Steampunk Interview: Commander Bob
Q: Thanks for joining me again! Today, I’m interviewing another fabulous member of the steampunk community. Commander Bob is a steampunk musician and a member of Victor Sierra. He’s a composer and multi-talented musician on guitar, bass, harmonica, clarinet, and more. Victor Sierra is a popular rock band from the Parisian area who uses a lot of steampunk and dieselpunk elements in their music. Thank you very much for joining me today, Bob.
A: Glad to be here, Stephanie.
Q: Why did you become fascinated with steampunk?
A: When Big Machine joined the band a few years ago, he told us about Steampunk. We had never heard of it before. So we googled it and everything seemed so familiar to us… The dystopia, the ‘uchronical’ visions, the outfits and 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 let me go a bit further to expose our universe. I would rather use the expression: 'retro-futurism' that comprises more facets of uchronicity and alternate history and facts. I don't want to be locked in a specified period of time. This leads me to mention Dieselpunk which plays a big part in our music, lyrics and imagery. That's how we came to create the Airship Hydrogen Queen -of which I'm the Commander! It's yesterday's tomorrow. Personally, I was involved in many musical and aesthetic trends before meeting steampunk. I never encountered such richness in any of these but the latter, and it doesn't look like a finite field of research and invention.
Q: What kind of background do you have in music?
A: It's an evolving background, an evolving world that can absorb interesting ideas that will fit our global vision of art or any alien concept able to push us out of our comfort zone. As I suggested in my previous answer, I felt very limited in the musical communities I was part of in the past, be it alternative rock or electronic music. I was banging my head on the big walls of conventions. We want our musical style to be totally free and Victor Sierra is definitely an open-minded trio. We sing in several different languages and I hope you noticed that it brings musical differences too. The same applies when it comes to musical instruments: 'what ifs' and 'why nots' rule my day. The Legendary Converted Princess enjoys her 'film noir's 'chanteuse' facet and inhabits it on stage while Big Machine raises hell with the industrial racket propelling our music. There's no such thing as 'classicism' opposing 'modernity' in our vision of art. Therefore, our background is multidimensional and 360° at least.
Q: When did you create your band called Victor Sierra?
A: Sometime between two centuries. I like to say (and imagine!) that Steampunk is a place where no one ever dies. Then how could I give you precise details about Victor Sierra's birth certificate? We released our first EP in the fall of 2010, this date can be seen as a milestone in our biography.
Q: Would you mind explaining some details about your steampunk persona named Commander Bob?
A: When we realized Victor Sierra was a steampunk band and, after the creation of the Hydrogen Queen, I naturally came up with the idea of this persona that quite clearly suits me. Everyone in Victor Sierra (and outside) knows I'm a commanding type of guy (laughs). Every circle has its center and if you're in a circle and can't be the center, then you must create your own circle. Pseudo military costumes are important in the steampunk community, but I see it more as providing a flavor of adventure than anything else. This aspect can be used even more creatively. I'm Commander Bob in everyday life even if I'm wearing civilian clothes. You think I'm talking to you, but in my head I'm piloting the Hydrogen Queen!
Q: Who are the other members of your band and what role do they play?
A: The Legendary Converted Princess sings and inspires me. She gives a voice to my lyrics and life to our universe with her skills. All our costumes are designed by her and it brings a very distinctive aspect to our stage performances, music videos and photos. She is the light in our night flight. She often mentions that she sings in English or other languages in an inter-war French singer way. Big Machine is in charge of the engine room. He is known as a powerful man-machine, a self-made cyborg and a transhumanist of sort. Never unnoticed on stage, he gives a hard time to the sound machines propelling our music. He is on the dark side of Victor Sierra and sheds black light ahead of the Hydrogen Queen.
Q: Which bands or styles influenced Victor Sierra’s music?
