Photo by: Tristan Crane
Vernian Process is a musician working in the San Francisco Bay area who has been making self-described "steampunk" music for the last three years. In that time he's managed to record 3 LPs, 2 EPs and to create several remixes. He also has two side projects including forsunknown, a dark ambient project inspired by classic horror.
Vernian Process was recently kind enough to answer some questions from Sepiachord.
Sepiachord: You're the first musical artist to call yourself "steampunk". Which came first: your idea do to something called steampunk and then the actual sound or did you have the sound first and thought "To me this sounds like Steampunk"?
Vernian Process: Oh no it was definitley the first choice. I came up with the name Vernian Process about three years before I ever even thought about recording any music. The initial idea was mixing a traditional rock format, with an orchestral backing, however unlike when strings are used in rock music. The acoustic instruments would be playing all of the lead melodies, and such, while the guitars would provide backing textures. All to the theme of the worls of Jules Verne's and his contemporaries. This of course never happened, and I put off the idea for quite a few years. Then while I was at the height of my DJing career, a friend of mine hooked me up with some software, and I started messing around with some ideas.
SC: Steampunk was a literary genre first and then a visual genre. What does Vernian Process have in common with these earlier movements that it deserves the title of steampunk? Would "Scientific Romantic" better sum up what Vernian Process sounds like?
VP: Steampunk is just a catch all term, that is easier to sell than "Scientific Romance". Which is why it is used now to describe everything from 40's Pulp adventures like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, to more traditional Victorian adventures. I really prefer to call my music "Cinematic Darkwave" that is inspired by Steampunk. Initially all of my songs were to be in reference to Jules Verne, but eventually I decided to just keep the Vernian themes as a constant, but not to always make every piece based around Vernes literature. I have some ideas for new material that will stray farther from my Gothic/Darkwave roots. Such as a 60's Jamaican Ska inspired piece (I love that style of music as well), and a few songs that will be more light hearted than brooding. Of course the project is primarily based in Darkwave/Post-Punk/Trip-Hop roots, and will always be centered around those styles.
SC: Does the "punk" part of steampunk confuse people? Do you ever have listeners who expect an uglier, more aggressive sound?
VP: Not really. Usually the people that refer to my work as Steampunk, already know the proper definition of it. The random people that hear it, generally just say it sounds very unique, and they are not quite sure what to classify it as. Ironically before I had the idea for VP, and before I even had the idea for the above mention ed rock band. I thought it would be really cool to start a style of music calld "ChamberPunk" Basically playing Punk/Deathrock styled music with instruments like Harpsichords, Organs, Brass and various stringed instruments.
SC: Your sound right now is primarily synth/electronic, can you envision yourself making music that is created by nothing but period victorian sounds?
VP: That would be really cool. But quite impractical. Considering I am pretty much broke 24/7, and I don't see this project ever getting a large enough following to warrant the financial backing required to do something like that. I really try hard to treat all of my synths so that they sound as realistic as possible. I really dislike synth strings (unless they are being used for a particular sound), and all of the string samples I use were recorded from real orchestras.
SC: What books or movies fire your artistic engines? If you could do a soundtrack for any book, movie, comic, or game what would you love to try your hand at?
VP: Well I won't list any particular books, but the worlds of Verne (obviously), Wells, and Lovecraft are my primary literary influences. Films that inspired this project range from all of the Steampunk cinema, to less obvious things like Spaghetti Westerns, Film Noir, Science Fiction-Horror, Kurosawa, Studio Ghibli, and many video game series (primarily Final Fantasy, and Eternal Arcadia).
As far as scoring any project. That would have to be my own project that I have been developing for over ten years. Without giving away too much of the plot, it is essentially a Steampunk world that features many different stories/films/animation/games/comics/books, etc.
Think of the Star Wars mythos, but set in an alternate 1890's earth, with all kinds of crazy over the top adventures. Right now their are about three seperate characters with their own intertwining stories that take place through different releases. This is a project that I have tried not to give up hope on, but the older I get, the less likely it seems to come to fruition.
SC: What other musicians do you see as contemporaries?
VP: Many people refer to The Dresden Dolls, Abney Park, Jill Tracy and Dr. Steel as obvious contemporaries, however I didn't even know who any of those bands were untill well after I had been working on this project. I had owned Rasputinas first LP for quite awhile, but never really thought of them as an inspiration either. Contemporaries though for sure. Actually, according to some discussions I've had with a few of the members of Abney Park, the Steampunk direction of my project had inspired them to do the same. While musically our projects are quite different, I still see them as contemporaries, and appreciate their passion for the Steampunk genre. As for my true influences, I see the three biggest being "In the Nursery", "Massive Attack", and "Clan of Xymox". As for my biggest orchestral inspirations. That would be "Danny Elfman", "Ennio Morricone", and "Grame Revell". I am also highly influenced by the period of classical music between the 1850's - 1910's. That point where Classical was turning into Opera, and eventually Film Scores.
SC: What other artists have you had a chance to work with (ie:remixes, collaborations)? Who would you most love to work with?
VP: I have collaborated with Colin Sharp (ex-Durutii Column) on a song on my second LP, the UK band Soulrise has asked me to contribute string arrangements and various effects to an upcoming song of theirs, I also have plans to collaborate on some new material with Jill Tracy, and Martin Bowes (Attrition) in the near future.
I have remixed work by Abney Park, and Nouvelle Vague. But would love to try my hand at even more remixes for a wider variety of musical styles.
SC: What do you see as your biggest challenge as an artist?
VP: Well their are a few things really. One that I have really noticed after playing my first two major gigs, is that my project is going to be very hard to translate to a live setting. I mean it's essentially me, my laptop and midi keyboard. I have created music videos for a number of my tracks to be played during my shows, but I still have many songs that I would like to play live, that have no visual accompaniment yet. This music is also mostly instrumental, and on the few vocal pieces I perform, I don't really want to come off as some big rock star. I am a music programmer, not a rock star. This is very introverted and personal music that is going to need some very careful treatment to pull off live.
The next biggest challenge I find is getting someone interested enough in this project to sign me, so I have the financial support to start releasing full fledged published material. The whole MySpace music thing is both a blessing and a curse. While it really helps with networking, it also makes you lost amongst thousands of other artists of varying skill and talent.
Finally the fact that I am a solo artist makes promoting my work ten times harder than if I had five other members all doing the sam amount of promotion as myself. Tack that onto already having a number of other projects (post-punk.com being the second most prominent), as well as a day job, and girlfriend that I live with, I hardly have time to do anything else extra (let alone promote myself). On the other hand, being a solo artist also means I can work whenever I feel like it, and never have to schedule band practices, or argue with other people about how my sound and image should be represented.
SC: Do you find yourself planning projects and thinking "I need singer with a deeper voice." or "I need someone who can play a variety of brass instruments?"
VP: No not really. I have such a huge library of realistic instruments that I don't really "need" live performers. However if someone "was" interested in working on real acoustic music with me, I'd jump at the chance. As for singing, I do have a few people that are interested in providing vocals for my work (all females actually), but finding the time to meet up and record is the hardest part.
For more information on Vernian Process please check out the websites:
And listen to the Vernian Process song "The Last Express" on the Sepiachord Jukebox