It doesn’t take much digging to unearth what Will Wiesenfeld is doing at any given moment. You don’t get to 16,655 Tweets without some chronic oversharing. And so as the minutes slip past the time that we had been scheduled to talk on an early afternoon in late April, I sift through his social media and gather that Wiessenfeld is probably somewhere Los Angeles, enjoying a bubble tea, leafing through a comic book, blasting Death Grips, and forgetting the fact that he’s supposed to be on an interview. This turns out to be pretty accurate. “That’s actually why I’m calling a little bit late,” he tell me once we connect. “I got very got caught up in what I was reading. Then I got a call that was like, ‘You have an interview,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, fuck! Shit!'”
This unabashed willingness – or, perhaps, eagerness – to divulge is a quality equally present on Wiesenfeld’s third record as Baths, the pristine and often gorgeous Obsidian. But while his online personality is typically convivial and lighthearted, this collection of songs dives headfirst into deep emotional, psychological, and sexual waters with a disarming bluntness. One song finds him admitting “It is not a matter of if you mean it/ But it is only a matter of come and fuck me” – and that’s in the chorus. “The thing is that I tweet a lot of bullshit,” Wiessenfeld says, touching on the contrast between these two sides, to the degree that they can be separated. “I take my music very seriously, but I do not take myself seriously in the least.”
Harnessing those darker thoughts required a “method acting” of sorts. Wiessenfeld explains that he submersed himself in minor chords and a canon of heavy shit that stretches across millenniums. From the sound of our conversation, though, Wiessenfeld has pulled himself out of that hole, even if I happen to catch him on a day that finds him a little salty: Obsidian has recently leaked and in a twist on this thread of oversharing, his fans can’t wait to tell him that they’ve illegally downloaded it.
Baths plays DC’s Black Cat tonight and NYC’s Webster Hall on Saturday.
People seem to be responding strongly to the first few tracks that you’ve put out – I don’t know if you’d call them “singles.”
It’s interesting that you say they’re not necessarily singles, because that’s kind of my whole vibe. I wish that there didn’t have to be singles for the record at all, because the whole thing is more cohesive than that. I wish I could have put it out all at once, but I know that we have to do the whole lead-up. But, yeah, people have been very cool online.
There are some people that are being idiots, though, and saying, “Oh, man, I love the record! It’s so good! I’m so glad you’ve” – whatever, blah blah blah. That’s them saying that they’ve already stolen it – and they’re all telling me publicly! It’s the most obnoxious thing in the entire world. That kind of sucks. But, I ‘m glad that people are digging it. [Laughs]
What was your reaction to hearing that the album had leaked?
I knew that it was going to leak eventually; I just expected more of people as human beings to not do that. I thought that people understood that it’s extremely rude to say to me directly that they’re loving my record that isn’t out yet, and that they stole it. I would think that people realize that’s offensive, but I guess it doesn’t phase people anymore, because they steal tons and tons and tons of music.
I haven’t illegally downloaded something in a year and a half, in all honesty, because now that I can afford it, I’ve been paying for all the music that I get. Whether it’s physical or whether I’m getting it off iTunes or Boomkat, I’m always paying for it. And any time that I did steal a record from somebody, I’d tell them to their faces – that’s preposterous to me. It’s a little surreal.
But, in the scope of everything, it’s very, very good that people are liking it already, so it’s probably building a nice word of mouth and all of that. It’s probably for the best – I’m just still who I am and freaking out, and if it rubs you the wrong way, so be it.
You seem to be tuned into what critics say about your music. Are there any characterizations that irk you?
Oh, yeah, tons. The first is calling it dubstep, because I still don’t technically know what that means. I know things that are characterized as such, and I know that there are different avenues of it, but I don’t completely get it. I don’t know what dubstep is.
There are so many things that rub me the wrong, primarily because they don’t make sense. The first thing, very early on, was how much people would say things like “blunted beats” and “he must have been very high when he made this.” That rubbed me the wrong, because that’s not even the least bit part of my life, and to attribute creativity to taking drugs is the most obnoxious thing in the world. To think that the stuff that I make can only be made because of that sort of influence is very, very obnoxious. It makes it seem like I took a backseat to the creative process, which is totally not how it worked.
Critics also like talking about drugs, in part, to make themselves sound cooler.
