Is David Bowie in the house? No, that's Corey Webb, a.k.a. Billie Fountain, an eyeliner-donning electro-pop musician and mythical character who haunts the streets of Harleston. That's the name of the sinister and twisted adaptation of Charleston birthed by Webb and the backdrop for his latest EP, Playing with Matches. The School of the Arts grad started out in theater, moved to London for a stint, and returned to Charleston a few years later with a desire to combine extraordinary theatrics with dance music — a concept that will come to life at this week's CD-release performance.
While in England, the folk-turned-electro musician produced shows and collaborated with DJs and producers from across the globe. Webb was drawn to and inspired by the darker side of London culture, so he conjured up the mystic, crime-ridden Harleston and the interesting characters who dwell within this "unholy city." The story line, which began developing over two and half years ago, was intended to provide a basis for a three-part graphic novel but is currently an unfinished script that inspires the entire Billie Fountain project.
"It's a little fucked-up sounding," says Webb, whose characters include a prostitute named Goldenrod and a sassy demon called the Gatekeeper — both of whom make their way into Playing with Matches. Webb dropped Devil in My Head, his first EP under his Billie Fountain pseudonym, earlier this year, debuting the city of Harleston to the public. "It was the amalgamation of chapter one of Billie Fountain. I started playing dark London, clubby dance tunes, which was the inspiration around me at the time," says Webb.
However, Playing with Matches takes a more meditative and storytelling turn. Since moving back to Charleston, Webb has been inspired by the community's pool of strong songwriters. "When I left for London in 2010, the music scene was heading in the right direction, but when I got back, it was nurturing original music in a way I had never seen before. I was surrounded by songwriters again, and they all got damn good while I was gone, too," says Webb.
The new, four-track disc also takes a chance with more daring techniques and an overall darker enterprise. "I have such a hard time describing this music, and so does everyone in the band. It's like dark synth-pop, tech-wave electric?" says Webb, who uses a vocoder in one track and plays piano in another.
In the auto-tuned "Wolf," slow, drugged-out beats are interrupted with heavy drums. The track encapsulates a foggy, sensual, and slow-mo seduction, while "The Other Side" uses horns and guitar to create a mystic, Latin-influenced sound. Menacing lyrics include, "A murder and a séance/ Bloody Mary's coming to mess with your head." Webb says, "I wanted to take things back a little bit and be less about this dance-party vibe and be a bit more introspective with the songwriting, because that's where my passion lies. I wanted to give more substance to the world that is Billie Fountain."
Lead-off track "Goldenrod" is a hazy song about the legalization of prostitution, a villainous crime lord, and a character reminiscent of the "Acid Queen" on the Who's Tommy. In fact, Webb's concept EP series as a whole is a nod to the '69 double album. With a voice that's both seductive and sinister, Webb sings, "I'm just a whore in a sundress, playing with matches/ Let me in, and I'll burn a hole in your mattress."
Webb's careful to point out the production of Billie Fountain would not be possible without his band. "There's a blurred line between the band Billie Fountain and the artist, my alter ego. I do most of the production and play some keys. But for the most part, I have the band come in and we work off each other. Everything you heard on the record should theoretically be able to be recreated live," says Webb, who completed the EP in six months.
For now, Webb's focus is solely on this weekend's CD release. In pure Billie Fountain fashion, the Woolfe Street Playhouse show is set to be an over-the-top performance, with actors narrating the stories of Harleston characters between tracks. Webb says, "We tend to get quite theatrical."