Josh Pfeiffer of Vernian Process and Gilded Age Records
Wrenching Music from the Machine
www.vernianprocess.com / www.gildedagerecords.com
Joshua Pfeiffer is a modern day Frankenstein, stopping at nothing to bring his musical monsters to life. Now, they run free and unchecked across the web, spreading from streampunk ipods onto the dark and noisy dance floors of America.
As a longtime member of Dieselpunks and a fellow member of the New Promethean mindset, Josh takes us into the mind of Vernian Process.
Talk to me about your namesake, Jules Verne. Do you remember what you were reading when the inspiration for Vernian Process struck? Have any favorite pieces or passages you can recommend?
Well I think that Jules Verne represents everything I love about not just Steampunk, but Science-Fiction in general. He wrote about things that at the time seemed like fantasy to the common populace, but were very much things that were literally just around the bend. It's interesting that the majority of his most famous work came about right at the dawn of the industrial revolution. As if he was foreseeing what that evolution would eventually create.
As for inspiration on my part. I wouldn't say it was any of his stories in particular, but more a general tone of his style. A "Vernian Mythos" if you will.
I think one of his most interesting pieces, is his lost novel "Paris in the 20th Century". It is a book that is similar to later classics like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, etc. A near future story about a Utopian society, however underneath it all is a Dystopian core. Kind of off-kilter, and more than a little subversive. Martin got me into this novel recently, and I find it fascinating because it is so far removed from his typical themes. Other than that, 20,000 Leagues is probably my favorite of his novels. It has so many layers of sub-text, and Prince Dakkar (Captain Nemo) is such an interesting and conflicted character.
Vernian Process is unusual in that the band is highly productive - releasing several LPs and EPs in the past handful of years - but you're not pushing for a profit. A lot of your music, if not all of it, has been available for free via legal download in the various Steampunk communities. What drives you to keep giving great music to the community?
Yeah all of our music is free right now. The only time we will charge for our work is for hard copy CD's. Because unfortunately CD's cost money to manufacture. We're generous, but we're not rich. The reason behind this is two fold:
First, I never started writing music thinking of making a living doing it, so it seemed the easiest way to get people to listen to it would be to just put it out there for them to find. My first EP and LP were mostly for my own entertainment (I am completely self taught and was a little shy about letting the public listen to my music at first) however I soon noticed a lot of people contacting me about it (this was about two years before the big Steampunk trend hit), so that inspired me to try and teach my self more about music theory, and other compositional skills.
Secondly, we live in a time when people can instantly download music they want to hear through pirating. I have no issues with people pirating my work, so I decided to cut out the middle man and make it available for free. People tend to remember you when you are generous to them, and I'd say that attitude has done a lot for our promotional aspects as well.
What drives me to keep giving the music away? Well before I decided to undertake this project back in 2003, I sat down and thought of what my goals would be, and what priorities I would need to reach them.
What I decided was that I wanted to make music that would inspire others to start creating their own media. That is what I love about my inspirations. They may have been making their music to make a living or to become rock stars, but they obviously inspired me deeply. And I want to return that gift to others.
That kind of thought process is what has kept me focused, and it seems to be working pretty well so far.
Who's driving Vernian Process today? Can you introduce us to the members?
Sure thing, right now we have six full time members, and one reoccurring live guest. Besides my self on vocals, and primary song writing is our lead guitarist, co-writer, producer, and sound engineer Martin "the Sound Alchemist" Irigoyen. Next we have our bassist Peter "Janus" Zarate. Our second guitarist (and potential violin player) Ash. Our keyboardist "Heather Yager", and our brand new drummer "Free Fargo". Finally in all of our live shows since February 2009 we have featured our friend Erica "Unwoman" Mulkey on cello.
Aside from Vernian Process, you've also started a collective of Steampunk musicians with Evelyn Kriete (of Jaborwhalky Productions) named Gilded Age Records. What was the concept behind Gilded Age and how has it taken off since it was started?
