Having released a wide discography, Will Thomas Long is one of the more prolific drone artists of these years. We’ll try to discover through his own words the deep meanings of his records as Celer, the recent collaborations and the future projects of an artist whose sensibility and human experience are definitely out of common.
How did you first get across ambient music and what potential did you find in it?
My interest in ambient music came from two different ways. First I always loved films and their scores, from when I was a child until studying film in college. Growing up in the 1980’s was a good time to be a kid, with important musical things happening. To a child, it makes a big impact. The more electronic side of my interest came from one of my friends in the 1990’s, who was into the rave culture scene. He would go to raves every weekend, always finding these new electronica acts through it. One particular thing we discovered was what he called ‘trance’, but it was actually a mislabeling of minimal techno. That’s what got me into the electronic side of things.
For making music, I didn’t really set out to make ambient music, I just had an idea of what I wanted it to sound like. Even now I don’t sit down to make music and think “I’m going to make something ambient”, it just ends up coming out that way. Even though I consider a lot of my music as ambient, it’s for a different reason than as with the typical definition of ambient music, that it shouldn’t be given close attention, that it is just background music. Sometimes this is true, but I try to call it ambient music purely because of the quality and style of the sound. To me it’s more about what it means to me personally, such as what inspiration brought it out, and hearing the details of sounds. What I enjoy most about loops is not getting lost in the repetition and having a nice background sound, but listening closely, becoming familiar with something, and then hearing a new sound in a different place. It’s always a learning experience, and remembering the memory that it came from.
You’re an extremely prolific artist, even if most experimental artists have rich discographies and it’s not unusual they release many albums in few time. Where does your urgency to compose music come from?
I usually work on music very quickly, to keep it fresh. The spontaneity of new sounds means a lot to me. Once I work on something for too long, that spirit dies away, and I can’t hear anything good in the song anymore. Once you’ve learned it too well, it’s not as interesting anymore. So, I try to keep my composing short. I generally create a large amount of source material from playing at random times, then divide it between several projects depending on the theme or instruments, then mixing it. Once I finish with an album I know it well, so the wait until the release date is a nice break from it, so that I can hear it on it’s published medium, and hear it in a new way. The urgency is difficult to explain, and something I don’t really know myself. It’s just a drive to always be doing something. If it isn’t music, I have to do something else. It isn’t a manic kind of feeling or action, but just an inner drive to always be creative, and productive in some way.
And, generally speaking, do you think the fact experimental and electronic artists are more prolific means their music is “easier” to make than, e.g., an album of songs?
It is, and it isn’t. I think the problem part of the time, is that a lot of experimental music shouldn’t be compared with other kinds of music. For instance, a 60 minute loop, while still an album, to me feels like it is just a song. So, you could compare this to a normal 4 minute song by a rock band. Maybe they took the same amount of time to make, but just because the experimental track is long, it qualifies as an album. This of course isn’t always the case though, as a lot of experimental music takes an incredible amount of work, and just as much time as many other kinds. Maybe it also has to do with the fact that the majority of experimental artists are more independent, and not tied to major record labels, so they actually have the freedom to make and release whatever they want. It really just depends all on the individual person, and how much of their time they spend working on it.
Which kind of inspiration are your records born from? Which is the role of field recordings and the process you use to make them part of your music?
My records almost always come from memories of experiences, no matter how common, recent or old, and trying to associate that with music in a way that seems to fit. It can be something from the same day, or years ago. But it always has to have some connection.. music with no purpose feels meaningless. At the same time just using your imagination and creating stories with music from your own emotions is a fascinating thing to do. It’s like making a movie, just without the visual aspect.
Field recordings are present in my music, but not always, and usually of a very raw and non-academic nature. They typically account for time and place circumstances, unplanned, and without much purpose except to trap that moment in time. I use samples almost as often as field recordings, commonly mixing the two together to create alternative storylines to be paired with the music, or used as interludes. The meaning then commonly turns out different than what they were originally, but that is part of what makes them so interesting.
Which instruments and devices do you use for composing and recording your music?
Nearly every album is made with a different setup of instruments or source material, only the basic components usually stay the same. For a long time I’ve primarily used tape for recording, even though a lot of the time it is just with very cheap second-hand reel to reels, it still gives it a great quality of its own. Sometimes I do use software, but always free, open-source software. Recently though, using older instruments from the 1970’s and 1980’s is really exciting, in a very regressive, but pure way.
Are there other artists that you feel somehow close to you sensibility?
I have a very close connection with my wife (Miko), as I always enjoyed her music before we even knew each other. We work in similar ways, and it’s really fun and free playing together. Other artists I feel good connections to are Machinefabriek, whom I toured in Europe with, and we always had an unpredictable chemistry live, whether it came out good or not, it was fun. Many local friends provide a lot of inspiration. Hakobune is a good friend of mine, and though our styles of making music are different, it’s always fun performing together and playing music. He’s always open-minded, and carefree. Terre Thaemlitz is another close friend who lives nearby in Tokyo, an artist whom I’ve listened to and respected for many years. Searching through the second-hand electronic stores with him is always a great inspiration.
