Voltaire

June 4, 2002

Tell me a little about yourself.

I like pina coladas and taking walks in the rain. Not into health food. I love the taste of champagne. I'm just quoting bad elevator music songs. I've been involved in music since as far back as I can remember. I always made up songs even when I was a little kid. In junior high school I started a band and we played covers of Judas Priest, Rush, The Kinks, and the odd punk rock cover thrown in for good measure. We were called First Degree and I'm sure we were quite awful. We played at all of the school talent shows and at parties and things like that. Then at 17, I left home and pretty much immediately started working as a stop motion animator so music just took a back seat and I really just stopped thinking about music as a possible career. There was a piano in my place and I was surrounded by musicians so I always kept sort of dabbling and writing music. It wasn't until 1994 when I lived in an apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan and I had no electricity that a friend of mine gave me an acoustic guitar. I learned to play it in a couple of months and I started writing songs on the acoustic guitar. I think in March of 1995 a friend of mine invited me to go to a goth club that he was managing. He said that night there was going to be a solo acoustic goth performance. I was like "solo acoustic goth? That's impossible. Where's the drum machine? Where's the electric guitars?" I went down, I saw the show, and afterwards he asked me what I thought of the show. I said "well, I thought that sucked." He said "well, why did you think it sucked?" I said "well, I just finished listening to this guy play. I don't remember a single word he sang. I don't remember a single melody. It was just perfectly unmemorable." And of course the typical mopey kind of thing you would expect from a solo acoustic goth singer. Being the pompous ass that I was, I said "I put on a better show every night in my living room." He called me on it and he said "okay, well you're doing your show here next Sunday night." I proceeded to shit in my pants for the next week, literally. I had not been on a stage performing since junior high school. Certainly not by myself. I had written a lot of sort of really bitter but somewhat sarcastic and funny breakup songs at the time which later went on to be the songs on my first record, The Devil's Bris, and the one thing I knew I didn't want to do was get up there and sort of perform my typical goth show. I played these tongue in cheek songs and in between, I told stories that had nothing to do with anything other than the fact that they all had really bizarre twisted endings. In the middle of the set I stopped and played goth bingo with the audience and of course the winning number was 666. For the first half of the set, the audience just sat there looking at me with their hands on their mouths trying not to smile as they didn't want their friends to see them smiling in public. They also really just couldn't grasp the fact that my show was supposed to be funny. By mid-set people just started to let go and by the end of the set people were just cracking up. It was such a novelty at the time for someone in the goth scene to be doing something with humorous content that word spread really quickly and within the year I had formed a band and within a year of playing with the band we were signed to a label. That's that.

People are way too serious.

I personally think it was something that really kind of needed to happen in the goth scene. It's just my nature to be a jackass so I was the guy to do it.

You do a comic book series called Oh My Goth!.

Actually, funny that would be your second question because it's directly tied in with those early shows. After doing my first show, I started getting bookings for other shows. Subsequently I found myself in the position that most musicians are in where they need to promote their shows and let people know when the next show is and where it takes place and all that fun stuff. I guess the typical way of doing that, at least back then, was to print up fliers and hand them out. I cringed at the thought because at the end of a week I'd have a huge stack of fliers on my table at home that people handed me at the clubs. I never really read them. If the picture was kind of intriguing I might read it but usually you just stuff them in your pocket and at the end of the night you either throw them out or they end up being this big pile somewhere in your house. I knew I didn't want to the do that. I thought why don't I make a little eight page comic book so that whether or not people decide to come to the show, they're being entertained. It's essentially free entertainment so I came up with the idea to do Oh My Goth! which at that time were these little eight page books that I would create at Kinko's. I would draw on both sides of the paper and then Xerox a thousand of them, fold them, and staple them. It would take 72 hours to put a batch together and I'd go to goth clubs and I'd hand them out. I had built a mailing list and I'd mail a lot of them out as well. Essentially the main thrust of Oh My Goth! was that I was being chased by the minions of Satan trying to prevent me from playing my next show. They were of course all buffoons so everything that they did to try to prevent me from playing my next actually made my show happen. The last page was always the information where the show was going to take place. I got the idea from those religious tracts where you see a little picture of Bart Simpson on the cover and you're like "wow, a Bart Simpson comic book" and then you start reading through it and by page four there's suddenly scripture explaining why little Bart is going to hell for riding a skateboard. I thought "that's such a great marketing ploy. I think I'll do that." I think I got up to issue eight of those little freebie ashcans, as they're apparently called in the comic book industry, when it occurred to me that perhaps it should be a full length comic book. I approached a comic book company called Sirius and they were already publishing my other comic book, Chi-Chian. I talked them into commissioning an Oh My Goth! series as a full length black and white comic book. It's really funny because they thought there was absolutely no future in a comic book such as that and ironically enough, it ended up outselling Chi-Chian and doing pretty well. That's the story behind Oh My Goth!.

