Wes Borland: 'I've Always Enjoyed the Process More Than the Outcome'
Limp Bizkit guitarist sat down with UG to talk about the band albums, his gear and first vocal duties.
Posted on Jun 06, 2013 12:45 pm
Limp Bizkit and Black Light Burns guitarist Wes Borland is not your conventional guitar player. His guitar rarely sounds one and when he solos it's more about bringing something unexpected to the music than it is about showing off. He paints his body, wears outrageous makeup and dangles lights from around his neck. He is his own canvas and the stranger the better. You can hear some of that strangeness on "Ready to Go," the first single from Limp Bizkit's new album, "Stampede of the Disco Elephants." Borland brings heavy and ambient guitar tones to the track that features Lil Wayne bringing his rap as a balance to Fred Durst's vocals.
This conversation took place on the final day of the band's U.S. tour before flying to Germany for a string of festivals. The group has been reformed since 2009 but most of their time has been spent outside of America. This tour was meant in some respects to reintroduce the band to its audience. "In some ways, it was to reenter the U.S.,"Borland explained. "To follow our footsteps with a throwback, club tour of where we've been before. Just to kind of play some of these old venues and frankly test the waters and see what it's like for us here." The reaction has been "overwhelmingly successful and great." Feeling good about the tour and the new album, Borland talked about everything during a brief window prior to the band's soundcheck.
UG: What do you feel in the hours before taking the stage?Wes Borland: Most of the Limp Bizkit songs at this point are just muscle memory. We played 'em so many times they've become almost like the background music for whatever is actually happening during the show. A lot of anticipation for the show is our heads are more leaning towards what is the crowd gonna be like it? What's the turnout tonight? How big is the venue? If the venue is any different than normal then how can we use the venue to better the show? What do we have to watch out for? Just stuff like that.
It's more the external pieces than the internal stuff.
I'll usually walk the stage early in the day just to kinda go, "Alright, if I wanna do anything crazy I can get off the stage here or here or here's an obstacle." Just stuff like that. The core of the live show is what the audience is like to us and that either gives us energy or drains us and we get into a place where we're kinda fakin' it through the setups or just kind of looking to each other to get that electric jolt we need to keep the show propelled forward.
I didn't have a lot of money when I was learning to play guitar. I bought my first guitar in when I was 12 for 80 bucks."Stampede of the Disco Elephants" isn't out yet so it's impossible to talk about the music. Can you fill us in on what is happening on the record?
The album isn't out yet and we're working on the album now. Most of the music is done and I think what we might be doing is releasing more singles as we go.
Stylistically can you fill in some of the spaces? Is it a throwback to earlier music or a continuation from "Gold Cobra"?
In some ways it's both but not with intention. I think it's natural to progress from "Gold Cobra" as far as that's where my brain and my riff writing is and I think the rest of the band's musical writing is there. That's the headspace we're still in but we don't have the pressure anymore of going, "OK, we just reformed. We've gotta write a great record to follow everything up."You didn't feel that weight on you this time?
Now in a way it feels like we've cleared the pipe out so I think a lot of the songwriting on the record is more natural. All my friends who've heard it have all said, "You guys sound younger because you don't sound like you have any pressure. It sounds like you're just trying things just to try 'em to see if they stick. And like you don't care as much." Not that we don't care as much about the music but you don't care as much what people are gonna think of it. It sounds a little more free and not exactly experimental. They're like, "It sounds like Limp Bizkit but more fun" and trying some more stuff out.
"Ready to Go" is the first track released from the new album. It's a pretty rocking track but also has those cool ambient parts starting at about 4:20 into the song.
Oh yeah, yeah. On the album that was intended to be an interlude afterwards and will continue into the next song. We just went ahead and kept it attached.
Is that a little bit of what you do with Black Light Burns?
Yeah, it is. It's written in the same kind of way and the same kind of writing process as far as that goes. It's when I just sort of take over the computer and start cutting stuff up and manipulating sounds. That outro bleeds into the Black Light Burns methods of making a record.
