Q&A: Wes Borland Tells Us Whether He Really Hates Being In Limp Bizkit, And Why Fleet Foxes Are Bad For Music
Yesterday, I wrote a post about Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland. Bizkit are about to headline the ShipRocked cruise, along with a whole mess of other nü-metal bands, and Borland seemed to be dreading the prospect. In an Instagram post, he said as much: “Whenever we aren’t on stage, I’ll be curled up fetal position in my cabin, palms up, while I desperately cling to the last week of my thirties as it slips through my hooked fingers.” After I wrote the post, Borland reached out to me on Twitter, and we talked on the phone this afternoon.
Within nü-metal and Limp Bizkit in particular, Borland always played an interesting role. In a frat-thug-dominated scene, he was the guy who wore all-black contact lenses and kabuki makeup. He talked about listening to Ween in interviews. He quit Limp Bizkit to form a band that sounded vaguely like Mr. Bungle before returning to the fold. In fact, Borland has quit and rejoined Limp Bizkit twice, and he’s often carried himself as someone who would rather not be in Limp Bizkit. But talking to him today, I found him to be warm and engaging and interesting, even if he’s perfectly comfortable being a guy in Limp Bizkit these days. Here’s our conversation.
STEREOGUM: So you’re not too terribly pissed about the post that I wrote?
WES BORLAND: Of course not. Why would I? I mean, what wasn’t true in the post that you wrote?
STEREOGUM: I mean, I don’t know.
BORLAND: Nah man. When [I thought about] the idea of a cruise with a bunch of bands from that time period, [I thought], “Oh, I’m turning 40, I’m gonna spend the last week of my 30s on a metal cruise with a bunch of, like, middle-aged wasted people.” And instead of despairing about it, I thought it would be funny to make fun of it.
STEREOGUM: Your Instagram post was really funny. I think everyone has situations where they’re not ready to go to work that day and face whatever it is they’re facing.
BORLAND: Yeah. This is kind of like the equivalent of that. But I don’t know anything about ShipRocked [except] that we’re playing on it, and what the idea of a music cruise sounds like to me. In no way am I like, “Fuck ShipRocked and our fans are idiots.” [I] was hoping that people would have more of a sense of humor about it.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel like they have?
BORLAND: I feel like some have, but I feel like a bunch of people haven’t at all, and that’s fine too. Whatever. Because it’s funny, but it’s true.
STEREOGUM: Do you hate being in Limp Bizkit?
BORLAND: Um, no I don’t hate being in Limp Bizkit. I’m very aware of my band. You know, I totally get tons of people don’t like it and think it’s a joke. And then we have a really strong fan base that are great. And it’s been something I’ve always been part of, on and off, but something that’s always been my band, and whether people think it’s dumb or not, or elements of it aren’t cool, whatever. We’ve always had really fun live shows. I’ve always gotten to create stupid stage personas that make me laugh and hopefully could possibly rub off on someone in the crowd that isn’t used to seeing things like that that borderline on costuming and performance art, or whatever you want to call it. No, it’s an interesting place to be, and I’ve always sort of thought of it as being a Democrat who’s voting in a red state, in a way.
It’s like, I really like my band. Do I listen to that genre of music? No. But do I participate in my band and do I enjoy playing with those guys? Yeah, it feels like home. I’ve known them for 20 years and developed as a player with John on drums and Sam on bass, and it’s part of my DNA, I guess. It feels good.
STEREOGUM: Did you picture yourself still doing this, say, 10 or 15 years ago?
BORLAND: Probably not because 10 years ago I think I was out. Yeah, I wasn’t in the band 10 years ago. I’d quit and had all these — I didn’t like the direction that we were going in and I had developed this huge ego and communication between me and Fred [Durst] had completely shut down in like 2001. And then we played the Big Day Out Festival and had a girl die during our set, which was devastating to me and I still haven’t really ever gotten over that, but I was like, “That’s enough. I’m done. I don’t like all the attention that we’re getting. I don’t like that we’re on TRL. This is not what I thought being in a rock band would be like.” So at 26, I went “See ya later, I’m out. I’m gonna go do something that I think is cooler than this.” I had all these presumptions about what life after Limp Bizkit would be, and boy did I get my ass handed to me, because if you are known for one thing and then depart and go do something else, it doesn’t always work out because you have a fan base that is not going to accept what you’re doing.
