Spooky Songs for Creepy Kids, An Interview with Voltaire

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Voltaire

Voltaire has been one of the scene’s most prolific creators to date. His back catalog of works spans music, animation, toys and more – Gothic Beauty caught up with this busy rocker to inquire about his myriad endeavors, and to see what he has in store for the coming years!

Ever since The Devil’s Bris, we’ve heard you cover a lot of musical territory! Do you find yourself charting new courses with your sound for fun, or is it a sort of restlessness?
I find that I tend to write about what excites me at the moment. When I wrote The Devil’s Bris I was listening to a lot of Rasputina and Tom Waits and eastern European folk music. I was enamored, I still am, with the idea of making music that could have been released a hundred years ago. On Almost Human I played with the idea of using classical arrangements and instruments in what are in essence pops songs, but when I say pop songs, I mean pop in the sense of The Smiths or The Cure. I imagined what it might have been like if The Smiths were making songs in the eighteenth century, songs about the devil (laughs). By the time I made Boo Hoo, I had gotten really into Bjork and was really moved by her singing style and chord progressions so that finds its way into that record. And hell, on Ooky Spooky there are songs that could have been written by Cab Calloway, there’s old school jazz, a country song, a flamenco song, a mariachi band, even a reggae song for cryin’ out loud! But you know they are all about monsters and death and other morbid topics so one is less likely to think about the genre of music because they are focused on the storytelling. And anyway at the end of the day, my inability to perfectly copy my heroes leads to these songs sounding like something else entirely. They go through some kind of ‘Voltaire meat grinder’ and when they come out the other end, they just sound like one of my songs. It’s probably a good thing.

What do you think has been the most enjoyable part of making music for you?
I just really love the whole process, I really do. Getting an idea for a song is just one of the most exciting things to me. I love experiencing how it develops. Often, the melody will just pop into my head while I’m walking down the street or through an airport and then some words pop into my head and the more I hum the melody the more the form of it comes to light. It’s like watching a mist turn into a ghost then have it materialize into a real person right in front of you. People always ask me where I get the ideas for my songs. I honestly don’t know where these songs come from, it never feels like a conscious process. It’s weird but the whole experience is so out-of-body. It’s as if the songs are beamed into my head from somewhere else or by outside forces. Those outside forces could be aliens or demons or muses, but it’s most likely just my subconscious telling me things I supposedly already know. It always feels kind of magical though. And then playing the songs live for people? That’s just the icing on the cake!

Your latest two album releases, Spooky Songs for Creepy Kids and Hate Lives In a Small Town, both offer a refreshing spin on two less-than-likely “ooky-spooky” candidates – kid’s music and country music. Can you tell us what inspired you to make these? Was it different in process than your prior work?
After spending the better part of my adult life saying I hated country music, I was in a karaoke bar one night and heard some old Johnny Cash songs. I remembered that when I was a kid there were a great number of country songs I liked. I realized that I didn’t hate country after all; I hated what it had become. I got excited about making an old-school country album that could have been released forty years ago or so. The next day I set my mind to writing those songs and man – that was the fastest record I ever wrote. The songs just shot out of me. It was incredible. Now, if I was a smart businessman, I would’ve probably wondered if making a country CD would’ve be the smartest move for me, especially since people think of me as a Gothic musician. But in actuality, it went over really well and I found that people really embraced it. It seemed like a strange deviation to some, but in truth, good country music is about storytelling. It’s often dark, funny, bitter and always about the truth. And I think the reason those songs came to me so fast was because my music has always been about storytelling. My songs are often dark, funny, bitter and always about the truth or at least the truth about human nature. In essence, it really wasn’t that different at all from what I normally do. There just weren’t any vampires or zombies mentioned this time around (laughs). The kid’s CD I made specifically because my audience has grown in several different directions. Due to the fact that I have songs on the Cartoon Network show, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and the fact that I make guest appearances on the popular on-line roleplaying game AdventureQuest Worlds, I now have a whole new crop of fans who are kids. I don’t feel right handing them a CD that has a song about Zombie Prostitutes on it or a song about Luke Skywalker getting anally raped with a light-saber (laughs)! So I felt it was time to take my more kid-friendly songs and put them all on one disc so that I can safely tell a parent, ‘you can play this for your child without having to skip over the naughty bits’. I will say though, even that disc is full of monsters and demons and has liberal use of the word ‘hell’. But it’s as kid-proof as it’s going to get for me.

For those who are not yet familiar with your Chimerascope films (award-winners DemiUrge Emesis and X-mess Detritus among them) – can you tell our readers more about your film work and what other things you have planned for it?
In short, I animated and directed a bunch of the early MTV and Sci Fi Channel station IDs back in the day. I quit the business of making commercials fifteen years ago to make music. But now I’m back to making films for the love if it. I’ve been making a series of short films I call the “Chimerascope series” that pick up where those station IDs left off. Each film is very short, shot in stop-motion animation, has a name that sounds like a disease and is narrated by a singer. I’ve made four of them so far and I’m finishing up the fifth one now. Narrators I’ve worked with on the first four films are Danny Elfman, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, Deborah Harry of Blondie and Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. I’m presently working out who will narrate the current film. There’s never a script when I make the films, that’s part of the fun of it. I just make the characters then start animating them. In the wee hours of the morning I get crazy ideas and that’s when a T-rex who is supposed to eat a pterodactyl picks it up and licks it like a lollipop instead. The whole point for me is to get as close as possible to creating these in a dream state. I want for people to feel like they are looking into a dream when they watch these films. That’s where the name “Chimerascope” comes from, because you are getting a quick glimpse into a world full of monsters. After I finish each film, it does the film festival circuit. I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up a few awards for each one but that’s hardly the point. As long as I continue to have the time and money to make these and it’s still exciting to do, I guess I will keep making them! I suppose I’ll eventually put them all on a DVD.

