William Burnett’s Black Deer project continues with “Pray For Us”, an indulging four tracker that is released now from Rush Hour Distribution.
The record takes us back to the beginning of the Black Deer project, where after the release of “Trail Of Tears” two years ago, we had the opportunity to speak with Burnett for RH’s House Of Music magazine. For the occasion we are sharing his story here:
William Thomas Burnett a.k.a. Willie Burns, DJ Speculator, Grackle, PG&S, Black Deer, Galaxy Toobin and Daywalker, is a versatile man. He puts out great records on L.I.E.S., The Trilogy Tapes and on the Dutch labels Crème Organisation, Bunker and No Label to name a few. On his own label W.T. Records he releases whatever he likes, with ‘no real plan’. Alongside his musical pursuits, he also teaches swimming.
W.T. explained how he ended up combining his guitar playing with house and other electronic music, and how he became affiliated with the Dutch from De Hague years and years ago. A few times he said ‘be back in about 40 minutes’, and he took off to give swimming class.
Yeah, I teach all ages and levels, and some water polo as well. Today I substitute, and teach babies and little kids. Back in Texas I was a competitive swimmer from when I was about 8 until 18 years old. Then I played some water polo in college. It was nothing serious though.
Were you already into music as well?
You moved to New York, was it for the music?
I was living in San Francisco first. I skateboarded, bought records and played guitar in a band. I had a good job, nice friends, cheap rent, and everything I wanted. And I got kind of bored. I was too young to be that comfortable and had to get out of there. So I went to Brooklyn, in 1999. I had never been there before. I just showed up, got a place, started working and never stopped.
Back then you already knew quite a bit about music. Wasn’t music a reason to choose New York at all?
Uh, yeah. But I was into weird stuff, not into dance music. I was into indie rock and electronic music like Oval. And bands like Stereolab, Magnetic Fields and Palace Brothers. In New York there was stuff like the electronic punk band Suicide and you had all the no wave stuff. I was more into that, I didn’t know a thing about house. Or about disco or whatever. I got into that, only because those records were all here, and in the cheap bin. I just started listening to them, and discovered they had synths and drum machines, and were good songs. I didn’t differentiate, it was just music. It was really mixed when I got in New York. At a party one room would be with a rock band, another room could be techno, or gothic or hip-hop. I am talking about the mainstream parties. That was really one thing about New York, it used to be really mixed. This is how electroclash kind of got the idea, mixing punk with disco and electro.
Not long after you moved, you got in touch with L.I.E.S. main man Ron Morelli. He was your roommate, and at that time you already hooked up with the Dutch Bunker crew from De Hague. How did you get in touch with these guys?
They were just around. There was a mailing list called ‘electro punks’, a lot of guys were on that list. Like Dan Selzer, Ron, and Bryan Kasenic from Bunker. You would meet people at Sonic Groove record store, owned by Frankie Bones, Adam X and Heather Heart. It just happened at record stores and parties.
After a few years you started doing parties with Bunker crew in New York, and did tours with them in the U.S.
Yeah, I was doing parties with a defunct record distributor called Safety in Numbers. We also did parties with Vice, because co-founder Suroosh Alvi lived across the hall of my apartment. I met the Bunker guys at another platform. DJ TLR had a message board for Bunker records, called Global Darkness. Because of those message boards, we found out about music and underground parties before Myspace and Facebook and all that. We all used to hang out there, and the Bunker guys decided to come over and we did a Vice party with them.
What were the Bunker parties like in New York? Like in hometown De Hague? Raw acid, techno, and stroboscopes with LSD?
Haha, no. The Bunker parties here were at a fancy designer hotel called the Tribeca Grand Hotel. We were friends with the creative director and they did parties. It was a weird mix of people there. Downtown fashion freaks mixed with weirdos from Brooklyn. 2ManyDJs and Erol Alkan would always play in the basement and we would do the lobby and the back room of the lobby. Legowelt and Bryan Kasenic played there. It was more stuff like that… it was not that raw. We would also DJ there on Thursday nights and get paid way too much. Everyone played there because you would get free rooms. We also did tours with Bunker, the other parties in the U.S. were just at normal rock venues. Really shitty dive ones mostly.
