Figures Of Light – Legendary American Proto-Punks (Interview)

Posted: May 14, 2014 in Heavy Metal, Music
Tags: , ,

Figures Of Light is an American proto-punk band formed in 1970 by Wheeler Winston Dixon and Michael Downey. They record on Norton Records and their own label, F O L Records. Figures Of Light‘s first concert on July 23, 1970 was recorded in stereo, complete with the television smashing finale. The complete “TV Smashing Concert” was finally released on March 1, 2013 in a limited edition multicolored vinyl 12″ LP on Norton Records. As Miriam Linna of Norton Records put it, “the live LP makes ‘Metal Machine Music‘ sound like Mantovani… that ‘lost’ album is one of my fave records of all time.” Their first single, “It’s Lame,” recorded in 1972, led to their rediscovery by Norton Records in 2006. Since then, they have put out at least ten CDs, including “Smash Hits,” “Drop Dead,” “Lost and Found” and their most recent CD, “Buy Before You Die.

Figures Of Light – Interview

Metal Empire: Would you care to introduce yourselves for the Metal Empire audience?

Figures Of Light (WWD): I’m Wheeler Winston Dixon, co-founder of Figures Of Light, along with Michael Downey. We started out on our long strange trip in the summer of 1970. I sing lead vocals, co-write the songs with Michael, and very occasionally play guitar. I also run our label, FOL Records, and maintain our website at www.figuresoflight.com and our Vimeo channel

Figures Of Light (MD): I’m Michael Downey. I play guitar and co-author songs for the band.

Metal Empire: Does the band name Figures of Light have a meaning? How did it come about?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Most people think it comes from Carl Jung – who said that “one does not become enlightened by imagining Figures of Light, but by making the darkness conscious” – but actually the concept is first found in the writings of John Milton and William Blake. What it means to us is that in a world of lies, we’re Figures of Light – we tell the rather sardonic truth about things, at least as we see it, and we don’t pull any punches, as songs like “It’s Lame” or “Buy Before You Die” would suggest. Or, as one of our fans put it recently, “one becomes conscious by imagining Figures Of Light – and listening to them.” That’s our view.

Figures Of Light (MD): Wheeler came up with the name. I think it’s from Blake.

Figures Of Light - Buy Before You Die

Figures Of Light – Buy Before You Die

Metal Empire: What is the band up to at the moment? Is there something you’re working on currently?

Figures Of Light (WWD): We just released our latest CD, “Buy Before You Die,” which contains the title cut and six other tracks; it’s been in heavy rotation on WFMU since it came out, and was recorded in a single day – January 25, 2014. We also recorded another album the same day, “Feedback Music,” which is a recreation of a 1971 concert we gave, using nothing but tuned guitars. It’s two chord rock all the way.

Figures Of Light (MD): I’m always working on new stuff. Wheeler and I live far apart so collaboration can be tricky.

Metal Empire: You guys started in 1970, how do you feel the music scene has changed in all that time?

Figures Of Light (WWD): We grew up in the The Velvet Underground/Stooges era, and then came The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Cramps, The Troggs and many other great bands, all of which we got a chance to see live, many times. Now, it seems that pop music is totally prepackaged, and we really can’t get too excited about pre-digested pop. Miley Cyrus? No thanks. She should do whatever she wants, but it’s not for me. I like some EDM, but for me, mostly, it’s two chord rock that works.

Figures Of Light (MD): The music scene of today is totally different. The internet and digital recording has resulted in a huge increase in available music, while at the same time it has made getting recognized problematic, and it has made making money from recording exceedingly difficult for all but a handful of artists.

Figures Of Light - Smash Hits

Figures Of Light – Smash Hits

Metal Empire: Your first single was called “It’s Lame.” How was the reaction of the media and the public at the time of its release, compared to the reaction when it was re-released in 2006?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Our first single was invisible — we cut 100 copies and that was it. We took it physically, since we lived right outside of New York City, to the A&R people at every label in the city, and got turned down flat every time. Don Imus, a famous American shock jock, actually broke a copy in two which Michael skimmed at him during a remote broadcast at the Port Authority Bus Terminal – he simply wouldn’t play it. Even William Terry Ork, who was a personal friend and managed the great band Television told us it was “no good.” So when Norton called me up in 2006 out of the blue, having found a copy of the single at a record swap, and wanted to re-release it pronto, I was amazed. Variety’s pop music critic actually called it “the single of the year.” So we were off and running.

