Voltaire, probably needs no introduction. But there's no sense in taking that chance...Voltaire is a singer and musician. He's also a writer, artist and stop-motion animator. In addition he makes comic books and designs wicked toys. As this interview shows, he's also very nice and d*mned funny!
Sepiachord- You've just released your newest CD, "To The Bottom of the Sea". After listening to the recording I can't help but notice that there's a theme, even a story-line running through the songs. Do you consider it to be a "concept" album?
Voltaire: I do. In fact, I dare say it's almost a musical. I should also point out that I didn't intend for it to be that way, it just sort of developed that way naturally. One day, pretty far into the recording process I was working out the order of the songs and when I sat down and looked at them I thought, "By Jove, this record tells a story!".
SC- Were the songs on "To the Bottom of the Sea" all written recently or have some of these tunes been haunting you for years?
V: I've been playing "Death Death" for over a year at my live shows. In fact, I had considered putting it on my previous CD, Ooky Spooky, but there was no time. For months, people would come up to me after my live shows and say, "Which one of these CDs has the Death Death song?" heh heh.I was glad I saved it for To The Bottom of the Sea because it's a great feeling making a CD that has a song on it that people already want to buy! heh heh.Also, "The Beast of Pirate's Bay" I wrote a couple of years ago to perform at the Halloween fair at my son's school. He got the flu and we didn't make it. I've played that one a few times at my live shows over the past couple of years.The other one is "Robber Baron". I think I wrote that song in an airport waiting for a plane and for some weird reason, whenever I've been sitting at the airport waiting to board, I've often whipped out the guitar and played that song. I'm glad if finally found a home on an album. All the others I wrote over the year between Ooky Spooky and this CD.
SC- You recorded a duet with Amanda Palmer on your last album, did she know you were preparing a parody of one of her songs with your "Coin Operated Goi"? If not how did she react to it?
V: She was not aware, no. But I knew it was just a matter of time before she found out because my fans are always coming up to me at shows and telling me about something Amanda did or Amanda said at one of her shows... or they pass messages back and forth between the two of us. I had meant to call her and let her know, but before I had the chance, I was alerted to a post on her Myspace page where she mentioned it and posted a link. She said it was "hilarious" so I guess we are all good!Actually, in the mad dash to make this CD I had forgotten to mention in the booklet that the song was a parody of a Dresden Dolls song and I felt really badly about that. But I've remedied that omission on the second printing.
SC- This time around you duet with singer/songwriter Julia Marcell (on "This Sea"). How did you meet up with Ms Marcell?
V: I stumbled upon her accidentally on Myspace. She was an unsigned singer living somewhere in Poland. Somehow I found myself on her page and when her music started playing I instantly became a fan. I sent out a bulletin about her to all of my friends. I wanted the world to be able to enjoy her amazing talents. And then, when working on this CD, I asked her if she'd sing a duet with me. And as a surprise for her, I recorded a cover of her song "Accordion Player" which is the one that got me hooked on her music.
SC- Are there any other special guests on the recording?
V: Yes! One night I went to see a gypsy punk band in New York City called Firewater. Their percussionist (Johnny Kalsi) and their trombone player (Reut Regev) completely blew me away and so I invited them to play on the disc. Reut was local so she came in to the studio to lay down her tracks, but Johnny lives in London so we collaborated with the aid of the world wide web. Also on the CD are my friends Rima Fand and Sarah Alden, both of whom play violin in the gypsy band, Luminescent Orchestrii. There are a few other local musicians on the disc but the guy who really steals the show is Franz Nicolay from World Inferno Friendship Society, The Hold Steady, Guignol, etc... He plays accordion on every track and he kicks this whole album onto a completely different level. He's THAT amazing.
SC- Where did image on the cover of "To the Bottom of the Sea" come from?
