BackworldInterview with Joseph Budenholtzer
Interview with Joseph Budenholtzer of BackworldDR: When did you start playing music?
JB: Well, Iíve always played music since I was a little kid. I got my first guitar when I was 4 years old.
DR: When did you start writing songs.
JB: I actually wrote my first songs when I was in Junior High School. I went to Catholic school and I used to play guitar at Guitar Mass, cuz they had this whole kind of Folk Masss movement in the 60s to get young people interested in the Church. So I used to play Mass with this nun, Sister Sylvia, and she taught me how to play guitar. And I really liked the Beatles and stuff. So I was writing my first songsprobably when I was about 12. And they were these kind of long, Hobbitt-esque fantasy songs about, like, yíknow, finding a golden key and going on these journeys and stuff, which luckily I canít remember anymore.
DR: Did you have friends play with you? Did you have a band at that time?
JB: I did. My early folk music phase was kind of short-lived, and then I got into metal music, like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper, and Deep Purple, which in those days, that was kind of metal. I mean, it was distorted guitars and stuff, and just dark, theatrical stuff. So my first band was playing a lot of cover tunes like that with a couple of originals. I really liked that Lou Reed Rock and Roll Animal album a lot, yíknow, that was like a standard that I thought was the pinnacle of music genius at that time. But I got over that.
DR: Well when did you get into this type music that you do?
JB: What happened is I went through many different permutations of my musical expression for time, not really having any musical identity, just kind of following whatever music trend was at the time and kind of creating my version of it. But there was always a certain thread that ran though it, this kind of fanciful stuff that has a lot of religious imagery because of my upbringing, and a lot of kind of Satanic stuff thatís always been kind of a sanctuary for me, as it were. But I kind of really in a way got back to my roots at some point, back to like when I first started writing songs. I could never find people to work with that I could have a common vision with, and would always end up with these kind of head-butting situations, and I just decided No more band. And it just ended up with me and my acoustic guitar again. This was kind of around the beginning of Backworld. I started writing some songs that are spread throughout the three Backworld albums, these are some of the original songs that I started off with. I got a gig together at CBís Gallery. Actually, I saw Tony Wakefordís gig at CBGBs with Lorettaís Doll and I was kind of inspired by that, thinking, Thatís more like what I should be doing. Cuz I really like his work a lot. So I got a gig, and that was kind of the beginning. And I did have some other musicians come up and play with me. So then I felt like the music and the lyrics were kind of consistent in a certain way at that point, where before I didnít think I was creating and integrated creation.
DR: Do you want to have a recognizable impact on culture? Do you want to be a known figure?
JB: I always play with that thought. Sometimes I think Iíve gotten over it. Thatís what I originally wanted to do. I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and all the girls screaming and tearing their hair out, and I was like, Yeah. Thatís what I want. Thatís what I spent a lot of time trying to do - get discovered and be a pop guy, or whatever. And I just saw that what I was doing was a little too weird. Like the A & R people would come around from different labels. And on the surface I was doing whatever the flavor of the month was, but always my own aesthetic was there, in the lyrics, mainly, and as they would look a little deeper they would go, ďHmmm, maybe not.Ē So Now I just do what I do. And somehow if that came into line with some kind of mass zeitgeist of culture, that would be great with me. But Iíve given up on trying to please anyone or make that happen.
DR: But you think maybe the pendullem will swing your way some time in the future.
JB: It would be nice. See Iím so out of tough with what mass culture is, cuz I really try to avoid it, if I can, because Iím just as susceptible to it as anyone. You know, the lure of magazines and television and mass culture, because itís really set up in a certain way to sell you products. So what it does is it makes you dissatisfied and creates a longing to belong in this whole mass of humanity that all sees thigns a certain way. And I think itís getting worse, you know the one-world culture.
DR: Are you bothered by the New World Order and the globalist movement and this whole push to eliminate the differences between the nations?
