The Unextraordinary Gentlemen... image if the Time Traveler from Wells' the "Time Machine" managed to form a synth-punk band. Like that but better... and REAL!
Somehow these busy musicians made time to have a chat with us.
Sepiachord: How long have the Unextraordinary Gentlemen been in existence?
Malcom: There have always been unextraordinary people, gentle men or not. Oh. You probably meant our little musical experiment. I'm bad with dates. Professor? Would you care to answer?
Richard: The band started when Malcom and I met in the Summer of 2004 at a local karaoke bar that we both frequented and I asked if he would like to do a musical project with me because I was really impressed with his singing style. It was a slow start as we passed back and forth some ideas for about a year before finally figuring out what we wanted to do and began meeting up weekly to hammer out songs. Once we had enough material for a 30-40 minute set, we marked the band officially beginning in March of 2007 when we brought in J. on her violin and started playing
live shows that Summer.
SC: You describe your sound as "Victorian Synth-Punk", would you like to expand and expound on that?
Malcom: We have a primarily Neo-Victorian aesthetic with dabs of influence from our real-life sonar epiphanies. Our characters are or have been alleged time travelers. If we started in the late 1800's (never mind that 1837 exaggeration on our business cards) then I like to think my personal favorite recent stops have been mid-1970's through the early 80s, thus covering the "punk" and "synth" portions of our applied experience.
Richard: We were trying to figure out something that would define us in a few words. Basically, the band is about blending the SYNTH-Pop and Post-PUNK genres with a VICTORIAN-era (fantasy or real) storytelling style. Discovering Alan Moore's graphic novel "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" in 2002 inspired me to read a lot of the Victorian-era books it took influence from. I've seen most of the movie/TV adaptations of the stories already, but it was a greater experience reading the source material itself. I thought that this all would make for a grand band concept, particularly the idea of anachronism, which fit over what we were doing with the band's musical make up already, with the machines combining with violin and bass and such. I like to think of us as a small stage, dark cabaret/machine/punk band, although I do enjoy your label for us as 'Future-pop for time travelers' from your review of our first EP.
J.Frances: I think of us as a small ensemble in Victorian times coming to play your formal affair. We don't quite fit in and are rebels of sorts so that makes us Victorian punk rockers.
SC: You've just put out your second release, "No Hands To Guide Us". Why did you decide to put out a second EP instead of waiting to compose a full album?
Malcom: It keeps the cost down for the fans and decreases the wait time between new material.
J.Frances: I like getting our music out there in small doses. It lets you get to know the songs and not get overwhelmed with lots of new music. Plus each set of songs can be considered a chapter in the imaginative amazing back story that Malcom has created with many colorful characters.
Richard: It's nice to finally have more songs out there so that people who aren't able to see us live can get a clearer picture of what we are about, I feel like a really real band now.
SC: How does this recording differ from "5 Tales from God-Only-Knows"?
Malcom: We spent more time on this one. Three plus weekends as opposed to one! We went into recording "No Hands To Guide Us" with a better understanding of our chemistry with Gator and how we wanted to play with his wonderful toys at Funeral Home Studios.
Richard: We would like to think that all of our songs have their own character and are different from each other. Something like "Ever After" is more post-punk rock style, while something like "Open Arms, Empty Air" is more ethereal. We try not to limit ourselves to a particular song sound/style and create what we feel is cool sounding and fun to play, while properly supporting the mood and feel of the lyrics and story being told. All 10 songs (both EPs) were around in one form or another when we began playing live, about 6 months before releasing our first EP. They are companion pieces in a sense.
SC: On your last outing you dedicated a song to HG Wells, this time around you give the nod to Jules Verne. What strikes you the most about these two authors? What influence have they had on your work?
Malcom: They both had a wonderful sense of whimsy in regards to their ideas concerning the future. Even when the stories were bittersweet or downright tragic the worlds both these well-known authors and countless others created were always interesting and fun places to visit.
Richard: They are the two biggest authors in the Victorian fantasy genre, we wanted to have songs inspired by "War Of The Worlds" ("Ants Under Glass" ) and "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" ("Frozen Mood"), although both were created musically first before the lyrical ideas were brought in. I'm trying not to make a habit of referencing established work, as we enjoy making up our own stories, but it just organically worked out that way.
SC: Not only do the band members have alternate identities ("Malcom Schreeck", "Prof Richard Mangrove"...) but the songs are sung from the points-of-view for characters like "Clive the Barker", "Dread Penny" and "Elwood Lovekraken". Is there a secret story-line that ties all of the songs together? Can we look forward to a full Unextraordinary Gentleman musical or film?