Figures Of Light (MD): “It’s Lame” received no reaction from either the public, who never got to hear it, or the media in 1972. When Norton re-released it in 2006, we received quite a lot of favorable attention from several media outlets and radio stations.

Metal Empire: Figures Of Light’s very first concert was recorded when the members had only been playing for a month before you hit the stage – which is totally insane. What brought about the concert and the bands formation?

Figures Of Light (WWD): None of us could play instruments, which we thought was a great place to start. We were seeing The Velvet Underground every weekend at Max’s Kansas City in NYC — their last stand, as it turned out – and so they definitely inspired us by their example. So we rented a bunch of huge Marshall amps, some guitars, a trash drum set, all for nothing, and practiced in the apartment Michael and I shared in New Brunswick, NJ. The other members of the band were Phil Cohen, on lead guitar, and Dennis Druzbik, on bass. I played slide guitar open tuned to “E”, handled vocals, and Michael played rhythm guitar. We wrote a bunch of original material, including “It’s Lame,” and then jumped up stage before 400 people or so and played a lot of feedback rock and roll for a totally frenzied audience. Non stop screaming! Listen to the record. They were out of their minds!

Figures Of Light (MD): We were young punks who wanted to be rock and rollers. What we lacked in brains and musicianship, we made up for with nerve. Did I mention that we didn’t even own instruments, we just rented them?

Metal Empire: The whole concert was recorded in stereo, in a time when such a thing was probably not very common for new an upcoming acts, who was behind the recording?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Jeanne Ford, who recorded the first 1970 concert, was a tech whiz, and she just set up the microphones and went for it. The vocal PA system punked out minutes before we went on, so I just shouted out the lyrics over the band. So the vocals on the first concert LP are buried. Other than that, it’s really clean. She did a great job.

Figures Of Light (MD): The concert was supposed to also be filmed. There was a problem of some sort with the camera and nothing wound up being filmed, but we did get the audio on a reel to reel.

Figures Of Light (WWD): That’s right. There was a guy filming the whole thing in 16mm color with a portable Arriflex camera, which would have been great, but the film jammed in the gate and nothing came out but a blur. Bummer.

Figures Of Light - TV Smashing Concert

Figures Of Light – TV Smashing Concert

Metal Empire: You also smashed an impressive 15 TV sets on stage that night. Smashing things has always been a very Rock n Roll thing to do, but was it just for showmanship, or was there a particular message or feeling you were trying to convey to the audience?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Yes, we smashed 15 TV sets to smithereens, inspired by the British band The Move’s single Night of Fear. It was a protest against the mediocrity of the media, as is the song “It’s Lame.” Little did we realize how terrible TV would later become; at the time, looking back, there were a lot of old movies on all the time, and how, it’s just talk shows and sports.

Figures Of Light (MD): For me anyway, the set smashing was a gimmick to draw people in so we budding rock stars would have an audience to play for. We drew about 400 people. The set smashing was actually dangerous and dumb which was obvious after the fact. The 400 people vanished very quickly when we were done, leaving us to clean up the mess and haul it to the dump the next day in a rented truck.

Metal Empire: Who was the one who drove the motorbike down the main aisle of the concert hall?

Figures Of Light (WWD): That was Dennis, our bassist.

Figures Of Light (MD): Yes, Dennis D.

Metal Empire: Who were the poor guys who had to clear it all up afterwards?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Whom do you think? We did, in a huge truck, and then we took everything to the dump the next morning. Looking back, of course, the whole thing was madness. But madness in the best possible spirit of things, I think.

Figures Of Light (MD): The band had to clean up the mess.

