symbols Magazine: What is life like for Bill Leeb?
Bill Leeb: It's pretty hard to put it into a few sentences. It’s kind of like a long crazy strange road. Some days you love what you do, other days you hate what you do. Some days you feel like it makes a difference, sometimes you don’t. You have to be careful you don’t lose sight of how and why you got into what you are trying to achieve and so forth. It's definitely not for everybody.
It sort of picks you, you don't pick it. And so now that I’m committed you put your whole life into it, and sometimes you get to stand back and sort of like take a breath. I think it's a continuing, evolving story in your life. And yeah, for the most part I think it's pretty exciting and pretty fun, and feel pretty fortunate just be able to do what I'm doing you know. I guess no regrets.
sM: Good! So where does the music come from? Can you describe that part of you that needs to write and compose?
BL: Well I think first and foremost I can appreciate all types of music, whether it's classical or its electronic or whether it's rock, you know. I think the thing that's always really fascinated me about music is that it's such a fleeting thing; you know like when somebody paints a picture, they paint it and it's done. No band plays the same song exactly the same twice. There's so many subtleties when you're playing an instrument, how you hit the keys, how you hit the chords, whatever. So you feel like you can never write the perfect song. Just when you think that, then you hear something and you go wow, why didn't I do that?
It's just like this never ending journey of that involvement and like it's pretty much elusive. Like great composers and some great rock bands, they have so much material. I think they're just really striving to be better, to write that one song where they go okay I could die tomorrow because I know I wrote this song now. And so it becomes this target that you you're reaching for but you can't. And it becomes elusive.
That's kind of what inspires me. Just waking up every day whether I see a news story, I watch a film, or a new song or something, Things just sort of resonate in your mind and they stick there. You get ideas from things you hear and read and feel. Technology as well. Technology has just come so far and changed so much that there's always a new way of doing something. Putting a new twist on it or spin. There's definitely no shortage in inspirations.
sM: How do you transition into that creative space for Front Line Assembly? How is it different than what you do for Delirium or any other side project?
BL: When I do the lyrics for Front Line, the songs become very personal to me. When we do Delirium we do just the music and then we hand over the music to potential singers that I admire. When it comes back to me I always get this kind of like wow factor. Because everybody gets inspired differently by music and they get different ideas on what you're doing. When Sarah (McLaughlin) came back to me and she sang Silence, I couldn't have pictured and envisioned that. I think it is such a high for me to have other people interpret your music. It becomes a true collaboration. That's all it takes between the two. To me the lyrics are so personal. That’s what differentiates those two projects so greatly despite that concept.
sM: Do you ever get disappointed by what comes back to you? Does it ever just not work?
BL: I think there were a couple demos before that were kind of like, “yeah they're pretty good but they're not special”, But for the most part we like to think, that we are pretty selective about the artists that we approach or that we work with. 95 percent of the time it always comes back to me and I go “wow really this is really great and I really like it.” For the most part we've been pretty lucky.
sM: You've chosen some great people to accompany you this go around. What did you see within your current lineup that made you decide they were just the right fit for Front Line?
BL: It’s kind of an evolvement. When Reese left to do his own thing, Chris Peterson stepped in. Then as Chris and me were doing our thing, his prodigy Jeremy would show up. He was friends with Jeremy and Jeremy was friends with Jared and they had a small band going. They were Front Line fans from… I dare say when they were teenagers. When we did a tour, eight, nine years ago, we needed a couple guys to come up on stage and play with us. So we brought Jared, because he was a guitarist and Jeremy was more of a keyboard guy. As time went on they just evolved. Then Chris stepped out and now those two guys are the full time guys. They just kept stepping more and more and more into their own. When we did Airmech that's, I think, even more so when things really started to evolve. Just recently I told those guys, “You guys are in trouble now. This record is going to be one of those ones you get measured with in the future”, doesn't matter when you do things. In some ways it's good and it's not. Sometimes when you get a plateau record everybody will compare your next three albums to that and go “Well this is pretty good, but not as good as this one.” So it's good that we've all reached it. It's taken us eight years to put this and Airmech together and reach this plateau. So it will be interesting to see if we can still evolve. I’m curious as to what's going to happen with these guys.
sM: This new album is tremendous. For some reason, this one speaks more to me than any of the others. It's sexy. It radiates. It makes you want to move. What or who was your muse this time around?