Malcom: Oh yes! Actually, the Professor and I are always brainstorming music video concepts and short film ideas. Neither of us really know how to go about that part of things without several additional stores of cash. I do dream of eventually making some of these songs into a musical theatre production, with a nod to The Three-Penny Opera and The Red Rider. Also in the works are a handful of short story and novella ideas concerning the various characters and goings-on of our "almost imaginary" universe. I have to get down to brass tacks and actually focus on these
things! Anybody out there want to collaborate?
Richard: Between the lyric sheets and our online 'Unextraordinary Encyclopedia', one can piece together the world Malcom's creating and how songs tie into each other. As he stated, hopefully one day we can put some of it to film, theater or maybe a photo essay.
SC: Who came up with the name "The Indifference Engine" for your drum machine?
Richard: I did, as a parody on "The Difference Engine" book (which I have not read). The character of The Indifference Engine is that of a music automaton/contraption/rhythm machine, an advanced version of the player piano or music box perhaps? It's very nice to look at on stage.
Malcom: The fiction states that it is actually called the I.E. which stands for Integrated Energies but the truth is one of us decided to call it the Indifference Engine because it is an instrument indifferent to the rest of the band. If we mess up a song, it's all on us. The Indifference Engine plays on!
SC: Would the band be the same without the lovely suits and top-hats?
Malcom: Absolutely not. The visual aspect of Unextraordinary Gentlemen is extremely important to our sound, lyrics, and back stories!
J.Frances: The music would still be as wonderful, that's for sure. Our formal clothing gives our performances a feeling of it being a special moment and sense of playfulness.
Richard: Well, it would certainly be less hot on stage without them. But yeah I don't think playing in jeans and a t-shirt would quite work out as well.
SC: For those who haven't seen you perform would should they expect out of one of your shows?
Malcom: (laughs) I really try to sing my heart out and interact with the crowd as much as the speaker placement of a venue and the length of my microphone cord will allow. For about an hour we sincerely try to transport you to another place and time. I hope it works! Also, we sometimes have Victorian Burlesque.
J.Frances: Malcom is so expressive and pulls you into this world he has created. Then behind him we have the Indifference Engine which I put together with some help. For local shows the Indifference Engine is a large cabinet with a phonograph horn that houses our laptop. For out-of-town shows we have a table top version that is like a cartoon of a phonograph. Professor Mangrove always amazes everyone with not only his bass playing, but his height too. He makes me look like a midget next to him! I play my violin in Victorian drag and encourage all the girls who come to see us to wear a drawn on mustache!
Richard: Expect something completely different!
SC: You just played the Eccentrik fest in Chapel Hill NC. How did that go? Did you get a good reaction from the audience?
Malcom: It went spectacularly! North Carolina is beautiful. We lived like rock stars for a weekend at the most organized event I have attended to date, meeting new friends and possible artistic co-conspirators. It was really wonderful.
J.Frances: We had an amazing time and everyone was so great! We met all sorts of people who really appreciated what we are doing.
Richard: Yeah they treated us very very well. "We're not worthy, we're not worthy!" It's a very, very well put together festival, I hope more bands are lucky enough to experience it. The audience seemed to enjoy it, although they could have just been buzzed. I enjoyed seeing the other bands.
SC: Any other big shows coming up?
Malcom: By the time this interview is printed we will have played at the Grove of Anaheim supporting Voltaire, along with Frankenstein. I'm sure that was awesome. (laughs) After that, we are taking the end of the year off to work on some of the songs we have waiting in the wings.
Richard: And at the time of my response, we just finished the Bat's Day "Dark Park Festival" at The Grove of Anaheim and it was fantastic. Nothing else booked at the moment, but something will pop up.
SC: What musicians do you consider your prime influences? What other artists do you consider contemporaries?
Malcom: Band influences are the usual suspects; Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Dresden Dolls. My personal influences also include artists like Alison Moyet, Fad Gadget, Marc Almond and Bono. Contemporaries include Jill Tracy, Nicki Jaine, Gogol Bordello, Vernian Process, Rykarda Parasol and so many others!
Richard: Prime influences... Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Yaz, Fad Gadget, Depeche Mode, Marc Almond and various other post-punk, synth-pop, industrial bands from the very late 70's to early 80's. Contemporaries... We play with a lot of bands, and are friends with a lot of bands, that are involved with dark cabaret, folk, post-punk, rockabilly, indie rock, death rock, goth, industrial scenes. Anybody that blends Old World/New World styles, I suppose. I've noticed online that we get bundled in with Vernian Process, Abney Park, Rasputina and Dr. Steel under the banner of 'steampunk' which is pretty cool.
J.Frances: My influences are very similar; actually all three of us share many of the same musical favorites which I think makes for a fun band. I would need to add Legendary Pink Dots to the list for me. Absolutely love them and they inspire me.
SC: Any final words of wisdom from the past/future?
Malcom: Keep your powder dry and your wit sharp.
J.Frances: "Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not." ~George Bernard Shaw