Thursday, September 4, 2014

Interview with Richard Ramirez of Black Leather Jesus, Werewolf Jerusalem, and more!

I see Richard Ramirez's work as more than important in our day and age. My friend Ted who always gives me great book/movies recommendations referred to our taste the other day as "aesthetically specific." It's making me laugh right now because it was kind of a polite way of saying we don't shy away from fucked-up-shit. And let's be clear, there are definite fucked-up vibes coming from Black Leather Jesus, Richard Ramirez's harsh noise project. BLJ began in the late 80s and still continues to put out great material. Hell, he even toured Europe with Con-Dom recently, another industrial noise godfather/legend. And just to keep this section titillating, Richard drops a pretty exciting Con-Dom rumor at the bottom of the interview.

In addition to BLJ, Richard makes incredible abstract, avant-garde fashion as Richard Saenz. I'm not very up-to-date on fashion - I pretty much wear the same thing every day (black jeans, shirt, cowboy boots, cowboy hat) - but I am interested in seeing what can be done to make a person into a walking piece of art. Fashion does that by more temporary means than, say, body modification, but it can be a pitfall too with the steady given import to "high fashion," which I guess has its place but holds no sway or interest to me. Richard Saenz's work incorporates a lot of lesser-used shapes in its forms. There is a feeling of flow, billow, and grace to his work, but also an edge. His color use is intriguing - like a near-sighted Jackson Pollock working with clothes at times, and at other times, it becomes something more surreal.

Richard Ramirez releases A LOT of records. Just look at his BLJ output! It's inspiring to see such dedication from someone for so long. With this sort of mindset, I begin asking myself where the Black Leather Jesus figure ends and where Richard Ramirez begins. Luckily, he's a super nice dude who is open to interviews!

Jordan Reyes: I read in an interview that you are a fan of horror movies. What are some of your favorites? Why do you like horror?

Richard Ramirez: Yes, I am a huge fan of horror. My favorite genre is Giallo. Some of my favorite films are: Black Christmas, The Fog (original one), Torso, The Howling, Eyeball, City of the Living Dead, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, New York Ripper, Les Raisins de la Mort, Tombs of the Blind Dead, Maniac, Night of the Living Dead, The Black Belly of the Tarantula, Just Before Dawn, Bloody Moon, Amer, The Amityville Horror, The Funhouse, Motel Hell, Salem's Lot, Carnival of Souls, Suspiria, The Beyond, Make Them Die Slowly, Satan's Blood, and so on.

RR: I have always loved horror films since a child. My parents (my mother specifically) took me to see The Fog and Phantasm when they first came out at the theaters. That's my first memory of horror films. I like them because of the intensity of it. It's a genuine fear for the most part. I'm not always a fan of comedy mixed with horror. I like things to just be "scary".  

JR: Does horror end up influencing the music or art that you make? How?

RR:I use a lot of "horror" images in my work. I have since the beginning. Horror films are a part of me and I use that in my work. It's not a shock thing. A film could influence a release. It can give inspiration or become the subject of a specific release or even project. 

JR: I read how the BLJ name was inspired by a story of sadomasochism and religious enforcement - brainwashing/mindslavery stuff. How does the notion of indoctrination or religious fervor affect your music? Does it affect it?

RR: It does and doesn't.  The name came from a story that I read (not literally) and I liked how it sounded. My work has a very homoerotic feel to a lot of it. My homosexuality does play a part. Not all gay artists do this, but I do. 

RR: I saw a lot of women on covers used and thought, "Why no men?" so I decide to go that route. I don't regret it. I was told that no one would take me seriously if I went that route. I don't care. You see enough "blah" shadowy, minimal art covers enough. My covers can be a bit "in your face", but it's ok. If people don't like it, they don't have to purchase it. I get hate mail a lot and I find most quite immature and pointless. I hate dealing with ignorant morons. I don't have time for that shit.

RR: Some art contains bondage images, especially in Black Leather Jesus. It's something I like. That's the bottom line. If I like it, that's what matters most. I hope others will too. There are a number of "well known" artists that I personally think suck. I am sure some of them think the same of me. It's ok. Everyone has their tastes.

