Saul Williams’ current multimedia, multitiered MartyrLoserKing is not only his most ambitious piece of art to date — it also gives his fans a chance to watch him create and erect his art right in front of their eyes.
MartyrLoserKing (MLK for short) has already manifested as a full-length album, along with the recently released follow-up collection called These Mthrfckrs: MartyrLoserKing — Remixes, B-Sides & Demos. Other elements, including a film and a graphic novel, are in the works.
I have been watching, hearing and digesting the growth of MartyrLoserKing since its release earlier this year, so having a recent conversation with the L.A.-based Williams while he vacationed in Greece about the state and status of the project felt like we were continuing an ongoing conversation about sculpting, readjusting and process.
A recent profile of Williams for TribecaFilm.com summarized the project's premise thus: “MartyrLoserKing's title character, a cyber hacker living in the East African country of Burundi … builds a Frankenstein's Monster–like supercomputer from the parts of abandoned desktops, teaches himself how to code and develops an online cult following.”
It's also the story of two star-crossed partners, as MLK's love interest, Neptune Frost, becomes a connective, real-world counterpart to his cyber-laced universe. Frost, a transgendered anti-hero, intrigues the lead character to no end, as they embark on an adventure whose final destination, at this point, only Williams knows.
Behind the release of MartyrLoserKing, the album, you released a collection of demos and B-sides?
Demos, B-sides and remixes. MLK is a multitiered project, just in terms of music — we’re not even talking about the graphic novel. There will be at least three albums related to this project. I am already in the middle of recording the second album right now, which will come out around the time of the release of the graphic novel.
How does this demos, B-sides and remixes album fit into the foundational story of the original album and graphic novel?
There are vortexes and windows into the entry point of the story. I felt that letting DJs add their voice in terms of remixing the songs and making them more accessible [was important]. The mood of the album itself is very particular. It doesn’t cater to the club; it caters to the world of the story. So, having DJs bring out elements, whether it be dubstep or house or whatever electronic vortexes … I hear all those things in the music, but I don’t follow all those forks in the road. So the DJs and producers taking the time to go those directions is inspiring to me. I could have sat back and waited for the critics to respond, but I let the DJs respond. It is way more interesting.
Where will you go from this album?
The next album is essentially a conversation between these two characters from the graphic novel. Sonically, it is a whole other world. So this is the perfect time to release this collection of songs that relate to the first album.
What this sounds like to me is like you're enacting a sort of artistic purging before you move on to the next stage of your project.
Yes, to the next tier, exactly. I’ve been working on MartyrLoserKing for some time and I plan on working on it for much more time. I have a film coming out and of course the graphic novel, and there will be more than one volume of the graphic novel. I imagine people will find different entry points to this project. Some people might read the graphic novel before they ever hear the music, so they’ll have a whole world of surprises to explore. Someone else may encounter the remix album before they encounter the original album. That’s part of the fun of creating this project.
Let’s talk about the emergence of the upcoming MLK film. I was pretty sure you mentioned you were going to produce a play for this project.
Well, what happened was when I was talking to [potential] producers and investors about the play, they began to tell me, “This sounds like a movie.” I couldn’t hear them because I was stuck in my own shit, so it wasn’t until after the album came out that I was able to actually hear that.
OK, but please don’t get a cheesy, wispy actress to play Neptune Frost!
This movie is transcendent of the shit America is fixated on, that’s why I didn’t write a story that takes place in America. The [characters] are going to be purple or blue, some whole other shit out of the binary. In terms of the graphic novel and the depiction of the characters, you kind of have to wait for it to come out to get a sense of what they’re going to look like. And that may not be the definitive point of what they’re going to look like in the film. You’ll have to wait and see.
MartyrLoserKing and These Mthrfckrs: MartyrLoserKing — Remixes, B-Sides & Demos are out now on the Fader label. More info at saulwilliams.com.