BL: You know I don't know if there was a rhyme or reason to how this whole thing evolved. It just kind of took a life on its own. I think like Airmech was like a great precursor. Jeremy has a guy called Fracture who just sits there in the basement and makes crazy sounds and Jared's friend Craig is the same, so we have these two camps and everybody was trying make sounds and write songs. I would just jump in inbetween. We'd get together every few weeks and critique everything and go over everything just to see where we were. In some ways it was competitive, but it was kind of good because you had two camps and everybody wants their stuff to be on the record and to be really good, so a lot of work and a lot of time went into a lot of it. I think everything around us seemed to be interesting and evolving. We’ve had a few haters that have used the word Dub Step and so forth, I think a lot of the electronic music scene has so many different facets now so I think we've actually appealed to us as well. I think we wanted to put a new twist on an old story.
Jeremy and Jared are both 29 years old, so I think with putting all those things together, with me the old man, and the young guys with their ideas and influences and different styles of music, you can't replace youth and energy as well as the will. I don't think we could have planned this record
sM: I love that you incorporated some Dub Step into your latest work. It gets a bad rap, as do most things that are genius but have been butchered by mass production and like shitty replication. How did you come to have an appreciated for it? From Jeremy and Jared or were you influenced by just by listening to it on your own?
BL: I think the first thing that I heard that I really thought was good was a band called Noisia.
sM: Yes they're a good band.
BL: They had some great stuff. If you like industrial music of any kind, some of their mixes are just so cutting edge and prolific and pushed the boundaries. And even some of Deadmau5's stuff, and I think Skrillex had some really edgy sounds. I know he has this whole image and blah, blah, blah. But you know, just to name a few. I'm even a big fan of a band called Boards of Canada.
sM: I know them very well. Good music is just good fucking music. It’s universal.
BL: Yeah I know right?! So you just take elements, things that you like from different. I think unfortunately the label factor always gets thrown onto everything, but you have to be a little more open-minded if you want to be an artist. I found, when you go to Europe and you go to play at these festivals, a lot of the bands truly do, have a bit of the same sound, and technically I don't think any of them were pushing the envelope. That's why I felt some of the Dub Step artists were really getting it in there.
Another guy I really like was Amon Tobin. He did this special tour. It took him a year to put it together. The entire show and the visuals are all done with slide projectors and he does this imagery. The whole tour was sold out. You just couldn't get in. It was just pushing the envelope by an electronic visual presentation. There is just so much lacking in our scene where there's just too much emphasis put on blood and gore and I just think there's so much more to the creating electronic music, so that always inspires me and keeps me going. It’s a crazy record. I still listen to it and there are new ideas and new things, and it is all just sort of, you know… real.
sM: How else do you express yourself artistically? What else do you do?
BL: Music is really the way I express myself. I like films and art and so forth. I think ever since I started touring in the last 15 years whenever I'm in a town or in a city or wherever I am, if I have a few spare hours, I'll search out all the local art galleries and hit them up before a sound check or after, rather than rest. I’ll buy a book from the place. I've accumulated a whole collection. I express myself by paying homage to other artists and people who do great things. I don't paint or write books or anything. But I do patronize the arts and young artists and stuff, so it's always really kind of cool.
sM: Do you still get that fan experience when you go out locally?
BL: Oh gee I don't know. When we go to the festivals in Europe. I always forget about it. Then band's like “Well, let's walk around and check out all the stalls and all the stuff.”, and within two minutes I have to go back to the bus because it’s like…
sM: It's too much.
BL: Yeah. You know and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's just people genuinely come up and are like, “oh my God! Bill Leeb, this is so awesome, can we get a picture with you?” And then you know everybody sees and the next thing you know this circle of people form around. I don't want to alienate anybody. If you're nice to one you got to be nice to everybody, but then all of a sudden the other guys are walking away and they're doing their thing and I'm standing there, and it's…
sM: It's overwhelming yeah?
BL: And like I said you have to be nice to everybody, but that's only in those areas. And I'm not saying I dislike it, but I'm a pretty quiet person for the most part and kind of low key I like to think. And so I usually avoid a lot of that stuff. I used to like go to a lot of clubs, but now I have to just sort of keep it on the down low.
sM: What do you hope that your fans, new and old, take from the years of work that you've done?
BL: Well the way I look at other artists is integrity, artistry and honesty. Never really truly feeling that you're doing it for more than just the artistry. Just having inspired and pushed things, this type of music, everything, forward. Hopefully inspiring other artists that come along and pick up the torch when we're all gone. I can go off and die in a happy place, and let the next generation do their thing. Music and art, in general, is such an important thing and I'm just such a small part of it.