Metal Empire: You’ve had the concert cut to 12″ Vinyl, in an age where record stores aren’t exactly on every street corner anymore. Where can fans go to pick it up?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Fans should go to Norton Records Website, where they can buy this invaluable, multi-colored (each LP is different) LP for a mere $15. There’s also copies floating around on Amazon, so you could try that, too.

Figures Of Light (MD): As Wheeler says, go to the Norton Website. There may be a stray independent record store or two that carries it.

Figures Of Light - Lost And Found

Figures Of Light – Lost And Found

Metal Empire: Figures Of Light went on long term hiatus in 1972 and only came back in 2006; what prompted the reunion after such a long time away from the stage?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Well, we weren’t getting any record deals, and this ticked us off; also, The Velvet Underground had broken up, and they weren’t anything as popular as they are today, which depressed us — and we couldn’t get into the studio. So in 1972 Jeff Travers engineered our single “It’s Lame” and when that didn’t go, we kinda gave up. We had been gigging around for two years, from 1970 to 1972, played a stack of concerts, but no one was giving us the time of day, so we decided to get on with our lives. What prompted our reunion was simple; Billy Miller of Norton Records, against all odds — and if you put this in a fictional short story, no one would believe it — found one copy of the 100 we pressed of “It’s Lame” at a record swap in a box marked “Soul Music,” played it, loved it, called me up, and wanted to put it out right away. And this time, some 34 years later — can you believe it? – it was a hit.

Figures Of Light (MD): Norton Records got hold of an original copy of “It’s Lame” and hunted Wheeler down on the internet. They wanted permission to re-release it. Wheeler contacted me, we agreed to let Norton put it out, and that was that.

Metal Empire: In December 2012 you started your band’s YouTube channel and have already accumulated over 6.7 million views and almost 16 thousand subscribers. Have you been at all surprised by the popularity your channel has had?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Totally surprised. It blows my mind. Actually, the channel was formally inaugurated as of May 2, 2013; I loaded up the first video in December of 2012, but didn’t really create the channel until May of 2013. As of May 11, 2014, we have had 7,184,120 views, for a total viewing time of 24,387,927 minutes — over 24 million minutes! – or a total viewing time of 46 years and 134 days. That’s insane! I really can’t explain it, except to say that people like our stuff, and it’s viewed around the world, and we get fan videos all the time, and I post them. That’s the equivalent of fan mail today; fan videos.

UPDATE: Figures Of Light Have closed their YouTube channel and Moved to Vimeo


Figures of Light Moves to Vimeo! from Figures of Light

Figures Of Light (MD): I’ve been totally astounded!

Metal Empire: Back in January 2014 you released two new CD’s “Feedback Music” and “Buy Before You Die” the first being more electronically oriented and the other more rock & roll based. What made you decide to create two such distinct pieces at the same time? What’s the story behind their creation?

Figures Of Light (WWD): “Feedback Music” was a recreation of a 1971 concert that was all feedback, using seven tuned guitars feeding back into the amps — just feedback, no songs —Figures Of Lightchine Music.” We recorded that it real time – about an hour – and that’s more my project than Michael’s. It’s a really intense CD. The best review we got of that was by a guy named Sir Jorge, who wrote that “modern bands like Sonic Youth, Refused, and even Drawn Close have played with this notion, but they are not the first to attempt it. Figures Of Light pulled out the electronic music vibe back on January 24, 1971 when the original members of the band Wheeler Winston Dixon, Michael Downey, and Phil Cohen presented a concert of feedback music at Brecht West Theater in New Brunswick, NJ, pushing the limits of what was thought to be music, and perhaps embarking on one of the first pieces of controlled chaos in live music history.” So the CD captures that. “Buy Before You Die” is more traditional rock and roll – two chord stuff, especially the title cut, about mindless consumerism. Michael’s favorite cut is “Killers From Space.” You can watch the videos for both albums on our Vimeo website, along with nearly everything else we’ve recorded, at http://vimeo.com/figuresoflight

Figures Of Light (MD): The feedback piece was something Wheeler had long wanted to do. We booked a studio for a day, knocked off the feedback piece first, and used the rest of the time to record the rock and roll tunes. The studio was freezing but the music came out pretty hot.

