An Interview with the Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven is a Steampunk band heralding from Sweden and creates unique music that is hard to pin down by a particular audio genre. Their sound blends the timeless sounds of European fold music with cabaret in a manner that is sure to appeal to Steampunks across the board. Last year, they released their first album, The Broken Hearted Show, and are hard at work on their second.

Can everyone in the band please introduce themselves? Please tell me a bit about yourselves and your musical backgrounds.
Fredrik Anjou – Vocals, guitar and songwriter: Started playing guitar and writing songs at the age of 14 inspired by Nirvana. Over the years I have had several bands and played grunge, punk, metal, pop and other various genres. My main focus in all of those bands were always to try and write good songs and to find a suiting sound for those songs. After a few years without a band and concentrating on literature and philosophy studies at the university The Magnificent Seven started to develop as a band and have since then been my main priority. I love writing songs for all the skilled musicians in The Magnificent Seven to perform. I’m truly blessed to have such a great band.
Fredrik Andersson – Viola and mandolin: Hi, I’m the viola-player Fredrik of The Magnificent Seven! I’ve been playing the violin since early age, raised in the Swedish folk music tradition of my hometown Leksand in the heart of folk-Sweden. I am now a classically trained violin/viola teacher with pupils from age 6-20. I’ve always enjoyed playing different styles of music witch has led to me continuously playing everything from symphony orchestras to reggae, from singer-songwriter to metal. No matter what I’m playing I always bring my heart in to it and give it 100%. There’s nothing better than standing on stage playing your heart out!
Stefan Stenberg – Double bass: I am a freelance musician who lives in Stockholm and I play everything from jazz to rock and different kinds of folk-music. During the past decade there has been considerable focus on playing jazz, but I’ve mostly listened to different kinds of rock. I’m new as a member of TM7 and It’s a band with wonderful musicians and we play a kind of music I’ve been wanting to play for years.
Nils Marcus Persson – Piano and organ: The following can be said about Nils Marcus Persson. I grew up in family that listened to a lot to music. I remember Sundays when I sat and turned my dads vinyl records and dreamed myself into the world where “I was Jim Morrison”. Started playing the piano to later play the guitar just to once again play the piano and discovered it’s the best. Then I studied music at high school and university. Played in a lot of different bands and genres through the years. Have a special liking for odd music.
Ulrika Mohlin – Accordion, musical saw and backing vocals: I became a member of the Magnificent Seven three years ago when Fredrik Anjou found me on myspace and asked me to compose a duet with him. At that time I had just moved to Örebro and was also new on my own musical project “Mohlavyr”. Fredriks invitation was therefore a good challenge and start for me to get to know other musicians in the town. Neither could I say no to the experience of collaborating with an artist like Fredrik. So I brought my accordion and after a couple of meetings we finished the song “The Rope”. Since then I’ve been joining the band on accordion, backing vocals and musical saw.
Krister Persson – Drums and percussion: Drummer from the woods who had to start playing the drums when he moved to the city where there were no logs he could beat up with his bare hands. Headbanger – turned jazz-freak – turned folk musician… Which has led him to the point when he’s now happily beating up logs again… Albeit in a more civilized fashion.
Marcus Måttgård – Guitars: Started playing guitar at the age of 13 inspired by Slash. Have played everything from heavy metal to jazz music during the years, and nowadays I play mostly country music. Started playing with TM7 about a year ago. Currently working on my own material a lot inspired by country guitar giants such as Brent Mason, Brad Paisley and Albert Lee. When I´m not working as a music teacher or play with TM7 I do freelance jobs wherever people need twang!

How was the Magnificent Seven created? How did you choose your name?
The Magnificent Seven was created and named at the same time and it was when I started to collect some songs that I had written on my old acoustic guitar, nicknamed ”Seven” because it wears the number seven on its body and I always have had a thing for the number seven. After a while I felt the urge to play these songs with a band and that’s when The Magnificent Seven was created. The first demo was released under the name Seven though. So, the real reason behind the name is just my fascination for the number seven but it also rings a bell with some things we like, like the movie, the song by The Clash and also the cemeteries in London.
And even though one can say that The Magnificent Seven was created back then I like to think that we’re recreating ourselves everyday and with every member that has come on board.

Tell me more about your debut album, The Broken Hearted Show.
The material on “The Broken Hearted Show” consists of both old and new songs. The old ones in new versions and some brand new songs that we wrote just before we recorded the album. “The Last Waltz” is the oldest one on the album and “The Killer” and “The Stand-Up Tragedian” the most recent ones. We recorded the album with producer Christian Gabel at Studio Cobra in Stockholm and I think he really added a lot to our sound so we’re really satisfied with his work on the album. Then Martin Irigoyen from Vernian Process mastered the album. I also think the material on the album says a lot about the variety of songs and styles that we have, we always let the songs themselves decide how they sound the best and never try and put a definite sound upon our songs. We like to try and bring out the essence of the song in the sound.

How do you describe your music to people who have never experienced it before?
As I said about our album, there’s a big variety in our sound and the style of our songs so it’s always hard to describe our music in words but I like to think that we have a ”timeless” sound. If I would try to put words to it I would say; Swedish melancholia inspired by cabaret and european folk music. All with a touch of gothic and horror elements.

What is the Steampunk scene like in Sweden?
Well, it’s a quite small scene. There’s some activities, there’s a couple of artists, writers and some LARP events but when it comes to music there’s not so many bands around, at least not that I know of. I know that there’s a lot of people that think Steampunk is very interesting but a scene has yet to be born in Sweden and hopefully we can be a part of creating an interest and a scene for Steampunk in Sweden.

Steampunk art is often expressed through a maker ethic. How DIY is the Magnificent Seven?
The Magnificent Seven is very DIY and we do almost everything ourselves although we like to collaborate with people we like and people who share the same ideas as us, but we always like to have control over what we do. We like what we do and if there’s people out there that also like what we do and can help us out, that’s a good thing.

What is your favorite tale of Magnificent Seven misadventure?
I don’t know if I would call it a misadventure but a very strange gig was when we performed with The Burning Hell in Gothenburg in front of a crowd existing of seven people and seven dogs. It was the first time our crowd was equally divided, 50% humans, 50% animals. It was a great gig though, with two great live bands doing what they love the most. Performing live!

Are there any upcoming events in the near future you’d like to mention?
We’re planning for the rest of 2011 right now and there’s one event that we’re really looking forward, but I have to keep quiet about exactly what it is for now. All I can say is that our fans in Sweden will get the chance to see us perform live at venue that suits us perfect and at an event that is perfect for our music. Now that I’ve mentioned it I hope everyone will stay tuned for more news about this event.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Nothing more except that we feel honored to be interviewed by Trial By Steam and we really like the support we get from North America. I hope we can make it over the pond someday and do a tour in North America, hopefully very soon especially since the Steampunk scene seems to be so alive and exciting at your end of the world.

To learn more about the Magnificent Seven, check out their website, Facebook, and MySpace pages.

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.

An Interview with Victor Sierra

Steampunk is truly an international subculture, and as it continues its march into the consciousness of retrofuturists all around the world, it produces an amazing array of artists influenced by the aesthetic and lifestyle. Victor Sierra is a Paris-based Steampunk electro rock band that identifies heavily with the Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and overall retrofuturistic subcultures. Their universe is one of airship battles and adventures aboard their ship The Hydrogen Queen.

They recently released their latest EP, “The Secret Page” and have a growing popularity in France and are hoping to tour the United States soon and bring French Steampunk to this side of the Atlantic. I recently had the opportunity to chat with them about their band, and here’s what they had to say:

How and when was Victor Sierra formed?
Bob: The band was born sometime between two centuries. I met Anouk, who is a former actress, and we deciding to join forces to form Victor Sierra. We have had various people being part of the band since then. Many of them left the band because I’m very demanding. Some did not even leave an address or a phone number! But now Mr. Big Machine [Victor Sierra’s keyboardist] seems to be a die-hard long-timer. And that’s a good thing. It’s a relief for Anouk and I to have found somebody we can rely on. I would like to add that Anouk was a singer before we happened we lived together. It wasn’t your typical “band leader pushes his girlfriend to sing”.

Can you say a bit about yourselves and your musical backgrounds?
Bob: I feel like I was a musician before knowing what it actually meant to be one or even played any instrument. I’ve had music and lyrics in my head ever since I was a child. My mother recently told me that I used to dance to the music played on the radio before I was able to walk. Not that I’m a good dancer mind you. I was fascinated by instruments wherever I could find any: the piano at my grandparents’. Or the banjo I once found in the far end of a cupboard at my other grandma’s. I was 10 I think. I still have it. Never been able to play it. It belonged to my grandfather who is my favorite ghost among all those who accompany me.
Now about myself, well I usually say that  I’m a Jew from eastern Europe of Anglo-Saxon culture accidentally born in Paris. I’ve crossed many different musical styles but they’re all part of my (our) universe. I feel like I’ve reached the crossroads of many of my selves by now. I’ve scarcely written  the purest acoustic “roots” song or the dirtiest industrial techno track without mixing something exogenous into it.
Anouk: I don’t have a typical musical background except an Edith Piaf song cover called: “A quoi ça sert l’amour” performed with Steven Brown (Tuxedo Moon). I didn’t know how to sing but I enjoyed it. My real musical story started when I met Bob, with Victor Sierra. I’m a one band singer.

How do you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?
Bob: This is the question I fear the most. People express so many opposite feelings and sensations about our music.  Like in the Yiddish joke: Two Jews arguing… three different opinions. So I would tell them: “Forget your references and your certainties. Welcome aboard and let’s dance to the sound of the Hydrogen  Queen!”

What would you say is unique about the music you create?
Bob: Definitely our universe where a lot of things and events can occur. Victor Sierra is a universe that makes music.

What inspires you to create your music?
Anouk: Personally I don’t create anything, I sing… although lyrics provide inspiration, their meanings, the poetry. I got  an actress training so I sing a story, a moment of conscience..
Bob: The maelstrom roaring in my head! Most of the time, it’s like some kind of vision where everything can happen. Like a movie scene with characters who are not meant to meet one another. Things happen, protagonists stand for different purposes, they often don’t speak the same language, but they’re all running for their lives. As a songwriter (and I guess all songwriters experience the same phenomenon) I have this very short but huge flash at a precise moment when my sweat  turns cold as I’m working, and I’m telling myself: this is  it! I got it! It’s the moment when you know the song is good and the arrangement totally fits; your heart beats and your feet tap in sync, I already see us performing it on stage…

What does Steampunk mean to you?
Bob: We were somewhat Steampunk and Dieselpunk and retrofuturist before knowing the words. Mr. Big Machine, who is in charge of synths and computers in the band, joined us one year ago. Some months went on and all of a sudden in the middle of a rehearsal he told Anouk and I: “We are a Steampunk band”. I didn’t pay too much attention the first time. But some time after he went on again. So I Googled the word and I told myself: “Wow, holy f. We’re not alone at last!” I was completely stunned watching these images, videos, and also by the outfits and the jewelry. This was exactly what I had been doing for years: the uchronia (mix of periods of time) the paths which could have been taken but hadn’t been.  And more specifically about music, I see the Steampunk community as an open one. Many different styles coexist interact and benefit one another.

