1.- The interviewee
As per The Steampunk Museum, “Captain” Robert Brown is a Steampunk songwriter, novelist, community organizer, blogger, game designer, craftsman, and fashion designer. He’s been interviewed by several TV shows and Magazines, like MTV, and the New York Times.
He is the founding member of Abney Park. In addition to writing all of Abney Park’s songs, he also creates an unending supply of Steampunk instruments for the band, from Guitars, to Keyboards, to “hornpipes”.
Robert is an avid blogger and is an outspoken inclusionist for Steampunk culture, fighting for the right for anyone’s daydream in the community. He regularly posts articles on Steampunk, including definitive pieces designed to direct the culture in positive and friendly directions, as well as videos posts of “how-to’s” on Steampunk mods and fashion.
He has released an Airship Pirate RPG, and written a novel, “The Wrath of Fate”, both of which tie together all the stories, characters, and settings from all of the songs of Abney Park.
2.- The interview
Dear Robert, we feel privileged for having this opportunity to share our thoughts with you, thank you so much for your kind attention. Abney Park is one of the most popular bands within the Steampunk scene and you have been directly involved in its growth and development for many years, so this is a great satisfaction for us.
Q.- As per your lengthy career and your contact with Steampunkers all over the world, what do you expect about the future of Steampunk? Which trends do you identify? May there be a ’Steampunk Revolution’ coming?
A.- I think we are seeing the Steampunk Revolution now. The level of global enthusiasm is so great I could spend days just listing all the amazing things happening.
I had originally hoped steampunk could save the world from what I deem a horrible fate. The thesis of all product designs these days is “Profit is the only important outcome of any product design, so design for profit, not art.” This has jaded the aesthetic of modern design. For example, I recently purchased what I consider to be the most beautiful laptop sold today: the Macbook Pro Retina. Its not plastic, taky, covered with stickers…all the flaws seen in so many other laptops. But the Apple design philosophy is, however, to make a product with no design at all. As plain as possible, they call it “simple” or “clean”, whereas I call it a cop out. Its like guys who can’t think of how they like their hair to be, so instead they wear a hat or shave there head. Maybe thats what looks best on you, but don’t call yourself a hair stylist. “Clean and simple” is the default state BEFORE an artist begins: it shouldn’t be the final design.
My hope is that steampunk can return beauty to design. Museums are filled with the undeniably beautiful creations of mankind, but some how modern man has decided to give all that up. instead of striving for beauty, we strive for profit, and in doing so we create cheap to manufacture disposable garbage. My dream is that Steampunk will show the corporate CEOs that we all still want beautiful things. I’m sure its a pipe dream, but I’m good at day dreams.
Q.- From your point of view, which challenges is Steampunk going to face in the next years?
A.- Becoming a joke. There is a lot of comedy in steampunk, which I love, but their is also a serious fire, and some amazingly cool and talented people, the likes of which the world has never seen before. My fear is that mainstream culture will turn this into a gag, based on the weakest parts of our scene, and that will scare away the real talent.
Q.- Robert, you sing and play several instruments, which musical influences would you emphasize? Which kind of music do you listen to at present?
A.- I mostly listen to historical music, and ethnic musics. I really love stuff from the east coast of Eruope an the middle east. Russian pop, bulkian, gypsey, bellydance, etc. I have a huge love of Flamenco. I also really love old vintage recordings. I have a Victrola, and a stack of records from a time long gone by. To hear that old machine recreate a world long gone is an amazing experience.
Q.- In any case you are not only a multi-instrumentist frontman, but also a writer. ‘The Wrath of Fate’, published in 2011, explores the fictional backstory of Abney Park’s members as airship pirates. Writing a complete book may be quite different from writing lyrics, are you happy with the experience of this first publication?
A.- Yes. The book has been selling amazingly well. In fact, at least from our online store, it outsells our music. Its a lot of work, and a part of me is not suited for that work, as I’m horrifically dyslexic, but its very rewarding an I plan to continue it.
Q.- So… may we expect new books in the future?
A.- Hopefully. I am about three quarters of the way through the sequel, but a misplaced glass of water completely destroyed the laptop I was writing it on. The hard drive has now been sent to a data recovery center in the hopes of saving the novel. Keep your fingers crossed, the pain of recreating it is more then I can bare to imagine at the moment.
