Interview for Nobody’s Land (Italy)
1-Hello Paul, I'm a young man from 1956, and you?
Hello. I have been 29 for more than a hundred years and hope to be 29 for another century or two. My good friend and colleague Dr Jekyll and I had a competition to see who could develop a serum (potion) that would keep us eternally young and I won. I guess you know what happened to him. Very nasty. Poor fellow. And now you know why I appear to be the same age on all my albums! Some might say its because I use old photos, but that’s not true. I thought that if I lived long enough my music might come back into fashion, eventually.
2-I know you love Marc Bolan but can you tell me your most important musical influences please?
I was pretty much fixated (obsessed) with Bolan from the age of 14 and the mainstream rock artists of the 70s until I found my own musical style with my second album ‘Burnt Orchids’ in 1985. Then I started to acquire a taste for a very wide range of music which I have been adding to ever since. I pride myself on discovering new music every few years and I believe it is important to be passionate about new music no matter how old you are. During the 80s pop music was so bad, so contrived, commercial and electronic that I lost interest in it and turned instead to film composer Michael Nyman and through his work I was introduced to classical composers such as Purcell and Handel and eventually opera. The Smiths, The Ramones and The Cult were the only rock bands I listened to through the 80s. Then in the 90s Britpop revived my belief in rock and I discovered Suede. More recently I’ve acquired a taste for Muse, Metallica, Green Day and Rammstein and a country rock singer called Patty Griffin. I also rediscovered artists who didn’t appeal to me when I was younger such as Rory Gallagher and George Thorogood.
3-Marc Bolan considered himself a poet more than a musician, is it the same for you? And you had his wife June Child for your manager, right? Can you say something about this please?
Many people compare my lyrics to poetry but I am not a frustrated poet. I wouldn’t write poetry if I had the chance. I began writing short stories when I was a child and I suppose I am still writing short stories today but in verse and with a musical background to create a cinematic scene in the listener’s mind. The words are very important to me and I take great care over the words I choose and the sentence structure. That is why I have always written and recorded the music first and then written the lyrics (with the exception of ‘Happy Families’ which was a series of limericks about eccentric characters set to music). It is true that I was once managed by Marc’s wife, June, and her then partner David Enthoven who had been the manger of Roxy Music, ELP and King Crimson. But nothing happened. They couldn’t get me a record deal and eventually I gave up and concentrated on music journalism. This was in 1982. For three years I wrote for some of the big rock magazines in England – Kerrang, Sounds and Record Mirror – before I found a small independent label and wrote the album that I consider was the first ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ Paul Roland album, ‘Burnt Orchids’.
4-You like very much gothic literature, right? Can you tell us your favourite books?
To be honest, I have never been a great reader. I think my love of words must come from a previous life because I was too lazy to read books when I was younger. I read ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’ and some H G Wells when I was 9 or so because I was curious to know what the real stories were as my parents wouldn’t let me watch the films. But after that I didn’t pick up a book until I was 30. Then I read 100 books in a year to prove that I could do it. I had split up with a girl who had been to university and had an English degree and it was some kind of intellectual revenge on my part I suppose!
Now I read to find ideas or atmosphere for lyrics. I’m currently digesting Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and William Hope Hodgson. But my favourite authors are HG Wells and M R James because both are masters of language and character.
5-You recorded many albums during all these years, which are the titles you most love of your recordings? (I love Dance macabre and Duel especially)
I tend to like the albums which I feel are closer to the sound I was trying to achieve and on which my own performance is acceptable to me. For a long time I hated ‘Duel’ because the studio had ruined the sound, but after I added some small but significant changes for the Greek reissue (on Haunted Forest) and re-mastered it to make it sound less sharp I can listen to it again. The same is true of ‘Strychnine’ the album of cover versions which sounded unfinished until I re-visited it a couple of years ago for the re-issue on the Italian label Black Widow.
I always liked ‘Masque’, although the drums are too loud on several tracks, and ‘A Cabinet Of Curiosities’ and ‘Happy Families’ because they are both an indulgence – a private pleasure which I didn’t expect other people to like. ‘Gargoyles’ is another album I am proud of, but ‘Sarabande’ is the worst album I ever made. It was in a bad studio with a new band and I didn’t get the sounds I was after, although again, after a few small re-touches for the compilation ‘Gaslight Tales’ some of the tracks turned out very well indeed. But a couple of others had to be completely re-recorded, which is something I try to avoid if at all possible. But that is the trouble with being independent. I had to record in certain studios at certain times and make the best of it. Often I would have to remix or re-record songs at another studio years later to get the sound or feel I wanted the first time but failed to get.
6-I know you played around UK but also in Germany, France, Belgium and Italy. Do you like to play live? Can you say something about your concerts around Europe please?
My happiest memories are of the concerts I played in Europe. I only played a few warm-up gigs in the UK to get ready for a tour of Europe because I didn’t have an agent or promoter in England so the gigs were small. But in Greece I was treated with the respect I had always dreamed of and the warmth and enthusiasm of the audience and the media was deeply satisfying. In England the audience tends to play cool and only like what they are told is ‘in’ this month. But in Europe people like an artist because the music appeals to them personally and it doesn’t matter what label the media put on that artist or whether their kind of music is fashionable at the moment. It is much more honest in Europe. If someone likes your music then they will still like your music many years later - if it is good.
7-You love to create some strange characters like Walter the Occultist, Dr.Strange, Gabrielle, Madame Guillotine, Captain Blood ...are these inspirations from old horror movies? Do you like old horror movies ? Your favourites?
