Earlier this month, Vernian Process released Behold the Machine, an album four years in the making. Between the album release and live performances, the members of Vernian Process were kind enough to sit down with me and chat about their music, Behold The Machine, and their many musical and Steampunk adventures.
Without further ado, my interview with Vernian Process for your viewing pleasure:
Please tell me a bit about Vernian Process’ musical background, education, and influences. When and how did you start as a band? Were you always a steampunk band?
Joshua Pfeiffer: Well Vernian Process has gone through three different phases. When the project started in 2003 it was a solo thing for about four years, and I had absolutely no formal training in music composition, theory, etc. It was all just a big experiment. You can hear how disjointed and unusual my earliest compositions were if you listen to those old free mp3 demo albums now. I think what they lacked in actual structure they made up for in atmosphere though.
In 2008, Martin contacted me via the Wikipedia article on my project, and expressed an interest in collaborating with me. Martin has a lot of musical training, and is very well educated in composition, theory, etc. All of the things I was trying to teach my self. He is also very talented with a wide range of instruments. Basically he brought everything to the table that I was missing working alone. Thus we enter phase two of Vernian Process.
Over the course of the next two years, we managed to complete our first album as a team, and we slowly picked up additional musicians so we could have a full sound live. Which brings us to phase three of the project. A full six piece band which consists of some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met. And now we are all working together to create a whole new sound for the project, something that will combine the best of our older material with all new musical directions.
Martin Irigoyen: Everyone in the band has a very different background. I personally grew up listening to anything from the Beatles and Pink Floyd to tango, from Billy Cobham to Whitesnake, from Saint-Saens to Sonic Youth and Faith No More. Vernian Process has always, since its birth, been a steampunk band.
Peter Janus Zarate: My own musical background started out a bit odd; perhaps it’s to be expected as a left-handed musician. My parents exposed me to mariachi, Elvis Presley, disco, and 80’s pop. My father encouraged me to pursue singing and play acoustic guitar right-handed, but as I grew older, I found myself drawn in a different direction. You can probably imagine my father’s double-dose of shock as I told him I was going to play bass left-handed! My true musical influences are quite different than what my parents enjoy, from Skinny Puppy to Pink Floyd, Tool to Primus, The Cure to Opeth.
Educationally speaking, my background is in anything but music; I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Political Science, and I’m now pursuing a law degree at Santa Clara.
JP: In Entertainment Law even! Very useful for a band to have their own lawyer 😉
Free Fargo: My introduction to VP was through Vaughn, a mutual friend of Josh’s and mine. At that time they were playing to pre-recorded tracks. Which in many cases in music can be a wonderful thing. Anyways, I was sitting there listening to all these exquisitely layered compositions… Now my personal belief is; music is the alchemy for the spirit. It’s one of the few things the secular and religious worlds have in common. You add the two elements of sound, and rhythm… Your body will react, and move in some fashion.
My musical influences started when I was very young with my father, and my uncle. Through my father I grew up listening to 60’s R&B to and some country, such as, Arthur Prysock, Lou Rawls, and Willie Nelson. My uncle turned me on to the likes of, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and Pete Seeger. Then the world within music started to change, when I discovered both, Prince’s 1999, and The Cults Dreamtime albums around the same time. From there came… SWANS, Einsturzende Neubauten, Coil, Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy, Iron Maiden, Cocteau Twins, and Dead Can Dance.
Why did you choose steampunk as your genre of choice? What attracts you to steampunk?
JP: Vernian Process was conceived as a steampunk themed project from the earliest ideas I had for it back in the late 90’s. At that time it was a little joke I made up to entertain myself. I had no musical ambitions at that time, and just thought it was a fun idea.
I’ve been a steampunk fan for most of my life. I was introduced to the wonderful world of steampunk in the early 80’s by my dad via old syndicated re-runs of “The Wild Wild West”, and Disney films like 20,000 Leagues, In Search of the Castaways, The Island at the Top of the World, and The Rocketeer (which I saw in the theater). When I got a bit older I became fascinated with tv shows like Brisco County Jr., and Disney’s Tail Spin, and literature such as Michael Moorcock’s “A Nomad of the Time Streams” trilogy. And eventually I began creating my own stories and worlds within the realms of steampunk fiction.
So suffice to say, steampunk is in my blood. It’s my favorite form of science fiction by far.
MI: When I joined VP, I was looking for something new… something with lots of energy, but also something that required a high degree of musicianship. I had done my share of acts that were highly energetic but musically dull, and also acts that were musically complex but very sterile and dispassionate. steampunk (at least VP’s version of it) seamlessly combined the energy of punk rock with the beauty and challenges of Neo-Classical composition.
PJZ: In all aspects of my life, I’ve always erred on the geeky side. The first movie I vividly remember as a child – Aliens – secured a lifetime love for science fiction and well-crafted horror. I grew up reading science fiction, playing RPGs, and admiring the art of ages past. The roots of steampunk came naturally into my life.
As a genre, my decision came by a different route. I was involved in a few metal bands, but found myself disillusioned with the scene and sought fresh air in something that spoke to my musical roots. I liked Vernian Process and other bands associated with steampunk, so I thought to myself, why not join one? Coincidentally, Vernian Process happened to be seeking a bass player just as I was seeking a steampunk band. I auditioned, and the rest is history.