Figures Of Light - It's Lame

Figures Of Light – It’s Lame

Metal Empire: Can you talk about your production process? How do you go about writing new material?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Sometimes I’ll come up with a riff, or Michael will come up with a riff, and then we’ll put some words to it, but mist of our songs just come out with music and lyrics attached; they just appear. Some our best songs like “World of Pain,” “Black Plague Blues,” “Buy Before You Die,” “Killers from Space” and the like are literally written in minutes flat. Michael cranks out killer riffs on a daily basis; he’s an excellent guitarist, and creates new stuff every day. But we’ve had to slow down lately, simply because we’ve been putting out so much. It’s time to let people digest the ton of material out there, stuff like “The Power” and “It’s A Scream,” both of which are EDM/heavy metal cuts co-created with DJ Chrisz, or “Ides of March,” a killer instrumental created by Michael, with a lead part by Stuart Pendergast, a brilliant British heavy metal guitarist who usually works with his own group, Hospital of Death. On that one, I functioned more as a producer than anything else. Between 1972 and now, we’ve put out something like ten CDs, with about eighty new cuts or so in all, so it’s time to let some of that sink in.

Figures Of Light (MD): When I write, I start just fooling around on my trusty Telecaster. If I stumble on something pleasing, I record it and then rework it. Sometimes I send an instrumental demo to Wheeler and sometimes he writes some words. We also write entire tunes separately.

Metal Empire: You guys have also started your own record label, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Figures Of Light (WWD): We love working with Norton Records, and without them we wouldn’t even be here, but we’re been creating stuff that really isn’t up their alley some of the time, like the trance/metal stuff, and a stack of instrumentals. Also, they’ve got their own band, The A-Bones, and every time we recorded with Norton, we essentially “borrowed” the A-Bones rhythm section, and we couldn’t keep doing that. The best thing we did with Norton, and one of the best things we ever did, is the CD “Drop Dead,” which was cut in five hours, and produced by Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs and The Gories, and is one of the rawest things we ever did. Mick also played the leads on the album; just knocked them off, and they’re brilliant. There was so much material from that session that we had some cuts left over, including “I Give Up” and “Too Many Bills, Not Enough Thrills” that simply didn’t fit on the CD. So we asked Norton if we could put these additional cuts out ourselves, and they said OK, and FOL Records was born. Since then, we’ve put out a ton of CDs.

Figures Of Light (MD): We had a backlog of material which we wanted out fairly fast. The do-it-yourself approach seemed the way to go.

Figures of Light – Buy Before You Die

Figures of Light – Buy Before You Die – Lyrics Video from Figures of Light

Metal Empire: Your music is self-proclaimed proto-punk, how do you feel the punk movement has changed over the last 4 decades? Has the evolution of punk had any bearing on your own sound, or do you believe you exist far enough outside of the punk spectrum to have not really been effected by its influence?

Figures Of Light (WWD): We didn’t know we were proto-punk when we started, of course, because it was four years later before we first saw The Ramones. We thought we were simple garage rock, in the tradition of Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction,” The Troggs, and other really simple, primitive bands. I hear a lot of music that I like today, from all different genres, but I always go back to two chord rock as my default – it never fails. As Lou Reed put it, “one chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” Keep it simple, and make it rock.

Figures Of Light (MD): Punk means so many different things to different people. The 1970s stuff was a reaction to some of the pretentious stuff that was dominating radio play. We were both around New York City and we would go to CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City to see The Ramones, Television, and several other local bands.

Metal Empire: What other genres have had a major influence on your sound?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Electronic dance music from Amsterdam in the late 1990s, more specifically 1999, the trance “summer of love” was a very positive force when it first appeared, but at this point EDM has become a kind of death music, and is exhausted. So again, I go back to basic rock and roll every time for inspiration.

Figures Of Light (MD): Here are some of my favorites to listen to: The Velvet Underground, the Pretty Things’ first 2 albums, the Rolling Stones from the Brian Jones era, plus Stax R&B and lots more.