Using "Ready to Go" as an example, how does a Limp Bizkit song get assembled?
"Ready to Go" was a track that happened with a producer named Polow da Don who is a hip-hop producer. Near the end of working on "Gold Cobra," Fred [Durst] wanted to go into the studio with him and kind of in a similar way that he had done things in the past with the guy that does DMX's stuff - Swizz Beatz. The guy that we worked on "Rollin' (Air Raid Vehicle)" with.
Bringing that hip-hop element in is something the band has always done.
We went into the studio with Polow and Polow had this beat that kind of made the beat for "Ready to Go" and then they called me in. Fred was like, "I really want you to try playing heavy guitar over this crazy beat." I came into the studio and immediately reacted to it and played the main riff and then made up this sort of Iron Maidenish style (sings the lick). Sort of a "Wasted Years" style.
You were thinking heavy metal when you wrote the guitar part?
Not that it's that part. It's just sort of that kind of thinking and that's where the influence comes from. Crossing and bringing metal cliche stuff into the music. I like emulating other bands sometimes sort of as a hat tip within my riffs. Sometimes it's cheesy and sometimes it's not but it's always meant as kind of a, "Hey, check this out."A nod to your influences as it were.
So I came to the studio and within hours we had the track and the nuts and bolts of it were there.
DJ Lethal has left the band?
We've had a lot of differences with him and we're not incredibly in a place to talk about all the ins and outs and whys just out of respect for him and personal things. We're in communication with him and we are talking with him and everything isn't completely severed. We're speaking to him but right now we have some issues we're working on and trying to work out.
My point was really more about his musical contribution - has his absence impacted the sound of the album?
No, he is not on the new album as of yet or is not going to be. It's still up in the air. I don't really feel like it's impacted it at all. A lot of the stuff that is sort of the icing on top, I've kind of taken over doing some of that and Sam (Rivers), our bass player has taken over doing some of that. I dunno, I don't feel like it's changed the sound that much because at our core we're a drums/bass/guitar band.
Theatrics became sort of the new medium because I needed to create something."Gold Cobra" was the record when you returned to the band. How did that feel making that album?
It felt very natural to make the songs because we went in and didn't try to reinvent the wheel. We just tried to let happen what naturally happens when we come together and make an album. I just think especially with Fred, he felt like there was a lot to live up to vocally and wanted to make sure the hooks were right. I don't know - it was easy and felt natural but I think there was also some over-thinking on some of it.
That's easy to understand.
There was a little bit of second-guessing happening on stuff that I think made us hesitate to do certain things that were a little more daring. I think some things got cut from the record and left on the floor or shelved that probably shouldn't have. We had some things I was kind of in love with that were kind of risk-taking that ended up getting voted as not the right things to do.
Might those songs show up somewhere at some point?
I don't think so (laughs). I think the ideas once they've been abandoned are kind of abandoned and it's looked at as old terrain. The mining has been done and we've moved onto another section of our section.
"Shotgun" from the "Gold Cobra" record was really cool because it featured one of your rare solos. Did you never have an interest in playing more solos?
I was a painter, sculptor and a visual artist before I was a musician and I've always kind of looked at as a visual artist that happened to also play guitar. The way I think about my heroes and the things I really took influence from and the things that were important to me as a guitar player and as an artist, didn't come from kind of the Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen school of guitar playing.
Where did your influences come from?
I think I was always more influenced by beats and bass players. I just loved Les Claypool and thought Les was the cat's pajamas pretty much as far as what I aspired to be. Just the tone of his playing and his bass playing. I worshipped Wes Montgomery too as far as his optic playing and the way he approached guitar. I also really loved Django Reinhardt because of his ability. I was always fascinated he played everything he did with just two fingers. He was kind of restrained in many ways and overcame that. I was always influenced by different people than my peers were and other guitar players were.
You were differently listening to different kinds of players.
I found riffs fascinating and melodies fascinating but always felt like guitar solos were maybe just kind of typical or egotistical. I don't know. It just didn't seem like the important part of the song and it didn't seem necessary unless it was saying something or unless it was moving in some way - moving the purpose.