A: Talking about our multiple influences is not an easy task. Even more difficult if you consider that cinema and other arts are inspirations for us. I have personally crossed many different musical environments and they all left a trace in my mind. The same no-boundaries state of mind plays its part here and the same goes for the three of us. As Aristotle says: 'The whole is greater than the sum of its parts'.
Q: All of your songs tell a story. Is it easy or difficult to fit these elaborate tales in your music?
A: They reflect my alternate universe. Music and words come naturally to my mind. I think the music I compose can't be separated from the stories I write. They're visions of my universe. To answer your question more precisely, I would say that there are good songs and bad songs for any songwriter, whatever her or his style. Whatever elaborate are my stories, it's not this characteristic that makes a difference. Sometimes it sounds right, sometimes it doesn't.
Q: There seems to be a lot of post-apocalyptic elements in your lyrics and album covers. Why do you frequently choose post-apocalyptic settings?
A: Post-apocalyptic atmospheres appeal a lot to us. We are safely - or almost- flying over burning bridges and drowning cities. One of the many advantages of traveling aboard the Hydrogen Queen! Basically, I find post-apo images very attractive because flavors of adventure and romanticism come at first glance and we only think of death and destruction afterwards. I love this aesthetic in lyrics for the same reason so that our characters are always on a mission or flying away from catastrophes. I feel the cinematic aspect is important in my writing. One could call that some kind of 'Noah's Ark' syndrome. We take charge of our destiny, we're not discouraged and of course we're alive.
Q: Does Victor Sierra tour frequently?
A: We try to tour as much as possible. We'll be back at the Steampunk World's Fair 2018 in the US in may and to Anno 1900 in Luxemburg in September. We love to perform abroad, and thanks to social medias and the international aspect of Steampunk, it is easy to communicate. We have many projects in the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, and other places. Anyone having a good idea is welcome to drop me a note. We would certainly like to tour all around the world.
Q: It seems like airships play an important role in your music. Do airships have a symbolic purpose for Victor Sierra?
A: These gigantic flying cigars suggest a sense of real adventure. This is a very important aspect of Steampunk. Without adventure, no heroes, no outfits, no goggles, no top hats, no airships. They're slow but tenacious, poorly maneuverable, but so elegant. An airship isn't a machine, but a piece of art. An airplane acrobatic number in an air show can leave you speechless, but an airship awkwardly passing over your head triggers a dream that will remain in your mind all your life. This is what I call 'industrial poetry'. I'm quite sure airships will have a very important place amongst flying machines in the future. Yesterday will enter tomorrow's world.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about being a steampunk musician?
A: First thing first: As I said before, we were steampunk without us even knowing the word. We stumbled on it on our way and it was like perfectly adjusted shoes waiting for us to wear them. I always enjoy dramatic depth and dark atmospheres and even 'grandiose' in music whatever style that may be. I may not live the visible lifestyle everyday, but I definitely live the dream and imagination at all times. Retro-futurism is a prism through which I can create with no limits. I inhabit this world in my mind. Perhaps, one could think I live in two worlds at a time... I'm sure several realities can cross themselves… I love this quote from a scientist: 'I try to explain the impossible with improbable theories'
The DIY part is important to me. I've always been used to doing everything myself, steampunk or not steampunk. Making contraptions for our stage decor is a great source of inspiration.
Q: I would like to ask a couple more steampunk questions. Do you have a favorite steampunk author or book series?
A: There are two songs on our second album: 'Yesterday's Tomorrow' that were written after the work of two writers friends of mine. J.M Frey, a Canadian writer who asked me to write a song after her novel: 'Skylark's Song'. And the same happened with Josué Ramos from Spain who released: 'Ecos de Voces Lejanas'. I did enjoy this work, even if I had to follow a creatively linear path, which is unusual.
Q: What are some of the popular trends you're noticing in the steampunk culture today?
A: There is lot going on in the world. But I wouldn't qualify them of 'trends' per se. Because so much is happening and because Steampunk is a true 'free world,' everyone feels free to invent his persona, produce music, videos, theater, fashion, and crazy things.
