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:Interview: Aurelio Voltaire – May 25, 2015 – Denver, CO

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voltaire

:Interview: Aurelio Voltaire
Conducted in a 2011 Dodge Challenger – May 25, 2015
Interview by Sarah Martinez

We’d gone to see the Forgotten Cities Tour with Aurelio Voltaire and Ego Likeness on behalf of COMA Music Magazine (review here), and after touching base with Aurelio Voltaire at his merch stand, there was the possibility of an interview the next day as he was thinking of staying in Denver another day to visit friends. After trading a few emails later that night, we agreed I’d pick him up at his hotel the next morning and do the interview on the way to the airport. Here’s what we discussed.

Sarah: You’re right on time.

Aurelio Voltaire: I’m always on time. Punctuality is important.

Sarah: Do you usually get rides to the airport from people, fans?

Aurelio Voltaire: Never.

Sarah: So you were taking a gamble with me.

Aurelio Voltaire: [Smiling] If you hadn’t shown up, I would have just taken a cab.

We walk around the corner to the Starbucks and Aurelio Voltaire asks if I’d like a coffee. I decline and wait outside. He’s out quickly and places his bag in the trunk.

Aurelio Voltaire: This is a beautiful car.

Sarah: Why thank you. So you decided to stay another day in Denver. Do you have friends here?

Aurelio Voltaire: Yes I do. The folks who booked me are a couple, a husband and wife, who are promoters who put on really truly fantastic fetish events. They booked me three years ago for a steampunk ball and I got to know them a little bit, and then they booked me again last year for another steampunk ball. Last year they asked me if I wanted an after party and I said, “No, no I hate after parties.” And they’re like, “Wow, why do you hate after parties?” I said because it’s usually a bunch of douchebags who didn’t come to the show, they didn’t buy a ticket, they didn’t support me coming to their city in any way and they’re not really interested in the music. They’re not interested in the art. What they’re interested in is being able to tell their friends they hobnobbed with some minor celebrity…. And so I inevitably get into arguments at after parties. It’s a true story. I mean, you’d be shocked at what some people say. Some people have very strange expectations of musicians. A lot of people think that if you’re a musician and you’re in the public eye in any way that you’re automatically an arrogant douchebag. So before you’ve even opened up your mouth, they’re treating you like an arrogant douchebag which ironically turns you into an arrogant douchebag. They also have a tendency to believe, for reasons I’ll never quite understand, that you look down on the fans.

Sarah: That’s one thing you’re really gracious about, you’re so kind with people at the merch booth, pointing people out in the audience. You have that kind of Tom Waits rapport with your fans.

Aurelio Voltaire: Unfortunately what a lot of musicians don’t understand. [Notices people in costume on the corner.] Wait, Comic-Con is still going on?

Sarah: I thought it was over Monday.

Aurelio Voltaire: I thought it was over, yeah. Maybe these guys just don’t want to let go.

Sarah: Who does?

Aurelio Voltaire: What was I saying? Oh, unfortunately a lot of musicians don’t understand the dynamic at all. This is a small business whether you like it or not. And fans, however you want to view their interaction with you, they are your customers. Period. If you had a bakery, would you treat the people who came into your bakery poorly? Or maybe if they ordered a dozen of something, would you maybe throw in another one? When they come in, you try to remember their names like, “Hey Sue, thanks for coming by, how’re the kids? How’re Mikey and Jimmy?” Would you try to form relationships with people who’re trying to support your business or would you go out of your way to treat them like they’re beneath you?

Sarah: Do you have relationships with people in towns that you pit-stop in regularly?

Aurelio Voltaire: It depends on how often I’ve been there. So circling back to after parties, inevitably I meet the anti-fan. And the anti-fan is someone who’s convinced themselves that I clearly must think my fans are like drool-y pathetic jerks who I have no respect for. So I’ll walk into the after party and someone’ll say, “Hey man, what’s up? These people are really pathetic, right?” And I’ll say, “What? What do you mean?” And they’ll say, “These people. They fucking worship you and shit. I don’t even like your music. I don’t even think it’s good.” And somebody will straight up insult me to my face because they have this erroneous belief that I look down on my fans and if they come at me that way I’ll say, “Wow, you’re not a drool-y fan, we’re equals!” And then, after saying shit like that, they inevitably go, “So you wanna get out of here and go get a drink somewhere?” and I’m like, “No! Why would I want to go anywhere with you?” And this is how I get into the fights, “You just walked right up to me and insulted me.” I wouldn’t do that to anybody. It just doesn’t make any sense. So I told them I didn’t do after parties.

Sarah: Let’s talk about your book, Fifty Shades Of Greys. Is that coming out soon?