How DIY is Victor Sierra and in what capacities?
Bob: Anouk and I decided some years ago to buy a house with a cellar in order to have our own studio at our disposal. We rehearse and I write and compose everything down there. (When we’re not traveling on the Hydrogen Queen!)

Any upcoming shows, events, upcoming releases, or announcements your fans should know about?
Bob: We’re  performing  at the somewhat first SteamCon in France: the Lugdunum Steampunk Imaginarium. It’s taking  place in Lyon on May 21st. We are recording the last sessions for our next album, which is due to be released in June but we’re running a bit late so  we may release it in September.

What is your favorite tale of band adventure?
Bob: A tale… Perhaps it’s more of a wish that can turn into a tale. There is this US tour that we would like to do.
Anouk: The first gig. It was my debut on stage, I had only performed for theater. I felt naked and vulnerable. I couldn’t have been more frightened and I asked Bob whether it was the kind of life he wanted to live. It still makes me laugh today and now I can answer myself. Absolutely yes and
another life would have been like taking the wrong road. I’m really here where I have to be with Victor Sierra.

Which song in the catalogue is your favorite and why?
Anouk: A real shock with “El Topo” which shattered genres boundaries and shows all of our aspects.
Bob: The next one in line will be that one.

Where can people go to learn more about Victor Sierra and purchase your music?
Bob: Here’s a list of links to listen to our tracks, watch our videos, and read our words:

http://www.myspace.com/victorsierra

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Victor-Sierra-officiel/67607747746?v=app_2405167945

http://www.youtube.com/user/victorsierraband?feature=mhum#p/a

http://www.reverbnation.com/victorsierra

http://victorsierra.livejournal.com

-Our Steampunk websites pages:

http://www.thesteampunkempire.com/profile/VictorSierra

http://frenchsteampunk.ning.com/profile/VictorSierra

-Links where you can purchase our songs:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/victorsierra

http://itunes.apple.com/fr/album/secret-page-ep/id397428465

Anything else you’d like to add?
Anouk: For the first time we worked with another author besides Bob on a song (in Yiddish) and what looked almost unimaginable for Victor Sierra turned out to be an achievement. It was the right person as well: Elsa Drezner.
Bob: We’re always seeking gigs. So feel free to contact us at: management@victorsierra.net
We’re ready and willing to go anywhere so it’s our pleasure to perform for you.

An Interview with Alexandra Hamer

One of my favorite things about writing Trial By Steam is the opportunity to meet and engage with people who are actively creating things.  Whether it be a story, a garment, or a piece of music, Steampunks tend to always be in the midst of some new and wonderful creation. One such person I recently had the chance to chat with was Alexandra Hamer, a retrofuturistic musician who released her album Anachronique back in February. Her music and her DIY spirit is sure to appeal to Steampunks across the board, and thus it became obvious I needed to introduce you to her!

Please tell me a bit about yourself and your musical background.

I had a somewhat limited formal education, having been “asked to leave” school at the age of 16 and having done almost no work at all there in the preceding years – well, I’m a defiant little soul and neither my parent nor my teachers ever managed to convince me that their desire to see me in a certain place at a certain time performing a task of their choosing superseded my desire to be doing something completely different somewhere else!

I don’t regret any lack of formal education because I have always been an insatiable autodidact. As such, my music “career” began when I taught myself drums at the age of 14 with a pair of home-made sticks whittled from the back of an old sofa and a drum kit made of cushions and books – now doesn’t that sound romantic! Being of a somewhat obsessive disposition, I played them for 2 or 3 hours a day for 2 or 3 years and became really quite adept. Eventually my mother bowed to my determination and bought me a tiny second-hand drum kit – it was unaccountably covered in brown hessian but underneath it was a little sparkly silver relic of the 1960’s and I loved it!

It so happened that I lived in a house full of reggae so that was the genre I played and when I progressed to guitar, bass and keyboards I always played reggae on them first. Consequently, I am inescapably a reggae musician and you will always find the feel of it somewhere in my music.

But, there are many other musics that have written their little sonograms into my heart. Harmonically and melodically I love the Tin Pan Alley composers like Cole Porter and particularly Richard Rodgers but also the music of the First World War and the late Victorian music hall. Added to those I have a passion for the French chanson style of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel and I love the exotica style of the 50’s and 60’s as exemplified by the likes of Arthur Lyman. There are many others too, ranging from Chopin to Noël Coward to Björk.

My singing style probably has hints of Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Al Bowlly, Björk, Billy Holiday and perhaps some of the Britpop singers of the 1990’s. I do not, of course, claim to sing as well as the illustrious performers mentioned, I only note their influence on my modest abilities!


How did you decide to create music with such a distinctively antiquated tone?

That is not something I was aiming for but it naturally arises from my influences and tastes and my willingness to indulge them. I have a particular tendency to write in waltz time which is a very Vicwardian thing to do and I often use certain chord changes common to the period so these, combined with some of my instrument choices, may explain the antiquated quality to some of my tunes.

How do you go about writing a song?

I always start with the music. I usually noodle about on the keyboard with an interesting sound for a while and with luck and perseverance, a little tune will start to make itself known to me. Once I have the basic chord structure and melody I start to build up the orchestration until I have a good draft of the piece. At this point I sit back to consider what sort of an atmosphere the music is implying – what is it the music to? And what scene might be played out to this theme?

When I have the theme, I start on the lyrics – sometimes they come cooperatively but at other times I have to wrestle them on to the paper one letter at a time! I try to steer away from the “Ooh Baby, you hurt me so bad” school of song-writing and aim for themes and settings you don’t usually encounter in popular music. An example might be “The Birds, The Trees and You”: I felt it had the atmosphere of a deep, tropical forest and that image immediately conjured the idea of a pair of Edwardian plant hunters, high in the canopy of the Siamese rainforest experiencing what would turn out to be the most perfect afternoon of their lives, blissfully in love in the most extraordinarily beautiful and secret place.

Tell me more about your album “Anachronique”.

I haven’t particularly tried to create a unified whole but themes emerge of their own volition. For example, during any given period in your musical life you find yourself drawn to a particular set of instruments and some of the defining sounds on Anachronique are glass harmonica, music box, tuned gongs, Hammond organ, flutes and a big fat dubby bass sound. These inevitably lend a certain overall flavour to the album.

Lyrical themes also emerge in a similar way from the various fears, hopes  and preoccupations you have when you are writing but also from your broader interests and you can derive some of my passions from a listen to the album: for example, I am a xenophile and love anything exotic so I have songs set in places like Madagascar, Siam, Bulgaria and Japan. And whilst some are exotic by virtue of location, others are exotic by virtue of being set in the Vicwardian period (I always think of other times as if they were foreign places that you can dream of visiting). I was originally going to call the album “Tramp Steamer” as fantasising about such a vessel, plying its trade in the darkest corners of the Vicwardian globe helped inspire several of the songs like “One More Circumnavigation” and “Madagascan Boat Repairs”.

Many of the songs deal with isolation so many of my protagonists are essentially alone like Lizzie Green or the homeless Parisian girl in “Cats and Starlings”. There are also 2 suicides on the album but there are happy songs too and, I hope, enough comedy to parry the darkness.

I also have a great passion for Victorian actuality film and photography and this expresses itself in the videos. I have no means to make elaborate videos but I do have books full of early photography from which I can take appropriate static images for the songs. My hobby of repairing and colourising old photos also shows.

Tell me how you get your particular sound.

I like to mix the music so that it sounds as if the musicians are in a little cosy room with me – it’s a small and intimate sound and a production style you might use for a jazz quartet or small folk band. I love unusual instruments that sound organic and slightly broken and I often push them a little out of tune to instil some humanity. Musically, do I have to work with computers as I have no band nor any pets that might be trained to play but I don’t like the robotic sound of sequenced music so I play (almost) all the parts manually and leave most of the imperfections in. I do cheat when I have written a piece too cunning for my limited keyboard skills by, for example, recording it at half speed or doing the right and left hands separately but it is at least a recording of a performance rather than a programmed sequence.

What is your favourite track on the album and why?

Ooh, tricky – I can’t pin it down. I am proud of “The illusion of Free Will” and “Madagascan Boat Repairs” because they are essentially reggae in 3/4 time which is technically impossible – in fact, I think I might have invented it! I like “The Birds, The Trees and You” which I think might be the best song I’ve written, though I don’t get the impression that listeners agree!

I do have some favourite moments on the album, for example, the second half of “The Great War” because the string section counter-melodies make me slightly tingly. Then there’s the way the rhythm section pulses gently in under a long glass-harmonica note, 55 seconds into “You’ll Never Be Too Close” and the bass line to “The Illusion of Free Will” which appears 1 minute and 35 seconds into the song and is placed within the bar in a way that only a reggae musician would consider plausible. Oh dear, that’s too much detail isn’t it! That’s the insanity of making music – you easily become obsessed by tiny, tiny details that no-one else hears or cares about!


How do you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?

Dismissively usually – I might typically say “It’s a bit odd, I doubt you’ll like it” but I am used to people frowning at my tunes and as I have only sold 7 copies of the album, I think there is good reason to suspect that it’s not the most approachable or easily likeable music in the world! I think some people are disconcerted by my odd and androgynous voice and if they are not used to reggae, some of the note placements can sound somewhat back to front.

Personally, I love my music so I take refuge in the van Gogh hypothesis and will just have to wait for the world to catch up with my genius!! Then again, maybe 7 copies is actually really good in mp3 world – I have no frame of reference but I have just halved the price of the album!