When you recorded that solo at the end of "Shotgun," what went through your head?
For a few reasons, I'm not expected to do solos so that was one reason why I wanted to put one on. I mean there's a few moments on "Gold Cobra" that have solos.
"Walking Away" has a solo.
Yeah, "Walking Away" has a solo, which is actually done on a Bass VI, which is an unconventional instrument to approach a guitar solo on anyways.
To say the least.
I have a 1962 Fender Bass VI that I don't take on tour. I ended up taking a '70s Mustang bass, which happens to have the same scale length s the Fender VI. I put a guitar nut and a Telecaster bridge for like a Tele Deluxe. I replaced the bridge on that and installed a Seymour Duncan Invader pickup, which is really high output and that is my answer to a touring Fender VI. 'Cause there's no way I'm taking my '62 Fender VI out. There's no way.
In late 2008 Fred and I start talking again and realized that we'd become grownups and can deal with each other in a new way.Isn't that what Jack Bruce played in Cream?
Uh yeah, that's right. And Robert Smith in the Cure who's actually a huge influence on me guitar-wise as well. Another big influence on me, which is gonna sound weird but if you think about it it makes sense, is Dave Matthews. As far as his melody-slash-riff playing, the melodic riff playing. I always was fascinated by how he approaches acoustic guitar. I'm not a fan of all of his songwriting but man, the way he play acoustic guitar and the way he approaches it with his sliding and kind of sliding around and how slippery his riffs are, I've just always been a fan of that.
"Loser" was another really cool song from "Gold Cobra" with unique guitar tones and a very lyrical solo.
Yeah, and the guitar tones are also kind of a nod to "My Way" on "Chocolate Starfish (and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water)" because I used the exact same chain of effects and the same amp with the same settings that I did for "My Way." That was done very purposely. It is the same exact tone on "Loser."
Why did you do that?
To kind of connect the dots in a way and to give some kind of subliminal continuity to our sound.
You mentioned Wes Montgomery as one of your heroes. You took jazz lessons back in the day and that does creep through your playing.
Yeah, jazz theory and jazz lessons but I don't have a lot of left-brain going on - my brain is operating on the right side. So I'm just sort of a mess when it comes to things that are logical and trying to dig into music theory and things like that. I've tried several times in my life to get into music theory and I'm an ear player and I just can't do it. I don't understand why things work.
That's so strange to hear you say that because the music you write is pretty complex.
My wife is a totally trained concert musician who's got great pitch. She's just like, "I don't get it. I don't get how you don't know how this stuff works. You just know - you just know it sounds good." And I go, "I guess." She says, "It's so weird. You write this crazy stuff and you have no idea what you're doing." I say, "You're right." I just kind of accidentally into fall into whatever I write because I think it sounds interesting.
Your approach to guitar tones follows the same philosophy - you've never followed conventional wisdom in creating guitar sounds.
Yeah, I mean I've always enjoyed the process more than the outcome or the profit of the process. I've always been kind of a slave to getting like a high out of being in the zone that you get in when you're creating something. Whenever I'm sort of in a flow where I'm working on a painting or an album where the world outside me ceases to be and I start to lose track of time and I'm just really in this zone of creation, that's when my brain starts giving me a dopamine reward.
King Crimson's Robert Fripp operates in a similar fashion.
Interesting. He's massive and he's a heavy guy. Him and Adrian Belew and all those guys of that nature are just astounding players who are just mind boggling.
For you it's about the adventure and not the destination.
I start getting rewarded somehow for accomplishing and experimenting so I've always wanted to do that. I've always wanted to try new things and plug things into other things that shouldn't be plugged in. I'm fascinated by circuit bending and that whole genre of taking Casio keyboards and attaching and soldering wires to parts that aren't supposed to be connected and stuff like that.
