Saul Williams – The mixing of ideas

Foto: Benjamin Menedetter Valentin Menedetter
Saul Williams is the intellectual counterpart, the poetic visionary, enthusiastic globetrotter of Hip hop. A conversation about feelings and music and how it come together…

Anger, Angst and Emotions: Saul Williams deals with them in his own way – music. Rooted in Hip Hop, inspired by the music and the people of the world Mr. Williams travels in his own universe. His studies of philosophy give him a better understanding of relations. His creativity is not only limited to music, he already gained success in film – winning a prize at the Sundance and Cannes film festival. Growing up in New York he became a part of the poetry scene and gained recognition through that. Collaborations followed; Williams can also be found on a Nine Inch Nails record for who he did support for a while. His sound is powerful, catches you instantly and transmits the energy of the musician. Valentin Menedetter had the pleasure of talking to him.

You are based in the Hip Hop genre but you also have other elements in your music. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Saul Williams: I draw my inspiration from life and all my experiences. I’m from New York, I grew up in the 80s and in the mid 80s I was an exchange student and I moved to Brazil. After that I didn’t stop travelling. I went all around America, maybe 47 of the 50 states. I’ve been to probably 30 countries. Every place I go I buy music and listen to music, meet the natives, hang with them and pick up on stuff from different people. I just got back from two months in Senegal, doing a movie there and of course I came back with music and instruments and all types of other things. My albums can just be an honest representation of who I am. With time I get more confident sharing more and more of who I am. A lot of people think I’m really angry, and the angry side is what I wasn’t comfortable showing. Now you see less anger, you see more of me. Friends never thought of me as angry.

Do you vent your feelings with your music?
Saul Williams: I think I vented a lot of anger and angst through my music. I have different avenues for expression. I have a lot of poems and a lot of them are not angry, love poems. Some are questioning music, maybe because of the amount of finance and infrastructure that’s institutionalized. I specifically vented certain emotions through music in the beginning. It has changed a bit.

What annoys you nowadays?
Saul Williams: I’m not really annoyed. Everybody is annoyed by bad music but fortunately I don’t listen to a lot of bad music. There’s a lot of new stuff that I like. I’m open, much more than I was 20 years ago.

» That’s the Hip Hop in me, that I’m still sampling in my head at least; creating new ideas through mixed media. Even if I don’t actually sample, I’m still inspired by a lot of things that I’ve heard and take it some place that I haven’t heard.« (Saul Williams)

Has the music helped you to open up?
Saul Williams: Definitely, I think music is healing medicine; it has opened me up tremendously. Music has played a great part in my evolution of being, consciousness, awareness, all of those things. Music is a drug and it’s a relaxing mechanism. A balancing mechanism; it’s super powerful. Gaining an appreciation for various instruments. For the proximity of the Chello to the human voice, or the percussive elements of the piano, or percussion itself. Listening to classical music, listening to all this different music helped me find things. And then particularly listening to a lot indigenous, shamanistic music. Because I like the idea of trance and I like polyrhythm. For a while I used to go back and stop at Fela, then I started going pre-Fela. I’m trying to take a conscious effort to listen to the music. Finding out about vocal layering and harmonizing and the polyrhythm. I like the beats within the beats.

After listening to all this music, how do you feel that it’s time to make music yourself?
Saul Williams: It’s only when it’s necessary. Every song I’ve written has come out of a direct need to work on music in that moment. Whether it was to calm some anxiety or to focus on thoughts. Just to ease my way through a night or an afternoon, or maybe it’s just a bit of inspiration that came by listening to other music. There are moments in a song where I would have the feeling that this one second in this song would make an entire new song. It would spark a whole idea in me. That’s the Hip Hop in me, that I’m still sampling in my head at least; creating new ideas through mixed media. Even if I don’t actually sample, I’m still inspired by a lot of things that I’ve heard and take it some place that I haven’t heard.

Do you think that New York in the 80s influenced you?
Saul Williams: Yes and no, cause as open as New York was back then – I was a teenager. I was pretty closed. I wanted to fit in I wanted to be cool. I wanted to let people know that I listened to the cool shit.

Has that helped your love for Hip Hop?
Saul Williams: Yeah, I mean it was the shit. It was the original shit. There was a time when I owned every Hip Hop album that was ever made, because there were twelve. I had them all, on cassette! (laughs). That was the crazy time that you could own every Hip Hop album.

So if we go back to you, writing music. You said that sometimes you use your music to push yourself through certain things. If a song is not finished and you return to it, what is that like for you?
Saul Williams: It’s a gift, for instance Volcanic Sunlight – I wrote all of those songs when I was feeling inspired by love. Not just love of a person, but life. As soon as I finished demoing those songs, I just went up through the biggest, craziest break up thing and then it was time to work on those songs again. When I came back to them all of the beautiful emotion, that I thought I could never achieve, was there in the music waiting for me. So the thing that saved me was the music. It’s always like that.