Q: Is Victor Sierra working on any exciting projects?
A: We're working on our fourth album. We hope to release it to coincide with our performance at the Steampunk World's Fair 2018. We have many show opportunities to work on, perhaps some new contraptions for our decor on stage. You know, we never stop. We are always on something exciting and if nothing happens, we create it!
Q: That was a really interesting and cool interview. Thanks for telling me so much information about steampunk music and your views on the overall subculture. I’ve already listened to quite a bit of your music and I’m looking forward to more releases in the future. Best wishes for your career and artistic endeavors.
A: Thank you for this interview Stephanie. It was a pleasure.
I hope you guys enjoyed this interview. Here's a list of important links for Commander Bob and Victor Sierra. Please support them in a way that works for you. Victor Sierra is a very unique band with awesome steampunk elements. Bob is also a friendly guy and I enjoyed talking to him. He's one of the most fascinating people I interviewed this year. Leave a comment if you have anything to say about this interview. You can also become a subscriber for free by filling out the contact section on my website.
I promise to post more interviews in the near future. You'll also see more writing posts and photo galleries from conventions. Next week's post will probably be my review for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I need to spend some time thinking about the film. It was surprisingly complex. Have a safe holiday and I'll see you guys soon.
What Is Biopunk?
Good evening! I'm glad you guys are still giving my blog plenty of support. Periodically, I talk about some of the genres that have a close relationship to steampunk. There are many literary and cinematic genres that end with the word punk. Several of them are very interesting and becoming more stylized each year. My current post is covering biopunk and it's basically a really messy version genetic engineering. Steampunk features worlds that rely on steam power. Dieselpunk usually focuses on the interwar periods and diesel fuel. Cyberpunk emphasizes futuristic periods with computer technology. Every punk genre focuses on a specific resource. Biopunk covers a world that has a fascination with genetic engineering or splicing. I'll cover the genre in quite a bit of detail today and give some potential examples.
What makes biopunk different than traditional forms of genetic engineering? Honestly, it's usually a really elaborate form of junk science. It's not a realistic genre. Usually, an experiment or accident in a laboratory creates monsters or weird side effects for human test subjects. The setting is usually futuristic, although it occasionally takes place during the modern era. Mankind is developing new advancements in genetic engineering and their curiosity leads to catastrophic events. Like many punk genres, biopunk serves as a warning. Are you thinking about bringing someone back from the dead with some enhancements? I wouldn't recommend it because they're not going to come back as the same person. Maybe our military would like to create an army of super soldiers. Inevitably, it's going to backfire on them. Scientists are always eager to experiment with alien technology in the movies. That's a bad idea too. Let's create a brand new virus that will wipe out our enemies. I guarantee it will end badly for everyone. See what I mean? Science is a valuable commodity, but it turns into a nightmare when people abuse boundaries and become corrupt. Keep one thing in mind. The situation needs to focus on people or entities who receive drastic genetic alterations.
Believe it or not, biopunk has precursors. The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells is a great example. A mad scientist turns animals into hybrids with human features. It's a very disturbing and violent book that focuses on themes like compromised morality, God complexes, survival of the fittest, tiers on the food chain, etc. The book has a lot of interesting concepts, but it's not for the faint of heart.
Ironically, the best and most deliberate examples of biopunk are video games. One of my favorite examples is the BioShock series. It's a combination of biopunk and dieselpunk. The first two games take place in an underwater city called Rapture. The residents of Rapture use gene tonics and mutagens recreationally. Can you believe it? Naturally, it leads to increased mutation, mental instability, and the total downfall of the city. Many unfortunate characters are also the subjects of brutal experiments. It's an entertaining series with a complex storyline. I highly recommend the BioShock games for anyone who owns an Xbox or PlayStation.