Figures of Light – Tablet Promo

Figures of Light – Tablet Promo from Figures of Light

Metal Empire: Who are your favorite punk and proto-punk bands of the last 40 years?

Figures Of Light (WWD): The Ramones, The Stooges, The Cramps, The A-Bones, The Fugs, The Dirtbombs, The Nerves, The Troggs, Television, The Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Joy Division, Section 25, Hole, Nirvana, Link Wray, T-Rex, The Pink Fairies, Little Richard (whom I saw once live; he was fantastic) — anything that really has power. I’m sure there are a lot of bands I’m forgetting here.

Figures Of Light (MD): I loved The Ramones and the Velvets. The New York Dolls and The Clash also rate high. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the Cramps.

Figures Of Light (WWD): Yes, The New York Dolls. “Chatterbox” with Johnny Thunders – another great talent.

Metal Empire: You released a single “Leave Her Alone/Dreams of the Past” late last year; how has the reception to the single been?

Figures Of Light (WWD): “Leave Her Alone,” the A-side, has gotten a ton of plays on the Vimeo channel, and is really a more dreamy instrumental than we usually do, but people seem to have embraced it a lot. You see, we do so many different genres of music – punk, garage rock, chill, trance, instrumentals with a surf flavor – so we’re hard to pin down. That’s OK with me. Bands that have to constantly tour playing their “signature hits” all the time have my deepest sympathy. They can’t play anything new! That’s why we rarely perform live – we like to keep it for special occasions. Basically, at this point, we’re a studio band, which is the way we can have the most control over our music.

Figures Of Light (MD): A lot of folks have listened to it on Vimeo.

Metal Empire: Is there a message behind that single? What are you hoping to achieve with all the new music you’ve been releasing lately?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Pushing people in new directions; that’s the real aim. People always gravitate to the biggest hits, but it’s the music that comes from the margins that’s the most interesting and lasting. People forget that The Velvet Underground couldn’t get arrested when they first started out, or even ten years later; it was only after the band folded and Lou Reed went solo that their real influence began to be left. In short, the old story; the band packs it in, and suddenly they’re more popular than they ever were when they were actively performing. Look at The Ramones – a killer band, who didn’t really become iconic until three our of four members of the band were dead. Again, when they were at their peak, they played to really small clubs – except in England, where they were really big.

Figures Of Light (MD): I don’t write songs with messages.

Metal Empire: What do you think of the current digital musical landscape? Are you a friend or foe of the digital music format?

Figures Of Light (WWD): No point in debating it; this is the digital era, the era of streaming. Mp3s rule, whether you like it or not. You can get all of our music, from Norton Records and from our own label, FOL Records, at both Amazon and iTunes and let’s face it; that’s the format most people use today, just as movies are now shot almost entirely digitally, and physical film has become an obsolete medium. CDs are dead, DVDs are dead, physical books are dead – everyone has a Kindle – and film is dead; it’s all digital, all streaming. It doesn’t matter what you think about it; it’s simply a fact. Actually, I really like the digital world in that respect – it’s much easier to create work that way.

Figures Of Light (MD): Friend.

Metal Empire: As a band that has come from the era of analog recording studios. Do you prefer still working with analog and its warmth of sound, or do you like the freedom and ease of use that digital recording now allows artists to have?

Figures Of Light (WWD): See above; with digital, we can record a lead guitar part in London with Stuart Pendergast, for example, and add it to the mix in New York, and master the whole thing in Nebraska, where I live now. Without the web, it would be impossible for Michael and I to collaborate at a distance. I’m just not an analog purist anymore; I used to be, but now I really do see the convenience and ease of working digitally, and I love it.

Figures Of Light (MD): I like them both equally.

Metal Empire: What are your best/worst memories of New York in the 1970’s, along with clubs like CBGB and Studio 54? Is there any great stories you can tell us about these places?