Generally there is nothing new in music, there are only new combinations of musics that already exist – that is where the originality and innovation can be found and out of my fairly broad set of musical interests emerges a genre all of it’s own – perhaps I should call it “Alexandrian”! A big question for a musician or composer is whether you try to steer your music towards a preconceived sound or genre or whether you simply indulge yourself and let it find it’s own course and I prefer the latter approach. That may sound like arrogance but I feel that the more you compromise by pandering to an audience, the further the music gets from something you could call art. And now I’ve gone and called my music “art” which is very pretentious of me but I didn’t say it was good art! Of course, secretly I do think it’s good art but I would never say that in an interview!

What does steampunk mean to you?

I could not call myself a steampunk as I don’t have the look and am probably more Dickens than Verne. Nor are my interests confined to the Vicwardian period. I do love Victorian clothes but I don’t actually have any and as I don’t really socialise, I have little reason to get a good look together.

I do think the steampunk tag is appropriate for some of my music though as it combines Vicwardian musical structures and styles with more modern technology than they would have had access to and that combination of Vicwardian and modern seems to me the very essence of steampunk. For example “You’ll Never Be Too Close” is a Victorian tinted melody in waltz time set to a music box but I have extended the music box beyond it’s natural range by use of sampling technology. I also have a tendency to a Victorian turn of phrase which rather fits the genre.

How DIY is your music?

Entirely – I compose the music, write the lyrics, perform it, record it, mix it, create the videos and artwork. I also like to tweak and create instruments, even if it is only in a virtual sense. For example, on “Olga, Soft Upon Me” there is a solo instrument that sounds somewhat like a harpsichord but is actually a set of hair clippers that I have sampled. And on “The Great War, the main melody is played on a sampled Armenian reed instrument called a Duduk but I have managed to upset it with the computer and caused it to slide in and out of tune slightly and growl at itself.

 Are there any upcoming events in the near future you’d like to mention?

I have not done any gigs for a long time and have none planned but I might do one at some point in the future. I’m quite at home on stage but gigs always involve social interaction both before and after playing the music and I’m not very good at that. I am making videos for more of the songs from the album and once those are completed I will probably work on some new tunes. I think I might do a smaller collection next – perhaps of 3 or 4 tracks as a mini album or EP and I’d like to work some of my other interests like philosophy and palaeontology into it somehow – I feel quite sure that my weird voice, singing a waltz about the philosophical connotations of the extinction of the Indricotherium will be the very thing that finally propels me to international stardom!

Where can people find your music?

My music can be found in various places. You can listen to it and download it at:

http://alexandrahamer.bandcamp.com/

but it can also be found accompanied with videos on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/Alexandrasaurus

Or with better sound quality videos at Vimeo:

http://vimeo.com/user5568224/videos/sort:newest/format:detail

And in various other quarters like my Facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Alexandra-Hamer/121564887896176

Or on Myspace:
http://www.myspace.com/alexandrahamer

An Interview with Stephan J. Smith

Stephan J. Smith is the artist behind Artsmith Craftworks, creates hand made airship models to decorate Steampunk homes and other beautiful works from paper and papier-mâché. I got the opportunity to pull him away from he preparations for the World Steam Expo to tell me a bit about his art.

How did you learn to craft your art?
I’ve been an artist at heart since I was a little kid, but I started formally as a graphic designer – went to Ferris State University in Michigan. Even though that was mainly related to advertising and marketing, I always loved the fine art field as well and have always been fascinated by paper.

How did you decide to craft model airships?
I was commissioned by an interior designer friend of mine, (Betsy Rackliffe), to construct one for a Steampunk bookstore, (Off the Beaten Path), she was designing the interior for. There was such a terrific response and interest that it was suggested that I do others and offer them for sale.

Tell me a bit about Artsmith Craftworks.
Artsmith Craftworks is the name I chose that both reflected my name and the “craft” of art that I do. As I mentioned, I love paper, so anything that involves paper interests me. I like cut paper sculpture, papier mache, hand-cast paper from recycled pulp, and many other paper media. I DO also have a great affinity for mosaic. Ceramic, glass, stone and even paper mosaic…such a beautiful art form! So I guess that’s what Artsmith Craftworks is about.

Tell me more about the importance you place on recycled and repurposed materials.
Well, my own personal “mission” is to create art using something that would have gotten thrown away otherwise. Like I said before, I like making hand-cast sheets of paper using old scrap that I have pulped, thereby making something beautiful and useful out of it again. Papier mache allows me to use scrap paper to built things with “junk” paper. I often do cut paper sculptures using scrap paper company swatch books. I use bottle lids, random plastic pieces, cut foam, wooden dowels, paper and plastic tubes, etc., and I cut them, paint them and they become something else. Most of the mosaics I do use broken tile or glass that was garbage bound and I do scrap paper mosaics as well. It just feels good to do something cool with discarded materials that would have gone into a landfill otherwise.

Recycled Tinkertoys form parts ofan airship's propellers

Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell people about?
I plan to be at the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, Michigan on Memorial Day weekend. I’ll have a couple new large airships as well as some Do-It-Yourself little airship kits. In fact, the plan is that I’ll be running a couple panels showing people how to construct the little airships with the kits I put together. True to form, these kits are made with recycled/repurposed materials! I’ve also been contacted by an independent filmaker who wants me to build an airship for a Steampunk film he’s currently working on. The airship will be shot against green screen with background dropped in during post production…very exciting stuff!

What is your favorite and least favorite medium/material with which to work? Why?
Of course, paper is my favorite and I like tile & stone in mosaic too. I think paper represents something renewable, very earthy and natural and is a very flexible and forgiving medium to work with. I don’t think I have a least favorite. I’ve worked with a lot of different materials, some not my favorites, but none that I dislike really.

What does Steampunk mean to you?
To me, Steampunk represents an exciting age when the possibilities of new materials, energies and knowledge were being discovered and utilized. To us, it represents an age of whimsical innocence, seemingly free of the hustle and bustle of modern life, but brimming with its own gadgets and wonder.

Visit the Showcase Gallery

Where can people purchase your art?
Currently, my blog has a page with pieces for sale, but they are sparse at this point as I prepare for World Steam. I plan to have an Etsy store in the not-too-distant future.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Only that I appreciate the warm welcome and reception that I’ve gotten from the Steampunk community. Everyone has been very complimentary and excited when they’ve seen my pieces. And, Audelia, I’d like to invite you and anyone you’re connected with to visit my blog and have a look around and feel free to comment. I’d also like to thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed on your blog!

 

Airships in dry dock

To learn more about Artsmith Craftworks and stay up to date on all of Stephan’s latest activities, please be sure to drop by his website and like him on Facebook!

An Interview with Vagabond Opera

Vagabond Opera is a band based out of Portland with a wonderful Steamy twist. They have a huge tour along the west coast planned for the spring of 2011 that is absolutely not to be missed. Unfamiliar with Vagabond Opera? You won’t be after tonight!

Can each of you introduce yourselves and tell me a bit about your musical background?

Eric: I grew up wandering the aisles of The Wooden Shoe Books and Records (an anarchist collective bookstore that my parents helped found) listening to every record I could get my hands on, then went on to formal training in piano and opera.
I studied and performed opera in Philadelphia, New York and Paris and founded the Jewish Theater Project in New Mexico with Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, where I helped produce Neshama, a Jewish arts festival. I was the musical director for the show, writing several short musical pieces, one of the plays, and one full-length composition as well. Prior to that, in the summer of 2000, I toured Canada where he, along with Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen, performed Sabotage, a comedic tour-de-force that our trio wrote, to audiences in Albuquerque, New York City, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Edmonton, garnering major critical acclaim. I composed and performed the music for Sabotage.
In the last several years I studied the Arabic and Turkish repertoire receiving instruction from Souhail Kaspar (as well as performing onstage with the master percussionist) Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Elias and George Lammam and Souren Baronian which in turn led me to co-create The Flying Bokhara Orlestrah and to found Hazz Hazz Hulu.

Skip: I’m the cellist and recently occasional mandolinist with Vagabond Opera. I’ve been with the band since 2003, and am a trained classical cellist as well as having spent the last 24 years becoming one of the foremost improvisational cellists in jazz, rock, and multiple forms of music. I’ve recorded with hundreds of individuals and groups, notably, Pink Martini, MWard, The Portland Cello Project, and numerous others. I studied formally with the principal cellists of the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Philharmonic and attended The University of the Arts as well as Michigan State and Portland State Universities. I continue to be an on call sub with The Oregon Symphony and Portland Opera since 2001, though my schedule seldom allows that these days.

Mark: I’m Vagabond Opera’s drummer. I grew up in Portland, Oregon playing drums, violin and piano in elementary and high school. After high school I attend U of Oregon for a semester then went on to Berklee College of Music in Boston. There I studied a lot of jazz and began my professional career playing in jazz/improvising groups, cover bands, theaters, African and Brazilian bands, etc. After several years there I moved to New York City where I lived for two years. There I pretty much focused exclusively on improvised music. After that stint I returned to Portland and eventually met Eric in the early years of VO.

Ashia : I’m Vagabond Opera’s Soprano Warbler, Cello 2, and Anti-Diva . My first experiences with music were falling asleep to ABBA and Vivaldi as a baby and being greatly entertained as my father did jumping jacks to Black Sabbath…. oh and he had a mustache.
It wasn’t long afterwards that I began tinkling keyboard keys, humming melodies, and going to cello lessons. It was the cello that I loved the most and I studied classical music and techniques. With the base of this training and adding some vocal studies, I began experimenting with song writing and composition with the cello. I brought these, along with a couple of concertos, to college and continued thus far. Within a few years, I was lifted away to a life with Cirque du Soleil and within this ample opportunity in the golden gilded cage I began to filter in theatrics as part of my songs

Xander: I don’t play music, really. Not within the band, on any note. What I do is supply a theatrical element to the group, as the music itself is very theatrical. A lot of it is rooted in Vaudeville or silent movies. Or Tom Waistian physical mechanics. Or playful mockery of burner/hippie culture. You know. Those types of things.

Eric Stern

How was the Vagabond Opera created?
Eric: I created Vagabond Opera in 2002. I was disillusioned with the classical opera world, and so I created a new context for opera: Performance on a more intimate scale incorporating not only opera but elements of Weimar Cabaret, Arabic and Balkan forms, and the original music that springs from the ensemble’s fertile creative work.

Ashia Grzesik

What influence does classical opera have on your composition and performance?
Eric: Opera to me is a storytelling form with the voice as the central component, mostly the trained voice. As this was my training it certainly influences the Vagabond Animal, especially when it comes to languages, and also using some of the “classical” forms in our composition. Spectacle is important too and our sense that this is a performance and that our job is to engage and not just stare at our shoes.

