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.

What is Steampunk Music?

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

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

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

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

Updates from Abney Park

It’s been a while since I let you, my dear readers, know what Abney Park has been up to as of late, though it’s certainly not for lack of activity! Everyone’s favorite airship pirates have been hard at work creating a new album and preparing for a number of awesome shows that are just on the horizon.

The band has been hard at work in the studio to produce yet another album for your auditory delight. Here’s a small glimpse into the sound for their newest project with the song, Bad Things Coming.

Of course, that’s not all they’ve been up to as of late. There’s a number of shows that the band is gearing up for, including one tomorrow in Oakland at the Oakland Metro Opera House.

Organized by Swing Goth, Blackbeard’s Ball will begin at 8 PM and will feature two sets of Abney Park awesomeness, aerialists, acrobats, and belly dancers in a full-on show of epic proportions. Pick up your tickets here before they sell out.

And if you find yourself outside of the greater Bay Area, fear not! There will be many an opportunity to see them live. Visit their website often for an ever-developing list of upcoming shows. Next up after Oakland:  the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, Michigan.

To get these and many more awesome updates from the band, be sure to sign up for Abney Park’s mailing list to stay up to date on all the latest from them.

Unwoman’s Kickstarter: Uncovered Volume 1

One of the things I love most about Steampunk is the focus it puts on individual artisans and artists to create and the reciprocal support that these makers receive from the community itself. Another Steampunk musician has thrown a potential project to the financiers of Kickstarter, Unwoman. Her latest project proposal is an album entitled Uncovered Volume 1, a covers album of songs circa 1980-1995. Here’s what she has to say about why she’s asking for your support for Uncovered, via her Kickstarter.

I have been talking for years about a covers album. After 4 original full-length albums I think it’s time, but there are so many covers I want to do and so many different styles I play, it makes sense to do several collections.

This one is close to my heart: all of these songs are songs that were written between the year I was born and the year I turned 15. They all recall a specific juvenile or teenage moment of musical connection and identification. Recording them now that I’m a grown-up is particularly special.

And here is her video, explaining the project in further detail:

If you’d like to see Uncovered Volume 1 go from concept to reality, please consider pitching in to Unwoman’s Kickstarter.

And, as an important reminder, Kickstarter works on a pledge based system that only comes through for the artist if the baseline goal for the project is met. It takes many people to make something financed through Kickstarter a success, so do be sure to support it if this project piques your interest and share it with your friends!

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:

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

Or with better sound quality videos at Vimeo:

And in various other quarters like my Facebook page:

Or on Myspace:

Veronique Chevalier’s Music to be Broadcast in Argentina Tonight

This evening, Steampunk continues its march into the international consciousness in Argentina. Veronique Chevalier’s music played on Argentina’s “Volver de la Magia” Radio Station tonight Friday, April 22, 9 pm PST.

Tonight’s show is dedicated to the 122nd anniversary of the birth of “The Little Tramp”- beloved iconic actor/director/composer Charlie Chaplin and so this is is definitely a show not to miss. In addition to the lovely Veronique, other Steampunk musicians featured on today’s playlist include Vagabond Opera, Frenchy and the Punk (formerly the Gypsy Nomads), and other talented musicians with a retrofuturistic flair. Check out the full list here.

To listen to tonight’s show, visit  Volver de la Magia’s site and click on the logo of your listening platform of choice next to the phonograph (you’ll need to scroll down a bit to see it).

Enjoy the show!

Professor Elemental and Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer in the Wall Street Journal

Last year, I posted an article about Professor Elemental and his then recently released album The Indifference Engine and the emergence of hip-hop into the Steampunk musical scene. One of the songs on the album was Fighting Trousers, a musical challenge to his rival, Mr. B The Gentleman Rhymer. Here’s the video if you missed it from my last post:

It seems as though the chap-hop rivalry between Professor Elemental and Mr. B have attracted the attentions of one Wall Street Journal. In an article entitled In ‘Chap-Hop,’ Gentlemen Rappers Bust Rhymes About Tea, Cricket- Just Like in Hip-Hop, British MCs Feud Over Styles: Waistcoat vs. Pith Helmet, Frances Robinson recounts how hip-hop and British high society melded into “Chap-Hop.”

The article does a respectable job of illuminating the feud between the two rappers to newcomers and comparing the two artists to the larger hip-hop scene at large while simultaneously juxtaposing American rap and British chap-hop.

Plans for a show-down between Professor Elemental and Mr. B are underway, to likely take place in Brighton. No date or venue has yet been announced, giving you plenty of time to choose sides between the two rhymers. Be sure to visit Professor Elemental’s and Mr. B’s websites to learn more about each!

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

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:,,,, and

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!

The Gypsy Nomads are No More!

The Gypsy Nomads were one of my favorite bands I had the pleasure of being introduced to and experiencing first hand at Steamcon II. Rather soon after the convention, I featured them in an interview that illuminated some of their fantastic work.

But the Gypsy Nomads are no more.

Please, I know it’s shocking, but before you start hyperventilating in grief, you’ll likely be pleased to know that Scott and Samantha aren’t going anywhere. They also aren’t going to stop making the music many of us have come to love.

They’re just changing their name.

The Gypsy Nomads are now Frenchy and the Punk. This name should be of little surprise to Nomad Fans as they’ve been using “Frenchy and the Punk” as a subtitle of sorts for a while now. If you want more on the decision to change their name, please check out their open letter to fans.

Sepiachord Companion: A Review

While I was at Steamcon II, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Jordan Bodewell of Sepiachord in person who I interviewed the month previous. When he wasn’t overwhelmingly busy running all the live music at Steamcon, Jordan was kind enough to chat with me a bit Sepiachord. After sending me A Sepiachord Passport, he wanted to be sure that I got the opportunity to experience Sepiachord’s first album, The Sepiachord Companion.

This album, Sepiachord’s first compilation, is an incredible collection of retrofuturistic music. Listening to this album is like attending the Steamcon II Cabaret all over again. Many of my favorites are on this album, and there’s a few new artists that The Companion has exposed me to that I have to further explore. If you didn’t get the opportunity to attend Steamcon, listening to The Sepiachord Companion gives you just a tiny slice of how awesome the cabaret was, and just how amazing this genre is.

Unlike most albums, there really was not a bad track on this album. The entire album is an enjoyable and unique listening experience.

Within the album in a note to listeners, Mr. Bodewell writes that he hopes that this album serves as the beginning of the listener’s venture into exploring the music that Sepiachord embraces. I can only express the same hope to each of you. There are so many talented artists on the Companion… you are sure to find a new favorite here, regardless of your musical tastes.

To purchase the album, please visit Rodentia Music, and to learn more about Sepiachord and the great work they are doing, please visit their website.

Important: It has come to my attention that Mr. Bodewell has run into a medical issue for which he finds himself unable to fully pay. To afford his own healthcare, Mr. Bodewell is preparing for the possibility of having to terminate his internet connection and hosting contracts that keep Sepiachord live and updated daily.

Losing such a fantastic publication like Sepiachord that so unabashedly gives back to the Steampunk community would be a severe detriment to retrofuturistic music everywhere… not just in Seattle. Please, in Jordan’s time of need, please consider donating to Sepiachord to keep the blog alive. Visit their website and click the Help Support button.