onsdag 25 december 2013

"My own psychic experiences have led me to not fear the dark or death"

Foto: Paul Roland

Mångsysslaren Paul Roland är en synnerligen intressant person. Både hans böcker och musik rymmer fler världar, fler infallsvinklar än en först tror. Det finns en lågmäldhet och en, ofta poetisk, mystik som jag uppskattar hos Roland - och vi är ett antal som uppskattar honom. Paul Roland är för närvarande aktuell med skivorna Bates motel och Hexen, varav den senare är ett slags soundtrack till kultfilmen Häxan från 1922. Jag skrev och frågade Paul om musiken, om skräckfilm och om utomkroppsliga upplevelser... Intervjun publiceras på originalspråk. 

How did you start out making music?
- I had a school friend who played bass guitar and whose brother was a musician in a band. One day when we had grown out of children’s games I suggested we ‘play’ making music, even though I couldn’t play the guitar, but I became very excited about making sounds and singing my poetry to the chords that another friend could play on the acoustic guitar. I made some tiny drums from the bottom of glass bottles and plastic bags which were held tight across the open bottles by elastic bands and I hit these with pencils. It was very rough but I remember the elation of that first time as if it was an almost spiritual experience. It was the seemingly infinite possibilities of music that excited me. But then I realized I actually had to learn to play an instrument if I wanted to write real songs! 

Your first album, The Werewolf of London, was released over 30 years ago. How do you feel about it today? 
- To be honest, I was very embarrassed by it for the first 29 years until I made a director’s cut of it by replacing some of the weak songs with stronger tracks that I had recorded later the same year (1980). I was just too impatient to start recording and interested in too many different types of music to focus on finding my own distinctive voice. I was also very strongly under the influence of my first musical hero Marc Bolan and should have waited a couple of years until I had found my own style and written some better songs. But I was only 19 and now I have had the chance to correct my ‘mistakes’. There are some very typical Paul Roland tracks on there and it has become a collector’s item, so maybe I’m being too critical.

You’ve recently did an actual full-length movie soundtrack for the classic silent horror film Haxan from 1922. How come you did? 
- While living in Germany in 2006 I had found a film project that I thought would be good to create with my musician friends - Ralf Jesek of In My Rosary (now I-M-R) and Tobias Birkenbeil of Lakobeil. We were later joined by Niko Steckelberg and Joran of Elane when it came to recording the accompanying soundtrack CD (which was to include 3 songs not featured in the film as I didn’t want songs in a silent movie.)

- Häxan was a remarkable Danish horror movie from 1922 with a cult following and a reputation as an early classic of the silent era. It was also in incredibly good condition for a film of that age and the imagery was striking. But the various soundtracks that had been used on earlier DVD releases (including a free jazz jam, an orchestral score, an industrial rock soundtrack and a solo dulcimer performance) were wholly unsuitable in my opinion and added nothing to the stunning visuals. We would write and record a new soundtrack that would be scene-specific, suitably sinister and evocative so the music could be listened to separately as an album. I would also write an entirely new script to generate 30 or so inter-title cards to replace the hundred or more inter-title cards in the original film and reduce the number and the length of their appearance on screen considerably to speed up momentum. I would also replace the slow, stilted text-only prologue with spoken narration and have it underscored with atmospheric music, delete damaged frames and edit the gallery of woodcuts and illustrations which appeared between scenes to tighten the pace for a modern audience. And all this was possible because Häxan was in the public domain (i.e out of copyright). Or so I thought.

- After almost a year of intense work we had our finished film and were very proud of having created a ‘new work’ that enhanced the director’s extraordinary vision and intensified the drama. But after securing a DVD release we were informed that the Swedish (!) Film Institute claimed to own European rights to the film (public domain appears to be mainly an American concept) and they stubbornly refused to grant us permission to release it! But I refused to admit defeat. If I couldn’t release the film, I would at least let the music be heard. So when I was looking for a suitable album to record for the Italian label Palace of Worms I decided to create it around some of the music written and recorded for Häxan, but with the addition of new songs inspired by the same theme – the contrast between pagan nature worship and the religious fanaticism that culminated with the persecution of alleged witches in the Middle Ages.

How did you and Ralf Jesek meet up?
- That was a very strange coincidence. I was living in Germany when I came across an interview with Ralf on the internet in which he said his ambition was to play with two of his long time heroes Robert Smith of The Cure and Paul Roland. So I contacted him as it said in the interview that he was living in the same town as I was, but he thought it must be a joke. It couldn’t possibly be true. But I assured him it was really me contacting him and I was living in the same town. So we met and became very good friends. I have the greatest respect for him because he is very technically accomplished in recording and playing keyboards and lead guitar which I couldn’t do at the time so we began by collaborating on the Häxan film soundtrack which has now become the Hexen album.  

