Raymond Watts is the iconic frontman of the industrial/noise/punk/ambient group PIG and has been in the scene since his days in the early ’80s with German outfit KMFDM. Watts’ creative output is extremely impressive, logging time with the two aforementioned bands and myriad side projects plus production duties with everyone from KMFDM’s En Esch, to Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten, to fashion icon Alexander McQueen.
PIG has been on a creative renaissance in the past five years, releasing an onslaught of LPs, EPs and remix albums. The most recent PIG release is the full-length Risen, which came out in June 2018. It’s a deep album with multiple collaborations, including what serves as a 30-year rundown of icons of the industrial genre, including En Esch, Tim Sköld (Marilyn Manson), Z. Marr (Combichrist), Ben Christo (Sisters of Mercy) and Mark Thwaite. mxdwn spoke with Watts and discussed the new record Risen, his ongoing collaborations and the influence of religious themes on his music.
mxdwn: The single “Truth Is Sin” from your album Risen is a very ominous statement and I’d love to better understand your thought pattern during the writing and recording of that song.
I think, it’s really in the title, I can’t really elaborate on it any more. It just seemed to be… It’s kind of a blanket statement that appeared to be fairly appropriate for the current time. That’s really all I can say about it. I mean… People want to talk about alternative facts or whatever… It’s not only meant to be political. But it can be applied equally to my own many thoughts that are completely twisted by my own internal narrative. We all see things with different shades and maybe what seems one way to me seems completely different to you so that what is the nature of truth and all that, but it’s also kind of a funny statement as well. Just kind of an Orwellian statement, just a strong statement that I liked.
mxdwn: You called this record the “revelation for the digital age,” can you expound on that statement as well?
I mean…really, it’s words and music. Back when I started doing this it was all four track onto tape and then cassette. It just so happens that the medium is all digital. There is this sort of revival thing going on as well. This weird curse and blessing of technology really frightening, weird and new, and also quite liberating. I’ve been able to have loads of people contribute to the record who aren’t here. We used to have to sit shoulder to shoulder in a studio. And now I’m working with people who are in Australia, Los Angeles and Singapore, they’re really all over the place.
Obviously, we all know that and there isn’t really anything thunderously new in it. But, the revelation for the digital age, meaning there is so much of it, there is no translation. So nothing gets lost in translation, but everything gets lost in translation. Because everything is slimmed down and bite sized, and boiled down to the most raw, simple slogan…like “Truth Is Sin.” Sometimes there isn’t so much “yours” now, but of course we have to read into it and put our own spin on it. I think it just seemed the right fit for the way things have gone.
These are interesting times, but I don’t like when things are boring. I come from a place where I am quite used to, in my personal life, things are rocky, turbulent, and weird. Living through substance abuse and addictions and living in Berlin, the Wall coming down and everything is kind of weird. I’m quite used to that landscape and there’s a thunderstorm rolling up the fucking valley and it’s a bit hectic. And yet, what’s going on now seems quite like a different league. What is going on now is really out there…and futuristic, and dystopian. I remember when we came up to 1984, I was thinking, “It’s going to be like the future and everything would be crazy.” And… it was just fucking weird with Reagan and Thatcher and this fear of the apocalypse. But this is a new level of weirdness with what’s going on. A whole new fucking ball game.
mxdwn: You had a ton of collaborations on this record including En Esch from KMFDM, and Oumi Kapila of Filter, can you touch on those collaborations?
It’s really simple. I go back with En Esch to when I started in a funny little bunker studio back in Hamburg, Germany. It was the middle of the 1980s…so I’ve known him forever, and it’s just natural. He’s just my go-to person and he joined my band a few years ago when we did a record. All the great people that have been involved in the record, not just the musical people, more than just Oumi, or Z. Marr, or En Esch, or Tim Sköld, or Mark Thwaite, who did some great stuff, it’s so much more collaborative than it used to be. I used to be much more controlling, much more white knuckles, holding onto the steering wheel. I was really obsessed and I didn’t collaborate so much.
When I started doing stuff again, like the album, The Gospel, a couple of years ago and some various EPs and albums in between, I just find it really great fun to bat ideas around. Like, Oumi did a remix for me and I met him in Los Angeles and I really liked the remix that he did for me, so I asked him if we wanted to have a go and he ate it up. Likewise, with Tim Sköld I know him from way back and it’s really great to see what other people bring to the table. I find it much more liberating to work with other people. Sometimes it doesn’t always work, but it’s pretty great. I’m really blessed to have all these people in the trenches with me.
mxdwn: There is a common thread of religion in your work, with the cover art, the album titles The Gospel and Risen. Is there meant to be a religious thread or is that subconscious?
I’m not a believer, far from it. But I’ve always loved the language and the architecture and the spectacle; the bells and the smells and devotional music and the kind of weird S&M relationship that we have with the church. We get down and prostrate and give thanks and love this sort of thing…It’s quite interesting. I find it really bizarre and it seems that people just can’t seem to live without it, wherever people have cooked up this weird thing, where there is a deity that we must have a strange relationship with. It’s also just beautiful, not in a mocking way, it seems to sum up the duality of man in just one weird relationship.