Well Gilded Age Records, started forming around 2006. At that point the Steampunk boom had just happened, and I foresaw the coming of more Steampunk influenced bands. Especially after Abney Park started promoting their music as Steampunk around 2005. But it wasn't until 2007 or 2008 that I started seeing a decent influx of other artists that were taking on Steampunk influences in their music. Such as Unextraordinary Gentleman, The Clockwork Dolls, Ghostfire, Viral Millennium, etc.
So I started thinking of how to get all of these bands to start networking together, and to help foster a real community of Steampunk musicians. After consulting with Evelyn (who I had recently met), we came up with the name Gilded Age Records. We both agreed that the criteria for bands to be involved was simply that they incorporate music that was active in the mid 19th through early 20th Centuries in their sound. This didn't just limit us to bands that were 100% Steampunk influenced, but a wide range of sounds and styles could be represented within this family of artists.
We also decided to invite any bands involved with our group to send us any tracks they might need mastered, and we would do them for free (or at least really cheap) at our studio.
Who's currently a part of Gilded Age Records?
Right now we have thirty two artists involved. I'm not going to list them all, but they range from fairly successful indie groups who were already doing just fine before getting involved with us. To brand new solo artists and bands, that just need a break to get their name out to the right crowd.
We have representatives of styles ranging from Ska, Punk, Funk, Goth, Post-Punk, Garage, Electro, Cabaret, Metal, Country, Indie, Folk, Pop, Experimental, Neo-classical, and I'm even attempting to get a couple of Steamy Hip-Hop artists involved.
How would a budding *punk band get themselves included in the Gilded Age Records collective?
Really easily. Just upload some mp3's send us a link, and if we think your sound, or at least your vision for your project coincides with our criteria as stated earlier, then we'll send you some simple bio questions for the site, and ask for your permission to host one of your songs on our internal mp3 player.
It's inspiring to see a group put their heart into a project. What do you hope to see happen in the community thanks to your music?
Well, I think to a point, we're already seeing things happen. I see a lot more activity amongst musicians adopting Steampunk friendly styles. I wouldn't attribute that to us, more the nature of the internet. But I have seen a few artists pages where they list their influences, and we're in there. That's always a rush to see.
I think that the community is just as much a part of the band, as we are. When I was writing the lyrics for a few of the songs, I went on the Brass Goggles forum and ran some rough ideas by the members there. They sent back a lot of great feedback, and even a number of cool ideas for new lyrics. All of which I then applied to the actual album.
To me, inspiration still needs a little perspiration to bring an idea to life. Using your newest album, Behold the Machine as an example, can you walk us through the Vernian Process mindset? How do you bring your ideas to life once they hit? Be as specific as possible. If you have programs, equipment, or special instruments you like to use, let us know how they come into play and why you chose them over others. This way, people who are inspired to follow in your footsteps have an idea of where to start.
The "process" (pun intended) of each song has changed significantly since I was writing everything by myself. Back then I would just sit down at my computer and start doodling with ideas on my keyboard on Reason. But now that we have a full band, and a studio to work in, everything has changed.
For this album, it was kind of a combination between the old way of doing things, and our new approach. You see most of the material on our current album was started almost immediately after I finished The Forgotten Age back in 2006. So these were all songs that I wanted to adapt into new versions. Martin and I met in the Fall of 2008. He has a lot of musical training and compositional skills, so he and I would sit down with each track in Logic and start tweaking the melodies, and things until they sounded correct. We would then start messing with different layers. Some songs had way too much going on, and others didn't have enough. Having real guitars, bass and other instruments was also a huge step forward for me. Martin is also a crazy experimental guitar composer, and a lot of the textures you hear on the album come from some pretty interesting sources. A "personal massaging device" for one, a power drill with a staple taped to the bit, a cane, and many other random items were used in the production of the album and in our live sets.
Now what we have in mind for our next album is to write the songs in a more traditional way. First Martin and I will sit down and create a skeleton of the song (anyone else in the band is also welcome to do this too), at which point we'll bring in everyone else to start adding their ideas, and fleshing things out. We want to write all of the actual real parts first (drums, guitar, cello, bass, etc), and then start working on the pre-recorded elements to heighten what we create.