Ashia: Ah! The Western music adventure! My compositions definitely fall in the traditions of Western harmony and composition, which Opera is a part of (that is if you were mainly talking about Western Opera and not Chinese Opera… but maybe you were too?). Its not necessarily opera alone, in itself that inspires my compositions, but song forms and song compositional techniques in general. Text coloring, which is colorfully adding sounds and styles that support the text and text’s meaning is one of my favorite things to do. For instance, I wrote a song where the voice of the bird is accompanied by fluttering sounds in the cello and singing in a higher, warble like vocal tone. In performance- I love to add dramatic expression in my performances, especially in solo vocal songs. Without the cello in my arms, I have space to move about and theatrically add to songs. Building upon a story, such as adding burlesque, dancing, and playing with the audience brings another dimension on stage (such as, I hope, the Gewunderswerk of Wagner… so far we haven’t gotten the full picture of that, yet).

Mark Burdon

What does Steampunk mean to you as a band and individually?

Eric: It’s perfect for a band like us. Think about it: We are already reimagining an art form that had its high point in the Victorian Era, it is as if we are simultaneously living and re-creating one of that era’s preeminent art forms.  For me personally it is an appealing aesthetic. But I do think of it as living aesthetic and one that changes through time and that we can help create.  It’s an intelligent aesthetic too…my own inspiration with it comes from literature like H.G. Wells, the Golden Compass, etc.

Xander: Individually is interesting to me. I was really into it before I really knew it existed. I’ve always had a fascination with zeppelins, gears, steam power, trains, and that whole age of amazing innovation and booming industrial technology. I’ve also always had a lot for that style of dress. So when I found out there was an entire sub-culture dedicated to that, I thought “Huzzah!”

As far as Vagabond Opera is concerned, I always thought this type of music was what most Steampunk music was going to sound like – late 1800s, early 1900s jazz, gypsy and cabaret/vaudeville feeling hybrid with high energy interwoven with tear inducing beautiful operatic melodies and waltzes and all that. Which is pretty much Vagabond Opera. And then some. But when I started to listen to what was considered Steampunk music I got pretty dismayed that so much of it was electronic based. So a few bands really stood out, like Rosin Coven and newer music by Dionysos specifically their album La mécanique du cœur, and to a lesser extent Monsters in Love, and of course Vagabond Opera. I kind of feel like this band, like myself, accidently found this scene that seemed made for us to take our small part
in.

Ashia: We love the Victorian turn of the century aesthetic and feel our love for ‘oriental’ sounds (aka Balkan, Gypsy, Middle Eastern) are shared with the adventurous composers of the Romantic Industrial times. I find much of the clockwork and gear inspired costumery whimsical and have grown a great affection to it. The clocks rarely, if ever, actually click and tock in time, and the gears never move. Its as though Steampunk is a place where time has stopped and yet another dream like state perpetuates and evolves in a space of explorers, zeppelins, genies, and lovely corseted concubines.

Skip: The idea of old made new, of taking the past to the future. I feel that my approach to the cello fit very nicely into the ascetic of moving my pre-industrial age instrument into the 21st century.

Mark: To me it is an aesthetic. I love design and engineering and still marvel at the beauty of the machines of the early industrial revolution. The designers and metal workers of that era were really phenomenal artists. Many of steam punk artists whose work I’ve seen are exceptionally talented. Though it wasn’t intentional, I’m thrilled to be in a band that somehow fits into a movement that incorporates some of these elements that I love.

Skip Vonkuske

What is the Steampunk scene like in Portland?
Ashia: Some of it is centered around live shows, like much of night life is in Portland. Our own shows are quite the collection and representation of dapper gentlemen and trussed ladies. There are also organized events that are often somehow themed appropriately with costume and dress, such as balls and croquet at the cemetery, as well as a festival in July.

Xander: It’s pretty small so far. It’s growing, a new store just opened up in town which advertises Steampunk wares (though I haven’t gone yet). There are also a few venues which I think pretty well decked out for the scene, as accidental as they also may be (like the Boiler Room, the Secret Society or the Industrial Café and Saloon). There are several Steampunk groups in town, too, which have monthly meetings or more.

Eric: I seldom leave my house as my Time Machine is in my study.

Xander Gerrymander

Steampunk art is often expressed through a maker ethic. How DIY is the Vagabond Opera?
Eric: Very. I may be the band leader but we are an ensemble and we compose together, meet, live, love, eat together. Most of the design ideas come from us or fans who I consider to be in our Vagabond family.

Skip: I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a more DIY band. When it began, I didn’t have a clue how to describe it to people. I’d never been exposed to so many different types of music in one band. I’d never heard a band like it. It was probably the first band I’d ever played in without a guitarist, and with accordion as the primary chord instrument, it forced me to become a secondary chord player. Besides occasional written parts, most of our songs were presented in the form of chord charts, and it was always up to the individual instrumentalist to create their parts from that. As we’ve grown together musically, the various composers of the band have begun writing more specific parts for tailored to the individual players and their instruments.

Mark: Very. What we “DO” of course is create and perform music. Our process tends to focus on what we like and feel is best. It’s that continuous series of tweaks and revisions as well as a strong work ethic that has really contributed to what I feel is magical experience for us and hopefully our fans. That’s really what art is about to me.

Ashia: I love working on my own costumes. I’ve made my own head pieces and coordinate my outfits with clothing I’ve adorned myself and clothing hand made by friends in the community. I believe in supporting, fostering, and creating relationships with those who have a greater talent at the stitch than I do and so does the band!

Xander: Most of the mechanics of the band are in house. Mark is the money man. He’s our accountant and taxman and one of the band managers. He also makes beautiful woodwork. Robin does amazing amounts of booking and PR for the band, in addition to being the other manager, and he’s our saxophonist, song-writer and singer. I also do some of the PR, organization of the street team, online social networking and presence and a lot of the merch work, especially on tour. Eric is our artistic director and frontman of the group. Ashia does almost all of her own costume work, makes hair pieces, modifies her clothes and the like. Most of the other band members clothing have been created by our friends. Jason also makes electric pick-ups for jazz guitars and sells them online. And I think most of us make our own food. I know I make my own bed. And sometimes I make out.

Are there any upcoming performances in the near future?
Xander: We have a huge upcoming spring tour in 2011, starting in late March and going through most of April. It’ll be across Washington, Oregon, California and one show in Nevada too. We’re hoping to hit up parts of Canada, the Mid-West and the east coast later in the year, with a huge hopeful to the South for the first time. I hope it’s in the summer.

What is your favorite tale of Vagabond misadventure?
Xander: Two that strike out are in Manhattan last summer; it was the very end of the tour. Jason had gotten lost in the New York City subways, left his phone in the van, and we were needing to get back to Philly for our flight early the next day. So we were on the streets finishing up one of our two bottles of wine outside the venue. But when we got to bottle two, the venue told us they had already locked up their corkscrew (???) and couldn’t get it out for us. So we were sad. And with a full bottle of wine that we couldn’t open. So then this Frenchman who was hanging out with us told us not to worry. He grabbed the bottle of wine, took his shoe off, put the base of the bottle into his shoe and started slamming the shoe, holding the toe of it and the neck of the bottle, against the side of a concrete wall. Most of us stood back, but he said don’t worry, this is how we youths open bottles of wine in France when we don’t have a corkscrew. After about a minute, the crazy guy did it. The pressure build-up and force slowly wedged the cork out of the bottle and he managed to pull it out. So we all got to keep drinking on the streets of Manhattan at 1am until our bass player finally managed to emerge from the depths of the subway system. That video is on our YouTube site now, too:

I once had a girl in Washington DC at the Palace of Wonders (an awesome divey cabaret bar) ask if she could buy a discounted CD (as she only had $10 or something) if she took a small hammer and hammered a knitting needle up her nose. It was kind of amazing. She was a total showman and got really dramatic about it and got it all the way up there. Its people like that who make me happy to be on the road.

Ashia: Probably making out with a really sweet, curly mustachiod man in the back of the van and finding myself waking up next to him two years later. Oops.

Mark: The lines between adventure and misadventure are so blurry that I need to think about that! Of course that blur could be from the scotch I’m drinking…

Anything else you’d like to add?

Xander: Being in a band is kind of crazy. I always had this mythical image in my head that I’d be able to see towns and visit neat things. But it’s mostly just driving around looking at things you want to go see and then being inside a venue for 6 hours and then packing up and going somewhere else. We were in Philadelphia and the only thing I wanted to do (aside from consuming as many cheese steaks as possible) was the touch Independence Hall to absorb all the essences from the founding fathers into my finger tips (with the belief that if I absorbed enough Benjamin Franklin, I’d be able to shoot lighting out of the fingertips if I had a key or something). But the best we got was a drive-by.

The best thing, though, is that we get to meet all kinds of amazing people, sample the finer foods and beers of the greater United States (and world) and do shows with a wide array of fantastic performers. Sometimes we get to even stay in hotel rooms. But that’s kind of boring. I prefer to stay with random people to get a peek into their lives.

Mark: I want to meet some metal artists who can show me how to make some of the cool stuff I see people wearing and selling at shows!

Skip: Vagabond Opera is a band of varied individuals who care for one another and each of us do our best in our own way to support each other’s creative endeavors. I see a similar closeness of
creative support in the Portland community of artists and musicians, be it the steam punks, circus types, indie rockers, and jazz artists. It’s vibrant and grass roots all around. Lovely time to be alive in addition to Vagabond, I have a busy solo career and invite you to check out these sites:
skipvonkuske.com, groovywallpaper.net, portlandcelloproject.com, willwestmusic.com, and youtube.com/cellotronik

Ashia: LLLAAAAAA!!!!!

To learn more about Vagabond Opera, please visit their website and join their mailing list.  Make sure to check their upcoming tour schedule as well to see when they’ll be in your part of the country!

An Interview with The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing

For many of us, the Christmas season is upon us. It’s a time of giving and relaxation, of food, spending time with loved ones, and listening to those Christmas carols  that start playing the day after Halloween has passed. For those of us who have been  enduring holiday music since November’s inception, it may seem groan worthy to suggest the purchase of another Christmas themed album.

But A Very Steampunk Christmas by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing is no ordinary Christmas album. Here to tell you more about the album and themselves, are the gents from The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.

Please tell me a bit about each of your musical backgrounds, education, and influences. When and how did you start as a musician individually? How did you come together to become The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing?

