Hello and welcome to the second Artist Spotlight feature of the week. We told you earlier this month that we were focusing on developing our newer columns and that is exactly what we aim to accomplish with this feature. The first few spotlights focused entirely on the world of metal, but in this piece we talk about punk and electronic music, as well as the pros and cons of being a signed artist. If you have any questions about the content in this article, or if you have an artist you would like to see featured on this blog, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.
Relationships are everything in the music business, and that is one point I cannot stress enough. Trends change, business models change, but the relationships you forge with others in the music business have the power to last and last. When the business side of things turns its back on you and you find yourself both broke and unemployed it will be the people you’ve met through your efforts that help you pick yourself up and piece your life back together. They will send you messages of support when your health fails or when you’re dealing with typical day-to-day drama that life tends to bring. It’s a rarely discussed, but deeply appreciated aspect of working in a tight knit global community that can (and likely will) change your life.
I cannot recall the first time I crossed paths with William Francis, the musician behind William Control, but it was not too long after he and his bandmates in Aiden signed with Victory Records during the mid-2000s. Our relationship was purely fan and artist at first, but over the years I began to more passionately pursue my interest in music and the dynamics of our relationship began to change. Instead of simply being fan and artist, we were also blogger and artist, or web video personality and artist.
It’s important to know that I was not the only one changing during this time. Aiden released a handful of albums, each featuring a distinct change in sound and direction, but ultimately went on hiatus so that the various members could pursue other projects. For William, that meant starting William Control, a synth-fueled electronic offering that dabbled in bondage and victorian literature. It was another clear departure from everything he had done before, but it also felt like the most honest expression of who Will was as a person, and many fans who loved his punk efforts continued to follow him.
By the time William Control was off Victory and thriving as an independent act I found myself out of college and working full time in the music industry. Seeing Will on the road was still exciting, but somewhere over the better part of the last decade our relationship dynamic changed once again to be friend and friend. We would still do interviews and we would still talk shop, but we would also catch up on life and wish the other well whenever they’re going through hard times.
When I started at Haulix I knew one day I would have the opportunity to share Will’s journey through the business with our readers, and I am beyond excited that day has finally arrived. He’s a friend and an artist I continue to admire to this day, but more importantly he is one of the smarted people I have met in my entire life. His unique perspective on existence and the way this business works is the type of thing that could fill volumes, but for now the few thousand words below will have to suffice.
H: Hey there. Before we dive in, please take a moment to introduce yourself:
W: Well hello to you sir, my name is William Control. I sing, write and travel the world.
H: Thanks for joining us, Will. I have been looking forward to this interview for some time. We like to begin these features by learning a bit about your history with the creative field you’ve made a career. Tell me, what comes to mind when you think of your earliest memories with music?
W: My very first experience with music was in the mid-eighties. MTV was only two years older than me and I used to watch videos while I was at home with my older brother. Bruce Springsteen had a hit called “Born In The USA”. I can remember distinctly watching that video and singing along. As a 4 year old I didn’t really understand the concept and just thought it was a catchy tune. It wasn’t until I was about 8 or so when I really started loving bands and music. The first artists I truly fell in love with were Nirvana and Depeche Mode. Violator and Nevermind were both at the top of the charts and MTV played those videos non-stop. I couldn’t ever really connect with the hair metal stuff they played, those spandex shorts and teased hair just didn’t do it for me.
H: Do you remember the first album you purchased with your own money?
W: It was either Nevermind or the Black Album by Metallica. I know that it was a cassette tape. That I am sure of.
H: How about the first show you attended? Bonus point for more details than name and location. We want to know about your experience becoming fascinated by music.
W: My brother took me to see Nirvana on their “In-Utero” tour for my birthday. It was jan 8th 1994 at the Seattle center mercer arena. This was the second of a two-day performance. I was 12 years old and it changed my life forever.
H: You had some personal struggles in life before coming to music. When did you first begin writing songs?
W: I suppose I’ve been writing songs and stories since as far back as I can remember.
H: When you wrote, did you see yourself fronting any specific kind of band? I know you played bass in your first band (Aiden) before eventually transitioning to vocalist.