JB: I am bothered by that, and I think itís a terrible occurrance, but I think itís almost unavoidable because of cummunication. Itís almost like a Jungian species evolution thatís happening, and I think itís eaither gonna run its course or soemthingís going to happen. Because I donít think itís like a big manipulation by some marketing group, or some kind of Illuminati or something like that. I think that itís kind of an organic evolution thatís happening with the technological species. I donít really likea lot of it, and thatís what a lot of my music is, kind of a longing look backwards at things, and not wanting to face that. You know, I have a computer and Iím hooked up to the internet and I do that stuff, and it really helps me a lot with my own creativity, but Iím not really into those things as ends in themselves. If Europe has the Euro-Dollar and they kind of become mroe like the United States or something over there, itís pretty much like that already, so theyíre kind of like, solidifying whatís already there. But I think no matter what they do, this kind of world culture exists and itís already there. But again, I kind of mourn the way things were, and I donít really like it, but what can you do?
DR: Well, that certainly comes through in your music, where you seem to be romanticising the past and it has this really ancient sound to it. So whatís so great about it, really.
JB: Itís not a political romanticising of the past. I really consider myself more of a symbolist, so I kind of feel an affinity for the old symbols, and the old gods, some people would say. Cuz the new symbols and the gods seem very sterile and very plastic to me. Sometimes the shiny newness of them is appealing, but it always leaves me feeling hollow and kind of let down. So I really like to look for tried and true things that have sustained the test of time. You see, everything thatís going on now to me seems really temporary, and again, thereís a kind of sociological thing going on. Everythingís speeding up, changing rapidly, and it makes me very uncomfortable. I really like to have the long view of things, and the wisdom of hindsight, because who knows what theyíre going to make of whatís going on now? I certainly canít make any sense of it. Any sense that I make of it all seems bad.
DR: From what I understand about you, you used to be Catholic, and then something happened, some kind of spiritual crisis that made you what you are today. So what really happened.
JB: See, thatís the thing. I never really was Catholic. I mean, I was raised that way, but I never really believed any of it. Iíve always been at odds with all that stuff since day one. I was more or less growing up in Nebraska, the mid-west, and I donít know if itís officially the Bible Belt, but itís very... So I was always at odds with that, and I was a little devil when I was a kid. I was always intop mischief and doing things, and getting in trouble, and I always had kind of a connection to more earthy things and more sensual types of experience, and I was always really figity in church, and always just wanted to just wait until it was over and get out of there, and as soon as I could stop, I stopped.
DR: Did that bother your mom?
JB: Well, they still are bothered by it. They still are trying to get me, yíknow, cuz there afraid that when they get to Heaven thereís going to be, like, a big family picnic there and little Joeyís not going to be there. Iím going to be somewhere else. The thing Iíve come to believe though, is that for them, I will be there. The son they always wanted and prayed for, cuz theyíve actively been praying for this guy for years and years, I think that theyíve actually created that for themselves, and there will be an ideal Joe there with them, but Iíll be somewhere else. I like what Mark Twain said one time, ďHeaven for the climate, Hell for the conversation.Ē
DR: When did you seriously get into the occult? What books did you start reading?
JB: I used to really like Michael Morecock a lot, heís a fantasy writer. Heís still around, but he was really popular in the 70s. He actually wrote some books with Eric Bluhme of Blue Oyster Cult. They collaborated on some things, recently, I think. I really liked the Lord of the Rings stuff, and Michael Morecock is kind of a more adolescent version off that. I really was into a lot of of 60s drug culture, and psychedelic stuff, and maybe intuitive shamanistic activity, and spontaneous weirdness, and really into the sexual revolution. I really came into my sexual consciousness in a pre-AIDS time, which was wonderful. I mean, there were still STDs to be sure. So really I got into ceremonial magick and things like that much later. I would say in my mid-twenties. Of course everyone is going to know my age now. Iím 42. But at some point I got involved in ceremonial magick, which was really great for me at the time, but again personalities got in the way, cuz in ceremonial magick youíve got a group of people, and thereís always different agendas, and thereís generally a leader, and all these kinds of things. At some point I decided Iíd rather continue on my own and just go my own way in a more solitary practice.