A game called Prototype also appears to fit the biopunk mold. The protagonist, Alex Mercer, was the subject of genetic engineering and now he's a shape shifter. The game has a big emphasis on melee attacks, featuring Alex's shape shifting abilities. I find it similar to the Souls games except the story takes place in an urban environment. The gameplay is quite brutal. Alex even has the ability to completely absorb his enemies.
I think The Last of Us works as a biopunk game. It features a post-apocalyptic setting with zombies who were infected by a bizarre fungus. Well, I'm sure the fungus came from someplace. Most likely a laboratory. If I remember correctly, The Last of Us features a mutated version of the Cordyceps fungus. I seriously doubt it mutated on a natural level. It's a fabulous post-apocalyptic game and a sequel is coming out in 2018.
The Resident Evil franchise is probably the original biopunk game series. At the very least, it's probably one of the most well known examples of biopunk. Keep in mind, Resident Evil features a lot of creatures beyond zombies. Explaining it won't help you very much. Basically, a team of soldiers must stop a deadly virus and monster outbreak from spreading across the globe in every game. Try a Google search for the monsters in Resident Evil and see what pops up. You're going to find a ton of freaky abominations.
Occasionally, I find biopunk candidates in cinema. eXistenZ is a weird yet interesting biopunk film that came out in 1996. In the world of eXistenZ, video games have a biotechnological element. The players insert connectors in their spines and then the characters have a chance to have a more realistic version of gameplay. One of the characters develops shape shifting abilities along the way. For example, his hand turns into a functional gun. It's not one of my favorite movies, but I definitely noticed a lot of biopunk elements.
Splice appears to have some biopunk elements too. Scientists create a hybrid that has DNA from humans and animals. I guess it's supposed to signify a big step in science. The plot is really thin, so I can't honestly identity a lot of substance in the film. Naturally, this new hybrid becomes dangerous, almost like an apex predator. It can adapt easily to changing environments and brings a lot of horror elements to the movie.
There's a television series called Orphan Black that seems to have some biopunk qualities. In short, a woman has multiple clones, all of whom have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. If nothing else, Orphan Black definitely fits the punk theme. It has very dark and rebellious elements. I actually believe a lot of works that feature cloning can easily fit within the biopunk genre.
What about something like Jurassic Park? I'm not totally sure if the Jurassic films and books truly count as biopunk. Possibly. It's definitely a good example of science and greed that went horribly wrong. Dinosaurs went extinct long before mankind existed and everything got screwed up because someone wanted to make money from a new type of amusement park. Human beings don't stand a chance against dinosaurs. I guess there can be a strong case for Jurassic Park and biopunk. The creatures were created in laboratories with a combination of DNA from dinosaurs and other animals. Jurassic World is probably the best example. It includes a newer and deadlier type of dinosaur that's a mishmash of many creatures.
Can biopunk work as a stylized genre? I think biopunk definitely seems like a legitimate genre, but that's a matter of personal opinion. It can be confusing because a lot of genres feature genetic engineering and body modifications. For example, genetic engineering is not uncommon in the other punk genres like steampunk or cyberpunk. Think of it this way. If splicing or genetic engineering is the true hallmark of a specific work, biopunk is a potential candidate.
There are several works that may seem like biopunk at first glance, but aren't upon further examination. John Carpenter's The Thing is not a biopunk film. It includes an alien that can infect people on a viral level. The results involve shape shifting and body horror, but it's not the product of genetic engineering. Likewise, the Terminator series is not biopunk. Terminators are basically robots with synthetic human flesh. The Fallout and Metro games are more in the realm of atompunk. They include a lot of mutated creatures and humans courtesy of radioactive environments. The Evil Within game series isn't biopunk either. You'll encounter a lot of deformed beings and mishmash creatures, but it's actually a psychological experience. Everything is happening in the player's head. In a way, the monsters aren't real.
Hopefully, this post will give you a basic idea about biopunk. There aren't many online resources, but I'll list a few. Leave a comment if you want to have a discussion about this topic. That's all for now. Good luck with your holiday shopping and feel free to come back next week.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.