W: It wasn’t until I discovered punk rock in the summer of 1994 that I saw myself fronting a band like that. The change was immediate and precise. I knew then and there that I wanted to play music for a living.
H: Before we abandon your days as a bassist altogether, I have to ask: Who taught you to play? Did you have any bass idols growing up?
W: I actually grew up playing the guitar and I am self taught. I learned how to play by listening to the songs And figuring them out. I had no formal training. I had some friends and showed me different chord structures and a few scales but that’s about it. Bass was something I picked up later because the band already had guitar players in it. Bass is a pretty easy transition. But to be honest, all my favorite musicians were singers.
H: Okay, so you moved into the position of vocalist for Aiden and, in 2005, signed a record deal with Victory Records. What was your life outside of music like at this time, and how did the presence of label support change that in the coming years?
W: Prior to the record deal with victory, my life consisted of working as a dishwasher at a small diner in Seattle, going to band practice and attending rock shows. That was pretty much all I had time for. The internet was just beginning to explode with regards to the social network experiment but I didn’t really have time for that either.
H: Aiden found a good amount of success, but you ultimately began to have an interest in areas of music outside the punk/rock sound that drove the band’s material. When did the idea for William Control, you current project, begin to take shape? Tell us the origin story, if you will.
W: in 2008 I was going through a terrible relationship breakup, boring I know, but coupled with the stress of being on tour for the 3 years straight it was too much for me to handle. I quit Aiden and temporarily lost my mind. I left the country and decided to write lyrics to an album that was more like a film, a screenplay of sorts. I knew I wanted to create something that was on the other end of the spectrum musically. I wasn’t interested in doing something that would sound like Aiden b-sides. My friend Kenneth Fletcher and I got together and began writing songs with a drum machine and the sound just evolved over the course of writing that first record. It was a strange experiment. We had no idea how to make electronic music at all. Most of our favorite bands were punk. Bad Religion, Misfits, Nofx. But we also loved New Order, Joy Division and Depeche mode. I suppose that was the depths of our electronic musical influence.
H: How long was it between when you realized there was another creative avenue you wanted to explore and when you told your fellow band members about your plans to launch WC? How did they respond?
W: I worked William Control between Aiden cycles so it didn’t really affect our pace and if it did bother the other guys, they never made that frustration known.
H: By the time you release ‘Hate Culture’ under the name William Control you had already seen a good part of the world throughout touring and sold a repeatable amount of records. What goals did you have for this project at that time? How have those goals changed in the years since?
W: I had no goals for William Control. I didn’t start this venture under the assumption that the Aiden fans would even like it. In fact I knew that most of them would hate it. Honestly I didn’t even want to tour as William Control when we started it. I just wanted an avenue to explore a side of me that was undiscovered. I still really don’t have “goals”. I’m not trying to change the world, or bind people together in an environment where they can feel like they fit in the way we did with Aiden. I still love performing live, I still love creating a work of art, I still love the adventure, but my happiness doesn’t depend on the crowd any longer. It doesn’t depend on being a part of a scene. With Aiden it was all about saying something positive in a world filled with negativity, shitty religions and oppressing totalitarian regimes. With William Control I’m writing a continuous novel about a man losing his mind and trying to find himself. It’s a very selfish endeavor.
H: Aiden never official broke up, but you did eventually go on hiatus. Was it hard to let go of that chapter in your life even though WC was already beginning to thrive?
W: Not really, the other guys wanted normal lives, job security, health benefits, a steady paycheck. Punk rock doesn’t really pay the bills. I’ve always been up for the challenge of surviving and with WC beginning to do well, I didn’t have any issues.
H: Outside of WC, you have also begun recording and producing albums for other bands. When did this interest first begin, and where do you do the majority of your studio work?
W: It began in 2007 when we recorded Conviction. I watched as the producer we were paying 50k lay on the couch all day and say “Yeah thats cool” while the engineer did all the work. It was ridiculous. I decided then and there that I was going to record the albums moving forward. Since then I have amassed a bunch of pretty spectacular studio gear and have even built my own studio from the ground up. Artists these days have to be pragmatic about where they spend their money. If one can track a record on their own, that leaves more money in the budget for mixing, promotion and touring.