So you did tours with Bunker as well and after that you became friends?
Yeah something like that.
How did these guys influence your music?
Well, I guess it was nice to be able to ask about gear and see how they did their live sets and just record shopping and listening to music. I think we were already kindred spirits so we had a lot in common, I don’t really know how they influenced me. It was nice to see they had a real do-it-yourself spirit. I met a lot of people around the world during that time and I think we helped each other. It was a good balance. Later I would go to Europe and they would hook me up as I did for them.
What has been a big influence for you?
I think finding the record store that I work at. It’s called The Thing. I was walking down the street and some soul DJ I know, called DJ Whiteshoes told me about it. I went there and I never left. It’s just a basement with hundreds of thousands of records. I would go in all my free time. And after a while I started working there.
Can you tell me a why it’s so special? What I know about it is that you get boxes and boxes of fairly cheap records in…
Uh… most of the records are from DJ collections. There are a lot of 12″ singles from every genre. I don’t know… it’s just so many records in one place… and you can bring your own turntable and just listen to records all day. You can listen to every record you don’t know. Some of the records are from like Larry Levan’s collection, or we just got Red Alerts records in… and we also get test presses. It is the best record store in the world. It is not that you are going to find what you are looking for. You have to be patient and discover new stuff. It is not for the weak or lazy.
Now you are well known as Willie Burns, your moniker for house music. But you have a lot of aliases. Every alias has its own character.
Yes, Speculator is for DJing and it used to be for some remixes. Then some band started using the name Speculator and I got bummed. So I only use it for DJing now. Then there is Galaxy Toobin with Eliot Lipp, Grackle is my psych disco thingy and Willie Burns is house. Black Deer is krautrock, PG&S is me and Professor Genius. Daywalker and CF is me and Entro Senestre, Smackulator is me and Legowelt. And I got a new one, that is called Odd Numbers.
Can you tell me more about Odd Numbers and Circuit, Burns & Hawk? Under both monikers you’ve recently put out records on No Label.
Odd Numbers is me, Secret Circuit and Susanne Kraft, the Circuit, Burns & Hawk project is with Secret Circuit and Torn Hawk. I was in Los Angeles and met Susanne Kraft the week before. Something happened with the place I was going to stay, so I called him and we met up. He asked me if I wanted to go to a studio the next day and I was like, sure. We ended up in Secret Circuits studio and we made some tracks. It was just one of those things, we got along and apparently we have lots of mutual friends. This actually happened already more than a year ago. I recently went to LA again to finish it up. On the same trip I also did the Circuit, Burns & Hawk tracks and that ended up being the release called ‘Live From The Legal Pad’. We jammed for 2 or 3 hours, Hawk played some guitar, and it was recorded. It went all really quick.
The Black Deer release on No Label, ‘Trail of Tears’ is about Native Americans, I still don’t know how you came up with this idea really.
Haha, I don’t know, it just happened. I thought that native American music was very much like techno, repetitive. My great grandmother is half Chakta Indian, so I don’t know… It was just an idea and something very patriotic and American without being all guns and hamburgers. And somehow everything I do ends up being kind of krautrock. I don’t know how that happens, I can’t explain it. It is probably just the guitar and what I was listening to when I learned to play.
You have started your label W.T. records because you really thought a track by Stinkworx had to be put out. So you decided to just do it yourself. You have treated us to quite some releases so far, what is your direction for W.T.?
I don’t have a direction, I just put out what I like. No real plan. I mean I listen to music all the time from friends and all over the internet. It usually just happens… I hear something and decide it would be a good idea. I actually don’t even know what my next releases will be.
No plans, no ideas at all?
I have 2 ideas… I want to release more stuff from people that already did records for the label. Entro Senestre needs more records out for sure. He makes good music and he records stuff all the time. And I Iike to do a DVD release. I’m thinking about it and making some plans, but who knows it might happen or not. The idea really came from talking to friends around me about the recent interest in our music. I thought it might be cool to give another perspective.