Aurelio Voltaire: It’s not done yet. I’ve been working on it, on the road. I’m up to page 31. I have 19 more pages to conceive and illustrate and color which is, as you can imagine, the hardest portion of the book to do because there’re no shortage of sexual perversions and fetishes. I could do One Hundred and Fifty Shades of Greys if it was as simple as listing a sexual perversion and having two Greys act it out. The difficult part is the slogans, the captions that’re all plays on recognizable quotes or slogans from sci-fi movies. The one for flogging is a male alien in a Starfleet uniform whipping a female alien who’s tied up in a transporter and the slogan is, “Beat me up, Scotty.” And the one for Scatology is a female alien bent over, spraying the liquid feces all over a male alien and the caption is, “Close Encounters of the Turd Kind.” So that’s the hard part, because after having done 31 of these, you’re really starting to run out….

Sarah: Run out of the familiar things that people would be able to reference.

Aurelio Voltaire: It’s bigger on the inside…. May the whores be with you…you know, all the ones that are obvious.

Sarah: Back to this tour. 30 cities in 33 days. What the heck?

Aurelio Voltaire: That is correct.

Sarah: What prompted that undertaking?

Aurelio Voltaire: Well, it’s very simple. I’m sure you’re aware the purpose of the tour was to play in cities that’ve fallen off the map and to put it briefly, years ago if I’d planned a tour, it might look like this tour. Over the years, cities start to drop off. I’ll say to my booking agent, “Hey, I noticed there’s no San Antonio show and there always has been a San Antonio show.”
And he’ll say, “Yeah I just couldn’t book it.”
“I noticed there’s no El Paso show.”
“Yeah, I just couldn’t book it.”

I think my assessment of it is, we’re booked mostly by Goth promoters, people in the goth/industrial and fetish scene. The steampunk scene as well. Denver’s a great example. Ten years ago if I’d booked a tour, Denver would have been on it because there was a strong Goth scene. What happens is people start to lose interest and they stop going out to the weekly Goth night, they stop supporting it. So the promoters are like, “Oh my god, I’m spending all this money and there were like three people there last night.” So then they’re like, “Well, maybe I should make it a monthly.” So then they make it a monthly party and it’s okay for a little while then people lose interest in that and stop going and the promoter’s like, “Well, I can’t really sustain this, maybe I’ll just do two events a year.” And it’s something goofy like Vampire Prom or Zombies vs. Pirates and it’s kitschy and everybody comes out but then when they try to do another thing, nobody comes out. Finally the promoter throws his or her hands up in the air and then when there’s a national act coming through, there’s no promoter to pick up the act. I mean, nobody in the mainstream cares about this kind of music. It’s just the people in the Goth, burlesque, steampunk scene.

Sarah: The Denver show was like, twice the price and twice as grand as the other shows on this tour….

Aurelio Voltaire: Well, one of the reasons is that this was a benefit for the Cirque du Brûlée Burning Man camp. Also this was an actual circus. I was just an attendee. I bought $20 worth of tickets and gave them all to the girl at the kissing booth and made out with her for as long as she let me. That really takes some guts these days. It was an interesting experience playing for a crowd that came for the show and maybe not just me.

Sarah: So, you’ve collaborated with a lot of cool people in the past. Is there anyone you’d like to work with moving forward?

Aurelio Voltaire: Bjork. Things were in the works before she went on her first solo tour, but after she came back she just blew up and it was impossible to get a hold of her. David Bowie, of course. Our kids went to the same school in New York along with Dave Gahan’s kids. I sent a letter and received a reply that David wasn’t doing the type of work that I was looking for at that time.

Sarah: Who do you like that’s out there now that may not be getting the attention that they deserve?

Aurelio Voltaire: There’s a New York gypsy punk band, Firewater. Tod A. is like the Leonard Cohen of gypsy punk and they really started the genre. He’s a tortured soul, kind of like Kurt Cobain. Great songwriting.

You guys, there’s nothing quite as wonderful as sitting in your car driving down the highway hearing Voltaire enthusiastically singing Firewater’s “Borneo” and “Six Forty Five.” It’s really an experience. Tapping his hand against the window and losing himself in song was really delightful to see and hear.

Sarah: Do you have any guilty pleasures musically?

Aurelio Voltaire: This isn’t a guilty pleasure, but I really love My Chemical Romance. When I’m in the gym, my iPod has musicals playing…Rocky Horror Picture Show and Disney music. The Little Mermaid….

Sarah: If you died tomorrow, would you be okay with where your career’s taken you?

Aurelio Voltaire: I could have died 15 years ago and been happy. Against all odds I became a stop-motion animator, then a comic book creator, then a professional musician. All things I dreamed of being but thought implausible.

My extended time with Aurelio Voltaire was truly enlightening and pleasant. It’s the first time I wished the airport was even further away than it is. We ended our conversation with him mentioning in such a positive light the litany of people he’s been fortunate enough to work with and meet through the years. Aurelio Voltaire’s parting comments were that the key to being happy is never doing something that you don’t want to do. Saying one might starve, that he starved for years but he’s happy. Who could ask for anything more?

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