Thoughts on Steampunk Music by Painless Parker

Steampunk music is an especially hard thing to pin down. There are so many different bands with a variety of different sounds and themes which makes wrapping up Steampunk music into a conveniently wrapped parcel that defies debate or exclusion next to impossible.

For a lot of people, this makes it really difficult to talk about Steampunk music. Some even insist that there is no such thing as “Steampunk Music.” I am not of that persuasion; in fact, I cannot conceive of Steampunk in its current form without music.

Contributing to the larger debate on Steampunk music as a whole is an interesting article by Painless Parker entitled, “Thoughts on Steampunk Music.” Here’s a short selection from the article:

There are many fundamental questions to ask when searching for an intrinsically steampunk sound: who is producing music? How is it being distributed and consumed? How do musical tastes differ between classes, nationalities, trades, and so forth? Is music being used to unite people? To divide them? What is considered high art, what is considered popular vulgarity? How are different traditions interacting? What instruments are being used? How are they evolving?

Read the whole article here.

Steampunk Opera: Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets

After the success of Eli August and the Davenport Sister’s efforts to get their project “The Victorian Dead” funded through Kickstarter, I’m very happy to present another opportunity to support the Steampunk arts.

Inventing Earth in Boston, MA is asking for your support in the creation of a Steampunk Opera entitled Queen Victoria’s Floating Garden of Secrets. Here’s a synopsis of the plot:

Set on the HMS Annelid (a discovery ship in the spirit of Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle intermarried with Jules Verne’s Nautilus) this operetta surfs late 19th-century science, history, and geography in a spirited and salacious romp on the high seas worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan.

In this alternate future, the American Colonies have seen the error their ways and reunited with their Fair Queen. All of creation is “subject” to inquiry. The opera takes place during a Inspection by the Queen on the Annelid’s return from a Homeric and triumphant exploration of far-flung corners of the map, now loaded down with newly discovered, exotic specimens.

Pirate lasses mutiny, womenfolk can’t keep their petticoats down, contraptions impressively malfunction, and frank discussions of anatomy are all in a day’s work while in service to Her Majesty the Queen.

This opera is well on its way to being fully supported, but is standing to benefit greatly should it reach it’s goal through Kickstarter. James von Hegner of the The Great New England Steampunk Exhibition has offered a 1-to-1 matching grant for any amount they raise between three and five thousand dollars.  So, there’s a good chance that, should you contribute, James von Hegner will double your gift.

Check out all the details here!

Chap Hop Wars

There has been much talk of the eventual show-down between Mr. B, The Gentleman Rhymer and Professor Elemental. As of this post, I’ve yet to hear anything more about the possibility of a show-down between these two, which is unfortunate because it’s sure to be epic.

In the mean time, we have to imagine what a show-down of such magnitude would be from the material we have of the two artists.  of YouTube posted this video meshing the two artists works into a epic 12 minute face off which can only be a preview for what will transpire some day between them. Give it a listen! It’s excellent.

If you find yourself unfamiliar with the rivalry between Mr. B and Professor Elemental, you may find this article, In ‘Chap-Hop,’ Gentlemen Rappers Bust Rhymes About Tea, Cricket , from the Wall-Street Journal of all places, to be particularly enlightening.

Glory Instrumental Demo

It had been a while since I heard anything from one of my favorite Steampunk bands, The Clockwork Dolls. Their last album, Dramatis Personae, was released in 2009 and while they have been busy playing shows and touring, there hasn’t been a lot in the way of new material to come out of the duo in some time.

Until recently.

Today, I present for your attention their “Glory Instrumental Demo” which I am all kinds of excited about. This track takes many of the elements that I enjoyed off Dramatis Personae and brings it back for another excellent piece. It’s a long listen, but definitely worth it. Check it out here:

Awesome! Hopefully this is the beginning of many more epic tracks to come.

