Acropolis - Greek webzine interview
1.Where are you now, Paul, what mood are you in, and what have you been doing, before answering my questions?
I am sitting in my study at 11pm and feeling relaxed and satisfied. I’ve been watching episodes of a great cult TV series called ‘Tru Calling’ about a girl who works in a morgue and has to relive her days in order to save the dead people who ask for her help. Its intelligently written, cleverly plotted and moves at a cracking pace – a mixture between ‘Run Lola Run’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after just six episodes into season 2. I strongly recommend it.
I’m also feeling good because I’ve just been reading a very positive review of one of my books, ‘Contact Your Guardian Angel’, in a national UK magazine and so I feel that I am finally getting recognition for my writing too. I’m beginning to believe there might be something in astrology after all as I seem to have emerged from a long period when I couldn’t make any progress with my music and my books were published but badly distributed and were not actively promoted, but now everything seems to be working out perfectly.
2.What are you wearing, and what can you see out of the window?
I am just dressed casually, Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, black trousers (black being my favourite colour) and I can see the stars and the silhouettes of the hills rolling away from Roland Towers.
3.Where are you currently living? Do you feel comfortable with living in the UK?
Roland Towers is my crumbling ancestral pile in the Kent countryside and so I feel at home here, but I am seriously considering emigrating to Germany in the next few years because I have become disillusioned with England and I have family and friends in Europe.
4.Do you think that British people appreciate your music? Or maybe you’re much more appreciated and loved outside the UK, like the rest of Europe?
I have a few British fans who still write to me on a regular basis, but 90% of the people who write to me are in mainland Europe (Greece, Italy, Germany and France particularly) for the simple reason that I played in those countries quite a few times and did interviews for the national radio and magazines so people in those countries heard my music on daytime radio and read reviews in the press which treated me like a respected artist. But in England I didn’t get any support from the music press and only DJs like John Peel, Mark Radcliffe and Alan Freeman played my albums so I have remained an obscure cult figure. The same is true in America and Japan. I had one or two albums released there but no reviews or radio play and I didn’t have a promoter to organise a tour for me so I am unknown there. That’s just the way the music business is. It’s a merchandise business like everything else. It doesn’t matter whether you are selling music, movies or baked beans – you need a marketing campaign behind you or you won’t get noticed. The quality of the ‘product’ is of no importance. Distributors can’t afford to carry anything that will not sell enough to make a healthy profit. But I have stopped caring about them. I now see myself as a speciality product – like fine Belgian chocolates, a handmade figurine or a limited edition print by an old master. As long as people with intelligence and taste enjoy my music, I will continue creating it.
5.Who’s the last person you spoke to?
My youngest son, Joshua who is 7 years old. He and his brother Michael (9) insist on being told a story by their dad every night so they are the last people I speak to every day. I think I must have told them the plot of every horror movie I have ever seen by now – I’m just hoping they won’t be disappointed when they become teenagers and watch ‘Alien’ for the first time and realise I lied to them when I told them it was about a giant rabbit who bursts out of a chocolate easter egg!
6.Does a song of yours, already issued on record, stick to your head? Which is the song (yours or not) that has been in your head the longest?
I don’t tend to play my own songs unless I am actually working on them and then I might sing the verse or chorus to myself in the hope that the idea for another part might come to me naturally. My personal favourite song is ‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’ which I thought was too slow to include on ‘Masque’ and so ended up as an extra track on the CD. I also like ‘Meet Mr Scratch’ and a few other songs which nobody ever mentions when they write to me, so maybe I am not the best judge of my own work!
7.Have you been financially successful as a musician?
At one time I had three labels issuing the same album in different countries so I had no serious worries about covering the cost of recording. But now my situation is similar to that of Orson Welles, scrabbling here and there to finance the next project. When I despair with the distributors I think of poor Orson and what he had to put up with to get his films made. In fact, I might write a song about him one day.
8.Not every wound can be healed?
That line from ‘Phantoms’ refers to emotional wounds. Loss is a big recurring theme of mine, an obsession in fact. Part of it goes back to my childhood when I spent idyllic holidays with my grandmother and aunt in Ireland, then they died when I was a teenager and their house was closed. And partly it comes from a feeling that something innocent was lost after the First World War – and that is why I created the fictional pastoral Edwardian region of Wyndham Hill (which has nothing to do with the New Age music label with the same name). I took the name from the English science fiction author John Wyndham.
9.What’s your secret obsession? How about your cruel addiction?
My secret obsession is keeping a written record of every funny thing my children say. I’ve written down every funny thing they have said since they learned to talk because you can never remember it and you wouldn’t believe it if you didn’t write it down. For example, my oldest son Michael told me that when his little brother got an award at school his ‘eyes watered with happiness’.
And my cruel addiction is the past. I know I should live in the present but I feel that I lost something long ago and only by searching for it through my music will I be able to revisit it. Maybe it’s a place, or maybe it’s a person. Perhaps its paradise and that is why people create art and why all sensitive people need music, movies or painting or whatever helps them to connect with that heightened state of consciousness. We need art and beauty otherwise we would go insane from the frustration of being separated from the divine.
10.How much of the stuff of ‘Pavane’ was recorded one-take?
