Paul Roland interview
Paul Roland is a very productive artist. Only now, writing this foreword, I’ve found that this year he celebrates 40th anniversary of his career as musician. His first single ‘Oscar Automobile’ was released back in 1979!
His music-style leans towards something between psycho pop and eccentric gothic rock, and some critics call it ‘steampunk music’. Roland is author of more than 40 books dealing with mysticism, occult topics and dark legacy of human history. You may discover a lot of interesting details of Paul Roland’s career in his biography Devils Jukebox by Roberto Curti. Meanwhile his new album 1313 Mocking Bird Lane was released less than a week ago. More releases wait ahead.
“I honestly feel that this is one of my strongest albums”
First of all I’d like to thank you for your time. 1313 Mocking Bird Lane is your new album released a week ago. Did everything go according to plan? Do you see it as a complete work?
There was no master plan! I simply wrote songs as they came to me and only towards the end, when I had finished recording, did I decide to drop some of the weaker ones and write four new songs to replace them and make it much stronger and more consistent. As a result, I honestly feel that this is one of my strongest albums, if not the strongest of all.
It was to have been a double album at one point – I had enough tracks – but I listened again really critically and decided that some of them were good but not good enough, so I then wrote some new songs and lyrics which gave it a unified theme – which was the ‘60s (namely ‘Summer of Love’, ‘She’s My Guru’ and ‘Won’t Go Surfin’ No More’). I’m coming to the point where albums with a unifying theme appeal much more to me than a collection of 12 songs on diverse themes. I think it is because I have recently written fiction — short stories and a novel — so I am thinking more in literary terms now.
“I never impose a theme on myself when I write songs”
The album is named after home address where Munster family dwells according to old black and white TV-series. What kind of relationships do you have with these personages? How long did you bear an idea of recording an album about them?
Only the title track is a whimsical homage to The Munsters, the other songs are evocative of the mid to late sixties which felt like one long perfect summer, at least in my memory. I only remember seeing The Munsters once during my childhood, but it was one of those memories which I associate with a truly magical time. Even though I was only a child and not a teenager, I could feel the optimism and excitement which we have lost in these more cynical and commercial times.
I never impose a theme on myself when I write songs – I simply open myself up to whatever wants to come through and then I think what themes would be suitable for the lyric. But once I had several ‘60s themed songs on this album and had the opportunity to replace the weaker ones, I deliberately thought about how to make their replacements in that same vein.
I only alluded to The Munsters in the title because I wanted to conjure up that period and that black humour and also because I thought it would tell potential listeners that they are going to be treated to an album of psychsurfpopgaragegothrock! I needed to prepare them for songs that were wacky to use a term of the time — like Mad magazine in music.
The Munsters started in September 1964. ABC launched The Adams Family series about six days earlier. Why did you choose The Munsters?
I simply hadn’t seen or been aware of The Addams Family at the time, though someone once described my more whimsical horror songs as gothic rock as cartoon, which is a very good assessment.
There was also a garage rock band with the same name.
I wasn’t aware that there was a band with that name!
Last time we talked, you said you have “a double psych pop album… quirky psych baroque pop, most radio friendly commercial songs”. You were referring to 1313 Mocking Bird Lane. How soon may we expect the second half of the recorded songs?
I skimmed off the weaker songs and included them on the 21-track Unreleased Songs CD that came with the Devils Jukebox biography published last year, so they won’t appear anywhere else. I write so many songs that a single album released once a year just isn’t enough to satisfy me, that is why I make a lot of tracks available for download on bandcamp and why I release albums of unreleased songs through the PRAS (Paul Roland Appreciation Society) which anyone can join for free. I don’t see why I should be limited to releasing 12 songs a year just because the market says that is the standard way to do things. That is why I am glad to have maintained my independence all these years. I can go into the studio when I like and release what I like when I am ready to release it and I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. Some people may think I’m crazy, but as long as the songs are strong and the album satisfies me and my musicians and the people who like my music like it, then why should I be restricted to the timetable or schedule imposed upon me by the marketplace.
Being such a prolific songwriter don’t you have problems with recalling some of your songs nowadays?
Only the one’s that I don’t have to rehearse before a tour or concert. It’s true that there are dozens that I couldn’t sing if you asked me to without listening to the album and working out the chords, but then that’s why God invented records!
The album in itself is pure delight, it’s easy going in a good sense of the word, it’s intriguing in some way and it keeps your individual touch, so it’s a kind of a “right” album which combines both new ideas and well-known features of your musical projects. How did you work on it? Did you collaborate with the group of Italian musicians like you did with White Zombie?