Chi-Chian apparently is a comic strip that you have on the SCI FI Channel website right now and it's also a role playing game.

Chi-Chian started out as a comic book. In 1989 I was in Tokyo meeting with some advertising agencies because I was animating and directing TV commercials back then. I had a meeting at Bandai which is one of Japan's biggest toy companies. They had put forth the idea of me directing a film and they wanted me to come up with the idea for a film. Everything I had done up until that point was a 30 second commercial or a 10 second ID so I really had no concept of longform. That night I found myself in an outdoor cafe in Tokyo and I started to think if I was going to write a story about someone, who would that person be? That they would mean something to me and that their story would affect me and hopefully others and Chi-Chian was born. Subsequently Chi-Chian ended up living in my brain for the next eight years or so. I would be working on TV commercials but on my free time, I'd sit in the cafe and I'd draw her on napkins and I would think about her world. I would think about her history and eventually her father's history and her grandparents' history. It got to be this huge saga that was eating up huge amounts of space in my brain until one day I realized I have to do something with this. I decided that a comic book would be the best way to tell her story. Subsequently I started going to this 24 hour cafe in New York City called Yaffa and I would sit there night after night, midnight to 8 AM, and just draw what would become the Chi-Chian comic book. Then once it was finished, I took it to the SCI FI Channel because I was directing TV commercials for them and I was slated to direct a station ID for them. I showed them the prototype for the first issue of Chi-Chian and I asked them if they'd be interested in doing a station ID based on those characters. I got the green light and a budget and I built Chi-Chian as a stop motion animation model and in this 10 second station ID she electrocutes a giant robot. Then with that station ID on the air I took the prototype of the book to Sirius and asked them if they would be interested in publishing it. They commissioned me to create a six issue comic book series and that's why the Chi-Chian comic book got started. I think that was somewhere around 1997 and three years or four years later I got an email from SCI FI Channel again. At that time they were looking for animated series for their website www.scifi.com. They said "don't you have a character called Chi-Chian? Didn't we do something with her a while back? Would you be interested in creating a 14 episode animated flash series for our website?" I was just so thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Chi-Chian again. Subsequently I spent I think about 10 months working 18 hours a day on that series and to this date it is my absolute favorite project. It was a lot of fun. Just being able to wake up in the morning and work with Chi-Chian all day is just a pleasure. Yes, she's real and yes, I'm psychotic.

It turned into a role playing game?

The animated series ran from October 2000 until May 2001 when the last episode went online and then of course the entire series is still archived on the site so it can be seen at www.scifi.com/chi-chian but it caught the attention of a few people. Amongst them was a company called Aetherco and they're partners with Dreamcatcher Multimedia. They approached me about doing a Chi-Chian role playing game so that's what we're working on now. I've sat in on a few tests of the game. We've gone to sci fi conventions and held Chi-Chian role playing games and it's absolutely amazing, being the creator of the show, to sit there and watch people creating new characters in the Chi-Chian universe and new scenarios. I feel like after having written the Chi-Chian comic book series and having written the script for the Chi-Chian animated series, it's amazing to sit there and watch the Chi-Chian universe script itself. It's really absolutely amazing so I love the idea of doing a role playing game book because it allows people to further their own adventures in the Chi-Chian universe. As well, I will come across people who've come up with such great characters and such great scenarios that I've incorporated them into the Chi-Chian universe. It's such a really, really fascinating thing for me.

It allows people to be creative and use their imagination.

I agree. I think it beats the hell out of zoning out in front of Jerry Springer all day.

You're doing commercial spots on the Sci-Fi channel for Forever Knight.

I did. It was sort of a one time thing. They had a 12 hour Forever Knight marathon and they called me up on account of it being ooky spooky. I'm the ooky spooky director guy so whenever something like that comes up I generally get a call. Originally they wanted me to create a 30 second animated spot promoting the Forever Knight marathon but there was just no time to do it so instead I pitched the idea of doing it live action. I came up with this scenario of these vampires having a meeting. The bad vampire says "And lastly as of April 1st vampires will be able to walk in the daylight" and from that point on it's a montage of vampires doing really mundane things in daylight hours. Shopping at the supermarket, riding the subway, buying donuts, and things like that. Because it was live action I was able to actually shoot tons of footage as opposed to stop motion which you can shoot for 96 hours and have only five or six seconds of animation in the can. We just shot tons and tons of stuff and at the end of the day I had put together 10 different spots for them. My lead vampire didn't show up so I got to play the lead vampire. I drew the fangs and the pointy ears on and had a really, really good time. It was really good. It was a great experience.

