Today concludes our exclusive guest interview between Joshua Pfeiffer and Paul Roland. For those of you just joining us, you can catch the first part of the interview here. In our second installment, Joshua Pfeiffer questions Roland – who was one of the first to use Edwardian themed lyrics in his music – about his observations on Steampunk.
Rocking for over 30 plus years, Roland’s music flirts with various genres like goth, psych-pop, and folk, with a unifying theme of exploring science fiction and horror tropes, especially those with a Victorian/Edwardian bent. Within his songs, listeners will find tales inspired by H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe, as well as original historical and romantic characters like opium addicts and Ripperesque murderers.
To celebrate this interview, Paul Roland has graciously donated ten signed copies of In Memoriam, a double-CD collection of his best work over his long career to send to our lucky readers. If you’d rather not participate, but would like to sample his wares, he has made several tracks available for free download (live links are at the end of this interview).
Official Rules: Only open to participants in the United States. To enter, leave us your thoughts about Steampunk music. You may post as many times as you like in the natural course of the discussion, but derisive, trollish behavior will be disqualified. A winner will be randomly selected by Monday, April 30th at teatime (4 o’clock). Please check your e-mail Tuesday or Wednesday following; winners who have not responded to us within 24 hours shall be eliminated, and a new winner selected. Official announcements of the winner will go live May 4th.
Well, now that we have all the logistics out-of-the-way, let’s return to the interview.
Joshua Pfeiffer: A lot of current Steampunks are just discovering your expansive discography, where would you recommend a new listener start?
Paul Roland: I must say I find this immensely gratifying as I have been living alone in this Edwardian dreamscape for so long and wondered if anyone shared my obsession with airships, eccentric inventors and gentleman of leisure. The most obvious and accessible album would be the ‘In Memoriam’ 2 CD set which I compiled to celebrate my first 30 years of making music. These are the tracks that I thought represented my best and of which I was most proud. It has ‘The Great Edwardian Air-Raid’, ‘Wyndham Hill’ (about a Victorian inventor and his maiden voyage in a flying machine) and ‘Captain Nemo’ which are obvious steampunk themes as well as a few unreleased items (‘Moriarty’, ‘The Ballad of Mary Kelly’ who was jack the Ripper’s final victim) so that is a good starting point and I deliberately limited the choice to two tracks per album so if anyone then decided to check out the original albums they would have heard no more than 2 tracks already.
JP: Do you have any thoughts on the development of the Steampunk Subculture? I’m sure you’ve seen it go from a small niche crowd in the mid-late 90’s, to the full-blown subculture that it is now.
PR: I still find it the most unlikely of movements and am amazed that other people have the same taste as I do, to some degree. But then, with so much contemporary rock being so derivative and contrived and pop being little more than processed baby food music generated by machines and digital software, perhaps it was inevitable that a section of the more discerning music lovers would look to the past and the future rather than the present. I hope it leads to a resurgence of interest in literary figures such as Wells, Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson, M.R. James and the like, even if they have little or no direct influence on the culture. And I would hope that I can create a Steampunk specific project before it mutates into something else. But then, if I had made music to fit a specific genre before I had established my own personal world I would have found it too restrictive. I have always lived in my own fantasy world and plucked characters from that which is what made my music unique, if I may say so. It has meant that I was not embraced by any single community but had a broader base which I think is healthier. But now that I have written everything I have wanted to write, I can concentrate on ‘concept’ projects and enjoy getting into something more demanding. It’s comparable to a writer of short stories gaining the appetite to tackle a novel. I did this first with ‘Re-Animator’ which drew on the stories of H.P.Lovecraft and with ‘Grimm’ which was inspired by the dark fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. But I would like to create a specific Steampunk project perhaps with contributions from leading figures in that field whose collaboration would serve to acknowledge my part in its evolution. That would be the highest form of tribute anyone could pay me, to collaborate with me on something new.
JP: First, as an artist who has been releasing your own material (largely self-published), how has it been adapting to the new forms of media distribution? I mean you obviously started out in a DIY fashion, but as the new millennium has rolled on, did you find it easy to adapt to the new media options such as Facebook, Kickstarter, Bandcamp, etc. Or are you still working on getting hooked up with more of those sources?