The Théâtrophone

Today’s is the last post, for at least a few days, of Victorian history and tech likely to be of interest to Steampunks. You can blame my history major on the recent rash of historically focused posts. I find this sort of thing fascinating and very pertinent to my interest in Steampunk, so there.

Back in the day, there was a creation called the Théâtrophone that allowed its subscribers to listen to theater and opera performances via their telephones. The Théâtrophone evolved from a Clément Ader invention, which was first demonstrated in 1881, in Paris. And to think that all this time, I thought that listening to music on our phones was something of a modern development.

A recent article on the Scientific American blog entitled In 1892 Live Music Was Just a Phone Call Away by Mary Karmelek explains the origins and functionality of the Théâtrophone.

What is Steampunk Music?

When people begin to explore Steampunk as more than just an aesthetic, defining what is and isn’t Steampunk can be something to a challenge. Steampunk is proud of its determination to allow its participants to make of the subculture what they individually will.

But that same resistance to a hard definition makes it hard for newcomers to determine what is and isn’t considered Steampunk by the community at large. Steampunk music is particularly elusive, as there are may artists who have been accepted by the Steampunk community who don’t directly label themselves as “Steampunk Musicians.”

One such artist is Veronique Chevalier who recently wrote an article entitled What is Steampunk Music? that seeks to introduce people new to the Steampunk community to the rich tapestry of artists that make up the sound of a subculture.

Her article and recommendations are definitely worth your attention, so be sure to check it out at her blog.

An Interview with Not Waving But Drowning

Today I’m here with Not Waving But Drowning, a fantastically unique “junkyard cabaret” band from Brooklyn. They’ve been kind enough to sit down with me for a quick chat before their sets at the Steampunk World’s Fair today and tomorrow. Thanks for coming, guys, let’s get started!

Please introduce yourself and say a bit about your musical background.
Hi, we’re Not Waving But Drowning, and we’re a band from Brookl… wait a second, where are my pants?

Oh, umm…
No, seriously. My pants. Where are they?! I’m certainly not wearing them. I would know.

Well, I’m sure they’ll turn up…
Unless, of course, these things are my pants… they do have legs… they are grey…. let’s see. Ah, no! They are cats, not pants. Sorry guys, I’ll just set you down again.

Well, Trial By Steam is a pants optional zone. Perhaps you’d be alright without them? I’m sure no one would judge.
My dear madame, as you are no doubt aware, Pantslessness is next to Godlessness, which is only two seats down from Ginlessness. And if you think we’re not drinking while answering this question, then you are quite mistaken. In any event, we’ll just do this thing without trousers. Fine. We only ask that the people reading this will have the decency to remove theirs. To put us on equal footing, as it were. What was the first question again?

Oh, ah, yes… *removes trousers* Ahem.. Please introduce yourself and say a bit about your musical background.
(finishes gin)
…ah, yes! Not Waving But Drowning is Pinky Weitzman, Mason Brown, John Frazier, and Jeremy Forbis. Pinky plays rock viola with a heap of projects, including stints with name-droppable artists whose names shall not be dropped. Mason has been singing and playing up a storm since he was a young boy deep in South Carolinny, and his dad sang on our first record. Over the past decade, John has made records and performed both as a solo artist and with his band, the 8 Year Olds, of which Pinky was member and Mason a contributing party. Jeremy has several projects afoot for which he plays, sings, writes, and records, and is the drollest man you will ever meet, bepantsed or otherwise.

How and when was Not Waving But Drowning formed?
Pinky brought us all together – having played with each of us in different projects – after she and Mason had the idea to start the band. We’re now 4 years and 2 records (2008’s “Any Old Iron” and 2011’s “Processional”) in, and we still really like being cooped up in a close-quartered [studio/kitchen/rehearsal space/van] together. (Favorite road-trip past-time: the question game from “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”. We can, and have, played for hours.)