How did you get into being a director and animator of stop motion animation and what exactly is stop motion animation?

I've always been a fan of horror movies ever since literally as far back as I can remember. I was always gravitating towards the TV set everytime there was some horror or sci fi fantasy movie on and then I saw the films of Ray Harryhausen like The Seven Voyages Of Sinbad and Jason And The Argonauts and suddenly there were these creatures that were moving that were not men in rubber suits and they were not marionettes. I really at that time could not fathom how it was that they were brought to life and that really intrigued me. I spent a lot of time at the corner comic bookstore going through magazines like Starlog and Fangoria hoping to find out what this technique was. I discovered that it was called stop motion animation and that the animator was this man, Ray Harryhausen. Around the time I was 10 years old I managed to get my hands on a super eight camera with a single frame and function. I started shooting stop motion films using clay models and action figures and things like that. I continued doing it up until I was 17 and I left home and moved to Manahattan. Suddenly you have to find a job and my girlfriend at the time said "you're an animator. You've been animating for seven years. Why don't you go to an animation company?" I wandered into a place where they were shooting Pee Wee's Playhouse and I showed them the films I had made from the time I was 10 to the time I was 17. They hired me as a stop motion animator. I started animating commercials for Budweiser and Parker Brothers and all sorts of things. Within two years I got my first directing job which was an MTV station ID based on a hieronymus Bosch painting called "The Garden Of Earthly Delights" and the directing gigs just took off from there. I've pretty much been doing it ever since.

Who are some of your main musical influences?

That is really a tough one because I grew up in the '80s so naturally I grew up listening to a lot of new wave. I was a stone cold Drannie. If you had caught up with me in 1984 you would have thought for sure that I was the bastard love child of Nick Rhoades and John Taylor. I had the bleached bangs, the pants covered in zippers, and the fedora. I was walking through the hallways of my school one day when this very large group of very large jocks stopped me and asked me if they sold men's clothes where I got my outfit. I was subjected to that kind of thing all the time. I was really into Duran Duran, Psychedelic Furs, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Cure, Depeche Mode. Basically all the stuff that people are still into today. They consider themselves goths. Around the time that I started writing the songs for Devil's Bris, I was listening to a lot of Tom Waite and Ross Butino which at the time was a local New York band. An unsigned local New York band and I was really intrigued by the concept of making new music with an old world feel to it. That was the inspiration for the Devil's Bris which is obviously sort of carried on to Almost Human and Boo Hoo as well.

Your sound is described as an old world acoustic gypsy sound. I found it interesting that you guys use a violin, trombone, and cello.

If I was smart I would throw away all the classical instruments and buy a keyboard because it seems to be what everybody wants to hear these days.

But everybody's doing that.

I know. I'm thinking of doing a side project. The truth of the matter is, I try not to let marketing outweigh creativity. I think when you start thinking too much about changing the direction of your music in order to achieve a specific commercial goal that's when things just start getting really watered down and I think that's when an artist starts churning out shit.

Everyone starts screaming "he sold out!"

I write music that I would want to listen to. It's as simple as that and then I cross my fingers and hope that other people will want to listen to it too.

And they do.

Well, there's some. God knows I really, really appreciate them because simple fact is, if there were not people buying my CDs I'd be working at Starbucks right now. God bless them.

You did a Star Trek parody called Banned On Vulcan.

I'm a stone cold Trekkie despite the fact that I'm not wearing coke bottle glasses and I'm not wielding an asthma inhaler. I'm really a stone cold trekkie and I realized at some point, I think it was the first time I played Dragon*Con in Atlanta, I could be performing at sci fi conventions and have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I was at a sci fi convention. It's the best of both worlds. I go to these sci fi conventions and I perform and being the big geek that I am, I get to actually enjoy being at the convention and seeing the costumes and going to the dealers room and sitting in on panels and things like that. In any case, my first time at Dragon*Con, I was approached poolside at about four in the morning by this bearded man who looked like he should be sucking a rock and hugging a tree while munching a big handful of granola and he asked me if I wanted to "filk". I was like "hey, you know, I appreciate alternative lifestyles and I believe in everyone's freedom to do whatever makes them happy but I'm not into filking." Until I found out what filking was of course. Apparently people writing folk songs with, for the most part, science fiction lyrics and themes. He invited me down to a filk session which didn't involve gerbils. Pretty much what I thought I was going to see down there. I sat in as people took popular folk songs and changed the lyrics to be about characters on Star Trek and on Star Wars and a myriad of other sci fi topics. I was fascinated and I thought "oh my God, why am I not doing this because I know so much about science fiction. I'm such a geek and I'm a musician." It was just basically a matter of time before my love of sci fi and music collided. I immediately started writing Star Trek parody songs and playing them subsequently at other sci fi conventions I went to. One day I was prepping to go to Dragon*Con which was about a month away and my bass player said "you really should record those songs and put out a limited edition CD for people at the conventions who are really into those Star Trek songs." Subsequently he and I put together Banned On Vulcan. I'm thinking about Banned On Curthon next.

