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Interview with Voltaire

Your live shows primarily feature your humorous material, but you have a great many “serious” songs that come dangerously close to being “art”. Do you have any plans to market your non-comedic material to those outside of your usual Spock-eared fan base?
I have songs that are funny, songs that are really serious, songs that are about Star Trek, and some songs that aren’t about Star Trek. A lot of musicians feel that they have to have become a persona, and only do one type of thing. From a marketing perspective that’s probably really smart. As I’m learning, it’s very hard to market yourself to corporate decision-makers if you can’t sum yourself up in a few words. An example is Marilyn Manson: Heavy Metal Goth, looks scary, Antichrist. You can sell that, it’s totally gettable. But, I’ve never been a fan of posturing. I like to write songs about what interests me, so that’s what I do. Star Trek and Werewolves interest me, so I write songs about those things. Being a human being, walking through life, that interests me, too, so I write about those things—anger, break-ups, wild stories I hear, these things catch my attention and end up in some of my songs…just not the songs that people seem to want to hear at Cons. Cons are about fun and good times, so I play fun and funny songs. I still love writing the serious songs, and I’ll keep recording them, as long as I still enjoy doing it.

It’s clear from watching you perform that you love being on stage, and you seem so engaged with your fans. How big an audience is too big for you? Is there such a thing?
I don’t know how to answer that. I play at DragonCon to four-thousand people a night, and that feels like a damn large crowd. I can see the first two-hundred people, maybe. Then of course, it falls off, becomes harder to see people as they get further away, especially if the room is dark. But as long as the people that I can see are smiling, if they are laughing at the jokes and look like they are having a good time, that works for me. I will assume that the rest of the room is feeling the same way. I’ve never played an arena, somewhere like Madison Square Garden, don’t know if I ever will, but if I can see the audience, and if I can see if what I am doing is entertaining them, then I think that it won’t really matter if it is one person or twenty-thousand.

Spanish is your first language, and you’ve established a passionate fan base in Central America and in Mexico. Do you have a Spanish-language fan base in the States, and do you do any Spanish-language shows here?
I would have to say, no. I haven’t noticed that phenomenon, but that’s because “normal people” don’t come to my shows, so normal rules don’t apply, I think. If I was Justin Timberlake, with access to the data resources of a label, I might be able to say “Yes, I’ve sold more CDs to Spanish-speaking people this year than the year before”. I can’t really measure those sorts of things. Inevitably, the question will be whether or not there are more Hispanics going to sci-fi conventions, or to Goth clubs, because, generally, those are the only places where someone will be coming in contact with my music for the first time. I’m thinking that the Hispanics in America that are coming to cons, going to Goth clubs, are probably English-speaking as well, so all my shows north of the border will be mostly in English. Mostly.

Morrisey has said that he felt the more connected to the fans at his Mexico shows than anywhere he’d performed. And it’s surprising that he has such a huge fanbase amongst Mexican tough-guy gangster-types. Is your experience with your Mexican fans similar in any way?
Now, I love doing shows in Mexico, and you are absolutely right. Morrisey, the singer from the gayest band in the history of the world—and I say that in a good way, I love the Smiths—is a hero to some really scary chollos. Guys who would cut your throat for a nickel will comb up their pompadour and go cry at Morrisey shows. It’s strange, but Mexican people, and we Hispanics in general, are very passionate. Morrisey’s songs are very emotionally charged, and that makes a connection with passionate people. Also, I think that Hispanic culture is more appreciative and respectful of artists and teachers—anybody who is sharing or teaching something, than typical “American” culture. As an example, I teach animation at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and virtually every Hispanic student that I’ve had has called me “Professor”. There is just a different sort of respect in those cultures, and it makes performing there very rewarding.
Anyway, yes, I love doing shows in Mexico. I’ll have five-hundred fans packed into a small venue, many of whom can’t speak English fluently, but they still sing along. I do more songs in Spanish, of course, and I do feel a great connection, a great energy performing in front of those crowds. Of course, it is somewhat depressing walking through the marketplace the next day and seeing so many pirated versions of my CDs there—many of them being sold with my name written on the blank disc in Sharpie. (laughs).

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1 comment

1 Redstone Science Fiction #3, August 2010 | Redstone Science Fiction { 08.13.10 at 9:09 pm }

[…] An Interview with Voltaire, musician, video artist, and popular convention performer by Paul […]