JR: You started Black Leather Jesus back in the late 80s. This is a while back, but why did you make music like Liar by Wound? What attracted you to noise?

RR: I started doing noise in '89. My first BLJ release was in 1990. As a teen, I was a fan of EBM and Industrial music. I don't consider myself a musician. I always wanted to create, but never found an outlet that I thought I would WANT to do. I WANTED to do this style. It wasn't a matter of "Oh this is easy, anyone can do it". I loved it. It inspired me to create. 

RR: My first inspirations were artists like The Haters, The New Blockaders, Nurse with Wound, Non, Chop Shop, Hijokaidan.

JR: What was the reception to your music at the time?

RR: It was a smaller group of listeners than now for sure. The shows went well because I performed in locations that were known for such styles. 

JR: It seems that people become less shocked over time. Things become overdone and commonplace. Are novelty and originality worthy ideas to begin with though? Can they even exist? 

RR: It's all been done. People are just newer versions of classic artists. It's ok that it's all been done, so long as it is good and people like it. People try to call things by "other" names/genre, but it's still is what it was once labeled. 

JR: Is shock important? Why?

RR: It's not important, but sometimes it can make one think or react. Some artists want a reaction whether positive or negative. People should just do what they like regardless of one might label as "trend" (I hate that word).

JR: Tell me a little bit about your fashion. The first time I saw your clothes was a jarring experience. Hell, it still is. I can't quite explain my reaction, but I've never seen anything like it. When did you become interested in fashion?

RR: I started doing my own fashion line called Richard Saenz in 1997. My first fashion show was in '98.  What I do isn't new either. I admired the work of "avant-garde" designers like Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons), Martin Margiela, Junya Watanabe, Ann Demeulemeester, Susan Cianciolo, and Yohji Yamamoto. As a teen, I couldn't find men's clothing that I liked, so I took vintage, thrift clothing and reworked them into what I want. Some female friends asked me to do some for them and I did. I was about 15 years old when I first started doing that. I decided not to use my real last name, Ramirez, just because of the serial killer thing. I used Saenz, which is my grandmother's maiden last name.

RR: My mom was very much into high fashion. We didn't come from money but she knew how to look great and save up for some specific high end pieces. I admire my mother so much. She's a beautiful woman. She's a big reason why I got into fashion.

JR: Where do your ideas for fashion come from?

RR: They come from films and art mostly. I might see something that become the subject of a collection. I paint on my clothing often. I hate boring clothing. I like someone who wants to stand out and not just something "pretty". I consider my work wearable art.

JR: Do you have any idea what makes a Richard Saenz piece uniquely "Richard Saenz" if you know what I mean. Other than the obvious reaction that it's made by you.

RR: All of my work is one of a kind. I like to obscure shapes, forms on the body. My slogan at one time was "If I wanted the world to love me, I wouldn't have worn this".

JR: In the last year, you had a Kickstarter for a European tour. How was your experience with crowd-funding and the end result for the tour?

RR: The kickstarter was only used to raise money for car rental which was expensive to take from the UK to mainland Europe. The rest of the tour we funded (including airfare). The shows were great and well attended. We met a lot of great people. We had a lot of fun especially with Mike (Con-Dom), Sonia (BRUT), and Gael (the one who set our Toulouse show. She was amazing). It was so much fun touring with Svartvit and Monica (Tissa Mawartyassari) too.

RR: The only issue with our BLJ "stand in" member. He was difficult to deal with on tour. That part was not fun. Despite that, Sean and I had a great time. Sean and I want to move to London actually. We shall see. We are very serious about that.

JR: What all is in the future for Richard Ramirez?

RR: I have a release (possible LP) on 4iB Records. I am working on a new collaboration with CON-DOM. Also more work with PBK and Thurston Moore. There's a BLJ release in the works for L.White Records and Bizarre Audio Arts. A reissue of a collaboration that I did with Atrax Morgue. I will possibly be doing a full U.S. tour with CON-DOM, BRUT, THE RITA, and A WEEK OF KINDNESS in Summer '15.