V: Because the story that's told on the CD takes place in the 19th century, I wanted to support that concept by using artwork that was actually from that time period. The cover is a woodcut by Pierre Denys de Montfort. He was a naturalist from the 18-hundreds who believed, much before his time, in the existence of the giant squid. He was ridiculed for it at the time, but now we know better. All of the other images are also from that period. I used high res scans of the original artwork from the Mary Evans Picture Library in London.
SC- The responses I've heard over the album range from "his most consistent release" to "his absolute best". What kind of reaction are you getting from fans?
V: I'm absolutely thrilled with the response. Honestly, I had no idea what people were going to think and I will admit that I was a bit nervous for a while there. I mean hell, it's basically a musical! I expected people to say, "He's finally lost his mind!". But yes, I'm amazed and relieved that people seem to like it. In some way it supports my belief that if I
continue to make the record that I would want to hear, the record that I REALLY want to make, people will respond to that.
SC- Due to the closure of a label you've found yourself going it alone on this release. What has been the biggest challenge in self releasing this recording?
V: Oh God... um, where to start? The CD was originally going to come out in October. But when Dancing Ferret folded and I decided to put it out myself, I felt it was important to have it out in time for Dragoncon in late August as it's my biggest show of the year. So I had to finish writing, finish recording, mix, master and do all of the art for the CD in about 2 months! I was literally working around the clock the last couple of weeks. And then there was the not knowing. The not knowing if it would sell, the not knowing if people would like it, the not knowing what it is that record labels do to promote a record. The whole thing, really, has been a great challenge and a learning process.
SC- Where can people purchase the new CD? Are you going to be able to get it into "brick and mortar" stores?
V: Before the record was even done, I offered it as a pre-order on Myspace because frankly, since I was putting it out myself, I had no idea how many to make. I was shocked by the reaction. I thought I'd get a couple hundred orders. I got swamped! I had to cut off pre-orders when I got to 1,200 because I had only ordered the factory to make 2,000 of them! The CD was in danger of being out of print before it even came out. Well, when I got the 2,000 discs I started mailing out the 1,200 pre-orders. (that took me a month. Ouch!). I sold an additional 600 at Dragoncon and the remaining 200 or so I sent to CDbaby.com. And now they're all gone. I've made more though! So for the time being, they are available on CDbaby.com/voltairenyc and from me at live shows. Soon they will be on my website as well. But there are presently no plans to have them in stores. However, thanks to CDbaby.com, the are now available as digital downloads on their site and soon in iTunes and beyond.
SC- You've had online & club listening parties for "To the Bottom of the Sea", do you have any other special events planned?
V: I think that's it for the time being. And of course there's always the live shows and I'm perpetually doing those. But who knows, maybe someday I'll stage it as a play!
SC- What's been the upside of not having a label?
V: Hands down, the money! Granted, with no label there's no advance. You have to pay for everything out of your pocket. But the upside is that instead of ten percent of the profit, I'm now making one hundred percent of the profit and that's made a huge difference.
SC- Other than being self released how has this album been different for you?
V: This is easily the fastest album I've ever written. My other CDs get written and recorded no less than two years between each. There were songs on Ooky Spooky that I had been playing live for five years! But this CD was written and recorded almost exactly a year after Ooky Spooky. To be totally honest, it was because I had high hopes for my releasing a disc with Dancing Ferret. I was on Projekt for ten years and they're fine label and I owe them a lot, but I felt that they didn't really see the value of breaking into Europe. When my contract expired and Dancing Ferret made me an offer, I jumped on it because I knew they had a strong presence in Europe. I was excited to record this record because I felt that the sooner it was done, the sooner I could go out and tour Europe, which I'd been wanting to do for years. Well, Dancing Ferret folded, but I haven't given up that goal. I just have to find a way to make it happen myself now.
SC- You have a "surprise show" planned for December 20th (which happens to be my birthday) when will you announce more about that?
V: Well, I can't really let the cat out of the bag on that one. When the promoter booked me for that show, they said, "It's a surprise show so please don't tell anyone." And I'm a man of my word. But, wherever I am, I'll be singing Happy Birthday My Olde Friend and thinking of you!