Figures Of Light (WWD): I never, ever went to Studio 54. I hate disco – period. When punk first started, disco was so dominant that there was nothing else, and CBGB‘s was a dump in the Bowery that cost $2 to get in for three bands; the first time we saw The Ramones there, they shared the bill with Blondie and Talking Heads. And people were scared of punk, and warned people in the music industry to stay away from it – too loud, too raw, just like early rock an roll. But disco’s totally dead now, and punk rules – it’s stood the test of time. The best venue was CBGB‘s, and there was also a club named Mother’s on 23rd street where Television played all the time. And Danceteria, and The Palladium. You really, really didn’t want to use the bathroom at CBGB‘s — scary! But the music was great, and the bands played superb sets, and New York City in the 70s was ridiculously cheap. I lived in an 8th floor walkup at 203 East 14th Street with two bedrooms in 1971 that cost $62.50 a month. Later, I lived at 20 Christopher Street in a studio in the mid 70s for just $180 a month. Today, a two bedroom apartment on Avenue B in Manhattan costs $4,000 a month, which is insane. How can anyone live, or create, in such an environment? It’s all about money now, and Manhattan has become a museum of itself. Artists need cheap space to create work of any kind – music, film, whatever. Without that, you don’t get anything new – just commercial junk. That’s the real problem; the artists have been pushed out of the city.

Figures Of Light (MD): I never went near Studio 54. At CBGBs, I was just there to enjoy the music.

Figures Of Light - Too Many Bills

Figures Of Light – Too Many Bills, Not Enough Thrills

Metal Empire: Is there any band or artist you would give anything to play a show with? If so, who are they and why?

Figures Of Light (WWD): I would have loved to share a bill with The Cramps; I love their work. We shared a bill in 2011 at The Bell House in Brooklyn with The Sonics, and they were great; really kind, let us use their back line for our soundcheck. We did a set with this great LA band Luis and The Wildfires when we first signed up with Norton at Southpaw, which is now closed; they were also really solid. Dream bills? How about The Stones in 1964; The Stooges in 1969; The Velvets in 1966; I saw them all, but I would have loved to share a stage with them.

Metal Empire: Figures Of Light has been around for 44 years. What’s it been like being in a band for over 4 decades?

Figures Of Light (WWD): It’s weird. It’s followed a classic pattern; at first we couldn’t get arrested, or recorded; then we essentially shut down between 1972 and 2006; now we’re all over the place. I guess success whenever it comes is great, and I have no idea what would have happened if we’d gotten a label deal with Clive Davis at Columbia, for example, when we first started out – that was one of the people we met with. Frankly, at this point, we’re pretty much a studio band, and though we rock out in the studio, the rigors of touring and one night stands are just too much. Look at Bo Diddley, another great artist; he essentially died on the road, touring endless one night gigs. It’s great if you’re The Stones or Metallica, and have people to do all the grunt work for you, but we’re really at this point just two guys, who get together when we can.

Figures Of Light (MD): It doesn’t feel like 44 years because we were inactive for many of those years.

Metal Empire: Proto-punk is a pretty undefined genre with a great expanse of territory to explore. What does the genre mean to you in terms of the sound you create?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Keep it simple, two chords max, simple lyrics, but with content. We’re purveyors of cheerful nihilism. Make an impact, keep it short, say what you want, and get out. Two minutes is about right, and do it fast — one tae is all it takes. Most of “Drop Dead” was one take — most of “Buy Before You Die” was one take, especially the title cut, which is one of my favorite cuts we’ve ever done. Honestly, I put that one on repeat and wonder how the hell we did it.

Figures Of Light (MD): We often work within certain confines: Three chords at most, frequently two or even one. The songs are fast moving, guitar based, and rarely over two minutes. We seldom use middle-eight to separate verses. We also make exceptions when we feel like it.

Metal Empire: Your own band’s sound has switched between several different styles; what made you choose this musical direction?

