Each time I have been fortunate enough to see The Warlocks, two thoughts run through my mind: One: “Dude, I am totally seeing The Warlocks right now!” and two: “Christ on a crutch, who in the world is responsible for these visuals? They’re making a great show ten times better.”
But it wasn’t until Austin Psych Fest 3 that I had the opportunity to personally creep out the visual maestro conducting the visual experiments that had so thoroughly flipped my wig. During the mind-shattering set delivered by The Vandelles, my jaw couldn’t help but drop upon seeing clips from one of the most radical films of all time projected behind the Brooklyn beach-blanket-bingo crew. So I struck up an awkward conversation.
Six months later, Molly Rogers was kind enough to answer some questions about her art, her work and what it’s like touring with & having a birds-eye view of a band of heavy-deavy skull lovers. Good golly, Miss Molly – thank you.
Where does your interest in film – or the visual arts- begin? Do any moments in particular standout in your mind as being transformative for your appreciation of the visual medium?
I’ve always been a storyteller and sort of a liar. I was kind of a loner growing up and learned that a combination of humor, experience, and making stories out of your experiences makes people listen. It’s easy to forget minute details that may seem trivial, but in retrospect they sort of make the moment so I started documenting these things happening around me…sketching portraits, basically storyboarding a journal and jotting down visions I associated with songs. It wasn’t until later that I realized what I was experiencing had a name, synaesthesia.
Musically speaking, can you give us a brief tour of your back pages? Meaning, what were the bands or albums that were the first to make inroads toward your brain? What music influenced you most early in life – and does that same music still have hold over you now?
I started listening to the White Stripes and Brian Jonestown Massacre when I was really young. A lot of it was being in the right place at the right time. By freshman year of high school it was all about getting a fake ID to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club play as much as possible. I went to a high school with a lot of Mormons and I started considering every Velvet Underground album as my Book of Mormon. They sort of opened a lot of doors for me. When you’re young, being into VU is sort of like having a key to a secret club. You walk around with the banana pin running into people with banana shirts and banana tattoos and you realize you’re not alone. Most of what influenced me then and most of what I listened to at that time laid the foundation for who I am.
Who are the artists that most influenced you by combining the audio and the visual in a live setting? Did you accidentally – or by the hand of fate – fall in to the pursuit of your craft, or was it by specific design and persistence?
The Flaming Lips & Butthole Surfers were seminal bands for me early on that created a show. They didn’t walk onstage, play their instruments and leave. They put on a SHOW. The Velvet Underground and Warhol, of course. Floria Sigismondi, David Lynch, and Salvador Dali. The Cinema of Transgression movement, in particular Nick Zedd, opened my eyes to the possibility of creating a movement with like-minded artists without a budget. I started working at Tee Pee Records and got the opportunity to go on tour with the Black Angels & the Warlocks. I had never been on tour before and I was just there to sell the merch. But, as I watched the Black Angels projections every night I thought to myself, “I would love to do that.” So I started getting more into Hawkwind with Liquid Len and Stacia. The Joshua Light Show. But that was made for what was going on then. I wanted to do something a little more contemporary and significantly on par with the music. You don’t have to take drugs with my projections, unless you want to.
You are perhaps most associated with contributing to the live ritual conducted by The Warlocks. Given this association, are you able to confirm the rumors that members of The Warlocks have superhuman powers, including – but not limited to – flight, x-Ray vision and perfect taste in sunglasses?
Well. It’s complicated. It’s hard to keep track sometimes. But, yes. JC is a superhuman. And even though there’s been talk of X-ray vision, that’s just a rumor, Bobby’s actually been blessed with the power of flight. We all share the power of perfect taste in sunglasses, which is more of a talent than a power. A talent learned after your hundredth hangover.
The commonly accepted etymology of the word warlock derives from the Old English “waerloga” meaning “oathbreaker” or “deceiver.” Guilty as charged?
I guess they have deceived you all because they’re all actually robots.
What other bands have been fortunate enough to take advantage of the psychic boost provided by your visuals? What bands would you most like to work with, given the opportunity?
I’ve made projections for The Meek and The Vandelles and I did the Morning After Girls lighting a few times last year. I think bands need to make more of an effort to draw an audience due to the fact that not everyone has the money to go and see the same band play songs in the same way. Projections really hold peoples’ attention and create a full-on sensory experience for the audience. I would love to work with Brian Jonestown Massacre, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Black Angels, the Flaming Lips, Echo & the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Jesus & Mary Chain, Spectrum, and I would have loved to work with the Cramps.
What is your thought process when compiling your visual elements? Is it specific to the band? Is it ever specific to the song?
I listen to a song so many times that it sort of fades into the back of my mind. What comes next is just sort of a natural association with what’s visual. I could sketch out exactly what I see, but usually I try to find images that are similar to the ones I envision with the song. If I had a bottomless budget and eternal time I would film exactly what I see with each song for each band. But, until then, I have to utilize my endless back catalogue of films that I’ve stored in my brain. I never thought being such a film nerd would pay off so well.
Have you ever presented a visual performance designed to be scored by a live band – with the visuals being the center of audience attention, as opposed to being secondary or reactive?
When I was at NYU (film school), I would be in the front of the room presenting my films with the music in the background to an audience in a theater, rather than in the back of the room projecting films on top of the music to an audience in a venue. I enjoy doing both. But, as time passes, I’ll be more of a vital layer of the performance, considered more of an artist than a crewmember. I want to work with bands that think of me as a performer, a necessary layer of their show, knowing that in order to impress the modern jaded audience the risk of letting another person join in on the fun of the show is not only worthwhile but necessary.
In the magnificent book “Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents,” author – and one-time member of Coil – Stephan Thrower relates the following in regard to a little indeed film called “Night of the Living Dead” and the motivations of director George Romero: “In our desire to make grand narratives of history and culture, we can often accept high-minded theorizing as gospel.” Romero himself said: “It was 1968, man. Everybody had a ‘message’ … I think that if you create something that seem real and true to people, it then becomes possible for them to have the little kinds of insights and feelings and rationales that they call ‘hidden meanings’ and ‘statements’ and whatever.” Your thoughts? What – if any – are your hidden meanings, statements or “whatever”?
I agree with Romero, that everything in retrospect can be read into and related to what was happening in the world at the time. But, it’s for the audience to decide what my films have to say.
What’s next in the story of Molly?
Like Bowie and Iggy and Eno, I’m beginning my Berlin Era very soon, actually I’m starting next week. I’ll be there for awhile and I’d like to work with some bands, artists and venues there. And hopefully I’ll be traveling to some other cities to try and work with different people. If I could, I would be on tour all of the time. I thrive in that environment. I don’t handle consistency very well and I’m easily bored. Right now, I’m lucky to have the freedom to experiment with different projects. But, even free time gets boring so I’m hoping to find a new project to commit to and a band to collaborate and tour with sometime soon. I feel like this has become my own personals ad suddenly. Projectionist for hire. Willing to tour. Works well with notoriously difficult personalities. And is interested in starting a revolution. Very experienced.