WILL CARRUTHERS – CURSING THE DARKNESS – FROM SPACEMEN 3 TO THE GHOST OF BILLIE HOLIDAY

Recognised by his vintage Gibson Thunderbird bass and snappy sense of style, Will Carruthers is a veteran of such iconic bands as Spacemen 3, Spiritualized and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, to name a few. Currently based in Berlin and still lending his musical talents to BJM as well as Iceland’s Dead Skeletons, this nomadic musician, waiter, cook, gardener and occasional construction worker can now add ‘author’ to his impressive list of accomplishments – the last of which I discovered by way of a delightfully inventive crowd-sourcing campaign.

I’ve posted before about my aversion to ‘go-fund-me’s in the past, but one in particular, promising magical tales of a plutonium factory, badgers and the ghost of Billie Holiday all wrapped into one artfully designed package was the exception, so of course I was eager to find out more. This autobiographical conglomeration of short stories is Will Carruthers‘ inventively assembled and aptly titled, “Book of Jobs” …not to be confused with a book of his jobs, or The Book of Job, but better I let Will explain…

Q: It’s always interesting for me to chat with artists who’ve strayed from the public’s perception of who they are, so do you prefer ‘musician first then poet,’ or is the written word your weapon of choice these days?

A: I have often strayed from my own perception of who I am to keep myself on my toes a little bit. Are you what you do? Are you what you wish for or are you what you experience? Are you defined by what you do for money? I am a little wary of defining myself as a writer, or a musician, or a builder or whatever for fear that I might start to believe it and miss something along the way. I am a weird bag of stardust, prone to occasionally incomprehensible outbursts who can hold a tune in a bucket and plaster a wall when I have to.

Dead Skeletons

Q: Speaking of the crossover of artists who are musicians who are writers, I heard you co-curated a very special exhibit of artist Natty Brooker’s work at my friend Ramses’ gallery, Substrate, in Los Angeles. Natty was responsible for much of the Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized aesthetic. Can you share with us any fond memories of your friendship with the notorious “Mr Ugly?”

Natty Brooker Substrate Gallery – 2009

A: That was a great show at Substrate. It was an honour to help get more of Natty’s work out into the public eye. He encouraged me to write and play music when I was young and he was an inspiration to me because of the way he lived mainly due to the fact that he wasn’t really playing by the same rules as most of the people I knew. He would have been a highly entertaining rich person, but I am not sure how seriously he took that whole thing …and maybe that’s the point.

He had different priorities and I am still not exactly sure what they were. He was a grumbling and glorious psychedelic oddball. Me and him used to go and sleep outside sometimes, under this big beech tree on an old burial mound outside Rugby. I remember writing a song about mermaids with him one summer night there and we were rolling about in the dirt, around the fire, laughing at our own filthy lyrics. It is basically a hymn to cunnilingus, which is funny really because I am not even sure that mermaids have vaginas. He was hilarious when he got going. It makes me sad to talk about him in the past tense and to think about how much he suffered with cancer but I like to think of him popping up like a mushroom, in some unlikely corner of the universe, rejuvenated, invigorated, and utterly precious.

Q: So you’re now living in Berlin. Had you toured Germany before leaving the UK? I know Anton has been there a while now, so just what is it about Berlin? It’s such a perfect Film Noir city!

 

“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” – 1920

 

BJM – Photo Credit Danny North

A: I live in Berlin …mostly, though I am on a bit of a ramble at the moment and I am not sure where I will end up. I toured extensively in Germany with Spacemen3 in the late eighties and we played the Loft club in Berlin . I never returned to the city until I came here to work with Anton in 2008. I came for six weeks and never left. I like it here, although sometimes I am not sure why. Maybe that is why I like it. Sadly some of the more interesting aspects of the city seem to be falling victim to the commodification of the city’s popularity, but ….fingers crossed it will manage to retain enough of the spirit that made it a “unique investment opportunity” in the first place. If it becomes normal it will be a minor tragedy.

I would like to live somewhere that isn’t insanely competitive but it seems that if you have a lot of cranes on the skyline and a lot of rich new arrivals you better watch out ….boring is on the way and you better get ready for the same old shit.

