By Jonathan Williams
While he is perhaps best known for the darkly satirical gypsy folk music he’s been creating for more than a decade, Voltaire‘s creepily creative talents have seeped over into other areas of pop culture including animation, comic books and collectible toys. With an insider’s view of the goth and geek scene, Voltaire has published books such as Paint It Black: A Guide to Gothic Homemaking and written songs poking fun at Star Trek, making him an annual favorite at pop culture conventions such as Dragon*Con. Following the release of his latest album Riding a Black Unicorn Down the Side of an Erupting Volcano While Drinking from a Chalice Filled with the Laughter of Small Children, which features contributions from David J of Bauhaus, Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls, Melora Creager of Rasputina and others, Voltaire set out on the Black Unicorn Cabaret Tour. As he prepares for a performance at Anne Rice‘s The Theatre of the Vampires Ball in New Orleans on Oct. 28, he talks to Wrestling with Pop Culture about his music, Halloween and more.
Your latest album features collaborations with some of your biggest musical influences, as well as some of your best known peers. How did this all-star lineup of goth luminaries come about?
Most of the people on the album are musicians I know personally or have worked with before. The drums are played by Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls. He played the drums on my last album and I asked him if he’d return for this one. The cellos are played by Melora Creager of Rasputina. She played cellos on the soundtrack of one of my short films a year or so ago and we recently went on tour together. And David J of Bauhaus plays bass. We’ve run into each other a few times on the road and have played a show or two together. So it really was a case of calling on people I know, whose work I admire and asking them if they’d join me on this record. Don’t be fooled though, just because I know them all doesn’t mean I don’t fanboy a little at the mere thought of it.
As your musical career has progressed, you’ve simultaneously crossed over into practically every other realm of pop culture, from film and comics to video games and children’s songs. Are there any areas you have yet to explore that you’d be interested in delving into? Wrestling, perhaps?
Wrestling is definitely not in the stars for me. I’m a lover, not a fighter, as they say, which is really just a fancy way of saying, “I don’t fight well.” But I did recently write a feature film script which I hope to get made and believe it or not, I’m getting more and more excited about the thought of acting. I’d like to spend more time in front of the camera, especially in horror films. So I think acting and making features is my next move. I’ve also got a novel or two in me, I think. I just don’t know where I will find the time to do all of this stuff.
As steampunk has grown in popularity, your music has gone from being described as goth to steampunk (without much, if any, stylistic change on your part). How do you feel about these different labels being applied to what you do? Conversely, how much crossover do you see amongst your fans between various subcultures?
Well, truth be told, I’m still referred to as “goth,” but I have never made goth music. Seriously, I sound nothing like the Cure or Bauhaus or whatever people call goth these days. Musically, what I do is probably closer to folk. It’s always acoustic, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, usually about dark subjects. I personally relate to being goth because that’s the scene I grew up in and I’ve always loved the macabre. But I’m not a musician who makes goth music, I’m a goth who makes music. The music in my songs has drawn from folk, country, flamenco, gypsy, classical, rockabilly, jazz, ska and even reggae. It’s the message and snarky viewpoints expressed that define it as “dark.” Over the years I’ve been called goth, darkwave, anti-folk, gypsy punk, dark cabaret and steampunk. It seems like every couple of years a new term comes up and I get lumped in, probably because no one, including myself, has come up with a neat categorization for what I do. At the end of the day, I don’t really care what people call my music as long as they are enjoying it.
You’ve also become an unofficial spokesperson for these subcultures, having appeared on Fox News, MTV and elsewhere over the years. As someone who so adequately represents some of these spookier elements, what does someone like Voltaire do for Halloween (especially when Halloween falls just after your tour)?
Well, usually I’m performing somewhere. October is hands down my busiest month of the year. Sometimes I feel like the mayor of Halloweentown, which I like quite a bit! Wherever I am, I’m not generally wearing a costume though. There’s no need. It’s the one day of the year I fit right in wherever I go.
What are some of your current projects (musical or otherwise) that your fans can look forward to and where can people find them?
Well as you know, I have a new record out and I’m touring to support it. I also try to make a short film a year. The most recent one is called Odokuro. It’s narrated by Gary Numan. It has just started touring the film festival circuit. I also have some new vinyl toys of my character Deady, some of which came out this summer and some more that are coming out this winter.
For more information, go to www.voltaire.net.