INTERVIEW WITH PAUL ROLAND FOR ASCENSION MAGAZINE # 10 (Italy 2005)
1. Let's start talking about the reissue of your album "Strychnine... and other potent poison"! This album, which has been partially re-recorded, has to be considered as a tribute to your "influencers" or not?
No, it isn’t really a tribute to those artists with the exception of Marc Bolan – I always try to find an excuse to record a Bolan song whenever I can because he was, and remains, my only real inspiration and he is so underrated as a songwriter. The rest of the songs were chosen because I loved the songs so much that I wanted to re-create them, to make them mine. To pretend that I had written them! The thinking behind the album was, ‘how would I have recorded these songs if I had written them?
2. What about the choices of the songs featured on the CD? Do they represent your admiration for the featured artists? What else? And what about the choice of Marc Bolan? (the similarity between your voice and the voice of Bolan is often unbelievable....)
The choice of songs was dictated by my love for the songs not the artists. I love Siouxsie And The Banshees and Bolan, but I was never a big Velvet Underground fan and I never listened to Kevin Ayers until someone sent me a tape of ‘Lady Rachel’ and suggested that I record it. I like some of Donovan’s songs very much but he was an erratic songwriter – some things were wonderful and charming, but a lot of his songs were very twee (childish). But I have always had a soft spot for Bolan. Marc was unique and I think that is the best thing you can say about any artist. There were other guitarists who could play better, faster and with more feeling and there were other singers who could sing over a wider range etc But they were not Bolan. He had an extremely distinctive voice which was instantly recognisable and a feeling for the sound of words which made his songs a magical experience. The songs on the early Tyrannosaurus Rex albums can still transport me to a magical place. That ability is something very few artists possess. It can’t be taught or created by sampling or with digital studio equipment. Its talent. And that’s why his music is still exciting today. It has a personality. Its not manufactured on a computer like so much commercial chart music is at the moment. Unfortunately, Bolan lost that magic touch after 1973.
3. Let's talk about the choice to cover artists like Donovan, Velvet Underground or Barrett's Pink Floyd....
The question I asked myself when I was compiling a list of songs to record was ‘could I make these songs my own?’ Because there was no pint in recording someone else’s song if you are just going to copy it. You have to stamp your personality on it. There has to be space for me to remodel it. If the original artist makes a definitive recording – the perfect arrangement, the best drum sound etc and also has a special ambience (atmosphere unique to that time and place) then there is nothing anyone else can do to improve it and a cover version would add nothing. So I picked songs that I thought should have had more choruses at a certain point, or a particular instrument that they didn’t use, or could have been played with more urgency or without stopping and starting so often (like Donovan’s ‘Guinevere’). So I was looking for songs that I loved AND that I could find something new to do to.
04. Step after step we find your choices to cover artists like Siouxsie & The Banshees, Adverts and Sparks... I am very curious to discover the reason of these choices.... Can you explain them?
When I first starting writing songs at the age of 14 I was listening to Glam rock and Prog Rock so I picked up those influences. Then punk happened and although I didn’t like it at the beginning (because anyone playing an acoustic guitar was dismissed as a ‘folky’ – which I wasn’t) I later heard things like The Ramones, Siousxie, Magazine and The Adverts and loved their attitude because I wasn’t a musician and neither were they. They wrote three chord songs with minimal frills (production gloss). Up until then I had been working with recording studio people and musicians who listened to Steely Dan (Vomit!!) and The Eagles (YUK!!) and thought that you had to play like them or give up. Punk showed that energy and attitude was more important than how many scales you knew and how many notes you could stuff into one guitar solo. I have always tried to write songs that say everything I want to say in under three minutes – it leaves more room for the listeners imagination. I prefer to suggest horror rather than make it explicit. In that sense I suppose I am the Val Lewton of pop rather than the David Cronenberg!
05. Before to talk about your new album "Pavane" there's another curiosity of mine I'd like to resolve.... Your interest and passion into gothic/horror literature and cinema is clear to everybody who knows your works (from the werewolf's cover to titles as Madame Guillotine, Nosferatu, Morgan Lefay...)... Paul, would you like to talk me about this passion you have?
To me Goth is an expression of a dark romantic soul. It is not morbid, but macabre. The distinction is important. I am not obsessed with death but with the pageant of death. Ever since I had out of body experiences as a child I knew that this world was not the only reality. And the more psychic experiences I have and the more insights I gain into the nature of reality, the more I lose my initial fear of the unknown. So I can write songs about these things as if they were dark fairy tales. And the characters that I create are not nasty, nightmarish things but sad, lonely misunderstood figures to which we can all relate, particularly if we are outsiders.
