William Burnett has been making records since 2005. Recent converts to his sound will know him best as Willie Burns, with E.Ps on L.I.E.S, Crème Organization, Sequencias and The Trilogy Tapes. Those who caught on earlier will know him for the Disco-tainted weirdness of Grackle, his work with Legowelt as Smackulator and his collaboration with Elliot Lipp, Galaxy Toobin’ Gang, not to mention teaming up with the mighty Professor Genius as PG&S. Recently he has been known under the names Daywalker and Black Deer, the latter producing a blinding E.P cut by Rush Hour that dropped last month. Whichever name Burnett adopts, one thing is certain: the results are always going to inimitable. Aside from being a prolific producer, Burnett is also a curator supreme in his role as head honcho of W.T Records, putting to wax the likes of Alex Israel, Hunee, Sir Stephen, Ex Vivian and Shawn O’Sullivan to name a few. Mark caught up with Will to ask him a few questions about his status, working at the legendary The Thing, running a label, the mighty Woz and some other highly interesting subjects. In addition he gave us a killer mix for ya’ll to tuck into, consisting of burning psych, cosmic house, recondite bleepcore and beyond, into realms that not even the most adjective-happy journalist could describe…..
Mark: So I guess most folk who are reading will be pretty aware of your credentials by now: records on L.I.E.S, Trilogy Tapes, Creme, Rush Hour, Strange Life, not to mention the label you run W.T. Taking all that into consideration, is there really anyone hotter than William Burnett right now? Do you ever feel like leaving it all behind and pursuing a hidden passion like say carpentry or paranormal investigation?
Will: Haha, you sure started it off with a belter of a question. Things do seem to be going well for William Burnett from the outside, but until I don’t have to teach swimming anymore, or slave away in that dirty record basement, it’s not good enough for me. Sure, it would be nice to do music full time, but I still gotta pay my bills, and NY ain’t cheap. I’m still a normal person working 7 days a week. I’m not sure if I have another hidden passion. Maybe make some movies or something. I would really like to run away and work on music stuff all day.
Your most recent record sees you operating under the alias of Black Deer for the Rush Hour related “No Label” offshoot. The record seems to have some sort of Native American concept or theme to it, but that’s as far as I’ve got. Could you tell us a bit more about this, if it does indeed go deeper?
Well, my great Grandma is half Chakta Indian, so maybe it’s in my DNA, but barely. I don’t know, it was just something that came out like that. It started because I noticed that Native American chants always had that boom boom boom in some variation, so I figured it might transfer over into some kind of electronic boom boom boom… and yeah… then that happened.
I heard through the grapevine that you make all the Willie Burns material on an SP-1200, right? There was a time when it was inconsequential to most people what gear was used on a record, but the issue of what people use to make record these days seems to be just that, an issue. Is this something you care about, or is it just more of a preference thing in terms of using machines you can rely on to get the results you want?
I use the Emu sp12 Turbo, and it is purely because of DJ Overdose. He saw how I worked and knew what I wanted to do, and kept suggesting this machine. Eventually I caved in and started using one. The workflow is so fast and simple, and the greatest thing about it is the limitations. You have 5 seconds of time and that’s it, so trying to make a track out of one set of samples becomes quite challenging. But also it’s an advantage, cause you aren’t spending 6 weeks making your MPC or whatever sample bank perfect… just load and play. It doesn’t matter what gear you use, but this one works for me now. I’ve lost the gear lust thing lately, and now I just want stuff I can use and that won’t break. The sp12 definitely has a sound, that early sampler grit. Not sure how it works, but something about 12 bit recording and playing back in 16 bit with 4 random bits or something. I’m probably getting it all wrong.
You work at The Thing in Brooklyn, which for the benefit our readers outside of NYC is a thrift store that has a formidable selection of secondhand records. From what I’ve read, it seems to work against the notion of being able to find the music one is looking for almost instantaneously, something we take for granted in this day and age. I’ve heard that it’s pretty chaotic, and not only that, but you guys move shit around all the time, so you’re keeping even the regulars on their toes. Is that true, and if so what’s the purpose? Are you trying to promote digging as opposed to easy access?
Ha. We aren’t trying to promote anything. I’m pretty much the only one that takes care of the records and I only work a few days a week, so that means if I am traveling, no one is cleaning up. Basically all I do when I get there is start putting records back neatly. Re-shelving them, putting them back in the crates and re-stacking everything. If we get a new shipment, which happens way too often, I try to take out as much of the garbage as I can before it gets put out for the hounds. We aren’t working against the customers. I try to keep as big of a shopping area open as possible, and keep it safe: people don’t realize when they stack stuff all stupid they are ruining the records and that they can have a crate of records fall on them or someone else. There is no plan, although I kind of have a flow going from upstairs to one side to the other in terms of newest arrivals, but that always gets screwed up. Basically there are too many records in there.
You must meet some genuine weirdos at The Thing. I can say that because until I started working in a record shop, I was one of those weirdos. Surely you have at least one good story that gives us an insight into what the hardcore record buyer’s world looks like?
Haha, I don’t even notice. It’s like the people in my world. There is the Jamaican guy that buys easy listening 45s that farts all the time, and the guy who comes in late and gets wasted on Bacardi or 40s or whatever, and smokes cigs and blasts the listening station. The weird guy from Canada that buys us 40s (I think we still have them behind the counter). Frankie Bones comes in every week, polite as can be, still diggin like a champ. Then there are the record tourists. Each one thinks they are the best digger, and they all proceed to go look in the exact same corner they think no one looks in. Hardcore record buyers are mostly losers, just like us.