Exactly. It’s this easy thing, like, “Aw, man, we all do drugs! We have this cool camaraderie! We’re the same person!” I get that – it’s just not my thing. The thing is that my crowd of people – all my homeys and friends and everything in life – smoke weed. That’s the crowd of people that I’m attracted to, but it doesn’t have a place in my life as a creative thing.
You put yourself out there vocally on Obsidian – using less filters, or avoiding them completely. Did you have any apprehension in doing so?
No, actually, because while it’s newer for most fans and the people who have just been turned onto my music, vocals were a huge part of my music very early on. Ever since I started recording, I was using my voice and I was singing, and my vocals were far more present than they were on Cerulean. It’s a very natural thing for me. It was more that the aesthetics of the first record didn’t call for it as much, but this one definitely did, and albums in the future definitely will. So, it wasn’t a cause of nervousness or apprehension. It was just like, “Oh, cool, I get to do this now.”
You’ve mentioned that you developed a distaste for playing some of Cerulean’s songs live. Was that a product of time and over-familiarity, or were there particular elements of that music that you grew dissatisfied with?
It’s a little bit of both. It’s been three years now that I’ve been playing some of those songs, and if play anything for that amount of time, of course you’ll grow hate them in some way. Even if it’s a good song, even if you have some emotional attachment to it, you can’t take anything like that for so long. It’s just, like, ugh, so much. The idea of playing any song that’s ever existed five hundreds times – which I must have done, at least, in some cases – is the worst.
The other half of it is that Cerulean was kind of immature, on purpose in a lot of ways. It was kind of off-the-cuff. All of the songs happened very quickly. Everything formed as a blast; it was very quick. I didn’t put way too much thought into the songs or overwork them. It just sort of happened. By that method, a lot of songs were things that musically I was not super proud of. They had their appeal and they were very beat-driven songs, but I wasn’t all that emotionally attached to some them in the end, or at least as much as I was with songs like “Plea” and “Lovely Bloodflow”, where I think I put more thought into them. I’m basically talking about “Maximalist”: That song was a cool sonic idea that musically was just sort of gibberish. There wasn’t much for me to hold onto after a short while.
That’s the biggest difference between the new record and Cerulean: I care so much more about the songs, because I took so much more time with them. All of them are exactly what I wanted. I didn’t end up using, like, seventeen different songs. A bunch of them were not fully formed, just sketches and ideas, but there was a lot of stuff that I went through that just wasn’t right, and being able to identify the stuff the was right was a very strong feeling for me. There was a lot less of that on Cerulean– it was more just like, “This idea was a cool one, so let’s put it on.” Obsidian was perfected. [Laughs] I’m not saying that these songs are perfect, necessarily, but they’re much closer to the ideal than I think the songs on Cerulean were, because that was so soft-focused, whereas this one is very, very clear.
Obsidian can be a very dark record. The album’s press release – which, understandably, is probably not something you wrote – cites some almost comically macabre inspiration: the Dark Ages, the Black Plague, Dante’s Inferno, the Bible. What was driving you towards that type of source material?
That’s stuff that I’ve always been into, but the interesting thing about this record is that I kind of started work on it before Cerulean even happened. It was the next record that I wanted to make, but then things picked up really quickly and started getting attention for some Baths material. I don’t even think I had that name yet. When I signed to Anticon [Records] and I knew I was going to have a release, I sort of catered my first impression – Cerulean – to be more digestible. I didn’t want to come out with something hyper-negative from the outset, even though that’s what I was planning on making.
That kind of more negative inspiration and darker stuff has always, always been a big part of my life – I’m obsessed with it. My favorite music is often sad music, or is at least warped in that way, even if it’s not outwardly sad. As far as those influences mentioned – like, the Bible and Dante’s Inferno – it’s not like I’m approached the record as an entire academic work, sifting through those sources and putting all the pieces together. It’s more like an atmosphere that I tried to keep going in my head while I was working on stuff, something that was surreal and uncomfortable and darker. It was the right place for me to be when I was trying to write the music and the lyrics. The whole attempt was to be in a certain zone when I was making the record, and I would have to come out of that a lot, because I’m not that kind of person. I’m not super brooding and intense and dark and asocial – I’m very talkative and open and all that shit. So, it was a method – sort of like method acting or something. [Laughs] I just had to get into it.
The thematic darkness is balanced out by a bolder sheen and stronger emphasis on individual components. Did anything change in how you approached composition this time around? Did all of the songs originate from a bedroom environment?
