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Interview with Voltaire - conducted by Peter Marks - 9/26/98



Peter: What prompted you to move from visual arts into composing music?

Voltaire: I am sorry if I seem a bit out of it. I have been up for the past three days straight. I just finished teaching a class that I offer every Saturday. I teach stop motion animation at the New York School of Visual Arts. To answer your question, I have always been involved with music on one level or another. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to actually perform live.

Peter: How did the Voltaire tour go?

Voltaire: The tour went well. We were fairly warmly received. It was a lot of fun. I really felt that Sam Rosenthal, the head of Projekt Records, could really separate himself from Sam Rosenthal, the front man for Black Tape for Blue Girl. He was always very forthcoming with information regarding our band and the tour. I think that the whole situation went really well.

The enire tour manifested itself spontaneously. Before we got signed to Projekt records, there was no conversation about touring. I had almost gotten the impression that there would be no touring. The Projekt Festivals were a surprise item. Seeing that we were the newest Projekt act, it made the most sense for us to open the various festival dates.

Due to some last minute political upheaval, we ended up performing second on the bill for the entire tour. Suddenly we had an opportunity to play before a larger crowd of people because we were playing later in the evening. We sold an unexpected and completely ludicrous amount of CD's at the shows. We completely sold out of the debut CD by the second date. We were really surprised and elated by how we were received.

It is really hard to say when we will play live again. We would really love to play the West Coast sometime. I certainly get a lot of communication from fans there, but there are no real solid plans to do so. It is financially very difficult to pull off such a tour because the violinist, Gregor, the cellist, Matthew, and the drummer, Gruzch are classical musicians. They do very well financially was classical musicians. They get paid five times as much at Carnegie Hall than I can pay them to play with Voltaire. It is difficult for me to tell these men to leave their wives and travel with me across the country in a van. This is a project that they do for the aesthetics. It certainly is not one of the financially rewarding projects of which they are involved.

Peter: How did Voltaire get signed to Projekt Records?

Voltaire: First of all, I was really thrilled that we got signed so quickly. There are so many bands that have played in the New York scene for more than eight years with no label interested whatsoever. So it was really gratifying to play only a handle of shows and within a year attract label interest.

Essentially some buzz developed in the scene that lead to Cleopatra Records contacting us. We dismissed the idea of signing with them for around six months, so by the time we made up our mind, it wasn't a viable option. Shortly thereafter I was given the opportunity to open for Black Tape for Blue Girl at the Batcave in New York. At first I thought that because I had played at the club many times, was not building an audience, and wasn't getting paid, that I would pass on the show. The more I started to think about it, the more I realized that show would be a good chance for Sam Rosenthal to see us perform.

After the show, I spoke to Sam, finding out that he had been very busy back stage and had not seen us perform at all. Immediately I thought the show was a waste. However, Lisa from Projekt had seen us perform and asked for a demo. The next day I received an e-mail from Lisa stating that Sam had listened to the demo all the way back to Chicago and could not get my music out of his head. This got the ball rolling and eventually lead to a showcase here in New York and then getting signed.

Peter: Do you listen to any of the other Projekt bands?

Voltaire: Sadly enough, I am a child of the eighties, subsequently I listen to far more New Wave than I ought to admit.

Peter: How many albums are you contractually obligated to release through Projekt?

Voltaire: We have signed on to release two records through the label. A lot of material for the second record will be culled from material we are already playing live. However, actually having a record out in the market is a really valuable tool for aspiring artists. It is incredibly fascinating and very surprising to see which songs succeed and which fail.

Peter: I was very impressed with the humor quality of the album.

Voltaire: If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely be a bit more cautious in my usage of humor because I do not see "Devil's Bris" as a comedy record. However, there is such an emphasis by the press regarding the humorous content of the record. I read reviews of the album that make it sound like it should be filed between Weird Al Yankovic and the latest Eddie Murphy record. A lot of people have come out in droves to discuss how funny the record is.

To a various degree, I tend to write songs from the same persona as I truly am in real life. I am somebody who has a sense of humor. So it is impossible for me to write an hour long album with any sarcasm. The type of music that Projekt is known for is so somber and serious that any use of humor at all automatically places us in the comedy category.

Peter: Where does the song 'They Know Me' come from? It sounds like a very personal song about someone you know.

