Interview with Paul Roland
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Paul: I saw the film ‘Stardust’ (the sequel to ‘That’ll Be The Day’) in 1973 and came out of the cinema swearing an oath that I would be a rock star or die trying! The fact that the hero (played by David Essex) becomes a raving mad recluse and dies of a drug overdose didn’t dampen my enthusiasm one bit!
If I hadn’t been a musician (I’ve long accepted the fact that I won’t reach the heights of success or insanity attained by David Essex’s character so ‘rock star’ remains an unfulfilled adolescent fantasy!) I’d have been satisfied with being the English Stephen King. The idea of writing all those books sounds like the perfect life to me and its not the fact that they each sold millions or were made into films, it’s the fact that they are all so beautifully written. He couldn’t have slept more than two hours a night for 40 years to have written them – to me that beats going to the moon or climbing Everest. What an incredible achievement.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Paul: I watch movies – classic black & white noir and 40s horror films, foreign language films and music DVDs. I find it fascinating to watch musicians who have mastered their instruments. It’s the closest thing to witnessing magic being performed before your very eyes.
How long have you been making music?
Paul: I’d rather not say! Let’s just say that I grew up at the greatest time for rock and pop music – the 1960s – and I started recording after glam rock, prog and punk when anyone with determination and blind faith in their own ability could hire a studio, press their own record and sell it direct to indie distributors like Rough Trade and – if they were really lucky, as I was – have it reviewed in the mainstream music press and played by John Peel even though it was released on your own label.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Paul: I live in Cambridge, but I grew up in Kent near Canterbury, but I can’t say that environment influenced my own music in any way other than I felt isolated from the London music business and so never felt inclined to pander to fashion or other people’s expectations.
Tell me about your most memorable shows, if you haven’t played live what is your vision for a live show?
Paul: There are too many to be honest. I think the first time the front row of the audience reached up to shake my hand in Italy in the late 80s was a significant event, but so were the various festivals I played in Greece where people danced and sang along to the songs and also the first time in Italy when I was surrounded by fans asking me to autograph the concert poster. The last time I played in Italy with my new band a few months ago was incredible too – it was outside in a town square because it was summer and it was packed. It was the first time I had ever received a standing ovation and just a week before we had played our first ever gig as a band at a metal festival in Denmark where they nearly pulled me into the crowd at the end. But every gig is a buzz – even those where the sound on stage might be badly mixed or you make mistakes, so long as the audience goes away happy, that makes it all worthwhile.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Paul: I’m particularly thrilled to play in Italy and Greece because they treat me as a serious artist and you can’t ask for more than that. I don’t need huge record sales or the gushing praise of the men in suits at a major label. It’s the fans I’m writing and performing for. But I do feel there is still a hunger to play in America. I haven’t done that yet and it’s not too late.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Paul: I wouldn’t swap my band for any famous musicians though I’d sell my soul to have Marc Bolan on stage with me. No one else comes close.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Paul: It’s probably the same advice – don’t be impatient. Wait until you have an album of songs that are so strong you wouldn’t dream of dropping a single one. I made my first album, ‘The Werewolf of London’ when I was 19 and though it got good reviews and tracks were played by Peel and others, I was into too many diverse styles and should have waited a year or so until I have found my own ‘voice’ and my own subjects – horror, the supernatural – and focused on one distinctive style – goth with a touch of psych pop.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Paul: Too many of them mean a great deal to me and as I write both intimate acoustic songs and full-on goth rock and psych pop, so many have a unique personality or quality that isn’t replicated by the others. If pressed, I’d say ‘Edgar Allen Poe’ is about as perfect a slice of psychpop as I have made, while ‘Blades of Battenburg’ is prime goth rock and quite original as it comes from my own macabre world inspired by the DC horror comics I read when I was a kid and not from the usual sources. That said, ‘Nosferatu’ (the original song, not the gothic ballet I wrote with the same title) puts a different and unique spin on the subject of the vampire and ‘The Great Edwardian Airraid’ typifies my wistful Edwardian acoustic songs and helped earn me the respect of the steampunk community who consider it the earliest example of steampunk in a song which is nice.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Paul: Oddly enough, it’s the more obscure and ‘eccentric’ songs such as ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘Hugo’ about a possessed ventriloquist) that are the most pleasing to play and not the more popular ones such as those I just mentioned. I suppose because I get to act them out and inhabit those demented characters while I’m more of the narrator on ‘Nosferatu’, ‘Aleister Crowley’ and ‘Poe’ etc Fortunately my audience is usually responsive to both the goth rockers and the psychpop songs as well as the wistful acoustic songs, though when we played the metal festival in Denmark this year and in 2019 - on both occasions I chose the heavier songs but it wasn’t strictly necessary as the subject of the songs was what caught their imagination and attention (a lot of my songs are about the occult, both the serous ones and the ‘comic strip’ songs that make fun of Crowley and his contemporaries)
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
Paul: I used to wait until I read something that inspired me or saw a movie or heard a track by another artist then I picked up my acoustic guitar and I was off. But then I started to use drum machine patterns to get me in the zone and now its more likely to be an arp pattern from a keyboard that will trigger a response from me even if I don’t use the keyboard phrase in the finished track.
Do you have messages that you like to get across in your music, if so please tell me about them?
Paul: No, I never preach to anyone. I’m merely telling short stories set to music, as Greg Lake described it, (often my own or sometimes inspired by writers such as Lovecraft, Poe, Wells or M.R. James) or describing a scene or a character.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Paul: I have just finished a gothic chamber opera inspired by the vampire novella ‘Carmilla’ by Le Fanu and I have several album in the can waiting release but the next project I will be working on will be a Kinks/Jam/Who-type album of songs set in post war Britain with ‘Brighton Rock’ as its central theme and associated themes such as the Craig-Bentley murder case. I’m writing that with an American artist who shares my obsession with the 60s and hopefully that will get an American release and maybe lead to some US dates.
How can your fans best keep up to date with you, any socials you want people to check out?
Paul: I have several Facebook pages including a PRAS group page https://www.facebook.com/groups/217193576940146 plus my bandcamp site https://paul-roland.bandcamp.com/