Living in Tokyo is great because there are so many other artists close by. When many of your weekly friends are also artists and musicians, there is always a lot of inspiration around you, and creativity driving the community. Sometimes there can be more musicians than there are just listeners, but you always have friends around, and that’s something positive.
You released records on many different labels, including, recently, the italian Glacial Movements: how do you get in touch with all these people and labels?
It usually comes from a mutual connection somehow, rarely just from cold emails, but sometimes. It seems like almost every situation is different, and always surprising. In the first few years it was all just trying to send music to labels and make connections. Some of that worked out, and a lot of it didn’t. In the past few years it’s almost all been publishing music through connections, or receiving invitations to release from labels I didn’t know before. The latter situation also works out with sometimes good and sometimes bad results. Still, I try to give all labels a chance if they are enthusiastic about working together. We need each others’ support.
Is there any of your records you feel particulary “close” to from an emotional point of view?
There are many albums that are very important to me, but if I had to choose one at the moment that has already been released, it would be “Tightrope”. I recorded this at a time that was a huge transition in my life. I had recently moved away from California where I had lived with Danielle for several years, and was living at my family home. It was a difficult year being on my own again, with no steady work in the US, just working on music and art, and taking care of my family. I happened to go to Japan for a tour with Yui Onodera, and by chance it was such a great experience that I decided to move there. On the same trip I also met my wife Miko for the first time. When I returned home I finished the music for “Tightrope” that I had started before the trip. For me it was one of the first big albums that I completed of entirely new material, with a new outlook and future ahead of me. The cover is also a photo of Miko that I took on a day we went to the hills around Mt. Fuji, so it is a special memory in connection with the entire story as well. While “Tightrope” is particularly special for me, every album has a special meaning and purpose. Without that, it would be pointless.
Recently, you started new collaborations, the one with Machinefabriek and the new project including vocals Oh, Yoko: do you think there can be something other than Celer in your future?
The 7” series and tour with Machinefabriek was a great experience. We had a colorful musical charisma together, and it was equally fun. Though our 7” series is finished, we have plans to release a collaboration album that we recorded on a farm in the Netherlands, during the tour, with Romke and Jan Kleefstra (whom we also toured with as Kleefstra/Bakker/Kleefstra).
Oh, Yoko is also a very different project for me, with my wife Miko. For Oh, Yoko we wanted blend our two styles together, but at the same time use the skills we’ve learned for our own styles of music to create something entirely new for both of us. We’ve been working on our debut album, and I think we’ve succeeded in creating something unique to both of our styles, a new direction for both of us. It’s sincere, but with a sense of humor and nostalgia.
2013 will also see the debut of Hollywood Dream Trip, my new collaborative project with Christoph Heemann. Our debut will be released on Streamline sometime in the spring, with a tour through Europe in March. I met Christoph several years ago when he came to the United States to tour, before I moved to Japan, and while also working on a Celer release for Streamline, we created a collaboration together. I’m very excited to work with Christoph, as he’s also an artist who has been an important influence on my own music, since before I started making music.
I think 2013 will still be a very active year for Celer releases, but new things will happen as well. Perhaps 2013 is the peak for Celer, and the introduction of new projects, and new directions. 2013 will also see the debut of another solo project under the name Rangefinder, using only classic synthesizers and sequencers. I started it in 2011 as an opposite direction from Celer for something new and fresh. There are no drones; its focus instead is on using 1980’s synthesizers and sequencers to create short tracks blossoming with humor, childhood imagination, over-the-top sounds, and creative independence.
Finally, how would you describe the meaning and the goal – both human and artistic – of your music?
I want people to listen to the music, and feel a connection to something in themselves; a memory, a time or place, a person or thing. To me all of the music all has it’s own meaning, set alongside a time or place, or a memory from the past. It is always the basis for creating and starting on something, yet when it is completed, the results opens that memory and gives it many new directions and connections that weren’t there before.
Artistically, I want to do my best to create music that is important to me, and that I believe is important to the time. There are many undercurrent themes in my music, many which I never state, but through simply a cover photo, or the design, I hope that some of the themes are clear, and give the listener something new to hold in their hand, and play on their stereo. Some of the most simple things become the most easily forgettable, yet they remain more important and lasting than those constantly current, constantly changing and disposable trends that pass away. I don’t want to always make a completely original album regarding to style of music, I just make music and albums that are right to me, my time, and my own life. It’s my diary, and the things I believe in.
(full original version of the interview published on italian magazine Rockerilla, February 2013 issue)