What cool shit have you bought from The Thing except from records?
I get everything there. I found an APC belt the other day that had been on the rack for a few weeks. I don’t know… furniture, books, sweaters, jackets, shoes. I got a new laundry basket last week… I had been looking for one of those. And also one of those pads that goes under your carpets to keep it from slipping, and that was a score for me. Normally if I need something, I just visualize it and it turns up eventually.
So the label you run, W.T was started off-the-cuff because you wanted to put out some Stinkworx stuff that wasn’t getting a released, right? I guess most labels that start that way end in tears, but W.T genuinely goes from strength to strength. Are you pretty loose in terms of how the label is run? I wouldn’t imagine you giving a frozen fuck about “gotta strike while the irons hot”, “gotta get this out at that time so it can make the biggest impact” or any of that stuff. Although I could be very much mistaken…
You are correct. I still have no clue what I am doing. But I am doing it, and that is much more than most people. However, I did realize lately that it’s all a game. You can play by the rules or you can make your own, or some combination of those. But what is important is to realize how it works on all levels. You are constantly learning, and it’s pretty fun challenge for me.
My personal favourite thus far from W.T is the Woz thing. It’s amazing in more ways than one. Could you tell us what the deal with it is, and how you came to release this colossus of a record?
Well, I found it at the thing (of course) and I was totally into it. I don’t know what year that was, probably 2006, and then I went on a tour and was at legowelt’s house, and we decided somehow to look him up on myspace and got in touch. So there were some exchanges back and forth, and I got some CDs, and that was in the Strangelife CDR days. So
there was talk of that, and then nothing happened. Then somehow a few years later or then (I can’t remember), I played it for Andrew Lovefingers, and he was gonna reissue it, but then since he is all California and flakey (hahaha, hi Andrew), it never happened. We even all got together and jammed and record 2 or 3 hours of music (me, Andrew, Woz and Woz’s friend Richard who produced the album). Maybe one day I’ll edit that crap down too. But yeah, it just came down to me: I found it in the first place and I had the most contact with the dude, we did it. It’s totally cool cause Woz is my kind of dude, we just get along. Me and Shawn O’Sullivan went to his house and then drove in his Pontiac Firebird to Chapel Hill for a gig with Stinkworx. It was great.
The most recent thing from W.T would be the DJ Muscle series. Considering those records were put together with DJ in mind, I was pleasantly surprised at how they work as solid and highly listenable records in their own right. I never thought I’d be buying a bunch of DJ tools before getting them of course, but I’d buy em even if I wasn’t a DJ, and that’s actually been happening here at Rubadub. Was that a conscious factor while compiling the material for the series?
I had so many tracks and demos and things laying around, but like just one track from each artist, not enough for a complete 12” by anyone. So I decided a compilation series would be a good idea, something people could put in their DJ bag and use, a little bit like Disco Nouveau from Ghostly back in 2001 or so. It just worked out. I put a lot of thought into compiling the music. It also helps that Marion Guillet did a nice job with the art, and most of all
that the artists contributed great tracks. I don’t know if it’s really just for DJs, but yeah, maybe it’s a sneaky marketing ploy, or maybe it was an accident. Maybe I should make a CD of it? Do people still buy CDs?
You’ve been doing your WTBS show on Newtown Radio for how long now? I think you have a good presenting style, if it is even a style. Should Tim Sweeney (Beats In Space, WNYU) be watching his back?
Ha, yes, I even work at NYU. I could probably get a show at WNYU and run Tim into the ground. I really don’t know how long I’ve been doing it, it all blends together. I started at East Village radio in 2005 (I think), and did that for a while, and then switched to newtownradio.com somewhere before 2013, hahaha. But yeah.. I’m way better than Tim at the radio. He just plays his cards better, or differently.
What’s the plans for this year, in terms of your own material and W.T records? Are you planning on maybe doing a tour also? You should hit Glasgow, would be great to have you here. It probably wouldn’t be like Shawn O’Sullivan’s experience by the way. It might be worse come to think of it….
Yeah, I’d love to do a UK/Scando thing this summer. I’m tired of Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and France and all that boring stuff, haha. I’ve been there already. Maybe Israel, Greece and Russia too. I don’t know, but really right now I need to pay off my debt for the label. I can’t go anywhere major until I do. I got some gigs coming up in the U.S in NYC, Pittsburg, Los Angeles and Portland, so that should keep me busy for the coming months. I’ll go to Glasgow if you buy my ticket. But as for my music, I just recently moved my studio back into my apt, so I’m finally getting comfortable working at home. I did 3 remixes in the past 2 weeks. So yeah, just gonna keep pumping stuff out cause that is what I like to do. I’d much rather stay home and work on music than go to a crappy bar with crappy people and crappy music.
So to finish off, when we were talking about doing the interview, there was an idea to completely bypass all the usual music and record related stuff, and to cover a vast range of subjects including chicks, sport, food, global warming, peak oil, capitalism, global banking policies and modern feminists. Since we covered absolutely none of those things, do you have any feelings on any of them that you’d really like to make known?
Don’t believe the hype.