DR: Were you just doing this with friends, or were you a member of an order?
JB: Well, it wasnít really an order, it was kind of like a shamanistic group with this woman who was like a spirit channel, and would do these long rituals that would last several hours and be very draining, and we were channeling. It was actually very New Agey, which was kind of the reason why I got out of it in the end, cuz Iím not really a love and light type of person all the time. I mean, Iím all for love and light, but I think that the light doesnít exist without the shadow, and the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. But we did a lot of really good work, and I learned so much from that experience, and had some really amazing times with that. But again, I kind of passed through it in a way. I mean, the experience is still there, but Iím not really good at being in an order or anything like that, because it all kind of seems like religion to me, which I have a problem with.
DR: When did you cross the line from being into weird mystical stuff to actually declaring yourself a Satanist?
JB: I do say Iím a Satanist, but in the same way that Iím a Christian kind of too, though. Satan to me represents the lightbringer, like Lucifer, and the same way, in Genesis, Satan is the bringer of the truth that youíre not suposed to be told. Heís the one that tells you the unpleasant truths, facts and things, you know, like, If you eat this apple, then youíll have the same knowledge that God has. So in that sense I feel like thatís my Satanism. Itís like Gnosis, to know things, and not to take things on faith.
DR: Thatís kind of what I picked up from your music, this Promethean angst, like someone whoís been punished for eating the apple and knowing good and evil.
JB: Itís a theme through all the albums, but I think I really expressed it on this newest one. I think thereís a certain eroticism on this one thatís lacking in the other ones. Well, not lacking, but I wasnít really trying to express that. Cuz thatís the other part of the Satanic feeling, itís like flesh versus the spirit. Weíve been taught that spirituality has to do just with the intellect and the spiritual but not necessarily with the physical or the sensual. Iím very into the sensual angle of things, and I think that the spirit is generated by the body. I donít rule out the thought taht it could somehow exist as separate to that,a nd does at some times. I definitely think it does. And after the body dies, I think the spirit can live on. But thereís a time when the two are completely intermeshed, which happens to be the entire time that weíre here on this planet walking around in these bodies. I do know that the Satanic Bible is also kind of a cartoon. Itís kind of this Hugh Hefner mansion thing, where the men are supposed to wear these long, flowing gowns and pointy beards, and the women should wear high heels and fishnet stockings and push-up bras. Thereís a lot of humor in it, and I am also a fan of things that donít take themselves too seriously.
DR: Do you think that the Catholic church is still a powerful force in the world today?
JB: Well, not a powerful spiritual force. I think itís a powerful political force. I think that the 20th century has done a lot to put the last nails in the coffin of Catholicism. Cuz people went through WWI, WWII, and it was really disillusioning the level of carnage and materialism on a global level that everyone could see at the same time. Iím sure many people are very fulfilled Catholics who practice their faith and get a lot out of it. Itís still the biggest religion on Earth. I donít know, maybe not, or maybe the second biggest if not the biggest.
DR: Well, Christianity as a whole is the biggest religion, but I donít know about Catholicism.
JB: Did you ever see that movie The Devilís Advocate?
DR: Yeah, I saw that.
JB: Al Pacino gives a great speech at the end there, saying that the 20th century was...
DR: ďThat was my centuryĒ, he says.
JB: Iím not against Christ, really. I think Christ was a pretty admirable character and a really great person, and a lot of the stuff that he says is really good and really real. I think Nietszche said this in The Anti-Christ, he said, ďThere was one Christian, and he died on the cross.Ē I think that the spirit of Christianity in the world is a good thing. But again I have a probelm with institutionalized Christianity, because I think that the whole point is lost. Itís a bastardization, or maybe even worse than that, itís a mutilation of the whole thing. So in that sense I do feel that it is a force thatís probably going to be with us forever, as far as the human consciousness goes, but I donít see Catholicism as being of any real significance other than just a destructive force.