What do you think about Spotify and such services? 
- I think anything that makes music available is a good thing, and I have made hundreds of new fans through Jango Radio in countries my CDs could never reach, but it seems that people who access music almost exclusively through digital downloads expect to get everything for free forever. And an indie artist needs to sell CDs or downloads to recover the cost of recording.

What are you listening to yourself?
- I go through phases. At the moment it's rockabilly, a few weeks ago Robin Trower’s early albums and before that every day I switched between The Velvet Underground, Rammstein, Muse, Michael Nyman and The Reverend Horton Heat. I get through about ten CDs a week every week and then after three months rediscover some I haven’t played for months or even years. I’m always adding new artists to my list of likes. I never stop liking something. I just keep adding and listening to things I’ve loved since I was 14.

You sing a lot about historical persons. What’s your favorite historical age?
- I’m torn between the Regency and the Victorian/Edwardian era. No other period holds such an appeal for me. Perhaps it’s a past life memory?!!

You've always been fascinated by dark themes and occultism. And I guess that you get a lot of questions related to that. What is it in the ”dark” that fascinates you? 
- Good question. I suppose it’s an obsession with death, with one’s own mortality and in the case of horror it’s the allure of a dreamlike world where everything is heightened like walking onto the set of an expressionist German silent film of the 1920s or better still, a Universal horror movie of the 1930 and 40s. Of course if I had a real fear of the dark or of death then I wouldn’t explore horror and supernatural themes with such interest and enthusiasm. But then my own psychic experiences have led me to not fear the dark or death.

I heard you had a out-of-body experience as a child. What can you tell us about it? 
- I was about 6 when I had an out-of-body experience that altered my perception of reality. In fact, it was the first of many such experiences. I can still recall waking from a dream to find myself soaring over the sea to 'visit' my grandmother and aunt in Ireland. I remember the sense of exhilaration of flying and the calmness with which I accepted the fact that I was hovering over them as they sat watching TV in the same room that I had played in whenever I came to visit them during the school holidays. After a few moments, having assured myself that they were fine, I snapped back into my body and woke with a jolt. There was no doubt about it. That was no dream.

- As I understand it, the experience had been triggered by a strong unconscious desire to see my aunt and grandma combined with a latent ability to float free of my body – an ability that I believe we all share. I have experienced OBEs, as they are commonly known, on several subsequent occasions and each time I have been fully conscious that I was outside my body and in a state of heightened awareness quite distinct from the dream state. As an adult I would often wake from sleep to find myself in another part of the house and always with a feeling of intense relief and delight at being free from my physical shell. Unfortunately, the realisation was enough to pull me back into my body. However, one morning I awoke to find myself floating an inch or so above my body. I knew that if I opened my eyes I would return instantly to the physical so I remained in that transient, disconnected state for some minutes, enjoying the sensation. I could have drifted off on another astral journey, but at the time I lacked the courage to let go and so I didn't take advantage of the opportunity. But each time it has been a liberating sensation and one that appears to confirm that the astral, etheric, subtle or dream body is our natural state. The survival of the soul is therefore, for me at least, not a question of faith but a fact. It is a natural phenomenon, not a supernatural one.

You are seen as a cult figure and godfather of goth and neo folk etc. How do you deal with that? 
- I don’t have to deal with it, I just enjoy it! I draw my ideas for songs from my own personal interests so there is a consistency in the themes and settings. People know that if they choose one of my albums they are going to get a supernatural story or a historical tale set to suitably atmospheric music or a quirky horror tale that might have come from an American comic such as House of Mystery or a cult TV series such as The Twilight Zone. That’s the inner world I inhabit so its not contrived to please – and the slightly Victorian language I use comes naturally to me.   

You seem to be really into cult horror films. What do you think of modern horror movies? 
- I liked the werewolf movie Dog Soldiers, Dead Silence, Red Dragon and Cold Prey to name just 4, but I don’t like visceral gore.

Beside your music and literary work, do you have any other hobbies?
- I’m a big movie buff. There’s nothing I like better than reading film reviews, other than watching them of course.

How do you feel about touring today? 
- To be honest, I have mixed feelings. I love meeting people and being with other musicians and visiting other countries, but there is a lot of work in preparing for a tour – and rehearsing the same songs over and over can be a bit boring especially as there is no audience. But the last tour I did – to Greece – was probably the best and most enjoyable I have ever done. I must have done 10 interviews before I left the UK and another dozen during the tour as well as live TV which I hadn’t done before and the respect I had from DJs and journalists was overwhelming. I would gladly have made that my last tour but I’ve just been invited to play a festival in Italy in February which I wouldn’t want to miss, so who knows how long it might go on.

What are you doing at the moment?
- Staying up after midnight to answer your questions while a wild storm rages outside. Quite appropriate really.

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