INTERVIEW: Thomas Willis

Danielle Kelly is an artist and writer based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kelly’s project-based practice ranges from installation to performance and has been featured in solo and group exhibitions in Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Portland. Kelly’s writing has appeared in such regional publications as Las Vegas Weekly and Desert Companion. Kelly is the Executive Director and Curator of the Neon Museum. She has done a series of interviews with artists with ties to Las Vegas for celebration of our music issue.


What is your relationship to sound in the studio?

I have a studio in a bustling neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts called Field’s Corner. Known as a historic commercial district and as one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Boston, Field’s Corner has an eclectic mix of Vietnamese Americans, Hispanic-speaking Americans, and Americans of African and European descent. My relationship with sound in this space is as equally diverse, ranging from the semiotic sounds outside my studio window (hum of traffic, chatter of various languages being spoken, commotion of children leaving school, shouting and brawls, police and fire sirens, amplified music from car stereos, discriminative cat calls, etc) to the more disassociated sounds inside the old building (apparitional thumps, creaks, rattles, etc). The most memorable yet pestering sound I hear at my studio is the digital voice of a man uttering “Wait! Wait! Wait!…” that is amplified from small speaker on a traffic pole that is outside the studio, and is repeated every couple minutes. This distinguishable crosswalk sound is then followed by the indistinguishable jouncing of “rat-kat-kat-kat-kat-kat” (believed to help people cross the street safely by drawing attention to “do not walk”). This is a sound both charismatically unique and irregularly memorable as Field’s Corner itself.

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What is your relationship to music in the studio?

I do listen to a good amount of music when I am at my studio working. The type of relationship can vary at times from being an open one (think FKA Twigs), to a codependent one (think R Kelly), to a dominating one (think Kanye West). It is usually adventurous in its genre and loud in its volume.

What, if anything, is in heavy rotation in your studio right now?

Here is a list of albums that I have been listening to on repeat in my studio lately: “To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar, “Chaleur Humaine” by Christine and the Queens, “Pom Pom” by Ariel Pink, “Cut 4 Me” by Kelela, “Swing Lo Magellan” by Dirty Projectors, “La Notte La Notte” by Etienne Daho, “Station to Station” by David Bowie, “True” by Solange, “Strawberry Jam” by Animal Collective, “Great Diva Classics” by Aretha Franklin, and when I am with my studiomate Eric Petitti I listen to anything by Whitesnake.

What would be your desert island studio record?

My deserted island studio record would probably be “The Headphone Masterpiece” by Cody ChesnuTT. It is two hours of soul cliches, sexist-raps, low-fidelity guitar solos, juvenile melodies, and enough ego to float me off the desert island.


Thomas Willis graduated from University of Nevada, Las Vegas—BFA Cum Laude in 2009. His work has been exhibited in many shows and galleries throughout the Las Vegas Valley and Massachusetts.  See more of his work here.

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