Figures Of Light (WWD): When we started out in 1970, none us could play a note – literally! We rented the guitars and amps and then learned how to play them in 30 days, so we had to keep it simple. It was all we could do. After we got back together in 2006, Miriam Linna, who drummed on our first CD “Smash Hits” and also “Drop Dead,” remarked “you guys haven’t improved in 35 years” – which was a compliment, quite sincerely. Lots of bands want to make things more complex and go in for symphonic rock or something like that – strings sections and such – just because they can, even The Pretty Things, another killer band especially on their first album. Now we’ve expanded into trance /metal, but we always come back to what we do best; two chord rock.

Figures Of Light (MD): I would say it’s the same reason we first formed. We saw and heard other bands playing and we decided we wanted to try it.

Metal Empire: Do you receive much fan mail, and if so what’s the craziest, creepiest or coolest thing you’ve ever gotten from a fan?

Figures Of Light (WWD): When we first started out, we had, shall we say, really crazy fans. Smashing fifteen TV sets on stage with sledgehammers while playing totally primitive rock and roll, while using a biker gang for security, and a free concert at that, brings out some interesting people. But once with the TV sets was enough; when we started playing straight sets, as you can hear on our CD “Lost & Found,” which compiles some of our live gigs from 1972 along with other stuff, things got more mellow. Now, it’s all Vimeo comments. It’s not the same!

Figures Of Light (MD): I don’t receive any fan mail.

Figures Of Light (WWD): It’s fan videos now, as I said.

Metal Empire: From a position of experience, what is your view on the world outside of music and how it has changed from your youth? Do you have a positive world view? What is your outlook on society in general?

Figures Of Light (WWD): I’m afraid when it comes to that I’m rather fatalistic. Money has become such an all-important part of the fabric of society in the 21st century that it dominates everything else, and controls everything else. If you didn’t live in the 60s and 70s in a major metropolis like London or New York, you have no idea how insanely cheap it was, how egalitarian, how open the whole scene was on every level. For example, practically anyone – anyone – could get one gig at least at CBGB’s, and filmmakers in New York could get a show simply by asking at the Filmmakers Cinematheque. But nothing cost very much, so there was really very little risk. Today, everything costs the earth.

Figures Of Light (MD): I can’t begin to address this in a short answer.

Metal Empire: As always, we like to have a fun question in our interviews. So, if you had one wish, that no matter what is was, it would come true. What would you wish for and why?

Figures Of Light (WWD): In 2014, I wish that the distribution of wealth in both the US and UK would become more equal. The 99% versus the 1% stuff has got to stop – there has to be some kind of reassessment of what we’re doing in our society. We need to value the humanities, and the arts — music, film, painting, sculpture, whatever — much more than we do. The scramble for cash is leaving a lot of beautiful work behind; I wrote an essay on that, with the title “On The Value of Worthless Endeavor” – you can read it at www.collegehillreview.com. Work that people create today which runs counter to the dominant culture is probably the most valuable work one can do; as I said earlier, all the best stuff comes from the so-called “outlaws” of the art world, in music as in everything else. Maybe no one will like it at first, but in the end, it is often the most important work being done in any medium. Without experimentation, you get nothing new at all.

Figures Of Light (MD): I would love to have one genuine hit single.

Metal Empire: Thank you for taking the time to speak to Metal Empire about what you do. Do you have any final words, or anything you would like to add?

Figures Of Light (WWD): Thanks for asking us to do this. We really appreciate it, and we hope more people will check out our Vimeo channel, which in the best tradition of everything I’ve been talking about here, is absolutely free. And then you can download our stuff at Amazon and iTunes. But mostly, we’re just amazed that 7,000,000 people and counting have checked us out, and like our work. We’re just amazed by that, and very thankful.

Figures Of Light Links

iTunes
Amazon
Official Site
Vimeo

Figures of Light with Stuart Pendergast – Leave Her Alone

Figures of Light with Stuart Pendergast – Leave Her Alone from Figures of Light

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Comments
  1. Kevin says:

    I’m just getting to know them through my obsession of checking out new bands on youtube – though they’re not new, I just happened onto them on there. Great to read a history about them since I definitely feel they’re one of the better talents I’ve seen on youtube. Didn’t realize they were around since the 70s so that explains a lot. (Experience!) Kinda makes me long for the old days when I frequented various hole in the wall places (besides CBGBs) in NYC to see some great punk bands!