MARC: As far as our backgrounds concerned, I can’t speak for everyone with great detail, but this is what I know: Andy used to sing in a very successful legendary and all-round fucking awesome thrashy-gothy band callled Creaming Jesus. They were really influential on the UK Goth and metal scenes, and we still get their fans coming to our show today. I don’t remember them, because I’m too young (this is true, but I’m including it specifically to annoy him and make him feel old).  Andrew on the other hand was in a post-punkcore band called Sun Starved Day, who by all accounts were pretty brilliant, though I never had the pleasure of seeing them, alongside our original drummer Ben (also of Million Dead, a pretty successful band whose singer Frank Turner is rapidly becoming the voice of folky punk in the UK as a soloist). Jez has played in numerous successful bands, including a hit Britpop band called Showgirls (I remember reading about them in the NME in the 90’s!) and a stint in Gothwave legends Lords of the New Church.  I’m probably the least successful in terms of the bands I’ve been in, although I served a couple of years in an ace punk n’roll band touring under the name The Pittstops.

We all have very wide taste in music: Andrew is a Metal-head through and through, and likes a lot of Black Metal, Death Metal, Grindcore and thrash. But also The Beatles and Hendrix.  I’m very much into indie bands, Britpop, and proper alternative rock (by which I mean Pavement and the like). Andy’s taste is even more varied, and Jez probably wider than that. We all intersect on punk rock though. It’s the Centre of a Venn diagram of the four of us.

ANDY: andrew was living in our spare room and was performing his ‘spot on history of british industry’ stand-up show, we decided to do a few songs to include in the show as a musical interlude for a few dates of andrew’s tour. marc and ben (Dawson, original drummer) fleshed out the full band initially for the london dates at the cockpit theatre in marylebone…it then took on a life of it’s own and carried on whist the show withered away like an umbilical cord.

What inspired you to name yourselves after The Goulston Street graffito?

ANDY:  andrew had previously done a show called ‘winston churchill was jack the ripper’, i think it was a throwback to that… you should have heard the names we rejected, i mean ‘the guild of industrial mercenaries’ anyone?

MARC: It should be noted it turned out Winston Churchill probably wasn’t Jack the Ripper at all. But we can’t be right about everything.
What does Steampunk mean to you?

ANDY: a whole world of ‘what if..’
How, in your opinion, is Steampunk different in the UK as opposed to the US?

ANDY: more reenactment and less anime cosplay, but in essence it’s pretty much the same… the Asylum in Lincoln takes over the whole of the historic old town whereas many of the US conventions seem hotel based….mind you, when were we in michigan it was so hot you wouldn’t survive in costume out in the sun for too long and aircon was a godsend!

MARC: That’s pretty much what I’ve noticed too: the dressing up aspect seems to be more important in the States. Over here it feels a little more Grimy…more about getting your hands dirty, making things and modding. We’re also less keen to adopt an English accent… not that we do other accents. It’s just we don’t have to try.

Please tell me a bit about your most recent release, A Very Steampunk Christmas. Where can people purchase a copy of the album?
MARC: You’ve got me to thank/blame for this one. I have a thing about Christmas music, and I try and write a new Christmas song every year. Last year was my first Christmas in the band, so I tried to write something that would work as a Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing track, Ebenezer’s Carol was the result, It’s actually my first proper writing contribution to the band… I wrote the basslines on our first album (‘Now That’s What I Call Steampunk’) and helped arrange the songs, but Ebenezer’s Carol was pretty much all me. We tried to record it for the album but ran out of time (although we put out the demo as a free download last year).  We kept the song in our back pockets though and the intention to do a Christmas single was always there, it captivated me more than the others and I kept bringing it up. I think they agreed just to shut me up! I wrote a whole blog about the genesis of the song, including links to the original bedroom demo I made and the bands early recording of the song here: http://marcburrows.co.uk/2010/12/09/this-is-the-story-of-old-ebenezer/. I can’t remember whose idea it was to do a Christmas EP, although I’m pretty sure it was me that pushed for it.  The idea of doing punked up Christmas Carols was Andrews, as was the idea of doing ‘Silent Night’ as Rammstein-style industrial metal. It was Andy’s decision to do it in German though.

Doing genuine Victorian Christmas songs re-interpreted as modern-rock was a no-brainer really- what’s more steampunk than taking Victoriana and giving it a modern twist? God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman is also musically a little nod to the ‘Oi!’ punk genre of the mid-80’s, characterised by very short very loud shouty songs for the masses.

Fox, by contrast, is a song Andrew has had for a while. He’s included it in his stand up set (especially on the rare occasion he’s performed childrens gigs). It’s probably the least Steampunk thing we have (there’s not really a Victoriana connection), although it”s such a good song we’ve played it live. It was included here partly because of the amount of fans who wanted to hear a proper version, and partly because of its handy relationship with the traditional English Boxing Day hunt. Fox Hunting is something we’re all very much against.

We decided to put it out as a 7″ for several reasons. Partly as a talking point, partly because we liked the idea of simultaneously releasing something on vinyl AND download -embracing the very old and very new at the same time is very much what we enjoy about Steampunk- but mostly, I suspect, because Andrew and I have never been on vinyl before and it’s been something of an ambition for both us.  I’m sure for the other two, who are old hands at this ‘music’ thing it was pretty old hat.

It seems to have struck a nerve with people. There’s a guy in the UK, a writer who writes official Doctor Who novels (which excited us all immensely) who set up a Facebook campaign to get it to Christmas Number 1 (a huge deal over here). I had to point out to him that it takes around 400,000 purchases to do that, but we appreciated the effort. Sadly Simon Cowell beat us.

You can get it to download on iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Rhapsody, Spotify and a few more. The best place to buy the 7″ is from our own store: www.freewebstore.org/blamedfornothing. We’ll throw in a download version for free.

Any upcoming events, releases, or tours planned for 2011?
MARC: We’re working all of this out now. It’s tricky as we have to work round Andrew (and to a lesser extent my) Stand up schedule, and Jez and Andy’s other musical plans, not to mention everyones actual lives.  There’ll definitely be another album in 2011, hopefully before the Summer. We’re halfway through writing it now, currently including such diverse topics as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Whig Party, Cthulu, Seaside Holidays, and a return to the horrors of war we covered on a track called Blood Red on our last record.   If I have my way we’ll do another Christmas release too.  As for touring, we’re definitely over at the World Steam Expo in Michigan, and hopefuly a few other Cons across the pond, we’\re curating our own room at the Asylum, the UK’s biggest Steampunk event, and we’re hoping to do a lot of our own dates in London and across the world. It’s all very much up in the air just now.

Anything else you’d like to add?
MARC: I’m continually astounded as people continue to discover the band. According to Facebook we have fans in Brazil, India and Russia. I’d love to meet these people! It’s a genuine pleasure to found people like what we’re doing. I’m really thrilled people like the Christmas EP too… please do go and investigate if you haven’t heard it. People can sometimes be quite close minded about what Steampunk is… one of our missions is to show another side to it, keep searching and discovering new things. Oh, and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us all.

An Interview with the Gypsy Nomads

While I was at Steamcon, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a slew of overwhelmingly talented people. Among those were the Gypsy Nomads and after seeing them live for the first time, I was determined to get them on here to introduce them to you.  So here they are, all the way from New York, to tell them a bit about themselves and how awesome they are.

Please tell me a bit about each of your musical backgrounds, education, and influences. When and how did you start as a musician individually? How did you come together to become the Gypsy Nomads?
Samantha: My background is in dance mostly although I did play piano for years as a kid and was always into singing. My family on both my French and British side is very musical with guitar and banjo players and singers so I was surrounded early on. I started dance in England when I was four and it was a staple in my life well into my twenties. In college I branched out into sculpture and painting and in Grad School I took an uncharacteristic detour into business. I was back on track doing art when I met Scott and I started collaborating on his music projects in 2000 on more of the artistic side of things like painting a CD cover and set design and production. In 2005 I joined him onstage to do some percussion on the song “The Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads” a tune from his Brocade CD. It all sort of took off from there. Next thing I knew, I was writing lyrics, we were writing songs together and booking shows.

Scott: I played in school bands when I was a kid and I had parents that were totally into music, my father played trombone and was into Jazz from the `20’s and `30’s. I started getting into writing and playing music when I was 12 yrs old and in my early teens I became a bass guitarist in the Massachusetts hardcore punk scene, I was playing clubs at 14 yrs old. I attended college for music but left early to move to NYC and play in bands. In `95 I started playing solo shows and released my first solo CD in `96. I have 7 solo CDs out and The Gypsy Nomads have released 4 CDs. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music so my influences range from Django Reinhardt to the Ramones to Richie Blackmore to Motorhead to classical and spanish guitar music. I’ve always been into European melodies, Celtic, gypsy etc. but then there’s the punk influence too!

How would you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?
Samantha: A super brief description would be Gypsy Cabaret. It’s cheeky, raucous, sultry and powerful. We had a reviewer just recently say of Happy Madness, it’s “like falling through an opium cloud into the middle of a Vaudeville show”.

Scott: Gypsy Cabaret Folk Punk kinda covers it. You have to see us live. There are a lot of different elements to what we play. I like to think of it as this big musical mystickal umbrella we exist under and it includes themes and elements of Steampunk, gypsy, cabaret, punk, goth, pagan, faerie lore, medieval, celtic and circus music.

While you never overtly label yourself as a Steampunk band, you and your music definitely has been embraced by the Steampunk subculture. Why do you think this is?
Samantha: Our show is not only high energy and fiery but also theatrical and it combines the old world with the new. I think it may also be partly because we have a European bent with melodies that harkens to that cabaret sound and I sing in French as well as English.

Scott: We have a definite neo-vintage vibe to our music that appeals to a lot of Steampunk fans. Samantha’s lyrics touch on what can be considered Steampunk themes in songs like the Agatha Christie-ish ‘House of Cards’ with great classic characters like Poirot and Sherlock Holmes and ‘Magician and the Dancer’ which is about a high society girl in the early 1900s who leads a secret life as a dancer in an underground cabaret in London.

What does Steampunk mean to you?
Samantha: It’s an amazing explosion of creativity which is something people with a penchant for the creative can really sink their teeth into. It’s harkening back to simpler times, and by that I certainly don’t mean less dramatic, when things were made with a flair for the aesthetic but at the same time bringing in futuristic elements as well. It’s saying NO to the lame and boring, it’s bringing back curiosity and a sense of awe and mystery, a sense that we have a hand in the production of things, that we can build things from scratch. It makes us part of the process and has a great way of bending time and giving us repose from the stagnant linear nature of the usual and predictable.

Scott: I couldn’t have said it better myself!

