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Interview with Voltaire

Maybe it had something to do with me, I don’t know (laughs). I have a friend named Jason Miller, who is the lead singer of a band called Godhead, which is like a Goth Metal band, and he’s also become interested in recording country songs. He’s making a country album. We met up after a show that I did in Nashville, and he said “The songs are good. Sounds kinda like Voltaire”. I don’t know what it is that makes it sound that way, perhaps it’s just my twisted view on things. You know, honestly, I feel like, at the end of the day, what I’m trying to do, zombie songs aside, what I try to do, lyrically, is to talk about the things that everybody thinks about, but people don’t generally voice. And, truth be told, that’s what a good comedian does. A comedian talks about all of those things that we all understand, but that no one really talks about, and I think that country, maybe more so than any other type of music, is about that, very often about that. It’s just been a really beautiful experience for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and artists who are pursuing a career, as you have, outside of the corporate structure of agents and publishers, and bears…oh my?
First of all, to quote Nike, “Just Do It”. There are more people who will not succeed from never taking the first step, than there are people who are trying to show their work. There really is a giant problem, when it comes to artists, regardless of what they want to do, so many will talk about these things that they want to do but they never write the first word, or draw the first frame, because they are waiting on someone to come along and dub them a writer, an illustrator, a musician, whatever. For me, my mantra is that I have to be doing what I’m doing because I love it, and because I have to do it for my own sanity and for my own enjoyment. If it makes money, if I can pay the bills doing it, well, that’s just icing on the cake. It’s kind of a Zen way of looking at it, and if the act of doing it, in itself, is enough, then you have succeeded. Now the next step is that once you’ve done the work, you have to get it in front of people. If you are a musician, you must play in front of people as often as you can, because it is night and day, the difference between sitting at home making music and playing in front of people. Coffee houses, open mikes, whatever it takes. You will learn how to perform, how to deal with hecklers, how to take the energy that the audience gives you and give it back to them in a way that is entertaining for them. If you are an illustrator, most comic conventions have portfolio reviews. Go to those, and take it well when they tell you that you aren’t good at anatomy, or that the characters’ hands don’t look right.

You’re not there for them to tell you how good you are, you are there for them to point out what you need to work on. They are providing you a window into what reviewers or potential employers are looking for. If you are “discovered”, and someone who reviews your portfolio wants to hire you to draw something, all the better. If you show your book to DC, and all you come out with is “they didn’t want to buy it”, then you’ve learned and accomplished nothing. Expert feedback, especially when it’s negative, helps you to be a better artist. With writers it’s a lot of the same thing. Submit, submit, submit. Hit that submissions button. Hell, ninety percent of the jobs that I’ve gotten, the deals that I’ve made, came after I hit the “Contact” button on a website. Get your work in front of writer’s groups, have a Deviant Art website, you have to work hard, and you have to sell yourself. The chances of someone stumbling over you and thinking you are wonderful and wanting to give you loads of money are pretty slim. You have to spend more than twice the time showing your work, shopping your work, and selling your work than you do actually making the art. That is the rule, really, when it comes to being an independent art professional of any sort.

You have worked most of your career without an agent. You’ve sold a great number of records without a label, and books without a big publishing house deal. Many of our readers are trying to break into writing speculative fiction, or illustrating. You’ve said, you are in the business of selling yourself—
That’s right. I sell myself, usually on a street corner (laughs). I am the world’s worst accountant, but I believe that I have been paying the bills. I think. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve reached a sort of glass ceiling, as if I’ve gone as far as I can without making a big change, be it an agent, a label…I don’t know. I’ll have to make that decision eventually, though, if I want to reach a larger audience. I had wanted to get Tom Waits to do the narration on one of my short films, but, part of being and independent entity is being largely shut-out from access to established artists. The agents perpetuate their position, their value, by preventing people from getting into contact with their client without working through another agent, or through a big company. Without an agent, I couldn’t get across the walls Tom Waits’ agent had around him. It was crazy and frustrating.

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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 […]