Saul Williams conducted by Hugo Lunny  

Saul Williams

August 2004

These are the transcripts of an interview with Saul Williams, conducted by Hugo Lunny in August of 2004.

Known for his poetry and political perspectives as well as his spoken word art and his acting/script-writing abilities, Saul Williams will be releasing his self titled album on the Fader label, September 21st.

MVRemix: In recent times, who has served as an inspiration to you?

Saul Williams: [brief pondering] Thom Yorke.

MVRemix: Any particular reason why?

Saul Williams: Because he's dope. Because there's just such great passion in his music and in his performance. That's the sort of passion I am to yield in any form of expression. To me it translates into anything. That can translate into Hip Hop. Another inspirational person is Sean Penn as an actor. It influences how I write music or how I write poetry. I like that level of bravado. Hip Hop wise; I'm very moved by Andre 3000. But I'm also inspired by 50 Cent.

MVRemix: Along those lines, can you tell me about your new album? Why you decided to call it after your name and such?

Saul Williams: We decided that it would be self titled because as I was searching for titles and not coming up with much of anything. I just thought "Wow, why not just let it be self titled?" I think that what made me feel so great, so good about the album is because I feel like when we decided to make it self titled, I got all nervous. It made me go back over all of the music and think "Oh my god, does it reflect me? It's important that it reflects me fully if it's gonna have my name." Then I thought that a title is something you hide behind because I wouldn't have those issues about a title if it didn't have my name. If I'd had a title aside from my name I wouldn't have gone back over the album and asked "Does it reflect me?" I liked the way that it made me look at myself and the music.

MVRemix: Why was the album recorded over such a quick period? Did you have the material pre-written, or was it all focused within those ten days?

Saul Williams: I was only in the studio for ten days, but I'd been writing the material for about two years. Some songs I wrote during that time. Some songs were ready that I'd recorded at home.

MVRemix: Can you elaborate a little on "Industrial Punk-Hop"? (Saul's description of the album's musical genre)

Saul Williams: [chuckles] "Industrial" because of the cranky metallic sounds of the percussian on the album. "Punk" because of the drive of it and "Hop" because of the rhythms and the drive of it. It's still very much connected to Hip Hop. I knew I wanted the album to be up, to move. I think the greatest elaboration I'll be able to give on that will be in the live performance of it. But I think that for a long time I've been feeling that there's a direction I wanted to head, to find something that compliments what I write. I think that's the challenge for many artists; to find the music that really compliments what they're writing. I've had producers make me beats at times which have been cool but they've been more of their nature than mine. So it was important for me to do beats that were complimentary to what I hear in my head. To some people my poetry stands out. The reason why it stands out is because of what I hear in my head when I'm writing it. The best example of what is there in my head.

MVRemix: Now though it's in your past, as an aspiring scriptwriter myself, I'm very much in admiration of what you did with "Slam." How did you actually manage to get something that you co-wrote made on that sort of a scale?

Saul Williams: Well, it wasn't my idea. I was in grad-school for acting at the time and I was approached by the guy who directed it, Mark Levin. He saw me perform and came up with the idea for this film. He approached me about six months later and asked if I'd collaborate with him as a writer on the project. Which I felt was brilliant and I'd loved to. I'd never written a script before and it was cool because we did it more in the traditional way that Mike Lee works where there's a bunch of improv where the script comes from. That part was kind of simple because he'd do all the organizing and I'd just really show up. I was really passionate for it. Then everything with Cannes and Sundance, that was all a blessing. Part of some divine plan I guess. It was really beautiful. I felt the power of it all along, like we always intended for it to do exactly what it did. It didn't really come as a shock although it did come as a shock. On one level it did, on another it didn't with what we'd put into it.

MVRemix: Is there anything aside from music, for example poetry that we've yet to hear talked about?

Saul Williams: Yeah, my new book of poetry which I haven't given the title out yet. I'll give it out in a couple of months. But the new book of poetry is "the one," haha.

MVRemix: How long have you been working on that one for?

Saul Williams: Eight years.

MVRemix: Should be quite comprehensive.

Saul Williams: That's crazy. But the thing is, it's not for poetry lovers. It's actually for Hip Hop heads. If ever there was "Hip Hop Poetry," I've heard the term thrown around, that's what it would be.

MVRemix: A while ago when Kanye's album was bootlegged before its release, you were labeled as a guest because the emcee (J. Ivy) sounded exactly like you. Any comments on that?

Saul Williams: I really liked the song. I liked the poetry too, I thought he did a great job.

MVRemix: Do you have any aspirations of maybe working with someone like Kanye?

Saul Williams: I'm totally open to it. I've always been totally open to working with artists like Kanye. I've just never had the money to pay for it. But I'd love to.

MVRemix: You seem very clear in terms of spirituality and personal thoughts on life and such. Do you have any specific diet or anything? I mean some people say veganism is very good for cleansing the body or...

Saul Williams: I go between being vegan or being vegetarian and occasionally eating fish. Last year I was vegan. This year, well I'm in New York today and I think I'm gonna eat some pizza. Haha. I might do the occasional dairy and I might do the occasional fish.

MVRemix: As a well traveled man, where would you say has been most enlightening?

Saul Williams: It depends. I was in West Africa once for a month with my mom and it was right after that month that I came home and started writing poetry. That was in 1994. It was real. I went there and one of the main CD's that I brought with me was Nas' "Illmatic." I was listening to Nas while taking a train from Senegal to Mali, a 34-hour ride. Listening to "Illmatic," riding through places cars can't go through Africa and tripping. That experience really opened my eyes. I felt that was the first time I saw the moon and the first time I ever saw the sky. The first time I paid attention to a lot of things was during that trip, so my trip through Senegal to Gambia and Mali was very important to me. I was also on an exchange to Brazil when I was in high school. I was there for a year. That also opened my eyes a lot, particularly to the power of the US.

MVRemix: With regards to "The power of the US," what did you think of "Fahrenheit 9/11"?

Saul Williams: Loved it.

MVRemix: Have you happened to see "Control Room"?

Saul Williams: Yes, I just saw that.

MVRemix: What did you think of that?

Saul Williams: Great. Great film, great information. It was great for us to see from their perspective of Al Jazeera what happened with the bombings.

MVRemix: I'm not American as maybe you can tell, we hear of the Bush vs Kerry race as basically the lesser of two evils. What's your take?

Saul Williams: My take is that we need to... I think that Bush has proven himself to be untrustworthy and we need to get him out of office.

MVRemix: It's widely known that Paul Robeson is an inspiration of yours, and most of us know he was blacklisted because of voicing his opinions in Hollywood. Does that make you sometimes censor your words or think more carefully in a Hollywood/Mainstream environment?

Saul Williams: It affects me. I always think carefully about what I say, that comes from being a poet. I care about what I say and I layer it with levels of meaning so that those who need to hear it, hear it and those who don't need to hear it, don't hear it. [chuckles] Those double entendres are of great significance to me. I believe in potent language at times. But on the other hand that was in a different age. Whereas the people may not have come to the rescue for Paul Robeson, we're definitely building a coalition between people with artists who support us to speak up. That's what "Not In Our Name" was about also. It was about the purpose of the artists who wanted to speak up against the war and what have you.

MVRemix: What do you plan on working on within the next year?

Saul Williams: The next year, I'll be finishing this book. I'll be doing this one man show on Broadway. I'll be touring like hell and hopefully I'll get some film work.

MVRemix: Could you die today saying you'd lived?

Saul Williams: I could, but I won't.

MVRemix: Do you have any last words or comments?

Saul Williams: Gimme a listen, try it out. See if you like it.

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