On a scale of one to ten, one being mercilessly crushed by the corporate machine and ten being entirely off the grid, how DIY (Do It Yourself) are you?
Samantha: We are pretty much all DIY. We live and breathe this stuff 24/7 and are very lucky to do so. The only things we don’t do is record or print. We work with an engineer when we record and our CDs are printed professionally. We wear many hats!

Scott: Probably an 11. But we should be a 7, `cause we could use some help taking care of some of the U.S. booking. We work on our music and art all the time. We spend most of the year on the road and the rest is spent at home working on new music, booking etc. We have a network of Gypsy Nomads fans across the US, we call them the Caravan Crew, that help us out at shows too, so it’s an ever expanding DIY crew.

What does a typical live performance consist of? Do you have any live performances scheduled for the near future? What is your favorite sort of venue in which to perform?
Samantha: Blazing guitars, sultry vocals, dripping sweat, pounding drums… a wall of sound from two little nomads! Depending on the venue and event we might have belly dancers, fire/poi spinners, hula hoopers, or other types of guest performers. If you see us in a small intimate setting it will be different than seeing us at a large convention. But the common thread to it all is that the show is high energy and cheeky.

Scott: We have a lot of great shows coming up in 2011 in the US. In February we’ll be at TempleCon in Rhode Island, the opening of the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea Interactive Entertainment Experience event in Boston, Wicked Faire in New Jersey and AnachroCon in Atlanta. We have a European tour scheduled for April and in May we’ll be at the Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey, World Steam Expo in Michigan, plus a ton of other events.

Any future plans or upcoming releases?
Samantha: We shot a live DVD concert in March 2010 and that will be coming out in December 2010. The winter is also a hibernation time for us when we work on fleshing out new songs that we’ve written during the year. There’s lots of exciting adventures planned for 2011! We’d also love to put out a new CD next fall.

Scott: The ‘Live at Bube’s Brewery’ DVD was filmed at a really cool Pennsylvania brewery built in the late 1800’s. It’s a multi camera shoot and we had a great crowd that was completely decked out, we captured a great night. We filmed in the Bottling Works Tavern room, the place has so much history it’s like going into a time machine. The walls are covered with 100 year old bottles, there’s catacombs 45 feet below street level, beer barrels 18 ft high. Even the furnace is cool looking with black iron and bolts covering every edge. There will be photos from Bube’s on the DVD extras, we had a great photo shoot there with Frank Siciliano of steamedpunk.com.

What the craziest/most random thing that’s ever happened to you two in your adventures as the Nomads?
Scott: We were on our way back from a show in Texas, we were tired so we stopped to camp in a park. We got our tent site and the guy laughed and said watch out for the coyotes they feed at night. Well there weren’t any coyotes but the whole camp ground was overrun by large tarantulas. Needless to say we didn’t set up camp we just slept in the van. We didn’t want all those spiders crawling up the side of the van and coming in the window so we had to sleep with all the windows closed and it was like 95 at night. Another time we stopped by the side of the road in New Hampshire for a break and a giant bear just wandered by the edge of the woods, guess he wasn’t hungry for a couple of Nomads from New York. We drove by wild raging fires in California so hot I thought the tires would melt, it was that close to the highway. Another time a highway was closed for 6 hours due to a bank robbery. I could go on but I’ll save it for the documentary.

Samantha: At DragonCon I had a major fan moment when I rode the elevator with Kevin Sorbo!

Scott: I’ll take Mr Sorbo over 100 tarantulas anytime!

Where can people purchase your music and other band merch goodies?
Scott: thegypsynomads.com, CDbaby.com, iTunes, and Bandcamp. We’re on Facebook, myspace, and twitter.

An Interview with Eli August

Recently, I received a copy of Eli August’s Let This House Burn Slowly, compliments of Mr. August. The album is an introspective and contemplative work, certain to invoke deeply buried emotion and heartbreak in its listeners. This is not your typical Steampunk album; the lyrics are at times brutally honest in its depiction of loss and devastation, but with the sadness and the ruin, there’s an undeniable beauty.

Today’s post features an interview with Eli August, where we chat about Let This House Burn Slowly.

Please tell me a bit about your musical background, education, and influences. When and how did you start as a musician?

I am mostly self taught, but I did take a year and a half of music theory in college about 3 years after I seriously started playing. There have been some voice lessons thrown in here and there over the years as well.

The music on Let This House Burn Slowly is, to me, profoundly sad. What inspired such a melancholic album?

I hesitate to call the album “sad” myself, because what is derived from the music is up to the individual listener. In a song where I may have found loss, others may see hope or change within the same words.
Inspiration for the album came from sources such as lost loved ones, relationships that disintegrated, my own personal doubts and failures, times I was let down, times I let others down as well as the smallest of things I saw out my front door. These are experiences we all have been through. Things we all see.

You collaborate with a number of different artists on Let This House Burn Slowly. What was the process like? Did you know any of them before you began work on the album?

Well, since at the moment there is no consistent lineup or band, the album took a bit more planning to get everything in place.

First and foremost there is Mr. Mike Darnell. He and I perform most often together and his playing added so very much to the album. He gives the upright bass real depth and emotion. In my opinion, his is playing carries a very pensive quality to it.

Nicky Sund is a former bandmate of mine and a friend. Her drumming is awesome and what she does on this album is just a fragment of what her range is when it comes to percussion.

Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines I met while doing their weekly podcast Madtoast live in Madison WI. They are amazing musicians and can latch onto the emotion and feel you are looking for. They can turn an idea into a mini symphony.

At the time of the recording I was living in WI, and Mike had to fly in from NYC for his bass sessions. I know we could have had him record in New York and just mix his tracks back in Wisconsin, but it’s not the same as being in the room with each other.

What does Steampunk mean to you?

Steampunk to me is an appreciation for things that never were in a world that might have been. The spirit of Steampunk is not that far from how and what I write.

Would you consider yourself a Steampunk musician? Why or why not?

If you are a musician and you consider yourself strictly Steampunk, then you might be unknowingly alienating yourself from potential listeners and limiting yourself to what you can do.
I want to be open to those outside of the world of steam, just as those within it have been open to me. Two of the great aspects of Steampunk is that it’s very accepting and it’s limited only by the participants imagination.


How have you released music in the past? What is your opinion on the large, corporate record labels?

I’ve released music on CD, vinyl and digitally. My opinion on large, corporate record labels is that they will mostly disappear in the not too distant future, because they do not represent a large enough spectrum of what people want. They have done nothing for me and I will not miss them if they go.

I understand you are planning a parlor tour soon. What does this type of performance consist of? How can people help with this? When will the tour schedule go live?

The parlor tour will consist of myself and Mike. We will be performing in peoples homes, and a few small venues. It will be strictly unplugged. This is an attempt to get folks to get closer to the music. A stage is a barrier, sometimes I think a hindrance. In some ways it says “Hey look, I’m more important than you. I’m up here and you’re down there.” I want them to hear every mistake we make, see my eyes roll back in my head when I sing. (as I’ve been told they do from time to time.) We are in the room together, literally and figuratively not that far apart.

People can help by emailing me at eliaugustband [@] gmail.com or on Steampunk Empire or Facebook. There’s still room for a few more shows and I would love to do more of these as soon as I can. People have been amazing. Folks are opening their homes to us for the night and that is a very personal and intimate thing, which is why I feel the music is tailor made for this setting.

Most of the shows are listed on the website. If there is one near you, and you would like to attend, then contact me at one of the aforementioned sites.

Where can people purchase a copy of the album?

People can pick up a copy of the album or download it on eliaugust.com, or cdbaby.com.

Anything you’d like to add?

Come closer.

An Interview With Veronique Chevalier

When I received the Sepiachord Passport last month, there were a few songs that really stood out to me. “The Dance Master” by Veronique Chevalier was one such track, and I knew I had to interview her to further introduce her to you, my dear readers.  Veronique Chevalier was kind enough to sit down with me and chat about her musical backgrounds, influences, and inspirations. I think you’ll find her as fascinating as I do!

**) Musical background, education, and influences. When and how did you start as a musician?

I am a classically-trained ballet dancer, which is the only formal musical training I’ve received. I also have a background in journalism, and I am also a “failed” poet. I have gift for rhyme, a skill that is not fashionable in the world of contemporary “Serious” Spoken Word.

In 2002, one of the numerous rejection notices I’d received from yet another failed attempt to gain admission into a respected poetry workshop, finally set me on the right course by suggesting that I pursue music. The letter writer felt that my works more resembled song lyrics than poems. It was the best piece of “bad” news I’ve ever gotten!

Not one to do things by half, within 6 months of that rejection letter, I dove into my very first musical accomplishment, which was to write and produce what I hoped would be a benefit for Planned Parenthood: a full-length recording entitled “Cabaret4Choice” (C4C) in 2003. I’ve always been an advocate for reproductive freedom, and wanted to create something that might enhance PPH’s organizational mission.

I was fortunate that there was a community of talented musicians around me in Santa Barbara, and I was able to entice ten very talented and committed people to help me realize my musical project, which was completed within 4 months. Unfortunately, due to internal politics, the local PPH affiliate chose not to endorse C4C, although their Advisory Board found much artistic merit in what my collaborators and I had created.

Although I was disappointed with the politics of the board’s decision, I was encouraged by their thumbs-up of the quality of my project, as well as the support of the wonderful artists who’d worked on the C4C record with me, including Burleigh Drummond, the founding drummer for Ambrosia, a band that had numerous hit songs in the 1970’s & 80’s. Determined to find a place for myself in the world of music, I moved to Los Angeles from Santa Barbara, a few months later.

Since I was a late-comer to “The Industry” (as it is euphemistically referred to here in LA), I was determined to accelerate my progress. In the Fall of 2003, I enrolled in a UCLA Extension course which presented an overview of the business of music. One of the major draws of the course was the opportunity to network each week with industry insiders who comprised the class’s various guest panels. I was very fortunate that the course instructor had chosen one of the songs from the C4C recording to present during the guest producers’ panel.

On the merit of that song play, one of those guest producers (who had numerous Grammys to his credit) agreed to listen to the entire C4C recording. Much to my surprise, within a few days, I received an email back from him with the following remarks:

“I am very impressed with the Cabaret4Choice CD. Each song conveys a different mood, musical quality, or character. You’re obviously very passionate about your cause – Bravo! The world should only be filled with committed people like you, who attempt to push the human spirit to the highest level.”

