Saul Williams talks new album

Jordannah Elizabeth | 8/13/2015, 9:58 a.m.
Writer-actor-activist Saul Williams has released a number of vivid and emotionally penetrating collections of poetry, music and film.
Saul Williams

Writer-actor-activist Saul Williams has released a number of vivid and emotionally penetrating collections of poetry, music and film. After emerging with his breakthrough performance in the captivating independent film “Slam,” co-starring with Sonja Sohn of “The Wire,” in 1998, Williams has contributed a large and extensive package of artistic overtures in less than two decades. He has created a collection of literature, music and artistic content that includes the contributions of other brightly complex artists such as Trent Reznor, who co-produced Williams’ 2007 musical opus “The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!” and Mos Def (currently known as Yasiin Bey), who hosted and introduced Saul’s appearances on HBO’s “Def Poetry.”

It’s hard to believe that Williams doesn’t struggle to outdo himself and continue to erect elaborate art projects after releasing five albums, acting in six films, publishing six books, touring globally and acting in a Broadway play, but I found myself sitting on the phone with him one morning to talk about his loftiest project yet: a transmedia (graphic novel, album and podcast) art project titled “Martyr Loser King.”

AmNews: The concept of “Martyr Loser King” came to you three or four years ago, right?

Williams: Yes, while I was living in Paris and traveling to a lot of places that I had access to from Paris. I was traveling to places like Senegal, South Africa, Europe and of course back and forth to the states, but I guess one of the major factors [about that time] was that I met my wife, Anisia, who is Rwandan. So I was learning more and more about the region of central Africa, and a few things came from my encounter with her, and a few other francophone people who pronounced Martin Luther King as “Martare Loozier Kying” (laughs). It cracked me up until I stopped and was like, “Holy shit, that’s a great idea!”

So you were inspired by international travel, African accents and annunciation?

When you live outside of the country [United States], the way you read the news is a little bit different. You gain this overview of what’s happening in New York and L.A. or wherever. Then of course, wherever you are, there’s news that’s local to that region. I was gaining a lot of perspective and wanted to find a way to talk through and about it all. But the thing is, I never felt compelled to fully tell the story [through the album] because the graphic novel is for that. I conceptualized it by making the music first.

I wasn’t trying to do some shit like, who was it, Moby? Who did that album about slave chants? Know what I’m talkin’about? I wasn’t trying to do this documentarian shit.

Like Duran Duran and Phil Collins who composed their music based off African music and put out a bunch of conceptual pop music.

Exactly. I’m making a sci-fi story! It takes place in a village built of old computer parts and it’s turned on when a dude meets a girl who is a modem (chuckles), so it’s the ultimate turn on.