Brian Figueroa: I’m attracted to Steampunk because of the people that are making it come to life (the people in VP, the people that are anti commercial and creative) and the people who are seriously devoted to science fiction and music.
How would you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?
MI: That is hard to do. We try to keep our style morphing from one work to the next. We have elements from a dozen different influences and styles in each song. One thing is for sure, however: At a VP show, there’s bound to be something for everyone.
JP: Victorian Darkwave? Neo-Classical Prog-Rock? I don’t know, I often just throw a bunch of genre names together and hope that it explains it enough. We just call it Steamwave, because we think that it fits our sound pretty well (and it is a really fun/silly title).
BF: Antiquated Sonic drone rock.
PJZ: I’ll give you the answer I give them: “Think of Vernian Process as residing at the crossroads of progressive rock, darkwave, old world music, science fiction, and steampunk culture.” To be honest, that description is little more than a blurry photograph of what we really are, and I imagine it will only get blurrier as we continue to write new music. But one thing is certain; whatever influences we fuse into our musical creations, it will sound like Vernian Process, and it will sound like steampunk.
Can you tell me a bit about Behold the Machine? How long did it take to create, from start to finish? What was that process like? How is it different from previous works? Where can fans purchase a copy of the album?
JP: It took about four years to completely finish. But that was two years working on it as a solo act, and two years revising all of the songs, and re-arranging everything properly with Martins assistance. Basically it’s the bridge between all three phases of the band. It’s very different from my previous free demo releases, It is produced professionally, the majority of the songs have lyrics, and about ¾ of it was changed a number of times, in fact a few of the songs were literally re-written from scratch just months before the album was finished.
MI: I have personally been involved with “Behold The Machine” for over two years now. The process was very intense. We could have released the album a year or two ago, but we wanted to give the very best of ourselves to our listeners. They deserve no less than our biggest, most sincere effort. We do not make albums to make a profit; we do not put out a new CD every few months. We work hard until the material is the best it can be, and only then we officially release it. The album can be found on our website (you can also hear it all for free) and also on Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby, Rhapsody, etc.
PJZ: The process of creating each track was a labor of love. The album was overhauled twice – once after Martin joined, and again after I joined. I remember going into the studio time and time again to re-write melodies for different instruments, record new ideas, ponder how to re-create a song live, and so forth. It was constantly evolving up until mere days before mastering, when we finally felt our creation was ready to be unleashed upon the world.
Please tell me more about Gilded Age Records. Is it a record label, an artists’ collective, or both? What benefits come from being a part of Gilded Age Records? Many steampunks are very pro-DIY. Where does Gilded Age Records fall in the DIY spectrum?
JP: Gilded Age is kind of a hybrid of things. To some of our artists we function as a label of sorts, but most of our affiliated artists have recording contracts with other labels already, so for them we function more as a collective of artists that try to help each other out by promoting the collective work of the group.
Benefits are that we have a fully functioning studio where we can help mix or master albums for our artists at a very fair discount. If you listen to our LP (Behold the Machine), that was all mastered in The Sound Alchemist’s Laboratory.
As far as the DIY aspect, the whole premise of the Gilded Age group was built on a DIY ethic. We went out and contacted all of these artists, put together a website for everyone, and run it all between two people (myself and Evelyn Kriete of Jaborwhalky productions). A large share of our artists are people just like us working out of their garages or bedrooms, making music with what they have at hand.
What does a typical performance by Vernian Process consist of? Do you have any live performances scheduled for the near future?
MI: It consist of us having fun, fans having fun, lots of energy and some surprises.
PJZ: Our live shows are consist of a cadre of musicians bringing back what live performances should be – energetic, organic, exciting, and full of surprises. We do have some upcoming shows in the works, and we’ll be announcing them soon on http://www.vernianprocess.com and our Facebook profile when the details are finalized.
JP: I would have to agree with Peter and Martin, but will add that they are very “loud”. We like to crank it up and tear the roof off any venue we play in. Having three keyboards also helps give the songs a really full fleshed out sound, that is incredibly similar to the way the songs sound on the LP.
BF: There is no succumbing to sleep or missed trains. We are hard at work making your experience with us a magical one.
Can you tell me a bit more about “Gaslight?”
JP: Yes! Gaslight is a new monthly club night that caters to fans of old world music. We play a lot of classic Cabaret, Ragtime, Jazz, Chamber-Pop, Chanson Française, and many other popular styles from the late 19th through mid-20th Centuries. We also break out some more modern music such as Trip-Hop, Neo-Classical, and my current personal obsession “Electro-Swing” (seriously look this stuff up. It’s the most fun music I’ve heard in 20 years). Our featured DJs: are FACT.50 (myself), and Aaron Delachaux. DJ Delachaux is one of the best lounge/chill DJs/remixers in the bay area, and we’re super stoked to have him as part of our staff. We both help DJ at the annual Edwardian Ball festival here in SF as well.
Anything else you’d like to add?
JP: I’m currently working on a series of video game cover albums that people who like classic gaming and orchestral music would probably appreciate. They are all being hosted at http://www.gamemusic4all.com under their records section.
We would also like to thank you for asking us to appear here on Trial by Steam, and we hope your readers take some time to visit our newly re-designed (compliments of Peter) website http://www.vernianprocess.com and check out the album!