Your YouTube channel has a treasure trove of stop-motion spots you’ve done for different commercials and stations – do you have a favorite project of these?
I’d have to say “MTV Bosch”. That was a station ID for MTV I made in 1987 based on the Hell panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights by Heironymus Bosch. It was my first ever directing job and I won a couple of awards for it. I was 19 or 20 at the time. Man, my head really exploded after that (laughs)! The success really got the better of me and I refused to work on anything ‘normal’ from them on. I only wanted to direct commercials that I designed and that were full of monsters. So you can imagine, that really cut down on a lot of the work I could have done, but it lead to some really cool spots. A Halloween piece I did for the Sci Fi Channel around 1996 also stands out in my head. I animated a bunch of skeletons in a cemetery. Hard to go wrong there! Plus I had just started making music and one of the producers from Sci Fi Channel came to my show and really liked my song When You’re Evil and insisted we use it in the commercial. I was pretty thrilled to be an unsigned musician and have my song playing all day long on The Sci Fi Channel. Good times.

Are you still working on adaptations of your comics, and further forays into film?
My first comic book series, “Chi-chian” has been optioned twice to be developed into a live action feature. Sadly, it didn’t go all the way either time. I’m still really hoping the right production team will come in and make it happen. I nearly cried when I saw Sucker Punch because it’s so similar stylistically and thematically speaking. There are so many elements in the Chi-chian comic books that were in that film. I guess I just need to find the right person or people to bring it to the big screen. I don’t mind publicly saying that Guillermo DelToro is my dream director for the project. In the meantime, I’ve just added to my website the Chi-chian animated web series that I made for the Sci Fi Channel’s website back in 2000. So while we try to make movie magic happen, people can at least watch her in animated form. I’ve also always wanted for years to make a TV series or webseries based on my “Oh My Goth!” comic books. Sci Fi Channel toyed with the idea years ago and Fangoria at one point nearly green-lighted it as a webseries but again, it just still hasn’t happened. I’m getting closer and closer to deciding to just do it myself but I’m intimidated by the amount of props and sets that would need to be built. Still it’s not impossible. I just have to find the time, which is always the hardest part for me. It’s basically about a Gothic alien and a robot who abduct cute girls, bands and celebrities to entertain themselves on their cathedral-shaped space ship. It’s an accidental talk show full of monsters. It’s Space Ghost Coast To Coast in live action, basically. While not based on a comic book, the film project of mine most likely to see the light of day is a screenplay I wrote called “Call of the Jersey Devil”. In it, a washed up Goth singer, that’s me!, and a bunch of mall rats, find themselves stranded in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey where they discover that the mythological Jersey Devil is real and that Hell is situated directly below New Jersey, which most of us already suspected. The script won Best Screenplay at the New York City Horror Film Festival last year and has gotten some really great interest. I’m presently tightening it up and then I either find a production company interested in making it, or I buy a Cannon 5D and make it my bloody self.

As if these ventures weren’t enough to keep you busy, you also have a lot of collector’s toys out there – how did you get into designing toys? Is this an on-going project?
That’s right! I just never stop. I’m the Gothic Energizer Bunny on crack. I get excited about things and then I just go out and try to make them happen. I had always wanted to make toys. I went to a lot of the big toy companies and pitched them on making toys from my comic book characters and got doors slammed in my face for years. Then I struck a deal with a toy company called Toy2R to make a figure of my comic book character, Deady. It sold really well and lead to a whole string of Deady toys. To date I’ve made over a dozen Deady vinyl toys including some collaborations with the Skelanimals, a Deady “Stich” toy with Disney and even a Deady Hot Wheels car for the Japanese market. I’m happy to say that there are a whole bunch of new Deady toys coming down the pike this year. You can see all of the toys to date on Deady’s website. (www.deadybear.net)

What else do you have up your sleeve for 2011/2012?
I just started working on the next album. I plan to have it out before the end of the year, with any luck, by September 1st. It’s going to be called, are you ready for this? “Riding a black unicorn down the side of an erupting volcano while drinking from a chalice filled with the laughter of small children!” No, I’m not kidding (laughs)! I keep in very close contact with my fans. I read every email I get and try to reply to as many as possible. Recently, I was really struggling to come up with a description of my music because I’m really bad at describing it in any kind of a concise way and out of nowhere a young lad named J. Alex Helbig posted on my Facebook page that my music “is the audio equivalent of riding a black unicorn down the side of an erupting volcano while drinking from a chalice filled with the laughter of small children!”. I said, hot damn, I love that! That’s what I’m going to call the album! I also recently took a poll as to what kind of album I should make. Most of the replies I got suggested, gypsy, circus music, the blues, dark cabaret, serious songs, someone even suggested heavy metal. So I said, okay! Yes! I’m doing them all (laughs)! As far as I’m concerned, the unifying theme on the next album will be ‘AWESOME’. If it’s not AWESOME, it won’t be on there. And of course it needs to sound like ‘riding a black unicorn down the side of an erupting volcano while drinking from a chalice filled with the laughter of small children!’

You can see all of Voltaire’s films and hear all of his albums in their entirety on his website: www.voltaire.net