Boo Hoo is your third release and the inspiration came from being dumped I guess after a long term relationship.

You could put it that way. I prefer to say we "drifted apart". The irony is that those sarcastic, bitter, breakup songs I wrote around the time of Devil's Bris were songs conspired by that same damn woman because we had been together for the better part of 12 years and after three years we broke up. We were apart for about three years and during those three years I wrote a lot of the songs that turned up on Devil's Bris. Then much to my shock, I really thought that we'd never talk again, I get this mysterious phone call at three in the morning one night. It was her. Next day we went out for coffee. Before I knew it we were back together. Things were really great but after a few years things started not working out so well. I think at that time a very, very long slow breakup process started to happen and some of the emotions that I was going through regarding the relationship not really working out came across on some of the songs on Almost Human like "Dunce" and "Out Of Reach". Then the breakup went into full tilt. The last two years were really just pretty terrible and during those two years I wrote most of the songs that are on Boo Hoo. Boo Hoo is a breakup record. I should also warn you it's cursed. There should be a warning label on Boo Hoo. I swear to God everybody who worked on Boo Hoo has been dumped. Members of the band who've been married for years got divorced. I come home to find out they were divorced. "Hey pass the mashed potatoes, by the way, I want a divorce." I've been hearing rumors that a lot of perfectly happy couples have listened to Boo Hoo and subsequently broke up. The record's cursed.

Some of the songs that I really like are "Future Ex Girlfriend", "Irresponsible", "The Vampire Club", "Brains", and "Graveyard Picnic".

You like the faster paced stuff. Ironically enough that whole record was going to be really, really somber originally. I really wanted it to be a theme record. I really wanted it to have one very congealed mood throughout the whole record. I wanted it to essentially contain songs like "Where's The Girl", "Hello Cruel World", "Bachelor(ette)", and songs of that tone throughout the whole record but I had been playing songs like "Irresponsible" and "The Vampire Club" in particular at shows. I was getting a lot of email from people saying "'Vampire Club' is going to be on the new record, right?" I really couldn't avoid putting some of the more upbeat songs on the record. I guess it was okay seeing those were the ones you liked. That song, "Brains", I wrote for the Cartoon Network. That was commissioned by Maxwell Adams who is the creator of the show Grim And Evil, to write a song for a musical episode called "Little Rock Of Horrors" which I think tentatively airs August 21st if I'm not mistaken. The show is being animated to the song so in essence I play an evil meteorite from outer space that eats peoples brains. In other words I've been typecast again. I've been watching a lot of Betty Boop lately actually where I think the influence for that song came from because it's very much in the Cab Calloway vein.

Who does most of the songwriting? Is it mainly you or everyone equally?

I write the songs that make the goth girls cry. All right. No Barry Manilow tonight. I write the songs on acoustic guitar so essentially you have the vocal, melody, and the chord structure and if I have very strong ideas about what the string part should be I will hum those and record those on separate tracks and my string players will transcribe them. To a large degree I allow the other band members to write their parts because inevitably they're going to come up with things that are potentially more interesting than something that I would come up with on my own. You're talking about four very talented musicians bringing something to the table that is not something that is necessarily something in my frame of reference and I think that that makes for a very unique sound and makes for a lot of exciting musical possibilities. It's a little bit of both. Then of course at the end of the day I play a ranger and I go "okay, well I think this is a little too busy so this needs to be simplified." I think somebody needs to take the lead here. For the most part, I don't know if it's necessarily a democracy but it's pretty close.

You did Projektfest. How did that go?

Projektfest was great. We actually played at Projektfest in 1998 when our first record came out and we were really, really warmly received. It was just a really very encouraging way to start out a musical career. Recently we just played at Projektfest in Philly and it was just a really, really great show. There was a whole lot of love in the room.

Any other comments or ideas?

I just do what I do and hopefully I get to keep on doing it. I think that my one big fear in life is that someday I'm going to have to get a job. I would really rather just play which is what I've been doing pretty much all life. Because I make a really shitty latte.

Voltaire