One of the core elements of the next album is world music influences. And we're not just talking about the typical psuedo-middle eastern scales most people associate with "World Music", but rather a wide range of regional styles from Eastern Europe, Japanese, African, Middle-Eastern, South American, Celtic, Indian, etc. but all done in the context of an Industrial/Post-Punk influenced album.
Originally, Vernian Process was a solo project, but it has certainly grown. Now that the collective has grown, how has this changed your live performances?
It has completely changed our live performances. When I first started performing live, I was always miserable because I didn't sing, and I didn't have any instruments on stage. Just me standing at a laptop and dancing around trying my best to entertain people. I really hated that because I hate seeing bands or solo artists that don't do anything on stage. On the other hand it was that experience that makes me feel so comfortable in front of a large audience now.
For example, at our recent gig at Steamcon opening for Abney Park, I was on stage in front of around 300 people. I had to improvise on the fly and keep the crowd excited. I was really nervous at first, but when they announced us as we walked on stage and I heard the room start cheering, I got charged so full of energy that I just went out there and took charge of the show.
We have yet to incorporate many props or visuals into our shows, and the addition of live drums is going to make a huge impact as well. We are currently finishing up the mastering on Behold the Machine
, and once that is done, we plan on sitting down as a band and rehearsing till our sound is really tight, at which point we will start booking more shows.
Behold the Machine hit the internet last month with really good feedback from the fans. Has it created the splash you were expecting?
I have to say I was pretty surprised at the amount of positive feedback. An artist is their own worst critic it seems, and I was really expecting a lot more criticism, but what we got was mostly praise. A lot of people pointed out little things that we put in the album consciously as kind of Easter eggs, and that made me really happy to hear.
I don't think we've really done our full promotional push yet either. Once the album is mastered and cd's are printed we're going to really start pushing the promo, and not just within the Steampunk/Goth/Industrial/Alternative communities, but with the mainstream press and various geek circles as well. You never know who will dig your stuff until you try to get it out there.
With a new album and a growing musical collective, what can we expect to see next?
We have a number of projects in the pipe at this time. We're working on the music for a CGI student film based out of Germany that is looking really fantastic.
We have the soundtracks for two different video games that are in development. We and other Gilded Age Records artists are contributing music to a RTS game called "Air." While "Shades of Violet" (a classic point and click adventure game) is going to be composed by us in conjunction with Allison Curval of The Clockwork Dolls. You can already hear some of that at the Imagineer Games studios website.
As for our own material, the next album (as mentioned earlier) will feature a wide range of world music influences, and that is because each song will be part of a concept album based on various empires of the mid 19th through early 20th Century and the various travesties and atrocities they committed and got away with or were buried in the history books. Some examples are "Unit 731" and other Biological/Chemical research camps of Japan in WW2, and the Boer Wars which led up to the creation of Apartheid in South Africa.
If you could teach us one thing today, what would it be?
I don't know how qualified I am to teach anyone anything, but I will say that whatever you choose to do, don't give up on it. If you want to write music, paint, sculpt, do it! But don't give up. Just keep practicing and you will get it. Also don't be afraid of asking people for help. We're a community and we should all support each other equally.
An old animation instructor of mine once said, that "in every artist lies several thousand of pieces of bad work. The artists job is to draw until every last one of those pieces is released, and then you will have nothing but prosperity to look forward to."
It was his way of telling us to just keep drawing, and don't stop until we can draw anything in our sleep. I think this applies to all forms of art though, and is really good advice.
What can Dieselpunks do to help promote Vernian Process?
I think this is definitely a good start! Other than the typical forms of promotion (interviews, reviews, etc.) I'd say just tell your friends about our music. Let them know that it is free, and easy to access.
Word of mouth is by far my favorite form of promotion. If anyone out there wants to use our music on a compilation, or feature it in their projects, we're more than happy to work with you, just drop us a line and we'll get the ball rolling.
When you have a spark, you can use it to light a way for others, or you can use it to burn the world down around them. I think Josh does a little of both.
You can listen to Behold the Machine
on Dieselpunks' homepage jukebox for free, or download the whole album here in MP3 format