This is the seventh in a series of interviews with American expat Mark Will, the songwriter, vocalist, and bassist of the Taipei-based musical collective [ai]. In previous conversations, we have discussed “Dystopian Theme Song,” “The Kinkster,” “Now I Know You,” “Lonely God,” “Sister Dragonfly,” and “Three Little Jailbirds,” the first six singles from [ai]’s debut album Carmina Formosa. I recently met Will at a Mexican restaurant in Gongguan to speak with him about the band’s seventh single, “Let Me Do It.” The following transcript of our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“Let Me Do It” has to be my favorite track on Carmina Formosa. It sounds to me like one of Queen’s classic arena rock anthems.
Seriously? I always considered “Let Me Do It” to be a throwaway. I mean, I thought it was interesting and unique enough to be included on the album, but the song is really just a riff with call-and-response verses. I’m surprised that it would be anybody’s favorite track. And while I was definitely influenced by the bombast of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and the dynamics of certain songs by The White Stripes, I never had Queen in mind at all. As a vocalist, I wouldn’t even attempt to emulate Freddie Mercury. Also, the production on those classic Queen tracks would have been much too slick for the kind of rawness we wanted to achieve on “Let Me Do It.” But who knows? Maybe we channeled Queen in spite of ourselves.
In previous interviews we’ve done, I’ve made incorrect assumptions about the meaning behind your lyrics. I’m tempted to say that “Let Me Do It” refers to sex, but there does seem to be a slight ambiguity. Even by the end of the song, I can’t say with 100% certainty what the song is about.
Well, the song means whatever the listener wants it to mean. “It” is a wonderfully suggestive word, because “it” could be anything—or nothing. What, for example, is the “it” in “Let It Bleed” or “Roll With It”? Traditionally, the lyrical content of these “it” songs tends to be rather flippant. Nor do I think the lyrics of “Let Me Do It” should be analyzed too closely. They’re nonsensical, in a way. I would say they just provide the singer with an excuse to sing. If I were to perform the song live, I would probably improvise the lyrics, changing them every time I sang them. Certainly, as is often the case with my songs, there is some sexual innuendo in the current recension of the lyrics. But what is the meaning of lines like “let me do it on the cross”? I don’t actually know.
The YouTube video for “Let Me Do It” features a picture of two Taiwanese women in wedding dresses. How is this to be interpreted?
When I wrote “Let Me Do It,” marriage equality wasn’t even an issue in Taiwan, so, as was the case with “Three Little Jailbirds,” the image used in the promotional video is not directly related to the song. But as soon as I saw this photo, I imagined the two brides saying to Taiwan and to the world: “Won’t you let me do it?” And of course I fully support their right to marry, and I denounce the hypocritical bigots who would attempt to prohibit them. I think it remains an open question whether anybody, gay or straight, should voluntarily commit to matrimony with all its state-mandated rights and responsibilities—as a married man myself, I’m allowed to say that, am I not? [laughs]—but no person or institution should have the authority to restrict others from doing so if that is their desire. The main reason I chose that particular photo, though, is because I like images which are provocative, and this one certainly seems to attract people’s attention.
Musically, there are a lot of different parts to “Let Me Do It.” Can you tell us more about how they all came together? Was it your original intention for the song to be this dynamic or did that happen over time as you guys fleshed out the arrangement?
The song is built around the riff, as I mentioned before, so it began as a very simple arrangement. But even at the time of the earliest demo, I had already composed the two instrumental sections, one in half-time and the other in double-time. In the studio, the verses were recorded at 90 beats per minute, so we slowed it down to 45 beats per minute for the first instrumental, and then we sped it up to 180 beats per minute for the second. I intended for the first instrumental to be more trippy and psychedelic, but it evolved into a rather straightforward slow jam, to which I added the vocal chant and those “gongs of violence” later. The second instrumental, I must admit, was modeled after the ending of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” My band in Korea once played that tune in jest when some hecklers sarcastically requested it, and to our surprise it had an electrifying effect on the crowd. There is something about that up-tempo time change which causes people to holler and stomp their feet. I wanted to try to create the same kind of excitement at the end of “Let Me Do It.”
If “Let Me Do It” is not your favorite song on Carmina Formosa, what is?
Oren [guitarist Oren Avni] and I agree that “Dystopian Theme Song” is the strongest and most complete track on the album. We think “The Kinkster”—which, by the way, Dr. Susan Block featured in the video of her recent lecture at DomCon LA—is a close second. I personally feel that “Lonely God” and “Now I Know You” also turned out very well, though there are things about both tracks that I would like to change. But Carmina Formosa should really be listened to as a complete work. Take one song out of the mix, and the overall effect is to some extent lost. It’s a true song cycle. The reference to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is not accidental.
Do you have any other updates or announcements for us?
As a matter of fact, I do. I have decided to remix the entire Carmina Formosa album and rerelease it as Carmina Formosa Deluxe. I feel that the songs need more color, subtlety, and variety, so I plan to add keyboards, percussion, ambient sounds, and supplementary vocal tracks. I will also delete the pauses between tracks so that the songs segue into one another as they do on such festive and carnivalesque albums as The Beatles’ White Album and XTC’s Nonsuch. I’ve been discussing musical arrangements with Taiwanese keyboard virtuoso Howard Chou, who is scheduled to join us in the studio this summer.
Thanks, man. Talk to you soon.
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