I’ve never not made music in that environment. I’m not super strong in the belief that making a record is entirely dependent on what environment you’re in. You should be able to make your stuff regardless of what’s going on outside and around you. It has to come from within.
But I made an effort very early on, before the songwriting even took place, to get newer equipment and upgrade my stuff, so there was a new realm of things to work with. I bought a drum set and a dulcimer and stuff like that, so I had more at my disposal. There was a bigger world for me when it came to record. Once I started writing the music, it was weird to adjust to intentionally writing songs in minor keys. I’m not a person that uses minor keys all that often. It was an effort, the same way it was an effort to be in a darker mode. I would sit at the piano and play minor shit, even if it was terrible, just so I could submerge myself in that realm and feel comfortable writing in it. It’s the same as learning a new language: You just have to immerse and then it starts happening naturally.
As far as the technicality and part writing, the biggest thing was making sure that I wasn’t bored of the stuff. I spend a lot of time listening back to music when I’m making it. There was a testing ground. I keep drawing a line between Cerulean and this record, but Cerulean‘s often didn’t often go through that process, but for this record I did it with every song. It was a question of whether or not I could listen to a song 25 or 30 times and not fall out of favor with it – that was when I knew it was worth continuing on and worth putting on the record and fulling fleshing out the idea, because there so many that I was just like, “This is cool and dark and has these different elements, but I’m bored of this song. I can’t explain what it is or why I don’t like it – I’m just not feeling it anymore.” That would mean it wasn’t going to make it on the record.
What becomes of those discarded songs?
Most of them go away, but some of them will be revisited because there are more things I like about them than songs I would just discard. Some of them will get worked into an EP. There’s one song in particular that I had started work on before Cerulean – so, a long time ago, like, four years ago – and it just never got finished, but I’ve always loved it. I didn’t put it on the record because it wasn’t made around the same time. It’s in a different mode. But I revisited it, and I actually just finished it a couple of days ago, so that’s definitely going to be on something related to this release, like an EP or a 7″. We don’t have anything planned yet. There are a couple of songs that I’ll similarly flesh out. But Obsidian needed to have songs that I was 100% behind and nothing else.
What is the significance of the record’s title? I know that obsidian is a volcanic, rock glass.
All those sort of connotations are correct. First, obsidian is glossy and expensive looking as element, as a stone, or whatever – my brother is geologist, so I’m trying to remember to what it is exactly. I think it’s a metamorphic rock. No, it’s a mineral. Whatever, forget it; this is so besides the point. [Laughs] The point is that it’s expensive-looking at first glance and glossy and clean, which is what the vibe of the new record is sonically. It’s not a soft-focused and distorted collection of songs. It’s much more crisp. Second, it’s volcanic glass, which taps into the idea of something coming up from the middle of the earth, coming up from hell, and drying on the surface. Those are the main two things behind the title. Those are so much good images for me, and have a lot to do with the record. And then, obsidian, as a word, just felt right. As an umbrella for the songs on the record, it was the only thing that tied it together in the right way. There were other words that I tried that fell off or didn’t relate enough to one or two of the songs, but this mentally gives the right picture for the all of the stuff that I was trying to make, even if I’m kinda limited on the connotations that it has. Obsidian only brings a couple of different things to mind, but it’s the right stuff.
You had a Tweet that referenced your sexuality in a way that I found interesting. You made a point that while you were gay, you loved women and were inspired by them and that you need them in your life as much as possible.
I don’t even want to limit myself to women. I’m inspired by human beings and all of that, all the time. There was a dialogue going between some of the people that I follow [on Twitter]. People were… I can’t even remember where it came from. I just wanted to say something like, “Yeah, of course, how can anything about women ever be discounted or lessened. They’re, like, the most important beings ever.” I don’t know – I can point back to Bjork. Musically, she was the first person to ever completely change my point of view on music. She changed my life entirely. And it sucks, because I’ve mention her in every fucking I’ve ever had. It’s, like, my go-to thing, but I would be lying if I didn’t mention her. It was such a surreal and important part of my upbringing musically, and in my own life, it helped give me an identity in high school and realize what I wanted to work towards. I can’t help but be thankful for women and continue to believe that they’re a super important part of my life, even though I’m a super gay dude. [Laughs]
The thing is that I tweet a lot of bullshit. I take my music very seriously, but I do not take myself seriously in the least. I tweet about nothing all the time. So, my apologies.