Of the spoken word performers that ruled NYC during the mid-90s, Saul Williams has arguably had the most varied career-long flirtation with mainstream success since the scene fizzled out nearly two decades ago.
He’s had at least one film role that was pretty darn good (check him as an unhinged savant in HBO’s Lackawanna Blues), a dramatic performance that was overshadowed by his admittedly electric poetry (Slam), and a recurring character on TV that was just painful to watch (remember Lynn’s earnest, celibate lover on Girlfriends).
Still his best work is easily his own penned verse rather than any film or TV role. On the strength of his spoken word alone, there’s no denying he’s an accomplished performer. But he’s an even greater writer, with songs that feature unexpected song structures, dizzying wordplay, and pure passion.
Those traits should’ve spelled ‘big music career.’ Yet Williams’ music remains an acquired taste.
On previous albums, a fewrisk-taking producers (ie., Rick Rubin, Trent Reznor) have sought to harness his spitfire rants and uttered emotions into actual songs. More adventurous listeners took notice. The mainstream? Not so much.
Now, he’s preparing to release his fourth disc, Volcanic Sunlight, this year. And if his latest video, “Explain My Heart,” is an indication of the direction in which he’s headed, the new album is far from his sell-out moment.
This time he’s letting the music do more of the talking. (He evens plays a mime in this clip which was shot in Paris.)
In two revealing interviews—one done with Furthermucker’s Miles Marshall Lewis here, and the other done for the good folks at Dazed Digital, part of which is excerpted below—Williams seems refreshingly thoughtful about his place in the world as an evolving artist.
Both articles are must-reads. The video is something to behold too.
Dazed Digital: How much does your new album reflect the ways in which you have evolved as a musician in the last few years?
Saul Williams: It’s a little more about the simple process of transferring or conveying energy. I used a lot of words in the past because I felt like I needed a lot of words to say what I was trying to say, although what I was trying to say was actually really simple. There is a lot of fun to be had when you try and fit as many words as you can within a three-minute song, but there is also a lot of fun in trying to get that message across in three words, or better yet when the music can overpower the words and convey something really pure and perfect that affects our psycho-emotional space.”
(Read more here…)