This month we've had the chance to chat with Mark Rossmore who records under the name Escape the Clouds.
His newest release is the steampunk themed "Circumnavigator".
Sepiachord: When did you start playing music? Mark Rossmore: About 15 years ago. A guitarist friend loaned me a bass guitar and an amp and I figured out my way around it. Bass ended up being a serious ultimate gateway drug. While I still love it to this day, I was also a fan of Nine Inch Nails, Stabbing Westward, and other artists whose sound pushed beyond standard guitar, bass, and drums. Being the curious type drove me to learn synthesizer programming and sequencing, guitar, and in recent years hand drums and other instruments.
SC: Have you always worked alone or have you been in bands before? MR: Several, over the years. My first band sounded like a grungier Smashing Pumpkins. It was fun, raw music with surreal lyrics. I was also programmer and bassist in a two-person industrial band and have worked on a few side projects with close friends at various points. After a while I took a break from music to focus on family and running a design studio. Since then I’ve produced mainly on my own. The one exception was a few years back when I played bass with a Miami atmospheric rock band for around a year.
SC: When did you start the Escape the Clouds project? MR: Summer 2007. I was living temporarily in Oklahoma City for three months, undergoing my initial training for my new air traffic control day job. I’d left one love - design - to try my hand at another passion, aviation. With my family and friends a thousand miles away, music was my way to both vent and focus. That's where the name Escape the Clouds comes from: the peace of mind that music can bring to the listener - and the maker.
I wanted to find a balance between all these different influences and ideas I had swirling in my head. I’d brought my guitar, laptop, and a portable recording rig with me, but also picked up a few world instruments out there. One was a small darbuka. I also went to a Native American festival where I bought a buckskin drum, a flute, and a bone shaker. The latter three form the core sound on Circumnavigator track 5, “Hunting the Future”.
Three of the songs off the first album Bring the Rain were written out in the wilds of OK City - “Radar Down”, “Lifted”, and “Among the Stars”. I also recorded a demo version of “In Your Sleep” - with completely different lyrics except for the chorus - and two other songs I haven’t released yet.
By the time those three months were up I’d arrived at a consistent sound.
SC: How did you discover steampunk? MR: I’ve long been a fan of alternative history books, adventure tales, airships, aviation, vintage design and propaganda art, science fiction, creating models, and so on. I used to “staple” my college term papers with nuts and bolts (much to the annoyance of several teachers).
I also enjoy reading and taking in history. Historical truth often holds far more drama, heroism, humor, tragedy, and action than any fiction could possibly conjure up. Skewing it with a little imaginative tinkering and “what if”scenarios can have very exciting results.
In 2008, I went to Dragon*Con for the first time. In meeting and speaking with many of the people I met there, I discovered there was an amazingly creative and friendly community that appreciated many of these varied interests.
SC: What was it about steampunk that made you want to create music associated with the genre?
MR: Two aspects intrigued me: the depth to which steampunk revolves around storytelling, and how the movement absorbs influences from all around the world.
It’s always impressed me how steampunk-influenced artists enrich their creations with so much backstory and character, whether its based on Victorian-era fact or coal-fired fiction. If a maker builds a ray gun, chances are it’s not “just” a ray gun. Along with intricate detailing and construction, it’ll be replete with an elaborate history detailing its make and model, those who’ve wielded it, the situations its seen, and the fantastic technology that makes it work. That blend of craftsmanship and world-building is present within steampunk’s writers, costume makers, prop makers, and other artists, so why not music as well?
Second is the movement’s global nature. Much of our planet remained unseen by man during the periods to which the genre typically applies. The adventurous spirit that fueled explorers back then still sparks today in the community. There’s a need to seek out new cultures and ideas from around the world. That open-minded nature is wonderful for music makers, as we can apply exotic instruments, scales, and techniques - modern and vintage - to our music without having to worry whether it’ll fit within a certain mold.
SC: Your newest release, "Circumnavigator", is a steampunk concept album. What's the basic gist of the storyline? MR: A military veteran and industrialist who’s spent much of his life adventuring across the globe is called home to find his wife mysteriously poisoned and on the brink of death. Desperate, he makes off with the Seraphim - an experimental military airship his shipyards had been building for the Royal Navy - in an effort to find what he needs to cure her. The round-the-world voyage is fraught with many encounters - a horde of zombies, a steampunk samurai battle, a deviant nobleman - each of which are represented by an instrumental or vocal track on the album.
Each song was written so that it could stand on its own or fit in with the larger picture. Several short stories are available on the site which fill in the back story and tie each together.
SC: Do you have a sequel in the works? MR: Album #3 is already underway. Six songs are in various stages of production and composition. The sound is an evolution of Circumnavigator, sticking to the world-music-meets-industrial roots while incorporating more instruments and different themes. Recent musical acquisitions include a djembe, a baritone ukulele, and an electric violin. The latter I am just learning to play from zero, so it remains to be seen as to whether it makes it onto the album.
SC: Do you do live performances or is Escape the Clouds a studio only project? MR: Currently it is a studio-only project. I have been approached by several people - including an amazing guitarist - to do a live show. To take it live is a challenge of both logistics and technology, as each song has several layers that would need to be recreated. Those are surmountable obstacles. More pressing are other commitments I have to family, work, and other projects than don’t give me a lot of time.
In short, would I like to do a live show? Of course. But I’m not a fan of doing things halfway and right now I’ve got too much going on to commit to it.
SC: Did you put together the video for "Every Storm has an End" by yourself? MR: Yes, indeed - just me, my camera, a remote control, a cameo from my wife, some odds and ends, and a massive dose of trial and error. I just had this idea and really wanted to see if I could take it from concept to completion completely on my own.
I suppose it comes from being a very visual person. When I’m writing music, most of the time I’m writing the soundtrack to a scene that’s playing out in my head or in a story I’ve written. With the video I wanted to accomplish two things: convey the mental imagery that brought about the “Above the Overcast” song itself - an airship caught in a storm finally breaking out into sunlight - and also present the album’s core theme: the tale of a man who would fly to the ends of the Earth for his wife.
Not counting the SLR camera and lights, which I already owned, the whole thing cost me about $100 to make. I’ve got a Page where I lay out the entire production process from start to finish.
SC: What do you see as the future of Escape the Clouds? MR: Good things. More music with varied themes. New instruments. More collaborations with artists from all over. More stories told through sound and words.
SC: Any final musings? MR: Just that it’s exciting being part of a genre that knows no real boundaries when it comes to its sound, in spite of an unfortunate number of efforts to shove it into a box and label it. Other genres are very defined by their instrumentation - country has its twangy guitars and fiddling, metal has its double bass drums and searing guitars. Steampunk’s defining “instruments” are anachronistic ideas, and I don’t think there’s any limit
to how *they can be played.*