SC- You've toured all over the world, what makes New York City feel like home?
V: Well, you flatter me unduly. I've played around the States, Canada, in Mexico, The UK and Japan. But there is still a lot of ground to cover and a whole heck of a lot of work ahead of me. And hopefully I'll get to do it. But yes, NYC is home. To put it simply, in a lot of places in this country a Muslim, a transvestite and a punk rocker are a terrorist, a pervert and a degenerate. In New York they are simply your neighbors.
SC- After you've been on the road what's the first thing you do?
V: Honestly, I take my girlfriend out to a really nice dinner. And I go to my local cafe, I walk around. I enjoy the act of just being in New York City.
SC- It's no secret that you're a HUGE Star Trek geek, what drew you to that specific franchise of sci-fi?
V: Um, because Star Wars didn't exist yet. heh heh
SC- Did you make it to the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas before its recent closure?
V: I most certainly did! I had already been there a couple of years earlier, but when I heard it was closing, I couldn't in good conscience allow it to fade away without my son having experienced it. So I grabbed some money I had saved up and he and I went to Vegas. We had so much fun it was ridiculous! We have a great picture of us on the bridge of the Enterprise and he's probably the only 10-year-old to have drunk a "Warp Core Breach" at Quark's bar. Heh heh. I thought they were going to kick us out! We got yelled at by a Ferengi a few times. They had this wall where people could post goodbye messages and my son wrote one that said something like, "Mr. Hilton, you SUCK! Star Trek was the only reason we came to your crappy hotel and now we'll never come back!" heh heh
SC- You've been pegged as a "renaissance man", what's your favorite outlet for your creative urges?
V: It's a toss up between male erotic dance, macrame and underwear modeling. Hell, I don't know! I just like to create and make stuff. It can be a comic book or a song or a movie. Honestly, it doesn't much matter to me as long as I'm making shit up and having fun.
SC- What would you focus on if you could never sing again?
V: I shudder at the thought, really. I lost my voice for a few days last year and I thought I was going to die. I don't think I realized how much I enjoy singing. I probably spend most of my day singing something or other (this week it's been pretty much all of the songs from The Pogues' "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash"). If I could never sing ever again, I would probably do a lot of writing and drawing, probably comics, presuming I didn't kill myself.
SC- What's your all time favorite monster movie?
V: King Kong by Willis O'Brien. 1933. My all time favorite.
SC- When you were a kid did you have one of those epiphany moments when you saw a musician performing and you knew that had to do the same thing?
V: Yes, but it wasn't music. It was seeing Jason and the Argonauts or The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and knowing right there I wanted to be a stop-motion animator. I was probably 8-years-old. I had a super-8 camera and was making films by 10. However, years later when I was a teenager, I was sitting in my room watching my tiny, black and white TV at 4am (when I was supposed to be asleep) and suddenly this strange man came on the TV. His name was Adam Ant and I thought to myself, "Someday, when I grow up, I'd like to be THAT gay.... and still get all of the girls!" heh heh
SC- If you could travel back in time would you have any words of wisdom for a young Voltaire?
V: OH MY GOD, YES!!! I transport back to The Palladium nightclub in New York City in 1992. I approach young Volty. "In about 30 seconds, Bjork is going to run across the dance floor. She's going to drop to her knees, lift up your shirt and stick her tongue in your belly button then get up and run back across the floor. DO NOT FREAK OUT, GET PISSED OFF AND LEAVE!!! Calmly walk over to her and do the same. It's the mating call of the Icelandics, son. Trust me!"
Yeah, I'm still sort of kicking myself about that one.
SC- Any words of advice for young people now?
V: Yes. Let Bjork put her tongue in your belly button.
Oh, and also... do what you love. Life is too short to spend it doing something (or someone) that makes you miserable. Even if you never become successful doing it, the act of doing it is its own reward. And hey, if people someday pay you to do it, well, that's just the icing on the cake.