We got a chance to interview musician, filmmaker, and artist Will Wood about his upcoming documentary What Did I Do?, based on the making of his latest album, The Normal Album. This is the second time we've gotten a chance to interview Will Wood; our first, which you can read by clicking here, revolved around The Normal Album's production. This interview surrounds the reception of that album. Let's dive in!
Bleeding Cool: You said in our earlier discussion that The Normal Album was going to be very different from Everything Is A Lot or Self-Ish. How has the reception for The Normal Album been when compared with the previous two albums?
Will Wood: Some fans were taken aback by changes in sound, which I find surprising because messing around with my sound has sort of always been my sound, but also unsurprising because this one is particularly different from my old stuff, much of which many of the newer fans aren't even familiar with. People seem to think it's my best yet, though, and I'm sort of wiping my brow over it. I would've been pretty disheartened if I hadn't outdone myself at least a little. I always want to change, grow, and improve.
The critical response was all over the place, which was fascinating, honestly. Seeing the ways in which people who criticize by trade or hobby react to things is quite interesting. Some people were strangely angry about the album while criticizing it on the grounds that embarrassingly clearly showed the thing just went over their heads but wouldn't have if they had just paid attention. I think they were offended by some of my edgier lyrics and stopped hearing anything else. I was hoping one of these guys who got so angry (seriously, they seemed furious) would comment on the music instead of on lyrical content they misunderstood, but for the most part, the closest I got to that was people saying, "dark cabaret has been done to death," which could've been a fair point if I had put out a dark cabaret album. Someone, please just tell me my chord choices were uninspired or something.
It's honestly a little exciting. When you're fully underground, nobody will give you a bad review – it's just bad scene politics. Getting polarized press means people are saying things on their own accord, and they believe they'll get clicks, so it's a good thing too.
I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that I'm just getting more attention now, so I'm seeing a wider spectrum of possible responses to my work. Some of it I find a real thrill; some of it makes my brain bleed.
BC: Speaking further on reception, which of the songs from The Normal Album has received the most surprising reactions?
WW: The song that comes to mind first is one I've kind of decided I don't really want to talk about anymore since people were so adamant and violating in their reactions to their own misunderstanding of it. Months later, they're still pulling their hair out. It was in keeping with the themes of most of my work, and not at all how it was being interpreted, but people who tend to engage in that kind of behavior are really only interested in things that bring them sheer euphoria or righteous indignation. Social media hijacks the reward system like some kind of sick emotional slot machine, reinforces awful ideas, and creates a need for escalation, which often pushes the most ignorant and vindictive voices to the top. It's designed to do that. Studies have shown pretty conclusively that things that make you angry spread significantly more quickly than neutral or even positive things, and if you think they don't have hordes of scientists trying to figure out how to best take advantage of the combination of hot takes and neuroplasticity you're dead wrong, bucko.
BC: Has there been any interesting fan art or writing to come out of this new album's existence? How does this art affect you when connecting with your fans? (And, if possible, are you able/allowed to let us see any of it in the article?)
WW: There's a lot of talent out there. I think the coolest example is the new Memento Mori video, wherein I worked with a guy called Twisted Doctor and a group of 40 or so fans/animators on Youtube to produce this neat singalong video. I was extremely proud and extremely grateful. Honestly, it was one of the highlights of my career. Similar experience working with a fan on the "…well, better than the alternative" video. He used some incredible talent and breakthrough technology to produce it; I hope you watch it sometime because I'm quite proud of our work together.
For the most part, though, since I'm violently allergic to social media, I don't really see what fans create outside of my Patreon these days. But if it's anything like the Patreon members' art, it's probably brilliant.
BC: Within The Normal Album, what was the hardest of your songs to produce? What was the easiest?
WW: The hardest ones were probably the more progressive tunes. "Marsha, Thank You [For the Dialectics, But I Need You To Leave]," "Black Box Warrior," "Suburbia Overture." I did a lot more precise orchestration than I'd ever done in the past, and we had to do a lot of experimenting as a team to figure out how to make some of them work. I'm immensely lucky to be able to play with people who can feel the vibrations or whatever. We can almost communicate telepathically with the music, and it allows us to make creative choices as a unit that helps bring my vision to life.