There are sort of parameters set up for Black Light (Burns) and there are parameters set up for Limp Bizkit.Your fascination goes all the way to some of your earliest songs like "Counterfeit," which had amazing guitar sounds and even backwards guitars.
As far as my pedal use goes, I didn't have a lot of money when I was learning to play guitar. I bought my first guitar in Nashville, Tennesse when I was 12 years old for 80 bucks at a guitar shop. Then I got a Gorilla amp for 50 bucks at a pawn shop.
What kind of guitar was it?
It was a Telecaster ripoff by a company called Infinox by JTG, which was a Nashville-based company and was just like a little tiny company. Who knows where they are now? Who knows where they were then? I don't now. It's a black, two humbucker, set bridge, Tele copy and to me it was the world.
First guitars are very special.
I was playing my heart out on this thing all the time all day long. I would learn riffs and listen to records and go, "Why doesn't my playing sound like the playing on the album?" (laughs) My second was when I really started to sort of connect with my style because I had a Floyd Rose locking tremolo system on my guitar.
What kind of guitar was that?
It was a single/single/humbucker Washburn KC40V and that guitar had a Floyd Rose-patented locking tremolo that was licensed to Washburn. It was the Washburn-made version of the tremolo. But still as soon as I could start dive-bombing low notes and working the whammy bar while I was playing a riff like a trombone to make notes go low and come back up, that's when I started going, "This is really interesting. Having this ability on the guitar to use this like a slide of a trombone almost to make notes drop an octave and then come back up, this is useful. I can use this to my advantage."The whammy bar was your first big step in creating the Wes Borland guitar style?
I thought, "I can use this to my knowledge." I didn't have any money for pedals so I just started figuring out different ways to hit the whammy to make it flutter. I think before I got to pedals, I tried everything on every note and every sound I possibly could out of the guitar dry.
That really explains a lot about your approach.
Then when I met Ross Robinson when I was 21 on the first album, I had a cash flow because we had a record budget. He said, "Wes, we're going pedal shopping." We went and he said, "You should get this, this, this, this and this." And I think we spent like $500 or $600 at a guitar shop in New York - and welcome to the world of pedals.
What were some of those early pedals?
One of them was an Echoplex that I still have. There was a Blue Box by MXR (M-103), which just is insanity. It just makes your guitar sound like crap. Like multi-octaves, pick out the treble just blow a speaker nonsense. At Indigo Ranch in Malibu when we made our first album, they had a pedal there called the Bigger Muff. Which was two Big Muffs and some other garbage thrown into a pedal that did nothing but feedback. It's almost reminiscent of some the Zvex that had come out in the past however many years. But it was just like this insane fuzz pedal that fed back no matter what you were doing and there was no off switch. Ross would just mess with it while I was playing.
Ross Robinson was an important part of your development as a player?
He was really like my older brother that sort of showed me a lot of tricks and he's still one of my best friends to this day.
"The Three Dollar Bill, Y'All$" album was experimenting with sounds and bouncing ideas off of Ross Robinson?
It was a learning experience really; it was just a major learning experience. After you've made a record you've got to go into rehearsals and figure out how to play those songs live song of 'em and recreate some of the things you've done on the album. That's when you try to gain some sort of control and mastery over how to use pedals and what order they went in and why that was important and just different things.
Translating the songs from the studio to the stage is when you really focused on the pedals and sounds and how everything worked?
That's when a lot of that stuff started coming into play. I started getting a grip on what my meat and potatoes was going to be in the near future.
What did you come to realize?
That was delay pedals. Those were the effects that were the most useful to me. I can leave choruses and flangers and whammy pedals - those don't really do a lot for me and especially 'cause I'm already using the whammy bar on my guitar and I don't really need the whammy on the foot. Those delays were my thing and all of a sudden it was like, "Oh, I'm sounding like Robert Smith. I can do all this Pink Floyd kind of delay stuff."Where did the imagery and the costumes come from?
I think when I was a really little kid, I saw a special on TV on Kiss. I thought it was kinda like they were super heroes that played guitar. I'm not a Kiss fan but it was just sort of like, "Whoa, that's crazy." Man, that had an affect on me. I was always into comic books and super heroes. I never did any makeup or costuming in any band I was in before Limp Bizkit.
