Black Light Burns Biography
Borland has flirted with his big post-LB breakthrough on and off over the last five years, first with the idiosyncratic Big Dumb Face, then with his brother Scott in Eat the Day before hooking up with bassist Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails) and drummer Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle) in proto-industrial powerhouse the Damning Well, whose crushing Underworld soundtrack contribution “Awakening” featured Richard Patrick (Filter, Army of Anyone) on vocals. Now Borland has taken Lohner, Freese and sound designer Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv) to super-producer Ross Robinson’s upstart I AM: WOLFPACK label and delivered Black Light Burns’ harrowing debut, Cruel Melody, 180 degrees from what you think you know about the eccentric axeman. From the post-Ramones surf rock freakout of opener “Mesopotamia” and the slow-build confessional spit of “I Have a Need” to the introspective, epic closing tandem “New Hunger” and “I Am Where It Takes Me” (the latter featuring the smoky siren call of Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano), Cruel Melody is one hell of a curveball.
“For the most part, [the record’s] more about melody,” Borland says. “It’s a big drums record, because Josh Freese goes bananas. A lot of it was thought about in terms of beats and attacking the songs beatwise. And the riff kind of followed second to that, if it was appropriate. “The record starts real aggressively, but toward the middle it gets a little more hurtful and hurting, lyrically, trying to express painful feelings, but still in an aggressive way. Then it kind of opens up in the end. And that was the purpose: to attack, then explain, then release and be done with it.”
Cruel Melody was originally going to be an esoteric, dirge-heavy solo project with a variety of singers, but as Borland started writing heavier material, he finally decided to take the reins behind the mike. It didn’t hurt that he got inspiration not only from Lohner, who doubled as the album’s producer, but Lohner’s famous former employer. “I was talking to Trent Reznor, playing him these tracks in their infancy,” Borland remembers. “And he said, ‘You’re singing like somebody’s sleeping in the next room. You should try to open that up.’ You know, it’s really easy to do cool electronic music that’s instrumental and put soft vocals over it, but it’s a lot harder to write actual songs and have them hit people.”
With Cruel Melody locked and loaded, Borland’s planning an evocative new onstage persona for Black Light’s maiden voyage, boasting a live band with guitarist Nick Annis (Seether), drummer Marshal Kirpatric (Today Is the Day, the Esoteric) and, for now, a laptop to wreak ambient havoc. (“Screw it,” he laughs, “there’s a computer in the band.”) In the interim, he’s just striving to perfect his unique approach to making art.
“The paintings and the music kind of chase one another, trying to keep up with some other third element that’s the idea,” Borland considers. “It’s almost like when you see a little flash in the corner of your eye and you’re not sure what it was. My music and visual art is me trying to look really fast to see what that third thing was. I’m always trying to hit this place that gives me some satisfaction.”