Paul Roland – ‘Uncut’ Interview, Spring 2016
“Occult hero’s eccentric, psychedelic post-punk … patchouli-oil scented esoteric pop [and] paisley shirt recidivism… Roland has been acclaimed a steampunk prophet…not without honour in his own land, either.”
(from the album review by J. Wirth)
You were obviously a massive Marc Bolan fan – what was it about him that appealed to you? Which of his records was your favourite?
PR: Initially it was the sound, energy and immediacy of his early 70s singles with their revamped Chuck Berry riffs, fluid Hendrix-style lead licks, staccato strings and, of course, his unique and highly distinctive voice. But then I heard his early acoustic albums with Steve Took which offered a glimpse of another, magical world inhabited by dragons and magicians and I fell under his spell. It took me a few years to find my own voice and songwriting style, but I’ve never lost my love for those early records. It was only after writing a third Bolan biography last year that I think I’ve finally repaid the debt I owe him. ‘Unicorn’ has to be my indispensable Bolan album, but there’s half a dozen I couldn’t live without.
With Weird Strings et al., you kind of snuck in under the radar as a post-punk act when it seems that your interests were a bit more psych into prog. Did you have to keep that quiet at the time?
PR: Not only my love of psych and prog, but the very fact that I played an acoustic guitar! I think that was a hanging offence at the time. But I think it was the three-chord ethic I had learned from Bolan which saved me from being lumped in with the early 70s bands that I had grown up listening to and the fact that I had also learned to say everything in under three minutes, which is an admirable discipline for a songwriter.
Would you say Robyn Hitchcock was your main fellow traveller as a writer? It is interesting that you and he both had fathers who were writers – did your dad have similar literary interests to you?
PR: I only recorded once with Robyn who sings and plays on a couple of tracks on the Cherry Red compilation. His main influences were Barrett and Beefheart while mine were Bolan, Johnny Burnette and Hawkwind! As for my father, he was responsible for the ‘Godfather of steampunk’ label that I’ve been tagged with as he introduced me to the Edwardian world of H.G. Wells who became my primary literary influence.
Danse Macabre is regarded as your big record – did you know at the time that you had ‘aced it’?
PR: Yes. To be honest, I felt I had a very special collection of songs at that time with themes that intrigued me but which I could only find in books, American horror comics and old black and white horror films. That’s why I felt the need to make those records. I wanted to hear a particular kind of album with a strong literary theme that no one else appeared to be making at that time. But it was good that I had no idea how well they were being received as it meant I have always had to prove myself with every album. Complacency and success has killed off so many creative people. I’m truly glad I didn’t make it until now!
How did your interest in the occult and true crime dovetail with music – which came first?
PR: I had out-of-body experiences as a child which led me to want to explore my own psychic sensitivity and the more I experienced, the less fearful I became and the more hungry I was to discover the significance of such phenomena. It was natural that when I came to write books and songs that the books would concentrate on the serious aspect of the supernatural while the songs largely toyed with the more fanciful aspects.
Are you a ‘believer’ in the paranormal? Has that side of your work ever fed directly into the songs you write?
PR: I have had many personal experiences, some of which I included in my books, which were written primarily to take the sensationalism and the fear out of the unknown. I also created a unique visual tool for safe self-exploration called ‘The Kabbalah Cards’, so that should tell you how serious I am about mysticism; however, I cannot take everything that I hear and read too seriously and that’s why I take a more whimsical and cynical view of the occult and some of the eccentric characters that it attracts in my songs.
Does the storytelling in your songs have personal relevance or is it pure fantasy?
PR: I think a lot of it is a form of wish fulfilment. I’d love to have had the leisure to idle away my youth in an opium den, or to have kept a miniature orchestra for my convenience in a cigar box, or dispensed with annoying double glazing salesmen as the taxidermist does in another of my early songs, but sadly you just can’t get away with murder these days. Unless, of course, you are in politics.
The ‘steampunk’ aesthetic is a big part of the stuff on this compilation – did you ever have the idea that you were born in the wrong time? Would you have made a good Victorian cutpurse?
PR: I don’t have the nerve to be an Artful Dodger or a Jack Shepherd (the 18th century thief who became famous for his daring escapes from Newgate). Nor do I have the technical know-how or mechanical mind to be an eccentric Edwardian inventor. But had I been born in a previous century I would have enjoyed shocking polite society with my chamber orchestra arrangement of ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’!
Interview by Jim Wirth, UNCUT magazine, May 2016
Posted on April 24, 2016, in Danse Macabre, In The Opium Den (The Early Recordings 1980-1987), Marc Bolan, music, Paul Roland, Record labels, steampunk, T Rex and tagged Captain Beefheart, Edwardian, H.G. Wells, Hawkwind, indie, Johnny Burnette, Kabbalah, Marc Bolan, music, paranormal, Paul Roland, prog, psych, psychic, psychpop, Robyn Hitchcock, steampunk, supernatural, Syd Barrett, T Rex, Victorian. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.