All that began when you joined this band?
It's just sort of when I entered Limp Bizkit all of a sudden we had people helping us. We had crew and I didn't have to carry everything by myself all the time. I started thinking about, "What else can I do with this? I'm a guitar player in a rock band that's starting to find some success." And my brain just started going, "Well, you're a visual artist. You know how to sculpt and you know to sew and you know how to paint. Use this."
I just kind of accidentally into fall into whatever I write because I think it sounds interesting.You started experimenting with your image in the same way you had experimented with your guitar sounds.
Yeah, theatrics became sort of the new medium because I needed to create something. My body started becoming the medium in which I was going to work. I kept adding and it kept getting more and more and I was finding out about more things I could do. I started putting lights together and when we stopped at truck stops, I would buy a bunch of wiring and truck lights and make collars and weird things that would point in my face. It just got more and more ridiculous and more and more over-the-top. Yeah! It's like a small, single snowflake of an idea that over the years has become an avalanche because I'm constantly trying to top my younger self and things I've done in the past or outthink an idea I had before.
Has the image ever overshadowed your contributions as a guitarist?
No, I've always looked at them as a reflection of each other whatever they mean. To me they are but I'm on the inside and I have no perspective on myself. So it's whatever impact it makes on other people whether they're impacted more from the visual presence I have or the music I'm capable of creating. It doesn't matter to me which one they're impacted more by because they're both an extension of my thought and myself. I put worth in both equally.
Was working with producer Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden) on the "Significant Other" album a different relationship than you had with Ross Robinson?
Yeah, Terry Date is not as hands on as Ross is. He's a lot more of an engineer and an outside ear and opinion. Ross gets involved like he's a member of the band and gets very attached and very personal. Terry is excellent at capturing what is happening and being a sounding board on what's good and what's not. I think Ross kind of gave us what we needed. In some ways he fanned the fire we already had and we learned from Ross what we were gonna learn from him as a band making the first album. So we kind of had that knowledge in some ways already in us and Ross had had a major effect on us. Terry Date produced it but it's really more of a Fred-produced album in some ways.
Fred Durst had a lot to do with "Significant Other"?
Yeah, after Ross, Fred kind of moved into the position of producer and has always kind of been like a yay or nay on, "That works or this doesn't work." He's a lot like an editor and he's very good at picking what the best take is. He's very good at being an outside perspective on what John (Otto), Sam (Rivers) and I are doing as a band.
That jazzy kind of Wes Montgomery influence appears on "Re-Arranged."
Yeah, yeah it does. Also a lot of the Les Claypool influence because "Re-Arranged" has a lot of rhythmic two-hand tapping. Sam wrote the bass line and it's really carrying the melodic hook of that song in the bass. My role is to kind of percussively follow him and make sure his train stays on the tracks.
On "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water" you brought back Terry Date and Josh Abraham (Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars) to produce?Josh Abraham helped out a little bit and came in for a couple songs as did Brendan O'Brien on "Significant Other." He was kind of involved too. At that point we had a lot of people who were kind of coming in to give opinions and dip their toe in our water and give us free advice (laughs) on what we were doing and stuff like that.
Did you feel like "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water" was when Limp Bizkit really hit their stride?
On "Chocolate Starfish..." we really kind of had it together and we knew what we were doing at that point.
You could sense that it was all coming together?
Yeah, like we were really getting it by record three. We lost sort of some people on "Significant Other" who really liked the "Three Dollar Bill, Y'All" sound. I feel like "Chocolate Starfish..." was like a continuation of and a more honed "Significant Other" sound in some ways. I mean we were knew where we were going on that album. There was no more finding ourselves - it was right there.
You said that "Chocolate Starfish..." is when Limp Bizkit really found itself. On top of that it was an incredibly successful record but you left right after it was completed. Why?