These days we have to be desperately careful about everyone being offended and people are absolutely petrified about offending anyone. Sometimes you have to be careful, we should be quite robust and have a dialogue about things, instead of tiptoeing around. I really like religious iconography, it is very beautiful, I love churches. I’m not a great fan of what goes on inside of them, so I have a weird relationship with the church.
mxdwn: You’ve been really very productive over the past three or four years and have had this burst of creativity with Pig. What has been fueling the recent creative output?
The main ingredient was really giving up drugs and drinking. I had a massive smack habit that went on for 20+ years, I mean the whole nine yards. It went on for a really long time. For many years in the ’80s and ’90s, I was doing a lot of work in Japan and the States with PIG and other things. I just got really active with an album, then a tour, then to Japan, then another album, then a tour, and then to America. While I was doing that I had two small children. 10 years ago I started looking after my two small boys as well. I was doing music for art, installation, the internet, runways shows, stuff like that, which was great fun but it wasn’t the same as doing albums.
When I found myself completely run out, with one foot in the grave and being dragged out of a hospital and went through the nine circles of hell in rehab, somehow, this weird chain of events fell like dominoes with me talking to En Esch, talking to Günter Schulz saying, we’ve been offered one show, which was really surprising and that show turned into a North American tour. My booking agent asked if we had an album to promote and I said no, and told us we better make an album. So, we went off and did The Gospel. We then approached Metropolis (Records) who I didn’t even know was still in business.
After The Gospel, we did a remix album and then a UK tour and then another tour and it sort of went from there. I suppose it’s a little like riding a bicycle. I’m really blessed in a way. I got to work with Mark Thwaite, and Z. Marr. I did a lot of writing with Mark and he does this sort of thing where he lays down, literally, some chords, and they are quite inspiring. I really like working with him and he has this talent where he can draw things out. Likewise, with Z. Marr, there was an instant rapport over production with this thing. It really didn’t feel like, “I’m an artist, plowing my miserable burrow through the fucking fields of despondency and despair with addiction, and it’s all harrowingly agonizing, and hating myself.” It was much more joyful, and that’s a real fucking blessing.
mxdwn: You were part of that first wave of industrial sound in the early to mid ’80s. How did PIG form and what was the energy and vibe that stemmed around that early sound, especially your work in KMFDM?
When you’re in it you don’t think there is anything special or unusual about it. I’d been in bands from 1978, when I was really young and first out of school, that were just color-coated punk bands that made an album. I ended up in Japan in 81 and I was the bass player in a funny little band with my brother and couple schoolmates. And I just thought our music sucked.
Coming back from Japan in 1981 I had a really fancy little bass guitar, and I sold it for a little eight-track studio. Through a friend I began working with this band called Psychic TV and through them we were making tape loops, and cutting loops, and all this shit. A few of my friends were also in a band based in Hamburg, Germany. They couldn’t do that, so I got drawn into the scene in Hamburg. I took my studio there, I was working with a lot of German New Wave, and bands like that, but it was really pressing my buttons.
I just sort of started fucking around with my little early sampler and bashing around and hitting things. So, I started doing that stuff for myself. Before we knew it, PIG, KMFDM, they were all on Wax Trax Records. Whichever band I write for, it’s me doing the thing. Sometimes there are PIG tracks on all sorts of various things that I’ve worked on. There was no master plan, we were young, we were staying up for three days and getting wasted and, “Ya let’s do this, and let’s do that.” The first PIG album, I worked with Alex Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten. So he was on the first album and then the next one. I had members of Underworld on it. You just kind of know the guys and you ask them and I’ve been blessed that there are various people around that have come and helped and weaved the thread that creates the narrative, or maybe just the identity I suppose.
mxdwn: Your music, whether it be in PIG, or runway shows, runs the gamut from industrial metal to more ambient works, especially your work with fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Can you discuss that collaboration in detail? How did you come to work together?
It’s really a little of this and a little of that. On all that stuff, through my friend John Gosling, who was in Psychic TV. I met him way back in the early ’80s. I’ve always been in touch with John. He went through his career and recorded in my studio and went to Germany and stuff and did some DJing. He knew Mr. McQueen and he did his second runway show way back and then he was his Musical Director for all of the McQueen stuff, right up until his passed. When it got to them wanting specific types of music, John would come to me and would ask me to write something. I would write something with him.
You would think that a haute couture place like McQueen would come back and tell me that it was too weird, or too dark. The actual feedback would be to make it more challenging and less musical. They were always asking me to go further, more surreal, more beautiful. It was quite an interesting dynamic which was true for the retrospective at The Met called Savage Beauty, which was the last show that he did before he died. There’s a PIG track called “Inside” which is a long, ambient track which they really liked, embellished it and added bits to it. It wasn’t me knocking on the door, they came to me and we worked together on it for the fashion world.
It was a really interesting time. I’m not a great fashionista, I like clothes, I had to look at a lot of the shows and watch them and highlight reels and all kinds of bits and pieces that are on the web. After a while you go…these clothes are really out fucking out there…The runway shows were really theatrical events.
mxdwn: With all the creative output, what’s next for you and PIG, I don’t expect that you will slow down anytime soon.
At the moment, I don’t plan on touring the States, at least not this year. But, hopefully next year. And there are things that were on the back burner, that are now on the front burners. I’m currently moving along at the moment.