So I had a completely failed self-indulgent project that I developed for like two years after the first time I left Limp Bizkit, and I got to play guitar in Marilyn Manson for a little while. I was talking with Trent about a Nine Inch Nails position and had that for a little while, and was like, “OK, finally I’m moving into these other worlds of these people that I look up to as musicians.” [But] participating in these other bands wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be like and I didn’t enjoy it as much … and I started to kinda miss Bizkit. I was like, I really miss our live shows and improvisation. I started to miss playing somewhere with a group of guys that feels like home, and also kind of realized that I had gotten, at that point, kind of too big for my britches and had to be humbled a little and grow up a little bit. And I went back. I accepted it, the good with the bad.
STEREOGUM: You’ve been back a few years now. How does it feel at this point? Are you used to it again?
BORLAND: Yeah because now it’s like, it is what it is, I’m fine with it, I’m fine with the criticisms that come with it. I totally get it, and it also allows me to work in a band and tour, and I’m really lucky that I was in the last wave of bands to be able to have a large fan base and tour the world, and it allows me to do other stuff, too. So I have other projects that I’m working on outside of it. I get to play guitar in my girlfriend’s band [Queen Kwong], and that’s like the completely other end of the spectrum. I get to do a bunch of different kinds of music and be in Limp Bizkit and not have pressure like bands today who are struggling to rub two nickels together.
STEREOGUM: It’s true that there’s never probably going to be another rock band that’s as popular or sold as many records as you guys did in 1999 or whatever. It’s just not ever gonna happen.
BORLAND: Well I hope you’re wrong. I mean, I know it’s not, too. I’m an atheist but whenever someone goes, “Don’t worry, there’s a heaven,” I go, “You’re wrong, but I sure hope you’re right. I sure hope I’m wrong.” But I agree with you. It sucks watching my girl’s band Queen Kwong struggle, and her going, “What the fuck, this is crazy! I just got a check from Spotify for like 0.01 cents. Why do they even mail this to me? Fuck ‘em.” For as much as I read about it and as much as I’m informed of it, it’s a really frightening time. And there are arguments on both sides, but these Spotify people, this is not the way to go. Some genius needs to come up with a way, or a board of geniuses, needs to come up with a way to monetize music so that bands can quit their day jobs.
STEREOGUM: To a total outsider like me, somebody who wasn’t even frankly a fan of the band, the sort of internal dynamic of Limp Bizkit was the most interesting thing about it. You and Fred Durst seem to have very opposing personalities. I was in college when you guys were at your peak and every frat boy in the universe was all about you, and you’re this dude who’s wearing kabuki makeup up there. There’s an interesting tension there.
BORLAND: That’s absolutely accurate, yeah. What you think is what it was like, and I think that’s what made it interesting in a lot of ways and stand out in a lot of ways, but it’s also what made it volatile and made me go crazy. Growing up, I was going, “OK Fred” and he was like, “OK Wes.” But there’s a way we can coexist and keep doing this thing that has been so good to us, we can keep doing it and somehow I can figure out how to not step on your toes and you can figure out how to not step on my toes. And now we communicate and everything’s super easy.
STEREOGUM: Are you friends?
BORLAND: Um [slight pause], yeah, I would say we’re friends. The only reason I hesitate is once you get off the road with somebody in a band, you don’t really wanna see them for a while, but that’s true with any band. I think that’s a really common thing. You’re with someone every single day, and you wake up and they’re next to you across the hallway, and you’re having breakfast, lunch, and dinner and coffee with them, you need a break. So yes we’re absolutely friends. But when you’re off the road, I’m mostly just hanging out with my girlfriend and painting and stuff.
STEREOGUM: When you have a down moment on the road, what do you talk about?