Voltaire: To protect the innocent, 'They Know Me' is dedicated to all those people who spend their lives bringing nothing positive to anyone's life. I have to say that I love it when a song means something specific to a particular individual even if that was not the intended meaning when I wrote it. The fact that someone can personalize a song, really takes a song to the whole new level.

Peter: Have you ever seen the movie "Mans Bites Dog"?

Voltaire: It is very funny that you should ask that because 'Ex Lover's Lover' was written after seeing that film. That is very astute of you to notice the references.

Peter: Are you a fan of Nick Cave? I ask because when I first heard your album, I immediately thought of how much better it was than Nick Cave's material.

Voltaire: I want to be a fan of Nick Cave, but for my own personal taste, I find him to be a little too American. For whatever reason, I have always been drawn to European music. Whenever I hear Nick Cave, I can't help but imagine him as a poor white trash Goth living in a trailer park in rural America. Despite how much I really want to like him, I cannot help but picture him going over to the trailer next door to ask Tom Waits if he has an extra beer. I have to point out that I love Tom Waits even if he acts like a drunken white trash Goth.

Peter: Besides New Wave, what types of music do you listen to?

Voltaire: I listen to a lot of folk music written by artists around the world. I really love Japanese Classical Music, particularly Kodo music. I listen to Chinese Opera. I am Cuban and listen to a lot of Cuban music from the Big Band era.

As far as contemporary music goes, I find myself going to Tower Records and buying the same CD's over and over again. They are written by bands in 1984. However, that having been said, there are a few current bands that I really like.

Absolutely hands down, Bjork is a complete and total inspiration to me. I think that she has the most unique voice in Pop music in the 20th Century. There is a rawness and honesty in her voice that really reaches down my throat and grabs my heart.

Peter: Did you know that someone reissued a Bjork project that occurred before her time with the Sugar Cubes?

Voltaire: I haven't heard that particular disc, but count me into buying anything Bjork has ever done.

Peter: Are you aware of other artists in your genre at all?

Voltaire: To a large degree, I work in almost a total vacuum. Having said that, I cannot help but be influenced by other musicians. One of the bands who help set me on my musical path was Rasputina. I saw them play many times before they were signed. The simple fact that their ensemble existed and was signed to a label lead me to believe that that same possibility could occur for me. The album "Rain Dogs" by Tom Waits also help set me on my current path.

I would love to take credit for the genius of my album, but the truth of the matter is, I write what I like. I didn't get caught up in what would be successful for sales, I just sat down and wrote a record that I would like to listen to. That method is a really stupid thing to do if you want to sell records, but that is the way I write music. All I can do is sit back and hope others will appreciate it.

Peter: When precisely did the band form?

Voltaire: I played my first solo acoustic show in March of 1995, however, I have always played in bands as far back as in Junior High. I am an animator by trade and my career first took off in 1984. I have been totally overwhelmed by directing television commercials for years. I simply didn't have the time to get involved in music.

At some point I picked up an acoustic guitar, taught myself how to play it, and started writing songs. For my own amusement I would play at home for myself and my girlfriend. Then one day in 1995, a friend of mine was promoting a new local Gothic club. He informed me of an upcoming theme night of solo acoustic Gothic performances. I laughed.

I went to see the show and my friend asked me what I thought. To be honest, I thought it was really boring. I wasn't touched emotionally by any of the songs. I told him that I performed a better show every night in my own living room. The promoter turned to me and told me that I would be performing live at the club the following Sunday.

I had been such a pompous ass about it, that it was too late to retract my statement. I had about a week to emotionally prepare myself to perform live. I think that the performance really stood out in people's minds because they were expecting to hear a dark, boring and self absorbed Goth. Instead I played many of the songs that appear on "Devil's Bris". In between the songs I told stories, played Gothic bingo and had fun.

News spread that somewhere in New York there was a Gothic artists who smiles. One show lead to another and about a year later, I felt that it was time to expand the instrumentation of the act. We played our first show as a complete band in August 1997. By our third show we found ourselves with label interest. It all happened rather quickly.

Peter: Is the song 'When Your Evil' directed at folks who attend Goth shows expecting something morbid?

Voltaire: That song works on a lot of different levels. Many reviewers express their desire to hear it performed by a character in a Disney film. It definitely has a silliness about it. On the other hand, it is a song for people with a dark sensibility to be able to, for only a moment, revel in their evil. Really and truly, the song is about someone who believes they are evil, but in reality they are just a pain in the ass.


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