During the musical revolution of the 1990s, a group of gritty rockers were stamping their band, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, into the history of industrial metal. Having sold enough albums to gain celebrity status, and the sizable following that goes with such, the Thrill Kill Kult was one of the most prominent groups in the electronic genre. They headlined global tours, and not only contributed to the iconic soundtrack for the motion picture The Crow, but were the only band to literally appear in the movie.
Though less known to contemporary music aficionados, they continue to tour, sell out venues and release albums. In 2017, Westin Halvorson, their then guitarist, walked off tour minutes after a show in San Diego, and vanished like a ghost from the music industry. For the first time, he’s re-emerged to tell The News Station, in an exclusive interview, why he did it.
“I gave up my soul when I decided to not do my own music anymore and do somebody else’s music for money,” he declares.
Born on Halloween of 1986 in rural Mount Vernon, Washington, Westin was a rock star before he ever picked up a guitar or yelled into a mic. Whether he was playing sports or entertaining a crowd of family members or classmates, his charisma was undeniable. And though it likely evolved in response to being bounced around to different schools, it was in no way a reflection of what the angry boy harbored inside.
“A Christian school they sent me to didn’t work out because of how they treated people who didn’t want to be obedient to their narrative,” he explains, “so they sent me to public school, where, ironically, it turned out worse.”
Though small in radius and population, the agricultural town of Mount Vernon is heavily populated by migrant workers, strewn with low-income, minority-dense neighborhoods, and hosts a culture of drug- and gang-related violence that rivals those found in larger cities. In public school, Westin encountered an environment in which kids who didn’t join cliques or social circles were forced to navigate such a brutal climate alone. Barely into his teens, he sought solace in the bottom of bottles, and when alcohol wasn’t enough, discovered his destiny the same way most great artists do: out of necessity.
He asserts, “I leaned toward music because it was the only nonviolent outlet I could use to express myself. I would sit in my parents’ shop and drink and strum my guitar until I came up with something that didn’t sound like shit.”
Soon those solo sessions morphed into a vision that would define him for the next decade and a half. Recruiting other musicians his age, he formed his first industrial rock band, Desillusion. In his words, “Desillusion’s basically like you see things for what they are. There’re no more illusions. I learned that at a young age, and wanted to convey it in my music.”
They performed at local shows and recorded a few demo albums, gaining a small following of loyal Mount Vernonites. Fan-girls fell in love with the aesthetically pleasing front-man, and crowds fell under his spell the second his darkly hypnotic voice echoed through whatever grange or town hall in which they were playing.
Reminiscing on his early musical struggles, he notes, “You try to get the right people, and you’re an angry kid and you think there’s only one way to do things, and they’re just as angry as you and think the same thing. I felt like I could never rely on anybody, so I started learning to play other instruments until I was writing everything.”
With Westin as writer, guitarist and lead vocalist, Desillusion quickly transcended local garage-band status. Before long, they were touring and playing shows with bands such as Powerman 5000, Combichrist, Black Light Burns (featuring Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit), 16 Volt (featuring Steve White of KMFDM), Lords of Acid, Hanzelundgretyl and Godhead.
“I grew up listening to these guys,” Westin recounts, “and now I was playing shows and touring with them.”
Around this time, he forged a friendship with Madonna Wayne Gacy, ex-keyboardist for Marilyn Manson, and Gacy became somewhat of a mentor to him. “One thing he told me,” Westin recalls, “is that I was gonna have a lot of animosity from the [musicians] from before me. He said it would come in the form of support, but it wouldn’t be, because they were really jealous. That these people had seen their career peak and going down, and they would see a young musician and find ways to keep me down and box me in.”
Soon, Desillusion signed with the record label that was managing Gacy. Westin asked that we don’t name the label, but he shares, “I eventually realized that the management wanted to capitalize on downloads, but not bring our energy to a live audience. They wanted a band that had some momentum and playability, but to keep them boxed out of the public eye so no other company could offer a better deal. I started looking into the finances and found out they were taking money that was supposed to go to funding tours. Usually once you sign a contract with these companies, you’re theirs for life and that’s where a lot of bands get stuck, but I used my resources in LA to get out of ours.”
In 2011, once again a free man, he heard the Thrill Kill Kult was looking for a guitarist, went in for an audition and was hired on the spot. Now he wasn’t just opening for famous bands. He was playing in one. For the next six years, every time he stepped on stage, the crowd was there to see him, not the next group. He played on the Thrill Kill Kult’s album Spooky Tricks and some of their single releases. Up-and-coming musicians looked up to him, and fans swarmed him after shows for autographs. But the glamour of it all started to wear off after the second tour.
“All these people want to meet you,” he states, “but they’re really just wanting to meet the guitarist from the Thrill Kill Kult, not Westin from the country in upstate Washington. You develop the ego of who you are on stage, and then you get off tour and have to go back to everyday life, and that duality of switching characters gets harder and harder. Your bandmates are supposed to be your brothers, the people you can lean on, but they think they’re God’s gift to the planet, and they’re like, ‘Fuck you. It’s all about me.’ I started not liking the people I was touring with.”
The jagged blade of loneliness cut deeper back home, where he couldn’t confide in his friends, because they looked at him like he was crazy. Assuming his life was all groupies and glamour, his supposed support network seemed comfortable cheapening the very issues that were burying him deeper and deeper into depression.
The tension grew between him and his bandmates, until during a tour in 2017, when it finally climaxed while a family member of his was on their deathbed. “We were in San Diego,” he says, “and we had one more show there, and another in LA, and I’d already made up my mind I was gonna walk off tour. These people were being absolute bastards to me, and I didn’t wanna be around them anymore.”
As if the singer either knew of his plan or shared the sentiment, he began hurling insults at Westin on stage. Westin kept his cool during the performances, all the while thinking, This guy doesn’t even know, people get knocked the fuck out for talking to somebody like that where I’m from.
Backstage, he confronted the singer, asking what’s wrong. “You’re not getting enough attention to feed your ego?” The band told him he should just deal with it because they were paying him, so he reached into his backpack, brought out an envelope full of tour cash and threw it in the singer’s face, asserting, “Your money doesn’t mean shit to me.”
He invited the entire band to physically throw down, since they felt so comfortable verbally assaulting him. When they declined, he left his guitar with a friend in California and caught a plane home, disappearing, until now, from the public eye.
Today, Westin is a successful business owner. He lives with his fiancée in a house he had built on Washington’s beautiful Camano Island. Though he and a friend from the industry have discussed the possibility of releasing some electronic music in the future, he has no immediate plans to do so. The charismatic rocker seems content with having left his own contribution, and getting out before the industry consumed him. The only regrets he harbors involve putting aside the vision that was Desillusion, for one with which he had little connection.
He tells TNS in closing, “The moral of my story would be, if you’re gonna get into music, a true artist doesn’t do it to be famous or successful. You do it for yourself. The second you give that up, you’re one step closer to being on the rat-wheel.”