Yes, I left the band during the writing of record number four. They went on to make "Results May Vary" and I came back and we tried to reform in 2004 and made "The Unquestionable Truth (Part 1)" and fought the whole time. Hated each other's guts and Ross Robinson was back involved on that one. So basically none of us were ready to be back together again. It was too soon.
The band took another long hiatus?
Time passes and in late 2008, Fred and I get back together in a room and start talking again and realized that we'd become grownups and can deal with each other in a new way. Now he's one of my best friends. Amazing what age and perspective can do with ego and self-importance.
In 2007 when you were on leave from Limp Bizkit, you put together the first Black Light Burns album, "Cruel Melody."
A lot of it had been stuff I had been working on. The only song that's tied to Limp Bizkit is "I Have a Need," which started as a Limp Bizkit song that Sam was playing bass on. It never made it anywhere and was sort of shot down 'cause it didn't fit into the Limp Bizkit box in some ways. Black Light has become me minus what I do in Limp Bizkit.
Everything you do in Black Light Burns is the opposite of what you bring to Limp Bizkit?
There are sort of parameters set up for Black Light and there are parameters set up for Limp Bizkit. In Black Light, I don't use any guitars that have a Floyd Rose locking system on them at all. I also write all the songs playing bass first so all the songs are written around me on bass with the guitars being more of an addition to the bass core. Yeah, and then everything's built around that. And sometimes in Black Light Burns the vocals come first.
We didn't try to reinvent the wheel. We just tried to let happen what naturally happens when we come together and make an album.That is different.
Everything I'm writing is in support of the vocals instead of me trying to shine on an
instrument as an individual. I'm trying to create a song. So I'm really approaching songwriting in Black Light from a completely different perspective than I am in Limp Bizkit.
When you first stepped up to the microphone was that a comfortable experience for you?
It was a huge pain in the a-s. My good friend Danny Lohner kind of coached me through it and produced the first album. Somedays I really wanted to punch him for the offensive things he would say to me and the ridicule of how my voice was sounding like shit or how it just didn't sound good enough for this or I needed to sound more like this. I also didn't have an ear for vocals.
It seems like you'd have an incredible ear for vocals and melodies?
To me it would sound like the part was fine but he would go, "No, don't you see how your syllables aren't meshing with the beat? There's not a suction pushing and pulling with your vocals. They don't sound glued to the sound. They sound like they're loose and lollygagging on top of the sound." I couldn't hear it until I'd been a singer for years.
But you finally understood what it took to turn in a real vocal performance?
Actually it was touring with Black Light on the road and just ruthlessly touring in 2007. That year we did four months straight out of the year and that's when I realized like, "Oh, all this stuff I did on the album and the way I sang, none of it or a lot of it doesn't work live. I can't be quiet." That's when I learned to project and how to deal with a crowd. That was a whirlwind of a learning experience (laughs) on that tour.
What was it like going in to do the second Black Light Burns album, "The Moment You Realize You're Going to Fall"?
When I approached the next Black Light Burns album, which we put out last year, the vocals were super f--kin' easy to do all by myself. The vocals on that were like nothing. I had so much more confidence. A lot of people liked "Cruel Melody" better than "The Moment..." but I personally don't. I think "The Moment..." is more of what our band sounds like and more of what it is. People were disappointed it didn't have the cleanliness but if you don't like "The Moment..." then you don't like Black Light Burns 'cause that's where we're headed. The first one was clean but we're going to new places.
"The Colour Escapes" is a great example you doing everything: vocals, drums, bass, guitars and keyboards.
It takes a while to build. It's not sort of like a spurt of the moment thing. But for that reason I tried to make the album sound a lot more live and making it sound wilder. Because "Cruel Melody," I really like the songs, but the production feels a little sterile to me in some ways. I wanted it to sound more like a runaway horse and carriage on the side of a cliff about to fall off. Make it sound wild and leave mistakes and have all kinds of just noise (laughs). I have to run to soundcheck.
Thank you very much.
Thank you so much. Great talking to you. Bye.
Interview by Steven Rosen