What inspired you to name yourselves after the famous poem by Stevie Smith, “Not Waving But Drowning”?
It’s just perfect. Deeply evocative and sad and beautiful. Something to aspire to as an artist, like full-time pants ownership. (Or leasing with an option to buy.)

You describe yourselves as a junkyard cabaret group. Can you elaborate on what that means, precisely?
It’s tough to come up with a pithy summation of what we do since our sound is consciously varied. So rather than launching into a lengthy discussion about all the instruments we play and genres we touch every time someone inquires about our style, we boil it down to ‘junkyard cabaret’. ‘Junkyard’ since we play everything including the kitchen sink, from bones and scraps of metal to old banjos and musical saws. And ‘cabaret’ as a nod to the co-mingling of other performance elements in our live shows, whether it be burlesque or dance or theater or just dressing to the nines. Also, on a sort of textural level, the phrase nicely defines our aesthetic. We’ve got rust and lace in equal measure.

What would you say is unique about the music you create?
Our ability to share food. It is the template upon which all else is built.

What inspires you to create your music?
Dread of boredom. And James Brown. And a giant pile of instruments crying out to played.

While you never overtly label yourself as a Steampunk band, Not Waving But Drowning has been embraced by the Steampunk subculture. Why do you think this is?
It’s true that we didn’t set out to be label-able as any particular genre – we like being slippery as a buttered eel. As to the warm embrace: Steampunk enthusiasts are an extremely literate group, and tend to be the sort to appreciate allusive lyrics. Sonically, a Stroh violin is an awfully steampunky instrument, and we certainly take no small amount of glee in anachronistically mixing distorted electric guitars with dusty old stringed instruments and objects we found in Mason’s barn. Also, we like fancy hats.

How DIY is Not Waving But Drowning and in what capacities?
Well, the four of us do almost everything ourselves, from designing our album artwork and flyers (you can peruse some examples here) to engineering our own recordings in a home-made studio deep in the woods of upstate New York. It’s not so much a political decision; we’re as DIY as opportunity instructs us to be, and making music and art is what we’d be doing in our free time, anyway. All that said, we also love having help – we are very fortunate to have generous and talented friends and collaborators with an interest in the band, and are always glad to meet more of the same.

Any upcoming shows, events, upcoming releases, or announcements your fans should know about?
We’ll be whooping it up not once but twice at the Steampunk World’s Fair on May 20th and 21st. Then on May 24th we’re co-hosting a special literary/musical event at Le Poisson Rouge (please join us, NYC denizens!)  Our dear friend (and award-winning author) Emily Rubin will be reading passages from her new novel “Stalina” accompanied by (and intertwining with) songs played by NWBD. We’re also hard at work on new videos and singles which will be unveiled this summer/fall  (c.f. the all-knowing, all-seeing Facebook page).

What is your favorite tale of Not Waving But Drowning adventure?
Most of our favorite Not Waving But Drowning adventures are not fit to print, at least not in any venue where law enforcement might be reading. (The intrepid reader might, against our better advice, find some of them here.)

Which song in the catalog is your favorite and why?
This is a devilishly hard question, and we all of course have our particular favorites. Sleep Before I Wake is a favorite “quintessentially NWBD-y” song, as is Let’s Go Dancing. We had a hilariously protracted debate selecting 3 recommended tracks for our college radio campaign; we eventually went with November 3rd, Thanks a Lot Lancelot, and Tiger Hunting. Did we just pick 5 songs instead of one? We’re not very good at following instructions.

Where can people go to learn more about Not Waving But Drowning and purchase your music?
The internet! We’re told it’s made of cats! Both albums are streamable (for free) and downloadable (for a few American dollars, Icelandic krona, or Bahraini dinars) on Bandcamp. (We also sell via the other large online purveyors, but prefer the cuddly, pro-indie Bandcamp folks.)

Anything else you’d like to add?
We dream of a world without shame. Or a world where we’ve found our pants. Either one would do.