This email was from Joe Chiccarelli, who, as a young engineer, started out with Frank Zappa, and who is THE “Joe” of Zappa’s “Joe’s Garage.” Despite his busy schedule, he’s been great about checking in on me regularly, and has been very encouraging of my individuality as an artist. The life of a quirky performer is not an easy one, but I do take heart from the fact that there are some lovely people, such as Joe, who appreciate what I do.

As for my upbringing, I have no roots- no hometown. My father had a lifelong career in the US Armed Forces Radio and Television Network, so I grew up all over the world, and I attended something like thirteen different schools. My mother, also a creative sort, was born in Poland and grew up in Paris, where my father first met, and then subsequently, married her

I was introduced into their domestic mix in Fontainebleau, France, the “hometown” I’ve yet to visit as an adult. They decided one offspring was enough. My parents did not believe in reconfiguring their lifestyle to accommodate a child, and I was allowed to present myself at their adult gatherings only if I comported myself accordingly. Both of my parents were avid readers, so my closest childhood friends were between the covers of the hundreds of books they owned. Pops was into science fact, fiction and fantasy, and my mother devoured history, biographies and art books. I have yet to meet anyone else who was reading Philip K. Dick when they were 8 years old!

My father’s early career was in radio, and he used to record just about every piece of music he could lay his hands on at the station, onto reel-to-reel tapes, which he’d then bring home. (You might say he was a pre-Internet pioneer in what would later be termed “illegal downloading”). I literally grew up listening to just about every musical genre then known to humankind. A single tape might contain anything from Wager, to Simon & Garfunkel, to Mirielle Mathieu, to folk music from Mozambique.

Dr. Demento’s show was a factor in the development of my eclectic taste in music, and was a favorite during my early teen years- (anything to annoy the parents, right?) The quirkiness of the Doctor’s featured artists (Frank Zappa among them) on his show truly inspired me, though I never would have imagined then that someday, one of my own compositions would be aired on his show. (The Doctor played my send-up of polka drinking songs, “The Beer Hall In Hell”).

While I’m on the subject of demented music, I have been fortunate enough to have connected with yet another set of collaborators & fans, via a wonderful online community, TheMadMusicArchive.com. Through my participation there, I met Kyle A. Carrozza, who has a comedy music project he calls “TV’s Kyle.” He’s also a wonderful cartoon artist. On his profile, he’d posted an adorable animated short he’d created for a contest sponsored by an ice cream company. I fell in love with the way he combined his “Spumco” drawing style with his sly sense of humor, and I made up my mind to approach him about creating the video for my song “Internet Date.”

Dr. Demento’s airing of my “Beer Hall” song is what I believe finally gave me “street cred” in the realm of mad music, and shortly thereafter Kyle agreed to create the video, with an animator friend of his, John Berry. The two of them collaborate on an online comic strip called “Frog Racoon Strawberry.”

It took them about six months from start to finish, because they had to fit their work on “Internet Date” around their respective schedules. It was well-worth the wait, however, since the video is getting a lot of hits on YouTube, and it is also being officially screened at this year’s Seattle International Cabaret Festival. I am very grateful that Kyle was able to complete my video shortly before landing a full-time job as a staff artist with Nickelodeon, or he would have been much too swamped to work with me.

“Internet Date” on YouTube-

**) Why did you choose Steampunk as your genre or choice? What attracts you to Steampunk? Can you tell me a bit about your work with Sepiachord? How did you get involved with the effort to create the Sepiachord Passport? Where can fans purchase a copy of the album?

As I said earlier, I’ve been very fortunate to have attracted the interest of some really wonderful people, who have been instrumental in keeping me going as an artist. One of those people is Jordan Bodewell, founder of Sepiachord.com. The fact is, that Steampunk found me. Or more accurately, Jordan stumbled upon the “Cabaret4Choice” MySpace music page in 2007, and chose the track, “Contraceptive March” as one of his “Sepiachord Song Of The Day” selections. I only found out about it after-the-fact, when I saw he had posted a comment about it on my profile.

About a month later, I released the single “Vampire Surprise” and Jordan also promptly made that one of his songs of the day as well. Needless to say, he’d gotten my full attention by then! When I delved into the Sepiachord website, I was smitten, not only by his unapologetic passion for the music he loved, but also by the sense of community that permeates throughout. Although the artists featured on Sepiachord are an immensely-varied lot, we are connected by a spirit of inventiveness. This is very much a foundational concept of Steampunk as a literary genre, and as an aesthetic movement. It’s a combining of things in ways that are neither customary, nor commonplace. There may also be some referencing of the past, but with a contemporary sensibility.

Through this connection with Sepiachord, the performing opportunities at Steampunk events have unfolded before me. I met Josh Pfeiffer, of Vernian Process, on a music panel we were both part of, (along with Jordan), at the 2009 Seattle Steamcon, and from that encounter I was invited to join Gilded Age Records, a music artists’ collective Josh co-founded with Evelyn Kreite. Eventually, Jordan invited me to submit a track to his second compilation “A Sepiachord Passport”, released in October 2010, under the imprint of Projekt Records.

The track I contributed is entitled “The Dance Master” which I created especially for this recording. In listening to the lyrics, you will notice some play with the words “pass” and “port,” but that’s the only thing remotely playful thing about the song. Although I am known best as a comedian, I also have a fierce, serious streak, especially when it comes to issues about which I strongly feel. (C4C features a number of tracks that take a weightier approach to the subject of reproductive freedom.)

“The Dance Master” is not done lightly- it touches on domestic violence, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking- but true-to my mission of “odd”-itory madness, the production and arrangement of the song are definitely on the twisted and unexpected side, but in a noirish way, rather than a humorous one.

Having worked as an advocate of victims of domestic violence, and frail elders, I’d say the majority of abusers/bullies qualify as socio- or psychopaths. According to the book “The Sociopath Next Door,” by Martha Stout, approximately 4% of the general population can be described thus, and both males and females can be found among their ranks.

It’s not fully understood how these “heartless/soul-less” people are formed, if it’s Nature, or Nurture, or a combination of both, but they all share the commonality of being consummate manipulators; and they are notoriously resistant to rehabilitation. Call these faux humans what you will, but they are recognizable by their ability to use, abuse, torment, and even ruthlessly kill their fellow creatures- humans or animals, without guilt or remorse.

The smolderingly handsome and cruel Dance Master of my composition uses the glamour of social dancing, specifically Tango, as a subterfuge to lure naive young women into sordid lives of prostitution, drug addiction and worse. He is one of those dark creatures living among us, who appear human on the outside, but who lacks the essence of what makes us human: a conscience.

Kurt Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny” and “Mack The Knife” characters are some of the better-known “intra-species predators” that have been immortalized in popular music, and of course there’s “Dexter” on television. I think these works are popular because they tap into our collective fear of, and fascination with, the “enemy in our midst.” No one ever admits to being a sociopath, but it seems few of us can resist their allure.

“A Sepiachord Passport” is available directly from the Projekt website.

All the songs from “Cabaret4Choice” are available as FREE full downloads on the website.

**) How would you describe your music to people who have never heard it before?

This is always a challenge. I don’t really have an “Elevator Speech” for what I do. I think the closest I could get would be to describe myself as a “Genre Jumper”, meaning I randomly choose various genres of music in which to work, for no reason, other than it pleases me to do so. I use obscure or currently unfashionable music to build my compositions- but I use original material, I don’t “sample”.

It really hasn’t been much of a hardship for me to compose, despite the fact that I can’t read or write music, and I am unable to play any instruments. The majority of my works start with lyrics, and then the music composition comes afterward, whether I am working with a composer, or creating the melody myself. I typically start a composition by reciting the lyrics aloud, until a rhythm reveals itself to me. Then I physically “dance” to the resultant rhythmic singsong as I vocalize it aloud, until a tune eventually pops into my head. I then record myself vocalizing the melody, and use that as a scratch track upon which to build an arrangement. Then it’s a simple matter of hiring a musician to listen to my vocal, and create a chord chart from that.

I purposely never follow the latest trends in commercial music. I haven’t been owned by a television in over 20 years, but then again, since I don’t live a hermetic existence in a Himalayan cave, it’s difficult to be completely ignorant of popular culture.

In addition to performing, I also write and produce “concept” collaborative recordings. I’ve already talked about C4C, which incidentally, was comprised of numerous different genres, although the subject matter within all of songs fell under the aegis of “Reproductive Freedom.”

My second concept project, for which I wrote all the lyrics, involved 17 music collaborators from around the world (some of whom I’ve still yet to meet- Oh the wonders of the Internet!), and is entitled “Polka Haunt Us: A Spook-tacular Compilation.” (PHU) It was released in 2008, and is based on authentic supernatural lore from around the world, in which most of the songs combine the indigenous music with polka.

For instance, the song “The White Witch Of Jamaica”, based on the most widely-recognized horror tale from that country (about a notorious female sociopath & serial murderess, Annie Palmer), combines reggae & polka. Gee Rabe composed the music and plays both accordion and steel drum on that track. “Blank Face Goblins (Nopperabo)” is based on mythical creatures of Japanese lore, and probably the first, and maybe only, Asian Industrial Gothic Polka, was composed by Kai Kurosawa, a Japanese bass and Warr Guitar virtuoso, who also performs live with Industrial band Collide.

“Kalkajaka Polka” is about a haunted mountain range in Australia, which is sacred to the Aboriginal people there, and combines didjeridu with accordion, and so on. (I jokingly refer to this cross-pollination of unlikely musical genres on PHU, as my “Sonic Frankenstein”). This record was a much broader project in terms of types of music combined, as well as universality of theme, than was C4C.

I also approached PHU with the idea that it would serve as a Halloween-oriented project, (because most people, who do seasonal music, choose Christmas), but it also works as World Music. It’s designed to be a trip around the world via spooky folklore, and just as C4C was intended as “edu-tainment” PHU, contains an informational aspect too. (“The Beer Hall In Hell” doesn’t quite fit that description, since I invented the scenario myself, but it seemed apropos to include something darkly satirical on the record, and since Halloween and Oktoberfest occur around the same, the tie-in works well).

If there was anything I learned when researching the tales on which to base the lyrics of the songs on PHU, it is that every culture has a rich history of horror tales. Humans the world over are fascinated with the macabre!