The easiest was my favorite track on the record, "…well, better than the alternative." Because although it's probably the biggest departure from my normal range of sounds, it was a song I had written so long beforehand and already had demos for.
BC: Have there been any interpretations of The Normal Album's lyrics by a fan that have surprised you? Could you give us a peek at one interpretation?
WW: It's hard to choose. A lot of my songs are interpreted as being about serial killers, eldritch horrors, mad scientists trying to kill God, etc. And/or being gay. Which, of course, none of them are. That seems to be the case with all of my albums, though. The most frustrating ones are the ones that suggest I'm taking some political position or some social position; I'm not taking one at all. A lot of people took "Marsha, Thank You" as being some baby boomer type criticism of mental illness, a lot of people took it as a very Millennial/Gen Z stance on it, and very few seemed to consider that the song could be about how both ends of the spectrum in mental health discussion are off course.
BC: On to What Did I Do?. What *did* you do, Will? And would you do it again if given a chance?
WW: I made an album of songs I'd written over the course of around four years and had the process filmed. I think I would do it again, yeah. It's just more stuff for fans to enjoy and it's honestly sort of like a hobby for me, editing video. I always wanted to be a filmmaker growing up, and I enjoy the editing process now. Plus, I really do love my work, so I love letting people see what it's like when it's being made.
BC: Is there anything you left out from What Did I Do? (by choice or by constraints) that you wish could've been in the documentary?
WW: Yeah, I mean, I've got a dark sense of humor and a sick habit of doing and saying things that confuse or offend people, so I need to reel myself in pretty often, or I'll be torn limb from limb by people who can't tell whether or not I'm kidding, whether or not something was staged, etc. It makes me pick my battles a bit more effectively, though; one can only die on so many hills.
Also, I never got a chance to interview some people, and I feel bad about that.
BC: You've said yourself on many an occasion that you don't utilize social media much, if at all. How do you generally communicate with your social circles?
WW: I try to avoid it whenever possible because it's a bacchanal of the banal and a celebration of narcissism, the likes of which has never been imaginable until recently, and that kind of thing is the last thing someone like me needs. If I'm feeling well enough for human interaction, I text or call someone. But I'm usually not. I just want to live in the woods alone with my rats.
BC: Bleeding Cool is primarily a website for everything pop-culture or gaming. Do you play any kinds of games? If so, what do you play?
WW: I have a very unhealthy relationship with Streets of Rage. I think I've finally, for the most part, overcome my obsession with it, but I don't know. Nowadays me and my main squeeze just sort of lay in bed playing old SNES games on the Switch.
BC: How are the projects you may or may not be working on beyond What Did I Do? going for you? Is there anything you are allowed to say about them?
WW: I've got this collection of songs that I've been slowly amassing since 2018 or so, ones that reflect a lot of my growth through proper treatment of my psychiatric troubles, therapy, personal work, and continued sobriety. Songs that aren't as dressed up in grandiosity as what I now realize was a subconscious means of keeping people out and hiding the weird little nobody I am underneath the coping mechanism I call an outward personality I've been working on since my childhood got eaten. Songs about coming to terms with my flaws and learning to be honest with myself about them so I can grow, about the absolute horror that is being publicly known, and about dead rodents. I plan to start crowdfunding on Indiegogo for it soon, and I plan to call it "In Case I Die."
BC: We spoke of your plans amid COVID-19 last time we spoke. Now that things look like they might be getting better over the horizon, do you have any plans to tour once things clear up enough?
WW: Nothing's planned yet, but that is the hope. My booking agent is on the hunt for dates.
BC: Finally, will we ever see your cover of Disney's "Prince Ali" on Spotify? It was quite splendid.
WW: Hahaha, sorry, but no. Thank you though, it was fun to make. Definitely give Sloth Baby & the Land Pirates (the band I worked with on that) a listen; they're friends of mine who have worked on a lot of my videos. Great guys. Tons of talent in there. [For fans of] Tom Waits, The Residents, Primus.