Sunday, January 15, 2012

Victor Sierra, Parisian Steampunk Band, Grants an Interview

Left to Right "Big Machine", Anouk, and Bob of Victor Sierra
I was recently privileged to interview a band that has been bringing Steampunk Music, almost single handedly it seems, to Paris and the rest of France.  When I first listened to their newest album "Electric Rain", my first thoughts were "very fun and very Steampunk!"  About the steampunk part, they don't even try to be subtle and that's why I like it so much.  About this interview, my first gut reaction when I thanked them for the interview seems very appropriate in describing how it came across and so I will share it with you:  What I really like is that it is very candid, personal, and brutally honest!  It is also funny one moment and philosophical the next.  I especially laughed when big machine switched from rock star mentality to one of the most profound definitions of steampunk music I have encountered to date.

• Could you tell us a little about the musical backgrounds of the different members of the band and what brought them together to create Victor Sierra?

Bob: I already was a musician in my diapers, dancing to the musical programs on the radio, my mother told me. I have been through several musical trends and I formed several bands. Whatever style I was in for a while was only a platform for me to evolve towards something else, to experiment. I moved too fast and I was the engine while all of my co-members were the brakes. It has been a drag until I met Anouk and we formed Victor Sierra.

Anouk: My background is more theatrical than musical. About the band's birth, Bob knows better how to tell it…

Big Machine : New wave, cold wave, no wave, 60’s garage punk, blues, electro, ambient, dark ambient and Krautrock. Victor Sierra was created before I came in but their sound pleased me…


• When did you first encounter people in steampunk attire or singing Steampunk related lyrics that was distinctive enough to really draw your attention and what effect did it have on you?

Bob: Your question is not funny but this always makes me smile… When Big Machine joined the band two years ago, he told us about Steampunk. We had never heard of it before. So we googled it and all of a sudden we found out that we were not alone, at last… Everything seemed so familiar to us… The dystopia, the "uchronical" visions, the outfits ands contraptions, the mix of genres… The encounter of romance and technology.  Victor Sierra has been a steampunk band from the beginning without us being actually aware. But I would like to mention that Dieselpunk does attract me, as well. That's how we came to create the Airship Hydrogen Queen -of which I'm the Commander! I would rather speak of retro-futrurism. It's yesterday's tomorrow.

Anouk: All at once was there, clothes, music, jewelery, the universe… At one point  we were suggested we were  SP, a click on google to understand what it was about and we realized we were at the right place, home…

BM : We had been playing for a while when I realized : Victor Sierra is a retro-futuristic band. We are Steamers but we don’t know it yet ! It really changed my life… -_o

• What has been your exposure to “Steampunk” culture, fashion, lyrics, or style in music and how has that influenced your own approach to your art?

Bob: Art is vision. Steampunk is one particular vision where no one ever dies. War is ugly but the image of war is beautiful. One can make art of it. Courage, audacity, revolutionary romanticism, all these feelings and mental concepts fill steampunk avenues and quench my thirst of adventures. Real steampunkers are not dreamers living in the past. It's a real insight on the world and every aspect of it.
About fashion…  in the first place, wearing high hats clearly don't make you smarter. But it is an expression of dystopia I enjoy. Many people in the community come from Goth. I've always found their outfits very conventional and stiff boring, all one and the same, let alone color. And not an ounce of creativity decade after decade. Steampunk is much more attractive. The present world is mixed with the past and what could have been if… What if… (the "what ifs"  are parts of my favorite mottos.)

Anouk: In SP, I found things meaningful to me and that had been lying in my imagination for a long time… With SP I have been able to link my passion for robots, with the one I have for puppets and automatons … until C3PO… 
As the band lead singer, and because I'm a former actress, SP allows me to re-link with the idea of theater, of characters and costumes … I'm actually addressing the characters in the songs, sending them signs...

BM : I've known Steampunk culture for 25 years… I was kinda cyberpunk in the early 90’s. Very much into technology and computers but Steam culture definitely brought a little bit of aesthetic into it !

• What other musical groups or performers, from whatever genre, do you think most strongly influenced you musical styles?

