After nearly 25 years of living in Boston, Willard Grant Conspiracy frontman/ringleader Robert Fisher decided last year to move back to his birthplace, California’s Antelope Valley. “I’m a seventh generation native Californian,” says Fisher with bemused pride. “There aren’t too many of us, I gather. It’s kind of a transient state. It’s odd to think that, on my mother’s side of the family, the family was here before it was California. Bunch of Scotsmen wandering around the barren hills in their kilts, farming cattle and looking for oil.”
Given the dusty, expansive feel of the new WGC album, Regard the End, it would seem at first blush that Fisher’s new but deeply ingrained desert surroundings have offered him some fresh creative inspiration. But all of Regard the End’s material was written prior to Fisher’s relocation, and the bulk of the album was recorded in Slovenia. As far as Fisher is concerned, Regard the End ’s sparse nature and gloomy lyrical content have been a long time coming for WGC.
“It‘s kind of a continuous line for me,” he says. “I try hard to get better as I go along and I always see room for improvement. … Over the last five or six years, I’ve noticed a trend in my songwriting toward the traditional—the subject matter of traditional songwriting. I wanted somehow to explore that but I didn’t how exactly. I didn’t feel like a covers record was what I wanted to do, so I came up with this idea of rewriting traditional music and bringing it forward and mixing it with modern compositions.”
Fisher and his rotating musical collective have done a terrific job of melding the two worlds. Traditional songs like the shimmering waltz “River in the Pines” and the edgy folk blues “Another Man is Gone” are nearly indistinguishable from his contemporary tributes like the hauntingly anthemic “The Ghost of the Girl in the Well” (featuring guest vocalist Kristin Hersh) and the brooding “Fare Thee Well.”
“One of the major themes of the record is mortality, which is a classic theme in all art,” says Fisher. “Defining your relationship with your own mortality tells you how you’re going to live your life. That’s something I wanted to deal with. There’s a redemptive quality to these songs as well, which has been in a lot of our work. People think of us sometimes as being a very dark band, but I’ve never really found it that way. I wanted to push that up a little bit and make the songs a little more overt in that way.”