Q.- Anyone who attends one of Abney Park concerts realizes soon that aesthetics are a key element in your performances. Clothing, accessories… do you have any jewel that you would label as ‘Steampunk’ that you are specially fond of?
A.- I think one of the simplest ways to achieve a steampunk look is through color pallet. Achieve that, and its almost impossible to fail. Vary from the recognized color pallet, and you have to be very skilled to still pull off the look. Garnets, Amber, gold; anything in sepia tones. “Things stuck in Amber” are ESPECIALLY steampunk, even metaphorically speaking: its a bit of time gone by, trapped for all the future to see. That is steampunk in its very essence.
Q.- Being a man, do you think that jewelry for gentlemen should have a specific persona in mine?
A.- I’m not sure what you mean. If you mean “a man’s jewelry should be suggesting a fictional character,” I would say, “it doesn’t have to.”
Steampunk has turned into a real thing. A real world, real people doing real activities. It doesn’t have to be reenacting the fictional anymore. From a Victorian persons perspective I live in a future world, surrounded by beautiful Victorian things that do amazing stuff. I enjoy crazy contraptions, even talk to them, and travel the world in flying machines, etc. A Steampunk’s life is a REAL thing, not make believe. I think the make believe is great, but you don’t need to have it to be steampunk anymore.
Q.- Do you think that there is not enough jewelry for gentlemen compared with what is available for women?
A.- “No, I there there is a good balance now. I own far more jewelry the most non-steampunk men would own. Also, with men, there is less of a social pressure towards wearing something new and fresh each time. Men typically choose to have a few iconic things to represent them, as opposed to a variety of things to choose from. It might seem odd to someone outside the scene, but steampunk men are VERY manly men, and we follow the traditional rules of manliness more then run-of-the-mill conventional modern men.
Q.- We have launched recently our Sky Captain Series, that includes sterling silver lapel pin, tie bar and cufflinks. When Steampunk jewelry is brought up, do you think quality is receiving attention enough?
A.- “Quality” is tough pin down in steampunk, since Steampunk has a lot of DIY built right in. I love it when talented artisans do amazing things with steampunk, and I think all steampunk makers should strive towards that, but I also think haphazard can be a cool.
What I don’t approve of is the “low effort art”. Glueing a gear to a neck tie does not mean you’ve created an awesome steampunk neck tie. It means you were lazy in concept and execution. (I use this as an example because I have never seen this, and therefore nobody can get mad at me! 😉
Q.- What is receiving more attention for sure is your music, there many closed dates to see you performing life worlwide in 2013: Brisbane, Eindhoven, Houston, Leipzig, Portland, Seattle, Tucson… may we expect some tour dates in Spain?
A.- I would love that. We had a date book in Spain last year, but the festival went bankrupt, and the show was therefore cancelled. Where we appear is never up to us. It’s all up to the promoters bringing us out. All I could do is cross my figures, and hope! 🙂
Q.- This is going to be our ultimate question. Not only you are composer, musician and writer, but also instrument maker… many Steampunk instruments such as guitars, keyboards or even hornpipes have been created by you. As creator and a member of the Steampunk scene, do you have any piece of advice for Steampunk jewelers?
A.- Have a great concept beyond “it’s steampunk” then do a masterful execution of that concept. Steampunk itself shouldn’t be your goal. Don’t look at other “steampunk things” and copy, but go to the source definition, and re-imagine that. Create “Victorian Science Fiction” in the most amazing way you can, don’t just copy what you’ve seen others do.
Be original, and be talented, put in effort and you will create something amazing.
Q.- Thank you so much Robert, we look forward to meeting you at our stall at Wave Gotik Treffen 2013!
Disclaimer.- The opinions or statements expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decimononic.
3.- Next interviewee!
On the 15th of January we are publishing the interview for Araceli Rodríguez (aka Von Marmalade) and Paulo César Ramírez (aka Negro Inmunsapá), founders of ‘Mercenarios de Dios’. Deeply involved in the Mexican Steampunk scene, they spread Steampunk worldwide through iniciatives like the monthly magazine ‘El Investigador’ and the podcast ‘Radio Metronomik’among others.
Remember that all the published interviews are available for your delight: ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ the brief interviews series by Decimononic.