Bob: Aha, the question I fear the most… Very difficult to answer. I won't say that nobody influenced me. I can tell you what artists I love in the steampunk community but whether it is out of friendship or out of a real artistic influence I could not say… Vernian Process, Clockwork Dolls, Veronique Chevalier, Escape the Clouds, Dr Carmilla… and a  lot of the artists from the compilation (2 Cds!) Evelyn Kriete built up around the novel "Blood in the Skies" by G.D Falksen, which is to be sold with the book. 

Anouk: Let me briefly explain where I come from, musically speaking. My musical culture dates back to my childhood :  "La Chanson Française". I have a true tenderness for the realistic song "à la Piaf". Perhaps a bit cliché but totally sincere. Then I experienced the big blow of the New Wave, along with Eastern tunes and central Europe songs that have a highly emotional impact on me.. 

BM : Gary Numan’s my hero! And also Bowie, Bauhaus, Eno, Virgin Prunes, Tuxedo moon, Thomas Dolby and all the Krautrock movement.


• Everyone has a different interpretation of “Steampunk” as a musical style, and some even question if the style is defined enough to be a genre yet, but what makes you think “Steampunk” when you hear music?

Bob: We eventually have a word to define an actual universe, not a musical style only. I have been struggling for years with people asking me what kind of music I was writing without finding a word that could possibly fit except that of  "universe" and let me tell you that it did sound a bit preposterous. I read a lot of bullshit on FB groups about it. It reminds me what people were saying within the techno circles I was involved in a few years ago. "What kind of instruments are musicians allowed to play?" and "Can songwriters trespass the boundaries of the Victorian Era in their lyrics?" etc. I don't give two hoots about whether Veronique Chevalier's style is different from my friend Allison's from the Clockwork Dolls. They are steampunk in the mind, meaning able to see several realities crisscrossing each other, make fun of them and take inspiration from them.

Anouk:  It's a feeling, it's here and that's it. When I listen to the Clockwork Dolls, I don't need to see them, it's simply obvious . And what is funny is that although our musics are very different, we're clearly one of the same family; it strongly showed when we performed with Frenchy and the Punk in Paris.

BM : It's a journey thru different cultures and different ages.


• Where would you like to see this new musical genre go from here?

Bob:  I would certainly like it to keep its "epic" part. Something thrilling you… Uplifting, even if sometimes lyrics are very sad…The intellectual excitement is also decisive to me, therefore I hope that steampunk music will be keeping on thinking hard about how the world could have been… I know that some aspects will be (and are already) used by some mainstream pseudo artists but we can't prevent this and therefore I think we shouldn't set too much importance to that.  The world hasn't changed with the internet and the digital way of buying music. There were people paying for things of poor interest before. 

Anouk: May SP keep on inventing its own history!

BM : I would like it to become the next major world trend ! I want to be a steampunk star, have tons of money, and also nude girls and huge cars in my video clips, ruin hotel rooms and throw tv sets thru the windows… Somethin’ like that would fit me well enough…


• How popular is Steampunk these days in France and other countries where you perform?

Bob: Well, first the music. France is not a country with big musical traditions. Meaning, there is obviously musical creation but you can't bump on a bar at every corner with a band mounting its gear at 5 pm. For other aspects of Steampunk, you should refer to the Lugdunum Steampunk Imaginarium of Lyon where we perform last year. It was the very first convention ever organized in this country. Many performers, bands, dancers, fashion designers, circus artists were there. It has been a big success. But for the time being it's the only one. Let's hope it'll be the starting-point… 
About other countries we have great expectations in the UK where we'll perform next August. We are setting up a tour and if Britons read this and want us to perform at their place they can reach me at:

BM : I think it’s so popular that we should live in some other country… Antarctica might well be more into steam culture than France (aha…)

• Additional: Is there anything else you would like to add about any aspect of Steampunk music, performance art, or about Steampunk as a lifestyle?

Bob: Dystopia has always been part of my songwriting themes. Rather easy to get lost in those particular lands... Sometimes I hardly make ends meet and after a while, I say to myself: what the use of being logical... Retro-futurism allows every trick, so let's do it.

Anouk: Another passion: fabrics, costume, couture! I am beginning a new trip in designing Victor Sierra's costumes…

BM : Steampunk is most of all, a literary culture, every kind of music can be steampunk, it just has to be a perfect soundtrack for a journey thru different ages and cultures.

Check out their website at:    Victor Sierra

and one of their videos at:   You Tube Victor Sierra

Here also is a review of their latest album Electric Rain  
on the blog "MeloncholyRomantic" 

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