I need to escape from reality because I find this world ugly (at times), soulless and part of me yearns for a pastoral idyll inhabited by larger than life characters and flying machines. As the novelist L.P.Hartley observed, ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.’ And sometimes I need to go there, to return to an England that has gone, if it ever existed. I still feel a connection with my own past lives and I know that I have unfinished business which I sometimes try to resolve though my songs. Jst look at the themes I return to again and again if you want to look for clues.
06. "Pavane" confirms the gothic poetical vein you always had in your music. The album's production is particularly cured, the featured music is magic... And reading your thanks on the booklet I had the luck to discover a brilliant new band I didn't know (Elane)... Paul, would you like to talk us a bit more about this album?
When I wrote ‘Pavane’ after 7 years away from music I tried to put myself in the same mindset that I had when I made my first album at the age of 19. I didn’t want to become a self-indulgent, self-satisfied guy who was too tired and blasť to make something special. I wanted this second phase of my musical career to be better than the first so I told myself that this was my first album and I had to put everything into it.
I had written enough songs for three albums in a six week period after returning to music so I had to decide which songs to record and I thought my best chance was to make an acoustic album because that is what my fans like best. If it went well then I could record the rock songs, which is what I have been doing recently.
I also thought that ‘Pavane’ might be my last chance because the re-issue of ‘Duel’ on a small Greek label and the ‘Gaslight Tales’ compilation on a small French label hadn’t gone as well as expected. I thought I might not get another chance so I had to make the best album I could. No compromises.
I felt I was being given a second chance so I wrote a second song inspired by ray Bradbury’s story ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ to make up for the disappointing ‘Funhouse’ recorded in 1985. This was ‘Dark Carnival.’ And I used a riff on the acoustic guitar which is something I hadn’t done before. Then I wrote a baroque style instrumental Prelude in the manner of Michael Nyman who had once offered to work with me, but I had lost my nerve and didn’t send him my music to arrange because I was afraid he might not like it. So ‘Prelude’ was my attempt to create what might have been.
I also tried new things such as playing to a rhythm track from a keyboard which gave me rhythms I had never used before. And when it came to record the album I deliberately used sounds I hadn’t used before such as mandolin and a female backing singer to set it apart from the other albums.
I think Pavane benefits from a maturity I didn’t have when I was recording those albums in the 1980s and the new rock album that I have recorded with members of Caravan is even stronger.
07. What about the other things you are doing right now? Are you working to new songs or albums? Did you plan some concerts around? What else?
I am just finishing a new rock album which I recorded with my old band plus a couple of members of Caravan. The supernatural themes are still there, but there is a cynical humour which makes it my own. There are three tracks on the album which are inspired by the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, but it isn’t heavy gothic. Its more subtle than that. And again, I have tried to use new sounds to distinguish it from earlier albums. I have a mellotron, a Pink Floyd organ and a backward mellotron type sound like the one used on The Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields’. I also have a stronger driving bass played by a guy who used to play with Hendrix and other bands of that period.
I am also writing two books (my 19th and 20th published titles) – one is about Near Death Experiences and the other is called ‘Crime Scene’ about the use of forensic science. It is the first in what I hope will be a long run of true crime books. The next will be a book on Jack The Ripper. So I don’t have much spare time!
I would love to tour again though, particularly in Italy because the people there were so genuine and affectionate. I miss touring but I have two small boys to look after and a lot of books to write so taking time out is very difficult for me. Perhaps there might be a festival in Italy one day?
08. You'd certainly know that there is a good number of Italian people into the "gothic culture". Your name is still in the heart of a lot musical lovers. Your collaboration with the Black Widow label proved this! ...Are there other plans to work again with this Italian label?
Yes. I hope to give them the new rock album to release in January and also a real heavy Goth album for next September. But I also have a dark acoustic album which I have half finished writing, but I can’t release too many records as much as I would love to. The truth is that I can write several albums worth of songs in one short period, but record companies get a heart attack if you produce more than one album a year.
I am certainly heartened to hear that there are still people in Italy who remember me and who like my music. I just wish they would write to me because I love to hear from them and the more encouragement I get, the more music I create. (You can write to Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.paulroland.de )
09. Final question: what did you want to hear that I didn't ask you? You didn’t ask me what Italy means to me. So I will tell you, if you have the space.
Italy is very special to me because it was where fans reached up to shake my hand on stage for the first time and also where they came to me after the show with posters to autograph. I found both those things very touching. It is also the place where I produced an album for The Gang, my only job as a producer, which I would love to do again for other artists. It is also the location of my first website which encouraged me to write music again. And it is the country of Black Widow who have made it possible for me to return to recording again. So thank you to all my Italian friends. Ciao.