Drummer Bill Ward on New Art Project, Recent Support From Black Sabbath Fans + More
Black Sabbath recently recorded and released their first album in decades, and are currently on tour. But the so-called “reunion” is missing one original member, drummer Bill Ward, who did not participate in the album or tour due to a contract dispute.
Ward is still keeping busy, working on his own album, and expanding his horizons into the world of art. The musician recently unveiled the collection ‘Absence of Corners,' works of art created by Ward playing drums. He used drumsticks and rhythmic accessories that produce light, much like a painter utilizing brushes and oils. The movements within the captured rhythms were turned into abstract artwork (see the photo above).
Loudwire recently caught up with Ward and he discussed the genesis of the project, the process of creating the artwork and its surprising effect on his emotions. He also talked about some other projects he's working on and touched upon Black Sabbath a few times throughout the conversation. Check out our interview with Bill Ward below:
How did the ‘Absence of Corners’ project come about?
It started with a company called SceneFour calling my publicist and asking me if I wanted to participate, painting some pictures with drumsticks. To me it was a little bit mysterious, but SceneFour have a history working with other percussionists who have done similar things. I decided to see what it was all about, show up and try it on for size. The day of the shoot came, and we shot everything in the dark. I used one of my tour kits to play drums on. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
When you were playing during the shoot, was it along to music, or just whatever came to mind?
I have rehearsal tapes that I use all the time when I’m practicing, so I figured I’d just warm up on a few tracks and see if it might work for them. It seemed like there were a lot of photographers there, but I think there were only three. We shot at night, the room was completely pitch black. All I could see were some strobe things. They gave me sticks with special lights on them and kept changing the sticks. They also gave me brushes to use, which had lights on every single stem of the brush. That was quite powerful, I thought.
After six or seven songs, the camera crew said to just play whatever you want to play. So I let go. It had been a while since I had played, so I really tore into it. They were grabbing all that on camera. All I could hear through the sound of my cymbals was applause. I realized that I might be doing something right, and continued along that tack. The session lasted for about an hour and a half, and I played nonstop.
After you finished your part of the shoot, how long did it take them to turn that into the finished pieces of art?
I saw the first images about 20 minutes after we finished the session. They were all very excited. I couldn’t see too well, because I was looking at a 2x2 lens. But they knew what they wanted and what they were looking for. That was it for the first night.
I got called back for another session a couple of weeks later and did the same thing all over again. But this time we had camera people on ladders directly above me, we had lights on the drums, lights shooting up, just so many different lightning effects. They wanted to progress a little more with the lighting and pick up on things that they didn’t catch the first time. I’m not sure what happened after that, but they said in a couple weeks time you’ll be able to come and look at the pictures we have done.
What was your reaction when you saw the finished pictures?
Up until that point I felt like I’d been part of creating some pictures and having a couple of good drum sessions. It didn’t go any further to me. But then I actually went to look at the pictures and Corey, one of the bosses, asked me if I’d like to title the pictures. When I started to look at the pictures, I began to look at everything it meant to me. That’s when it became really personal. It became very therapeutic.
I found that a lot of the energy that I had expended with the drums was energy that was full of many emotions. It also was almost like a reflection of some of the emotions that I’d felt in the previous year, in 2012. I had a pretty rough roller coaster ride, to say the least. I thought, ‘Wow, is this coming out in these pictures?’ I had hardly any trouble finding titles for them.
Not only that, but I was able to look at the pictures and actually destroy what they meant to me. That was a whole lot of fun for me. I didn’t know it was going to be therapeutic. I didn’t know the depths that I was going to go into. So for me, it has been slightly challenging, but more of a way to dislodge some things that were tending to stick around, some dark things that were stuck inside.
A good example of that is a picture that I titled ‘Grief.’ I looked at it and came up with the title within 10 or 15 seconds. It just spoke to me. It was so sad and so drawn out and gaunt. It reminded me of me, some of the places I had been to in recent months. It meant a lot to me personally.
Did that change your perspective or emotions on anything Black Sabbath related or dealing with the guys in the band?
I really haven’t been conversing with them. I’ve been in contact with Terry (Geezer Butler), but I haven’t really been conversing with them. I just basically said let everything be as it is, and wherever everything is in the universe, that’s where it is. I have been trying to carry on with my own life and so on and so forth.
When I started working on the pictures and started to realize they were becoming very personal to me, it actually was a type of therapy which helped me overcome and recognize some of the pain that I’d been in. In that sense, it was very healthy, it was very good for me. I feel better for it. We’ve accomplished something here, and I got to move through some painful issues, and it came out on canvas. It’s kinda neat.
What’s the market for the pictures -- art lovers or music fans?
I think it’s a combination of both. SceneFour recognizes that there are Bill Ward fans and there certainly are Black Sabbath fans. But they are also very much in the art world, so I think we have both marketplaces. I’m really glad that SceneFour considered that in the cost of the pictures, because not all Sabbath fans are walking around with thousands of dollars in their back pocket. I’m hoping that we haven’t put too high of a price for Sabbath fans or Bill Ward fans to grab a couple pictures.
You said that before the sessions you hadn’t played drums in a while. Did the experience motivate you to play more often since then?
Yeah, I’ve been playing. I was very active playing in 2012. In September 2012, I got the blues pretty bad, so I stopped playing for a little while. I started to renew my playing by the time February of 2013 came around. I would go up and rehearse to different songs, play stuff like Count Basie records, jazz or rap. I like jamming to rap.
So if Sabbath came through town and asked if you wanted to sit in for a few songs during a concert, would you do it as a one-off kind of thing, or would you only rejoin as a full member?
Full member (chuckles). That’s where I am.
Does your foray into the art world with this project make you want to do something else in that area in the future?
No, not really. I’ve enjoyed the experience. I’ve been working on a book of poems, and we have a lot of really nice pictures for the book. At some point along the line I’m hoping to release that. But I don’t know if that could be put in the same genre as this artwork. I’m hoping it will surface some day.
You’ve been in music for decades and had a huge impact on the industry. Are you the type of person that looks back and enjoys the highlights and success, or do you prefer to live in the moment?
I tend to spend a lot of time right now. There has been some wreckage recently, so there has been some looking back going on. I’m trying to have an open mind towards everything that’s going on in my life right now. I’m working on a brand new song and the first thing I did this morning was get up and get on my keyboards immediately. I had a couple friends in town from New York and they wanted me to come out, but I said I just wanted to write. I’m trying to finish an album I’ve been working on for nearly five years. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. When the writing’s done and we have something to show for it and there’s a possibility of taking it out, then I’ll go out. I love touring.
A lot of fans say that it isn’t truly a Black Sabbath reunion without you. Is it gratifying to see how much the fans appreciate you and want you as part of the band?
I love them to death for the things that they have been saying, I absolutely love them. I wish I could hug every single one of them and kiss every one of them, even if they have beards (laughs). It has helped me to get through some really tough spots.