“Spiritualized” – Pierce, Carruthers, Mattock, Refoy, Radley – 1992

Q: As an American, a lot of us think of growing up in England in the late 70’s and 80’s as being on the ground floor of some very electrifying new music. Like most of my LA peers at the time, I surreptitiously spun the radio dial away from mainstream rock to KROQ to listen to Sham 69 and Joy Division, Bauhaus and The Cure as music trended from punk to Goth to New Wave, but what was it really like growing up in the economic turmoil of early 80’s Britain?

A: I guess you can kind of tell what it was like for some people by listening to those records. They were certainly more of of an indicator of which way parts of society were going than all of that nonsense that was in the charts. Kylie Minogue and Jason fucking Donovan and that horrible eighties snare sound? I don’t think so. If you look at pictures of Margaret Thatchers hair and listen to “We are all prostitutes by The Pop Group”…it felt like that. Don’t look into her eyes though. You’ll turn to stone.

It seems that resistance is fertile because…. we didn’t do what we were told. “Just say no“ ….. it doesn’t seem very positive does it? We didn’t just say no and that put us, unwillingly, into opposition with some of the prevailing power of the time and consequently parts of our lives were paranoid, violent, and fairly depressing in some ways. Maybe we should have said no to some of the stuff but we kind of learned to live with it.

Here are some lyrics from Spandau Ballet:

“Thank you for coming home I`m sorry that the chairs are all worn I left them here I could have sworn these are my salad days slowly being eaten away just another play for today oh but I`m proud of you, but I`m proud of you”

In the face of that sort of highly esteemed vacuity we ran screaming into the past. I wanted to start an eighties nostalgia disco called “Fuck off Seagulls” and just play the 13th Floor elevators and the Stooges, which is pretty much what we did in the eighties. ‘Sometimes it’s better to fire up the blob wheel than to curse the darkness.’

Q: In my conversations with artists and musicians, whether famous or aspiring, in an effort to unearth the impetus for their creative drive, I’ve discovered most seem to fit into one of three categories – those who create for money and fame, those who do it because they have something to prove to themselves, and those who do it because creating and breathing are indistinguishable. Where do you fit in here…or is there a fourth category?

A: I don’t know why I do it but I am mostly glad I do.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about Book of Jobs? How did the idea for the hand-made books come about and had you worked with Linocuts before? I know they are going to be extremely popular over here, so please tell us how and where we can get our greedy – sorry, grubby little American hands on them?

A: A book of Jobs is a collection of short stories I have written. There are some stories about a couple of the bands I have been in, but mostly they are about the jobs I have done for money, while trying to make a living as a musician. Some of it is pretty funny …in retrospect.

I was always inspired by the idea of William Blake printing his own books using the skills he had picked up while working as a printer. I didn’t know anyone else who made books, but I had a book of poetry written called “A spoon for the air” and I had injured my knee so I couldn’t walk very well. I had no idea about how to publish the book. One day I thought “how hard can it be to make them myself?”. I am pretty good with my hands so I watched a few youtube videos and gradually taught myself to do it through a process of trial and error.

I wanted the books to be special somehow and I had no money to pay someone else to do it, so it was mainly pragmatic…and stubborn…and a little bit stupid maybe. Took me two months to make the first one and I NEARLY gave up and stapled the thing together like a fanzine.

 

I had never worked with linocuts …or laid out a book before so I was just blundering along like an amateur …as always it seems. The idea of binding art into the books appealed to me because it seemed like something that mass production could not achieve. Sometimes it is possible to turn your weaknesses into your strengths. There are fourteen lino cuts bound into the hardbacks for the new books and the covers are all hand printed on hand marbled paper. I have sold about eighty of the one hundred signed and numbered handmade hardbacks of “A Book of Jobs.”

The first run of softbacks has sold out, but I might do a reprint …if people want to know what I am up to and when I have some for sale …they can follow me on twitter or facebook …perhaps the best way is to sign up for my mailing list. There are a couple of new poetry books ready to go and I have plans to write the music book …that one might be quite funny too.

Here’s the MAILING LIST

Q: Lastly, I just have to ask, what is spinning on your turntable at the moment?

A: I have these albums on hot rotation at the moment:

Electric Warrior by T Rex

Requiem for an Almost Lady by Lee Hazelwood

Lyricist Lounge Volumes 1 and 2

and the Dead Man Soundtrack

Photo credit: Eggert Johannesson

 

“Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.” – William Blake