H: Can you ever foresee a time when you give up recording/touring to focus solely on working with and helping develop others?
W: No not really. I find that recording gets pretty boring after 6 weeks, and to go directly into another project would just be too much. I’d rather split my time on the road or doing other things than spending all day every day in a control room pressing buttons.
H: Back to WC, you started on Victory and eventually went solo. Do you feel this project works best when you do everything on your own, or are you still in the market for a label deal?
W: I only signed to victory with this project because thye had “First rights of refusal”. Meaning that since I owed victory a couple more Aiden albums they were the first label that I had to send demos to. They could have told me now but he decided to sign me anyway. Since completing the contract I have definitely done much better on my own financially. At this point I think I’ve done all I can, and although I make a decent living, if I am going to want to take this to the next level, I might need to sign a new deal somewhere. I’ve received a couple offers so far, but I am not the naive kid I was in 2003. I have a much better head for this business and am not going to take a deal just to say I’m a signed artist. That doesn’t hold a lot of water these days.
H: What would you say has been the hardest part aspect of developing the WC name as an independent artist?
W: Shipping orders out. The post office is a nightmare and having a one man operation is the pits. The last couple of years now I’ve had help from a friend that takes care of this stuff while I’m on the road but like I said, it’s a small operation and we can only do so much at one time to keep up with the amount of orders that come in.
H: A lot of musicians who transition between genres and styles throughout their career maintain a decent portion of their initial fan base. Has that been the case with WC?
W: Hmm I wouldn’t say a huge number of Aiden fans crossed over no. There has been some. Absolutely. I’ve been friends with some of these people for a decade. I’ve watched them grow up, finish school, get jobs, have babies. But a good portion of the William Control fans are new and either don’t like or don’t know who Aiden is.
H: You recently released a brand new EP, which was funded by fans of your music. Do you feel crowd funding is a tactic you will continue to use moving forward?
W: It was actually a full length. The Neuromancer. And yes, crowd funding is the most direct way to get the funds you need to make an album. Lucky for me that I have enough money to make these records and am just able to offer cool incentives for fans to pre order it before the release date.
H: Do you have any advice to offer up and coming musicians who dream of establishing a sustainable career in the music industry?
W: Quit this nonsense and go get a regular job as a nurse or doctor, lawyer or hairdresser. This is not a joke. You’ll be much happier.
H: After all you have seen and accomplished, what drives you to keep crafting new material? What personal goals do you have for yourself and this project?
W: Life drives me my friend and Art is the vehicle. It’s the inexhaustible need to create something from nothing and have people connect with it in such a way that they are rendered speechless, or made to dance or brought to tears. To stand upon that stage and sing my heart out every night. To see the world, to feel something, to laugh at something to die for something. My goals have changed yes, and they are to leave behind something I can be proud of. I suppose that is the case with any man on this earth. Legacy, Truth and Happiness.
H: You’re on tour right now and you’ve just released a new record. What more can fans expect from WC in 2014?
W: Well at the time you sent this interview I was on tour, but because I am so busy it’s take this long to complete. For that I apologize. But I am home now just finishing up a DVD we made on that tour and next month I’ll be headed back to the Old World (England) for a headlining tour. As far as the rest of 2014, I’ll be supporting Black Veil Brides and Falling in Reverse on their “Halloweekend” shows in Arizona and Los Angeles, then in November I’m head overseas with Combichrist for a pretty extensive european adventure.
H: Speaking of touring, it seems like you have made an effort to put yourself in situations where you have to win over the audience. From Combichrist to the Black Veil Brides, you always fit on a bill, but you rarely sound like any other artist performing that night. Is this one of the most exciting aspects of your efforts?
W: Well to be honest, I’m not sure what artists I would really fit in with musically. If there are bands out there that sound like William Control, I have yet to find them and hit up their agent about the possibility of touring together.
H: Okay, I think I have taken up enough of your time. Before I let you go, do you have any final thoughts or observations to share with our readers?
W: Keep up with what I’m doing or where I’ll be headed at www.williamcontrol.com. See you all out on the road somewhere. -W