P:All of the backing tracks except for ‘Hymn’. That first session when I recorded all the acoustic guitars straight off without a single mistake and then overdubbed a second guitar in perfect timing with the first on most of the tracks was one of the best sessions I have ever had. And it was especially satisfying as I wasn’t sure if I could still perform, having not recorded new material for almost seven years. All through the ‘Pavane’ sessions I didn’t know if it would get a release or not. But I had to record again if only to prove to myself that I could still recapture that innocence.
11.Do you invite your friends and beloved ones to watch your recording sessions or, usually, is it just you and the band that backs you?
I don’t invite anyone except the musicians, but in 88 my mother and father came to one of the Happy Family sessions when we were recording the string parts because I was particularly proud of that and they were always very supportive and they liked my funnier songs.
During ‘Pavane’ I had to bring my children to one of the last sessions because there was no one to look after them and they surprised me by being very patient and behaving really well so I was able to do the overdubs and they finally saw what dad does when he’s not making them lunch or tidying away their toys!
12.How long did it take for ‘Pavane’ to be recorded in its entirety?
My albums usually take between 2 and 3 weeks but the sessions are usually spread over a couple of months. ‘Happy Families’ and ‘A Cabinet Of Curiosities’ were the exception. They took 5 days each.
‘Pavane’ was ready last spring but I couldn’t find a label and used the waiting period to add female backing vocals which my friends in Germany did for me. I’m usually in a hurry to finish so I can hear the completed album – I’m a very impatient person – but that forced break taught me the value of patience. If I had insisted on releasing it in the spring I would not have had those female vocals which really made those tracks special.
13.Has it been released in the US? Will it be released over there? Do you have a fanbase in the US?
I don’t have any contacts in the US. I don’t think an American label would release an album by a minor English artist unless they were prepared to tour for months to promote it.
14.How would you imagine the typical Paul Roland fan, if a such a person exists?
Well, I’ve met quite a few and I have read a lot of letters in which they tell me about themselves so I think I can say with some confidence that the typical Roland fan is either a student or well educated and well read professional (I know quite a few are doctors and solicitors) although some have confessed that their children or their parents like my music too.
15.OK, let us now talk about the average age of the people that attend your live shows.
They seem to be between 20-40.
16.What’s the weirdest thing that a fan’s given to you?
I haven’t had anything weird. Someone once gave me a portrait they had painted of me which is hanging in my study as I write this. Others have given me pages and pages of my lyrics which they have translated into their own language. Another made a cartoon of a knight listening to one of my albums on his walkman and another presented me with my early albums converted to CD complete with full colour cover after having transferred and cleaned up the vinyl using a computer programme. I was very touched by all these gifts because it shows how sincerely and deeply they are affected by my music.
17.Tell us about a life-changing experience of yours, that has to do with music… like a record or a concert that blew your mind…
A short but significant experience was the time I went backstage after seeing Ozzy Osbourne at Wembley in 1982 and asked for his advice on how to be successful in the music business. His reply was ‘keep away from f@#**ng record companies’. And he was right.
But the concerts that made the biggest impression on me were the concerts I played in Greece in Athens, Patras and Thessaloniki – all of them. But the first concert at the Rose club Athens was particularly special as I didn’t know what to expect. I kept looking out through a secret window in the dressing room into the auditorium and counting the people coming in. At first there was only a handful and I kept saying to myself that there would only be 20 or 30 but I was just glad to be in Athens. Then ten minutes later there were 50 or so and I thought ‘this might not be too bad’. Another ten minutes and there were 75 or so and it went on like this until the club filled up and when we left the stage they were chanting ‘we want Paul, we want Paul’. That’s what you dream of but you really don’t expect it to happen. And then the next year I played with the band in Patras in an orchard under an old castle and they were dancing and howling along to ‘Werewolves of London’. That was a one in a lifetime experience. And then there was the concert with Steppes and Fallen Angels and the huge beach festival in Athens in 92 I think it was. I have so many happy memories of Greece.
18.Do you think you’ll ever write songs about more, ermmm…, contemporary subjects?
No. There is no romance in this age of cynicism and materialism.
19.How many songs remain unfinished on your shelves?
‘None. I only finish songs that have potential and only record those I intend to release. Those that aren’t strong enough don’t get lyrics and are erased so that I can’t think about them anymore. I am my own severest critic.
20.What’s your most pleasant or maybe unpleasant -but anyway strong- memory of Thessaloniki?
I remember an outdoor concert with my band when the electric generator kept breaking down. That had always been my worst nightmare, but when it actually happened I was surprised that I didn’t really mind. It wasn’t my fault and the audience seemed to accept that these things sometimes happen.
The other memorable occasion was the festival in an old cinema when we were playing with Steppes and Fallen Angels. During the gig the front row of the audience stretched out their hands to shake my hand and a member of the audience jumped up on stage and hugged me which I had never had before. That was exciting.
21.Which artist would you fancy cover a specific song of yours, and which song exactly?
If we could turn back time obviously it would have to be Marc Bolan. I couldn’t think of a better endorsement of my music than having him record one of my songs. But if it had to be a living artist I would love to see what Morrissey would do with …He is probably one of the few who would appreciate the irony in my lyrics.
22.I’ll leave the epilogue up to you, Paul.
What can I say except I hope I haven’t rambled on too long and thank you very much for making an old man very happy. I hope I will have another opportunity to come back to Greece and meet all those people who like my music before this year is over. If anyone wants to see what is happening in Roland’s dark carnival they can visit www.paulroland.de
Thank you again.