Find out more about Polka Haunt Us here (including links to FREE streams, or to purchase via iTUNES or CD Baby): http://PolkaHaunt.Us

**) What does a typical performance consist of? Do you have any live performances scheduled for the near future?

Vocalizing is but a portion of my live performances, which are comprised of songs with original lyrics & music (some I’ve co-written with collaborators, and some I’ve written myself), as well as numerous parodies (thus the moniker “Weird Val”), and twisted covers. Improv, ad-lib & choreographed movement, as well as the use of props, are also an integral part of what I present to audiences. (Much to my chagrin, I lack any aptitude whatsoever for playing any musical instruments, despite the best efforts of four different guitar instructors, two piano teachers and an accordion demagogue!)

I most usually perform with my trusty “invisible” accordionist Francois, but I have worked with visible musicians in the past. One of the advantages of working with Francois, however, is that he’s very easy to smuggle onto public transportation, so touring with him is very economical. I tend towards the droll, comedic and theatrical, but as a “Genre Jumpper” I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I intend to add more serious pieces to my live shows, both musical, as well as spoken word, to bring more dimension/dementia(n) to my shows.

In addition to the steampunk events, I’ve been well-received at burlesque houses, gay venues and underground clubs. What I most enjoy about playing to such diverse audiences, is that I can push myself as a performer and try new things. Although I memorize my lyrics, very often the narrative and schtick that I perform between numbers occurs right on the spot.

I feel that the greatest accolade I can receive as a performer, is to have a member of the audience come up to me afterward, and ask me who writes my material, or where I’ve studied improv, or who my vocal coach is. I’ve even had someone ask me why I don’t have Francois come out from backstage and introduce him!

Francois and I will be next performing at Mr. Bodewell’s (Naughty Nighttime) Cabaret, on Saturday, November 20th at Seattle Steamcon. I am very excited that I was invited back, and have been working on some new material for this year’s “Weird Weird West” Theme. I will be premiering yet another song about a sociopath- “The Devil’s Marksman.” (Bad boys are much more interesting than nice guys to write about, but not to get involved with!) And I will be reciting a spoken word piece (and yes, it rhymes), entitled “I Am Steampunk,” which was enthusiastically received when I premiered it earlier this year at “The Steampunk Bizarre” in Hartford, CT.

I like the idea that my Steamcon performance this year is at night, and there will also be burlesque performer- “Saloon Girls” on the bill, as well as Miss Mamie Lavotta and her band performing into the wee hours. Much as I like playing all-ages shows, it’s really liberating to play to only adults, so I don’t have to censor myself. The one down side is that the evening cabaret is scheduled at the exact same time as the Abney Park concert that night, but since the Con is larger last year’s, I am hopeful that we will attract a sizable audience of revelers.

I am also very honored to have been invited by couturier Kambriel to be one of her models for the Fashion Show and Tea, being held on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Steamcon.

On December 16th, I will be appearing at The Vortex Room, an intimate underground performance space in a warehouse district loft in San Francisco, for the launch of a new ‘zine called “Garage Organ”. The evening’s entertainment is being curated by Miss Oblivious, who is a creative dynamo currently residing in Seattle, but with roots in The Bay Area. She has been another great supporter of, and believer in, my work, and is also an accomplished film maker, photographer, and doll maker. It isn’t a steam-themed event, but I will be premiering some new material there, on the theme of “Automobilia,” some of the material which is very likely to eventually find its way into my steampunk performances.

I will also be performing at Wild Wild West Con, being hosted at Old Tucson Movie Studios, in early March 2011, where I will be an opening act, (as well as the MC for-) the Main Concert, which features Unextraordinary Gentlemen, and Abney Park.

I’ve been invited to perform at The First Canadian National Steampunk Exhibition in Toronto in late April/early May, and I shall be making some non-steampunk performance appearances in New York City, and possibly other East Coast cities while I am out there, as well.

I am still pondering some other invitations that have been extended to me from other Steampunk events in 2011, but the ones I mention above are firm.

I post performances on my website.

**) Can you tell me about Veronique’s Red Velvet Vaudeville Variety Show?

To me, all levels of culture, art and music, from the highbrow, all the way down to the lowest of the so-called lowbrow, are fascinating. Talent is talent, and I derive as much satisfaction from taking in Old Masters paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, as I would from attending a national custom car and hot rod show. They may seem worlds apart, but they share commonalities: devotion to creativity; attention to detail, and consummate execution. I admire and appreciate remarkable human achievement, no matter the milieu, or the medium.

Vaudeville-type entertainment is wonderful because it embodies the spirit of inclusiveness- a typical Red Velvet show might contain live music; a poetry reading; burlesque; a short film screening; magic; sideshow derring-do; circus performance, and once I even had a body painter working on a live model onstage. Presenting this sort of diversity in my show was my reaction against contemporary formulaic, narrow target-market-demographics-based commercial entertainment. I know I was not the only one who was weary of the sameness of mass produced music, art and entertainment, and there were other people presenting variety shows in LA before I began my Red Velvet Show in 2005, but as an audience member, I did not find these other productions particularly satisfying.

There seemed to be little interdisciplinary cross-pollination in those shows, and the ones that did attempt to mix genres were uneven- most of the acts were mediocre at best, with maybe one or two professional quality performers on the bill. But you know the saying, “You get what you pay for,” and since few of the other variety show producers paid their performers, their spotty production quality is hardly surprising.

I decided that I would hire only professional-calibre performers, and that I would pay them, no matter what my actual ticket sales were, even if it came out of my own pocket. I lost money by paying performers from Day One, but I consider that a “investment in my career” and it was a way to accelerate my inroads into a world that’d I’d been involved in for only a relatively short time. By starting at the top, as-it-were, my own artistry improved exponentially. I benefited greatly by having no choice but to raise my own performance standards to the level of my guest artists. I basically crammed my “thirty years of dues paying in show business” into the space of about a year.

Another thing that made my Red Velvet Show different was that I brought back the stage curtain. (Well, it was actually a white scrim upon which the image of a red velvet curtain and center spotlight were projected, and the scrim was raised and lowered, rather than parting in the middle, but it sufficed in creating the proper atmosphere).

To me it was a sad day for live entertainment when the mystery of the backstage was stripped away. There is nothing that destroys the magic for an audience more than having to watch stagehands set up and take down equipment between sets. The flow of a performance is just as important as the quality of the acts.

In keeping with the tradition of old Vaudeville, I acted as MC and olio (in between act) while the stagehands were doing their thing, hidden by the “curtain” behind me, so that the audience was engaged & entertained the entire time. Audiences really seemed to enjoy the more formal structure of my show- because it always ran seamlessly- I had everything timed down to the minute, and made sure the performers stuck to the schedule.

It didn’t take long for word to got out to the performance community that I paid my guest artists fairly, and ran a tight ship. Unfortunately, the show ran for only 6 months, at which time the people from whom I’d been renting the theatre lost their lease. By then, I’d been invited to perform on the premiere season of “America’s Got Talent.” Participating in a so-called reality show was most instructional. It did not take me long to recognize that my cabaret act had been slated to be one of those ridiculed by the judges.

Although a few seconds of my show footage was used in AGT’s national ad campaign, my full appearance was fated not to be aired. The reason is quite simple- knowing I was to be buzzed, I figured I had nothing to lose, so I turned the tables on one of the judges. Dressed as I was in a Ralph Lauren bias cut velvet gown, a fox fur boa, and velvet opera gloves, I knew I cut a dashing figure. Thus emboldened, I sashayed up the catwalk to the judges’ station, stopped in front of Piers Morgan, and said, “Monsieur Piers, the French and the British have had our differences, but you may make up for it by kissing my hand.”

I instinctively knew that his being a former newspaper editor meant that he’d come from an upper class background, and that he would have been schooled in etiquette. I have a European mother, and I knew that a formally-trained gentleman will the kiss the hand of a lady who holds her hand out for him to do so. Sure enough, Piers fell for my ploy, and by the time it had registered with him he’d been duped, I had already triumphantly returned to center stage, and stood there with a look of boredom, awaiting the judges’ verdict.

It was obvious of course that I had talent, to have pulled a stunt like that off. That, coupled with my elegant attire, plus the fact that Hasselhof sided with me by showing his obvious pleasure with my cabaret act (I sang Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” as Edith Piaf might have presented it), as well as my guerilla hand-kissing tactic, had left Piers and Brandy pretty much speechless. It is fortunate that I am able to think quickly on my feet, and that I also have a very thick skin when it comes to performing, but I know a number of artists who have not faired as well on that show.

(BTW- I am a member of the “Artists Against America’s Got Talent” group page on Facebook, and encourage anyone who has been exploited by the show to join and post your experiences. The producers continue to find suckers for their pathetic spectacle by dangling that million-dollar carrot, but it can take its toll on the unwary).

Since 2006, I have presented pared-down versions of Red Velvet on a number of occasions at different venues around LA since that initial run, but it’s just not the same without the magic of the opening and closing “curtain”. I think I was also bit before my time, because now, 5 years later, new, professionally-produced Vaudeville and Circus- variety shows are finally being presented regularly in LA, by folks with ties to Cirque du Soleil, and other large-scale production companies, such as SupperClub. I sincerely hope that these new shows do well, because I believe audiences deserve high-quality, well-produced live entertainment.

As for what’s next for me, I am concentrating on developing my live solo act further, by utilizing more elaborate, and inventive costuming, and I am in the process of setting up my own recording studio. Thanks to recent advances in technology, a rig need only consist of a laptop, recording software, and a USB mic with a built-in preamp. I have a learning curve in front of me with the recording software, but I am not completely unfamiliar with engineering & producing, in light of all the studio time I spent working on C4C, and even more so with PHU. I am also inspired b the fact that Imogene Heap won a Grammy for Best Engineered Recording, (the first woman ever to win the category) in 2008.

Once I have gained a certain level of skill with the recording process, I will be able to help other artists with their projects as well. I have a friend who’s already asked me to produce, and record his next album, which would be his fourth. He felt steamrollered by the producer/engineers of his second and third albums, who seemed to care more about showing off their prowess with gear and FX, than they did about helping him express his own unique vision.

While it’s important for a producer to have technical mastery, it’s even more important that he, or she, be artistically sensitive. The former can always be learned, but the latter is innate. My friend has even gone so far as to suggest that I found my own label, which, if it does come to pass, will be down the road a bit. I already have my own music publishing company, so starting a record label wouldn’t be that far-fetched, I don’t suppose.

For now, though, I’d like to concentrate mostly on my live performance, and developing my producing skills. It certainly feels wonderful to know that my services are already in demand, before I’ve even engineered anything, and I look forward to this upcoming chapter in my music career with great excitement!

Thank you so much for inviting me to share some of my experiences with you and your readers. I hope to cross paths with you at one of the upcoming steampunk events!