BORLAND: Just normal stuff. Art. He listens to music you probably wouldn’t expect him to and is pretty good-natured about where he stands as a far as being a figure in society. He’s a self-aware guy and is an open guy as far as wanting to learn new things and learn about new bands. I’ve turned him onto a lot of stuff that’s really dug. For a while, all he was really doing was listening to Holograms and the Horrors and was really into that stuff.
STEREOGUM: So at Stereogum, there was a little internal debate about who should write the post yesterday. One of the guys who works at the site, Michael, is a big underground metal devotee, and so he was gonna write it originally, and his position was basically like, “Fuck this guy. He destroyed metal in the late ’90s — him and his band and all the other bands — and if he’s uncomfortable with it now, it’s his fault. It’s his fault that metal sucked for years and that it’s only now starting to recover.” What do you say when you’re confronted with a viewpoint like that?
BORLAND: I think metal is so fucking boring that I wanna stab my eyes out with screwdrivers. In the ’90s we tried to do something with metal, to take it into a new direction, based on combining metal bands with stuff that was on the heels of the grunge movement, like Helmet and Primus and even Pantera and the Melvins — taking those Helmet slaughterhouse riffs and combining it with like Carcass riffs and treating it more like a hip-hop Ministry song. That was the thought process at the time, and we didn’t know where it was gonna go. And luckily for him, metal’s right back to being the same as it was then. So obviously nothing was ruined because it was a time period of just experimenting and going in a certain direction and seeing what guitars did if you did this to them, and songs, and so on and so forth. And at no point were ever claiming to be, like, metal. That was put on us by having that as an influence, and I think that’s funny that he’s even getting that mad about it! [laughs]
STEREOGUM: He’s not even playing about it. That’s why I ended up taking the assignment instead of him.
BORLAND: But I also agree with him! Like, fuck me, who am I to complain about anything? I get to make a living off of music. I’m super lucky, and I get that too. So “fuck this guy.”
STEREOGUM: So here’s another question for you: Do you feel like Limp Bizkit as a whole was a positive or negative force for music in society in the late ’90s/early 2000s?
BORLAND: I think both. I think that Fleet Foxes is a negative influence on music, for Christ’s sake. It’s just how you look at it. People have been moshing and behaving badly at concerts, at heavy concerts, for years and years and years, and I think that Bizkit kind of took more aggressive heavy riffs along the lines of Suicidal Tendencies and Pantera and simplified them a little bit and added a little of bit of melody and ending up having something that got popular, you know? And people have been acting like assholes at shows for a long time. I don’t think a dude saying “fuck” a bunch of times is shocking.
STEREOGUM: I agree with that, but do you feel at all complicit in something like what Woodstock ’99 turned into?
BORLAND: I think that was a really bad idea, because Woodstock ’99 — I don’t feel responsible at all for that. I feel like the promoters of that festival were overcharging people for water, for instance, the cash machines were running out of money. The conditions were really poor, and I think that Woodstock ’99 should have not invited bands like us on it unless they expected — no one said, “Tone it down, this audience is not going to react in a positive way to your show.” I mean, who knew that the festival was gonna turn into that, that atrocious riot that it did? But it’s never happened again, which I think is a good idea. I think that if they were to do it now and have the music that’s popular now — Foxygen and Mumford & Sons and a bunch of bands that are more tepid, or just a little more Coachella-friendly — I think it would probably work out great. There were a lot of really heavy bands on that festival.
STEREOGUM: Well tell me about Queen Kwong. I’ve listened to the four-song sampler on SoundCloud just before I called you. I really like it.
BORLAND: Carré [Callaway] and Joe Cardamone from the Icarus Line wrote everything, they improv-ed everything in the studio, and she kind of made of the lyrics as she went along for the new album, and then I mixed it here at my home studio. It’s interesting dealing with Joe because he viciously hates Limp Bizkit so much that it was an interesting interaction that was funny.
STEREOGUM: He’s not shy about bringing that up to you?
BORLAND: Oh no, he like openly can’t stand it. But that’s fine. I think he’s a talented guy and I don’t begrudge people for their opinions on art or music or whatever else.