Q&A: Why Wes Borland's turned to the prog side

Wes Borland in a 1970s patterned white shirt
(Image credit: Camera Jesus)

“Best known for his work as the guitarist with Limp Bizkit (“It allows me to play this science fiction stuntman character”), Wes Borland has not only moved from LA to Detroit, but he’s also on a new musical journey. Outside of Limp Bizkit, he fronted and recorded with the industrial band Black Light Burns. He also writes and plays with Queen Kwong – with his wife Carré Callaway – though it’s his latest venture with the Crystal Machete album that is the first project, he says, in which he’s truly found his own voice. Not that you’ll hear him singing any time soon: “I just don’t like my voice very much!”

Crystal Machete is an experimental electronica album written as a soundtrack for an 80s sci-fi movie that never got made. By Borland’s own admission, it’s a calling card to Hollywood, but also a snapshot of where he is now musically. Recorded at his new home, it’s an ambitious record made almost entirely in isolation and eschewing any hint of electric guitar or conventional vocals. Fans of John Zorn, Hawkind and even Radiohead will find something to like here; Limp Bizkit fans, less so. Though as Borland says, with something of a shrug, “That’s fine with me. I usually like people who don’t like Bizkit.”

Crystal Machete sounds like the name of a heavy metal band you might form when you’re 15.

“There were elements of it that were kind of inspired by the 80s, with synthesiser soundtracks, and I was looking at different 80s movies and how they had the chrome logos – Predator, Blade Runner, Legend – and I was thinking of some kind of object like in Krull, the weapon in that, and it had to be silly but serious. I was thinking something Crystal, it couldn’t be the Crystal Sword, so it became the Crystal Machete. That’s what the album was sounding like to me.”

You’ve said that this album is a calling card to where you’d like to be in the future. Does that mean film soundtrack work?

“Absolutely. I’ve done some indie movies in the past, a few really terrible horror movies – Saw movies and a few Resident Evil films. I’m 41 and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less and less interested in the concept of the band. I don’t really enjoy working with other people. I don’t find other people’s ideas inspiring. I’ve gone into my own bubble.”

You don’t play well with others?

“It’s not that I don’t play well with others. I’ve been let down by people so many times and my schedule has been completely muddled and destroyed by other people’s inability to have a work ethic. I just can’t do it any more.”

You’re currently working with your wife Carré in her band Queen Kwong.

“She started her career opening as a solo artist for Nine Inch Nails. It’s her band. I was looking for guitar players for her when we started dating years ago, but we couldn’t find one she liked so she said, ‘I guess you’re doing it!’”

Is it different writing and working in Detroit as opposed to Los Angeles?

“It was… LA, the space is compressed. My studio there was claustrophobic. In Detroit, I have a fully functioning studio – it’s in what was the ballroom. All the houses in my neighbourhood were built in the 20s and they all have ballrooms and billiard rooms in the basement, so the billiard room is the control room, the ballroom is the live room…”

Why move to Detroit?

“We wanted to leave LA. I was just disgustedly sick of it. Every single person in LA is always going to be doing something next and it never happens. In Detroit, the people there really want the city to come back to life and there’s a lot of pride, some great people coming in, lots of development, great history…”

Talking of Nine Inch Nails, you were also up for the role of live guitarist in that band.

“I was up for the guitar spot in NIN and I decided to do Black Light Burns instead of being a hired gun, which was the wrong thing to do in hindsight. I’m happy I did BLB, but it’s a little more testosterone-driven than I would like to be in the future.”

But you’re in Limp Bizkit! That’s the most testosterone-driven band in the world.

“Yeah, but I just play that character on TV.”

You’ve said you finally found your voice on this record…

“I think it’s where I’ve wanted to be musically for years and I’ve just never been able to really execute it. I don’t want to make angry records any more. I want to make records that are fun, relaxing and a delight to listen to. I’ve also run out of artists that I want to listen to. I find very few things that move me.”

So are there any artists that informed this album?

“Air, Daft Punk, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, John Zorn in all of his mightiness in all the records he’s made over the years, from Naked City to Music For Children, all the amazing things he’s done. I’m a disciple of his. That first Mr Bungle album, he produced that – that’s how I found him. That album became the mark to meet for the rest of my life.”

What do you think Wes Borland fans are going to make of Crystal Machete?

“This is who I am and if my fans don’t like it then… I’ve felt very misunderstood for years and I’ve also felt like I’ve been putting the wrong foot forward for a long time. It’s the little things, like it’ll take a while for Spotify to modify search results to where, when my name comes up, you don’t also end up seeing a band like Drowning Pool. I’m waiting for that day.”

Crystal Machete is out now on Edison Sound.

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.