PR: I have been very fortunate in recent years in finding people who have offered to create artwork for my albums, post video clips on YouTube and create social media networking sites because they like my music and want to help me to reach a wider audience. And I make sure that they have all the material they need which includes writing blogs and typing in lyrics etc so that they have new material to feed these sites and keep visitors interested and coming back for more. It was my idea to create the themed ‘traffic drivers’ offering free downloads of my songs to the Steampunk, Poe, Lovecraft and Bolan communities and because I have the rights to all my albums I don’t have to ask a label or publisher’s permission to do that. That is the great advantage to being independent. I’m also going to be making some of my fantasy novels and short stories available as ebooks but I don’t understand the technical aspect of formatting and setting up web pages. These things take time to learn and to create and my priority has to be making new music.
JP: Have you noticed any renewed interest in your project with the recent rise of the Steampunk Subculture? Have any of the current musicians working in that scene contacted you at all?
PR: You are the first! Actually I had a steampunk novelist contact me some months ago asking for permission to include a quote from one of my lyrics and that was the first indication I had that my music had filtered across the pond and that my audience might have found me at last! I haven’t touredAmericaand hadn’t released any albums over there so I didn’t think I had made an impression, although my albums are available on CDbaby and I have always received mail from the States. I haven’t made any conscious effort to cultivate interest because I wanted like-minded people to gravitate towards me, but I now realise that is a bit naive in this multimedia age and you have to network. So, I will be making several of my tracks available as free downloads for the steampunk community through my Facebook page as soon as this interview is posted and then those who think they like the sound of my songs can download the tracks and maybe they will want to hear more. My hope is that I can find a label in the States to reissue my albums and promote them so that those who are looking for baroque Edwardian chamber psych(!) can find them. I have spent the last couple of years retouching those albums and combining two albums on one CD where possible for a small German label and presenting them with new artwork so that I finally have them the way I wanted which wasn’t possible when I recorded for Bam Caruso (UK) and New Rose (France). And as I have the copyright in all my recordings and also the publishing, I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to license them to a new label. That is why I have remained an independent. I couldn’t bear the idea of a label owning my albums and preventing their re-release or refusing to licence them to a foreign label if there was interest. As an independent I could give any label that wanted to release my records permission to do so and that meant that I had 4 labels at one point in Germany, France, Italy and Greece who organised tours and made sure the albums were in the shops. I am also hoping that I might get the opportunity to produce some Steampunk bands as the production side is as important to me as writing the songs. A band isn’t always the best judge of how their record should sound, they’re too close to it and I think I have a good ear for reconstructing other artist’s songs and embellishing them to get the best out of them.
JP: It seems that you are under the impression that the Steampunk scene is largely an American phenomenon. But in fact the UK scene seems to have just as big, if not a bigger amount of new talent, including musicians, artists, crafters, etc. Have you not been able to get in touch with any of your local Steampunk acts?
PR: I just write whatever I like and trust that it will find an audience. I have always written for my own pleasure and only in retrospect have these tracks been described as steampunk, Goth and psychpop. I would love to be embraced by the steampunk community and play conventions and festivals, but I have never had an agent or manager to arrange these appearances. My labels have always dealt with organizing tours. I’m just waiting to be asked!
JP: Any current plans to release new material? If so do you plan on reaching out to the larger Steampunk fanbase?
PR: My next album will draw on the songs I wrote for members of the Velvet Underground who had agreed to work with me around the time of their ‘VU’ album, but sadly Nico and Sterling Morrisson died before we could make that record. Then I’ll be writing another creepy acoustic album based around the stories ofEngland’s greatest teller of ghost stories, M.R.James. After that I have plans for an album based on Poe’s ‘Fall of the House of Usher’ and then perhaps the Steampunk project? But the only way I’m really going to connect with the SP community is if I can come over and play some concerts or conventions.
If you’d like to know more about Mr. Roland, check out these url sundries:
Free downloads are available for our readers at the following links: http://paulroland.wordpress.com/downloads/
You can also find more info about Mr. Roland at the following venues:
Online discography (with samples)