doing all sorts of weird things because it was really challenging.  It was quite difficult and out there and not a lot of people were doing that back in those days.  I do like working with digital now.  I’m not really very technical.  I can just about turn it on and work it but I don’t want to know too much about programming and stuff like that.  That’s like a dark alley the I could just get lost on.  I just want to be able to make the noise I make.  I don’t need to know what software’s what.  I just muck about until I get the sound I want.
You featured Sasha Grey on Candy, with whom you have recorded a single with before.  When you were starting to make the new album, did you know right away that you wanted her to be a guest artist on the album?
 
I really like working with Sasha.  She’s great.  She has a great delivery and a great sense of humor.  I really, really like her delivery and I just think it works really well with my voice.  She has a real can-do attitude so it’s just a joy to work with her.  
 

 

 
You’ve said that with regards to working with fashion houses, it was both fascinating and frustrating.  What did you find to be the most fascinating thing about that world and what was the most frustrating?
 
Working with McQueen, for example, was a real eye-opener for me.  It was great because I had films going round and round on my screens all day of these amazing clothes and you know you just go “Wow!  This i actually really fucking out there!”.  I was really surprised by how fierce they wanted a lot of the noise, the sounds, the music and how dark they wanted it to be.  It was really quite extreme, some of it.  That was an eye opener and it was really enjoyable working like that.  You had these incredibly beautifully tailored clothes that were absolutely immaculate with people working hundreds of hours to sew them.  And then we did this really quite sort of visceral, challenging noise over the top.  And these were just little projects like installations and loops and trunk shows as well as the runway shows.  It was really, really quite challenging and an eye opener and I ended up doing one for The MET called Chaos To Couture.  That was a big show at The MET and it was basically the effect that punk had on couture and that was quite out there.  They kept on saying “Can you make it less musical” (laughs).  They said it was too musical and wanted it less musical, which was a bit weird and frustrating.  But yeah, it was definitely interesting.
 
You have said that you don’t write a different way depending on who you are with, so now that you are more open to collaborating on music with others, how do you feel your writing style meshes with others?
 
Well, I bring what I bring to things.  When I’m writing words, it doesn’t matter whether I was writing for KMFDM or one of my Japanese bands or guesting for people, for me they’re PIG lyrics, you know what I mean?  When Mark’s written music, he’ll write something but then want to change the chorus a bit or whatever.  There’s give and take.  I don’t know how to explain it.  I like working with people, but I have to keep my vision at the forefront.  
 
On past tours, you’ve offered “tour only” items, such as a PIG lyric booklet and the vinyl release of Rise and Repent.  Will you be doing something for upcoming tours?  Is that something you like to do for every tour?
 
Yeah, I do like to do things like that.  And I like to do a little VIP thing where I have a little EP that people get which are just early incarnations of songs and funny demos and stuff like that.  Also I’ve done, like you said, tour only vinyls and things.  It’s just really good fun and is really nice to make stuff that’s only available on the tour.  It makes it more of an event.
 
With regards to touring, you’ve said that you enjoy touring now more in a van rather then the tour bus you used to tour in and that you tour more now, not because you have to but because you want to.  How has that changed your approach to touring?
 
I’ll tell you…I’m not going to lie…it’s fairly common knowledge with my colleagues that when I was touring in the ’90s, I was so unhappy.  I was wrecked the whole time, generally in the back lounge.  We were always driving at night and you can’t look out the windows.  It’s a nightmare.  I hate sleeping on tour buses!  I could never really sleep on them.  I wasn’t very happy and when I came back and my first tour I just had to change it up.  Obviously, it’s been on a different scale.  I spoke to one person who said he’d done buses and vans and really enjoyed the van.  And I really like touring in a van because after a show we will go to a hotel/motel and will sleep there on a bed that’s not bouncing up and down on a highway.  We get up in the morning and get back in the van and can look out the bloody window!  Before I’d driven around the States countless times but had never really seen it.  You just wake up and your parked behind a venue and the back of all venues look the same, whether you’re in Raleigh or Washington D.C. or wherever.  Suddenly we went from being in a tour bubble to being on a road trip.  I hate to sound cliche but it literally went from traveling at night to traveling in the daytime with your eyes open.  Being sober helped too.  And suddenly everything becomes a lot more normal.  You’re stopping at truck stops to pee and buy something to drink or whatever, and it’s a little bit more outward looking.
 
What has it been like for you to function as a sober artist?  How has it changed your perspective on things?
 
Well, I had been drinking and drugging for 37 years nonstop.  Literally from the time I was thrown out of school, I was straight into a band at the age of 16 and hit the ground running and have never stopped, until I ended up in hospital half dead…well, more than half.  It has completely changed things.  Things aren’t perfect but they’re certainly a lot more interesting.  I’m probably still a difficult buggar, but I’m able to interact with people more now and that is something that I really enjoy.  I mentioned earlier that when it was just me in the studio…I worked a lot with Steve White for years in the studio…but it was a lot of times just me in the studio for days and days working and carving stuff away endlessly.  So often it sounded like shit.  You know, you carved away maybe even the good bit, to pair it down or embellish it or whatever.  You’d have to carve it down to nothing and there’d be nothing left for you to lay loads of layers of shit on it.  You couldn’t see what you started with…it was buried in shit.  So often you lost your way and would have to go back for days and days to chipping shit away again.  The path is a lot more meandering and when you start shoveling drugs into that and then no drugs and then drinking and not sleeping, the path gets really difficult to follow.  I may have difficulty now sometimes.  I just need to stop sometimes and go out for a walk or leave it alone for a few days, but generally the path no longer goes off into 5,000 different directions.  
 
I know you’ve mentioned that you don’t really consider yourself a part of the scene, but how do you feel that the industrial and underground movement has evolved over the years since you started out?
 
It used to be a part of the underground in the ’80s.  It was a always sort of under and out of sight.  It doesn’t really seem to be underground anymore.  As soon as something is done now, it can be spread across the internet.  As soon as something is discovered, it spreads across the internet like wildfire, instantaneously, which is a joy and a great thing, but it does take away from some of the magic.  One of the things about the PIG catalog, because I released records through all sorts of different labels…some of them are bankrupt and some of them are majors and some of them are indies that just sort of disappeared…it’s quite difficult to find some of the PIG stuff.  It’s probably out there on the internet.  Some of it you may not get.  I don’t even have copies of some of my own CDs.  At first I was like “Oh god, you can’t get these!” but now I’m almost quite pleased because it’s actually still, genuinely part of the underground (laughs).  In a way I kind of quite like that.  It’s not broadcast so much everywhere.  That’s how I feel about PIG.  As to the scene…honestly, I don’t even know what it is and not really that interested.  I know there are some great people that I’ve worked with, like Mark Heal of Cubanate and En Esch and others, but I don’t really know what the scene is.  
 
What’s next for you?  What do you have coming up?
 
Of course, I’m working on some new PIG stuff and have a few things in the pipeline!
 
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions!
 
It’s been a joy!
 

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