Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Chat With The Captain

Formed in 1997 by "Captain" Robert Brown, Abney Park are one of the biggest names when it comes to Steampunk music. The band was built on a story, with the band members embracing characters and presenting themselves almost as a realised fantasy. The "origins" have been told through songs, and now in a book, penned by Captain Robert.

I caught up with the Captain on Facebook, and he was kind enough to share time for a chat.

I wanted to ask you a little about the music, and about extending Abney Park into other genres. There aren't many artists making the most of the media available and your vision really excites me.
Most artists that I know aren't willing to branch out, and nobody I currently know dedicated themselves full time to it. The fact that most people have "day jobs" greatly decreases the amount they can put into their art. In essence, the desk job keeps them chained to the desk, because it sucks away the time they could be putting into making there art good enough to support them.

The goal of an artist, when it comes to making a living at at, is to make their art so good that so many people can't live without it. Get enough people, and you can be pro. As far as I know, NO art teachers or schools teach that. The deck is REALLY stacked against people in creative careers.

- Abney's backstory
I know there's the novel and now a graphic novel, and saw your post about the role playing card game. Do you plan anything more?
There is a team in Hollywood putting together and shopping a script. And there is a third book to the RPG series being begun. Another album is always in the works, but the band is tired, so I'm not asking them to start recording just yet. I seem to work at a rate that others can't keep up with. I've got 5 or 6 AP projects, and there might be 30 or more people working across the projects, but still people can't keep up. Its gets a little challenging for me, which is why I have begun to favor things like novels, in which I'm completely independent. I don't have to wait for anyone.

For me, the joy is in finishing something to perfection. Wrangling people is not a fun task for anyone. When a project gets this big, you have to have a lot of people to do anything, so that's why I can do so many projects. I get this guy working on something, and while I'm waiting for him, I start something else, and then get other guys working, and while they are working I start another projects, et.

I think when you get to this stage, it's also a case of keeping up with the audience demands - the more that you and AP produce, the more people expect. Do you feel under pressure or do you relish the challenge? 
Fans get excited when they start to heard about what I've got worked up, but they don't pressure me for more. I put stuff out at a pace that startles most people. NO band releases two albums a year, but we do. ...and I do all the other projects in addition to this.

Ah, well that's good. And yeah, your output is kind of awe-inspiring.
I think most bands can't do this, because they are always touring. We do two shows a month, and only the very good ones. So I'm always home, and looking for something fun to do. Projects are WAY more fun then say, just playing video games, or watching TV. Reading makes me feel guilty that I'm not writing, since I get the same pleasure from writing that I do from reading. So, basically, the only fun stuff I can find to do is my projects.

And here is another thing: STARTING projects is fun. Finishing them is work.

So I'm always excited to start something new, but I don't get paid until I finish it.

Will you be involved in the movie? Or who gets to play you if not?
Oh, I doubt I'm an actor of the quality I would need to pull it off. its like the graphic novel: I CAN draw, but my taste in drawing is much more sophisticated then my skill, so I let some one more talented then me do it. Honestly, when you've got this much on the table, you've got to let some stuff go. For example: Americas Got Talent keeps calling us. They don't get that we are already successful. They want us to do there thing, because they saw us on YouTube. Well... grand prise is a years contract in Vegas. I don't want a years contract in Vegas. It'd have to pay a good deal more then I make, and even then, I'm not sure I'd be willing to put everything else on hold just to play one venue. I think I'd explode. So you pick your projects, based on what you can allocated, and how much time you are willing to give them.

That sounds terrible, quite frankly. The pages of the graphic novel look fantastic, by the way. Can't wait to see them coloured and printed.
Exactly. They've called a least a half dozen times. Each time I say, "I'm already successful, so I don't need exposure. I don't need money. I don't want a year in Vegas."

Me too. Coloring them is still a matter of checking to see if we like them. But the B&W pages are gorgeous. Jauns work looks more like a da Vinci sketch then a comic. I'm thrilled with his work, and we've done so much together that his art really matches the pictures in my head when I'm writing.

The role playing game
So what other media do you plan to conquer? Podcasts/audio novels? iPhone apps? Something I haven't thought of?
I intend to do an audio book, yes, eventually all the novels as such. Software is a big project. I'd love to have an epic adventure game of the quality of Uncharted. To do that to the same quality as the rest of our stuff would take a large team, and I think that's a ways off, until some already successful company approaches us.

It's very much my wish to do that, but I must wait until the perfect conditions present themselves.

Yes, of course. It's a really fascinating universe that you've created, though. Almost a genre of it's own standing. Other than the obvious, what else inspired it? I've spotted touches of Western, for example.
I don't take inspiration from other peoples art. I take inspiration from my own life. So If I travel through Asia, Asia appears in my work. If I spend time in Texas and Arizona, then cowboys appear. and the characters are all either people in my life, or parts of me. The female characters are either many girls I've known put together, or very specific parts of some women. Both the hero and the villain is me: I am of course Captain Robert in the novels, but I am also very much Victor Hypocrates. I think it adds to the authenticity of your villains if there motives look very obviously un "Villain". Victor was try to save the world, just like Robert was. Neither did a very good job of it.

Oh, I hate villains that are just depicted as bad. No one is all bad or good. And I recognise that blending of people you know into the characters you write - that's exactly what I do! (As well as finding interesting ways to kill off those I don't like much ;)) 

Your songs are stories, aren't they? Does that make you more a storyteller than a musician or is that just as important?
I'm probably more of a story teller then a musician, yes, but I've been a musician for 20 years, so I'm fairly established as that as well.

Will you ever depart from the AP 'verse?
I may explore other worlds. I had a great nightmare last night that I'd love to explore. I also had a great song setting that was obviously not my world that will be on the next album. SO yeah, I will some day travel to other places, but there is still so much exploring to be done in this one, that I doubt I could stay away for long.

I'm also deeply in love with some of my characters. Good guys an bad guys. I'd miss them. I've got a lot of origins I want to tell, which which will be a big part of what the graphic novels do.

Thanks so much for your time.


  1. Freaking FANTASTIC interview, Misa! Captain, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to hang out with us!

  2. I loved the interview and I'm now an Abney Park fan. The Research begins. I must know more.

    Thank you Misa and Captain for this wonderful introduction.