Thank you for those positive comments. No, this time I recorded with my band here in England, before I was invited to join the Italian label. I shelved it for several years (!!!) after I joined them because the Italians wanted to re-record it at the same studio where I made White Zombie and I let them try. But after several aborted attempts I told them that I loved the album just the way I made it and I wouldn’t change one note on its pointy little head.
Did their version differ that much from your original?
I think they only tried adding some guitars which they admitted sounded too ‘glam rock’ and didn’t have that garage rock energy that the original album had so I didn’t get to hear what they had tried to do. I liked the idea of re-recording it in Italy at a state-of-the-art studio but only if it had been with my band and I / we were very happy with the original, there really wasn’t any point in recreating it with more polish and sheen. I like the rough, spontaneous vibe which came from only playing through each song a couple of times.
There’s ‘Voodoo Man’ song on 1313 Mocking Bird Lane. Was it recorded separately for this album or is it a kind of leftover from White Zombie?
It wasn’t a leftover. I sometimes write songs about themes I have covered before if the mood takes me and I won’t let the fact that I have recorded an album about voodoo stop me from writing a lyric on the same theme if the new song suggests that should be the theme. I always write lyrics that match the mood of the music so that I create a mini movie in the listeners mind.
I remember you’ve mentioned your intention to release a prog/fantasy album for which you didn’t have the lyrics and a double album of extended songs based on the ghost stories of M. R. James.
Both albums have been written and the fantasy album has been recorded and is just waiting for me to write the lyrics and record the vocals, while the M.R. James ghost story album has been demoed and I am just waiting to go to Italy to record it and recreate my demos with a real chamber orchestra and some name special guests.
That sounds very promising! Don’t you want to re-record some of your old songs with orchestra too?
No. I prefer working on new songs because that is being creative and you are constantly being surprised how songs turn out, but re-recording is only justified if the original recordings were lacking in some respect. The only reason I re-recorded some of my earlier tracks as ‘radio sessions’ was because I had used small studios and sometimes the original recordings suffered from their technical limitations.
But you are not the only person to suggest recording my songs with an orchestra. That was the idea mooted by the owner of Dark Companion a few years ago and instead of doing that I offered to write an original piece for orchestra. That is how my first contemporary classical composition – A Grimm Little Fantasy For Orchestra – came about.
What kind of audience do you usually have?
I always try to imagine that my music is important to somebody somewhere and I don’t let reality impinge on my creativity! I live in my own fantasy world and I really don’t think about who my audience might be — after all if they were 20 or 40 when I make a record, they won’t be that age in 20-30 years when they are (hopefully) still listening to it!
But I am now working on a new project with my band for which I will only bring sketches of songs and we will create the tracks together and develop them together and extend them — like a sort of progpunk project! The themes or subjects of the songs will not be my usual historical or supernatural subjects but more straight — it will be a more mature work in many ways and working that way and looking for themes outside of my own world will keep me excited and fresh.
I can sort out your musical projects, but I fail to remember your current occupation in literature. Are you working on a book about German occupation of Eastern Europe during WWII?
I have just finished my last non-fiction book which was about the Nazi occupation of Europe and I am now devoting my time to writing fiction (crime and horror) and pursuing more mature musical projects including composing contemporary classical music (my A Grimm Little Fantasy For Orchestra will be released and performed live early next year and a ballet The Nosferatu variations is being completed this winter for recording before the end of the year). I think I might be what they call a late developer, but it means I intend to surprise myself and my audience. The best is still to come!
What about Nosferatu?
My friend and collaborator David Roche is a professional composer and the winner of several prestigious composition competitions. It was he who transcribed my Grimm Fantasy from my demos to a score and he suggested writing a set of orchestral variations on a theme of mine. I thought Nosferatu would be ideal and from that developed the idea of a ballet (which was a project I had been planning to do for a few years). I wrote a ‘script’ and we hope to present it to a contemporary dance company by the end of this year. Then it will be recorded and released as a follow up to the Grimm Fantasy album which should be out in spring 2020 – my first ‘classical’ album.
Let me try to sum up! Next year you plan to release prog/fantasy album, ghost stories album, the project with A Grimm Little Fantasy For Orchestra and The Nosferatu ballet, right?
Yes plus the band album I mentioned which will be recorded as a trio (no keyboards or other instruments). A hard, sparse rock album for grown-ups!
I wonder if there’s space left for writing in your tight schedule? How many books do you have in work for 2020?
I only plan to complete a second novel (a Victorian ghost story) which I’ve started, but no more non-fiction. I want to devote my time to creating only original work.
Thank you Paul for your time and patience, it’s always amazing how many projects you’re able to run at the same time.
There is always the unexpected!