I do love old horror movies – particularly the classic black and white Universal horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s as well as the RKO B movies of the 1940s such as ‘Cat People’ which were directed by Jacques Tourneur and others. They have a dream-like quality and heightened reality that is somehow reassuring and far more interesting than the ‘real’ world. But those characters from my songs that you mention are my own creation with the exception of Dr Strange. I have no interest in writing conventional love songs. I can only be excited by strong characters or fanciful situations in which ordinary people do extraordinary things or are confronted by extraordinary creatures. ‘Gabrielle’ is a love song, but it’s a love song to a ghost. ‘Christine’ is also a love song. but the man is clearly mad as he wants to make his new love dress in the clothes of his dead wife. That is my idea of a real romantic!
8-Where do you live now? Do you like watch TV and do you like football?
I'm crazy fan of English football and i love also Rugby!
I still live in Kent, in south east England in a crumbling old ruin called Roland Towers and I’m afraid I do not like sport of any kind. I like the football world cup though because it puts the best teams against each other every night or so in an intense competition, but otherwise I don’t watch football.
9-You recorded many covers in your fantastic album "Strychnyne and other potent poisons". There are psychedelic, folk, rock and also some punk numbers, is this because you love all these music styles or for some other particular reasons?
I like songs. I am not stuck on a particular style of music. I am always looking for good songs and particularly songs with a strong idea or story. I like ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’ because of the horror film storyline and I love ‘Guinevere’, ‘Iscariot’ and ‘Lady Rachel’ for the enchanted dark fairy tale world they conjure up. But having said that, the lyrics of Siouxsie and The Banshees ‘Arabian Knights’ are nothing special. It was the melody and intensity of sound that appealed to me. I like to record another artist’s song only if I can do something new to it.
10-Nobody's land is a mag dedicated especially to progressive rock! Do you like bands like YES, Camel, Genesis, Strawbs, King Crimson, Black Widow, Soft Machine, Hawkwind, High Tide, Gryphon....????
I have to confess that Yes are and have been always been one of my favourite bands. When I was 14 I was introduced to ‘Fragile’ and then ’Topographic Oceans’ and continue to play them at least once a week. For some reason Genesis never appealed (too self-consciously clever, I think), Soft Machine were too jazzy for my liking and I never heard Camel, High Tide or Black Widow (they weren’t played on the radio in the UK and my friends didn’t have their albums). But I loved the Strawbs and was invited to record with Dave Cousins around the time of ‘Masque’, but we couldn’t get a suitable date sorted out. My favourite rock album of all time is ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’ though I didn’t like any of their other albums (perhaps because Greg Lake had left and their music became less well focussed – rambling jazz-rock instrumentals instead of songs). I remember seeing Gryphon play live at Canterbury University in the mid 70s and thought they were fun and Hawkwind are still firm favourites which I play all the time, but only the classic early 70s albums. The album I am recording now with my band and members of Caravan has a strong Hawkwind and King Crimson influence. Roland goes space rock with mellotron!
11-You released "Strychnine.." by Black Widow Records, a label from Italy, " the reissue of "Duel" is for another label from Greece, "Pavane " is out on your own label, we know that a double vinyl edition of Pavane is coming for Black Widow Records ...is this a very creative time for you? Are you happy after so many years of silence?
Yes I am more than happy. I am fulfilled. During those seven years when I was away from music I didn’t play the guitar at all and I didn’t listen to my own music. I had to pretend it had never happened and that that part of me was dead. It is possible to pretend that you are someone else – I was ‘dad’ to my two little boys and I wrote nearly 20 books and taught magic and meditation and had many strange experiences but it was not ‘me’. I was denying a part of myself and that isn’t healthy. I may never be well known or sell hundreds of thousands of albums now but at least I am being creative again and my new music is better, more mature, than my old songs. I now have a better understanding of what aspect of my music appeals to people and what doesn’t. I have discarded certain affectations and become more myself. And I am not so easily discouraged by what critics or distributors or promoters say anymore. I think this will be my most productive period when I will create the best songs of my career – provided that I find support from a label that understands what I am about.
12-Your future projects?
This is my problem. I have too many. When I read good reviews or someone sends me a fan letter I get ideas and could write 2 or three albums a year, but of course that’s not a good idea according to the labels and distributors. At the moment I have a rock album nearly finished, an acoustic album half written (a follow up to ‘Pavane’) and ideas for a rock opera and a really dark gothic album (or perhaps a gothic rock opera?).
13-Last question is like a game! I say a name and you say the first thing coming in your mind, ok?
Syd Barrett- overrated
Marc Bolan – underrated. He lived his life backwards like Orson Welles, making his most original and inspired music at the beginning and the superficial stuff at the end.
David Bowie- Like Bolan some of best songs were unreleased at the time (Velvet Goldmine, Sweet Head and the original demo of Candidate)
Glam Rock- Great fun and brilliant drum and guitar sounds. I grew up with Slade, T.Rex, Sparks etc
Conan Doyle- There is a song waiting to be written about his obsession with photographing fairies and I’m going to write it.
Edgar A. Poe- he proved that you have to be both mad and talented to write truly original and inspired stories
H.G.Wells- the one writer whose mastery of language I admire and adore
Punk- nihilistic and no fun
11 September- the day I started work on my 15th book ‘How Psychic Are You?’ and then stopped to watch real horror live on TV.
The future- more happiness. Maybe a return visit to Greece?
Thanks Paul, you are Unique! M.G.
Thank you, my pleasure. PR