  2. David Adams says:

    Great interview with one of the best bands ever. I remember hearing about them a few years ago and when I listened to their music I was hooked. Seriously some of the best music I’ve ever heard. I didn’t know they released a new album though, I’m going to get that for sure.

  3. Rachel says:

    Wow. A punk band who I thought was a new band, but turns out to be proto-punk – around before punk. I find that interesting. I listened to a few of their songs there (and I’m liking them) but I’ll need to look through those videos for the 1970s songs mentioned here too – I’m curious to hear them.

  4. TylerG. says:

    Times have changed a lot for these guys. I wish I grew up in the 70s and got to see these guys live, sounds like it was one hell of a ride. Of course, with times changing, fans can just express their fan delight on YouTube or facebook, and it may not be as cool, I bet they enjoy the fan support.

  5. Brem says:

    I loved the interview. I started listening to their music back in 08 I think it was. Was addicted right away. I never knew they were fully around in the 70s for such a brief time, but it’s rad to see them back together and making awesome music together. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  6. Morgan Setter says:

    Buy Before You Die sounds awesome guys. You guys haven’t lost the skill, that’s for sure. I love the way their musical style changed over the years, makes the music fresh yet still feels like the music I heard way back in 2006.

  7. Stan Roberts says:

    When I first heard of Figures of Light, I was around 14 years old. I loved their music, but I litereally had no idea they were doing this way back in the 70s. Then again I never follow band history like I should have. Great informative interview. Figures of Light rock!

  8. Savage says:

    Figures of Light are one of those bands that came back to make some awesome music. Being away from each other so long, one would think there was no way of seeing them come together again, but it’s fantastic seeing a band re-group and come together once again. And it’s great to see their success grow even more ever since they came back.

    I can’t wait to see hear their new album.

  9. Jared House says:

    It’s very interesting to see how these two were able to become so famous after being gone for such a long time. I heard “Lame” and it’s great. The idea that someone in the 70’s didn’t like it, really crazy to me. Such a good song overlooked for so many years. I’m just very happy Figures of Light got their chance when it was re-leased, now they’re unstoppable. Congrats guys.

  10. Winston says:

    Figures of Light man, such a rockin’ group. I heard their music a few years back, and I got hooked. I heard they were around in the 70s and didn’t last too long, it’s pretty cool to see stardom for these guys. I’ve listened to all of their music and to me, it’s all greatness. I’m really happy they came back to produce such good music.

  11. Stacey Bloom says:

    My father told me about Figures of Light many years ago, and I told him they came back and he didn’t believe me. I bought him the Smash Hits album, but he didn’t believe me until I got him Drop Dead. I’ve been buying him the new albums ever since. You guys also got me as a fan now too. 🙂

    Anyways I loved the interview. It’s nice to see what these guys are like in reality. I can’t wait to grab the new album as I seemed to overlook it somehow.

  12. JeffW1988 says:

    You guys just got a new fan. I can’t say I’ve heard of Figures of Light before I checked out this interview, but right away I was hooked. I listened to some of your guy’s music and wow is it great. The idea that you guys didn’t hit fame in the good ol 70s is just dumb, you guys for sure had hits on your hand, the record execs out there were just wrong at the time. I’m happy to see you guys came back to rock the world with your music.

    I will be checking out more of Figure of Lights music now, keep releasing albums.

  13. Hey guys — thanks for the great interview, and for the updates — you can’t find us anymore on YouTube except for bootlegs, and if you want the real deal, you should follow us to Vimeo here — http://vimeo.com/channels/figuresoflight/videos — and check it out. It’s so much better than YouTube – no ads, no monetization, better image and sound quality, and great support staff. YouTube has turned into a locked down wilderness of ads, commercial videos, and cute cat clips, and we’re glad we moved on. The new channel has been up five days as we write this, and it already has over a million and a half views, and lots of new stuff that wasn’t on the old channel, with more to come. So check it out, and thanks again for a great interview — one of the best we’ve had, and rock on!!!

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