DR: You used to do performance art, right? What was that all about?
JB: Well, that was actually part of my ritual theater stuff. Part of my studies in college was experimental theater. So I was really into Gretovsky and all of these Polish theater directors from the 40s and 50s, well the 60s too. The Theatre of Cruelty was his manifesto that he wrote. He would write things into his plays that could never possibly happen, like floods of blood coming across the stage. Well, Iím not very much into practicing Artouian theater, but I was into ritual theater maybe more from a Polish point of view. Again, Iím more interested in symbols. In Communist Poland, freedom of speech was really repressed. Also I like Soviet theater from that period. So theater directors were very shamanistic, and they would create information networksfor the audience taht would be the followers of their theater group. They would create very specific systems of symbols that only people who came to watch their productions would know, and then they would divulge information, news and subversive ideas through theater. People from the Ministry of Culture could come and watch the play and not understand anything that was being said, but people that were indoctrinated to that theater would know. Tadeus Cantor, The Theater of Death, which I really am into a lot cuz he would only write his plays from the point of view of someone whoíd dead looking back on their life with the vision of hindsight. Itís an angelic look at things in a way. So those were the kinds of things that were part of my ritual magick thing that I was getting into. My performances werenít really performances per se, where Iíd be doing it in a nightclub or something like that. Even though I was involved in struff like that too with this guy Brian Murran, who was back in those days known as Bloodboy. He would do these Dionysian rituals that always ended up with him naked covered in blood. He was very good-loking too. He had a very statuesque body. Thatís actually how I met Lydia Lunch, was through him, cuz I was doing music for him, and kind of assissting in his performances, and Lydia was a huge fan of him, and used to always have him open for her. So thatís how I met her. Cuz Iíve worked with her and done some stuff. Iím still working with her, actually. I did some touring with her too. But my interest in theater was not so much as entertainment but more as spiritual expression. Thatís kind of what backworld is, cuz theater is so hard to organize, and it can invlove so many people, that I kind of decided to use my music as that. And I would actually like to get involved in theater some more. Iíve been thinking about it.
DR: Are you going to do that Waco musical?
JB: Yeah. Iíve actually started working on it.
DR: Is it going to be like a big production?
JB: Hopefully Iím going to try to do that. Thereís a great theater group in New York that Iím going to try to get to produce it. Iím going to approach them with this idea.
DR: Before you even write it?
JB: No. Before itís completely done I might, though.Itís going to be an opera.
DR: So it definitely has to be on the stage. Youíre not going ot film it.
JB: Itís going to be on the stage first. It might even be an album before anything.
DR: About Waco.
JB: Well, the very first piece thatís on the very first Backworld album is called ďRevolution 12Ē, and itís got samples of David Koresh on it. Itís cut up and put into context. I have mixed feelings about him, but I donít have mixed feelings about the whole fiasco that happened there. Itís one of the biggest atrocities of the 20th century. They basically just proved him right, and everybody who thinks the government is the enemy. It was very stupid. Did you watch that movie, The Rules of Engagement, the documentary that was made about Waco? It was nominated for an Academy Award a few years ago, and it really lays out the whole story of what happened.
DR: Do you guys ever do gigs in Europe?
JB: We did do one gig in Europe, the Leipzig festival this last year. Hopefuylly weíre going to be doing Europe more. Because actually Iíve been collaboratiing with Ian Reade form Fire + Ice. Heís a really great songwriter and cultural scholar. Heís very into Nordic mythology and folklore. The reason I bring this up is because thereís probably a good chance that Backworld and Fire + Ice will be doing some shows in Europe together in the next year.
Joseph Budenhozer of Backworld taken by Lydia Lunch