Victorian Adventure Enthusiast Interviews Captain Robert of Abney Park
Robert Brown is the founder, lead singer, principal songwriter and "Captain" of Abney Park, a band practically synonymous with steampunk.
Between his work with Abney Park and being a devoted family man Robert has found time to write a soon to be released novel, "The Wrath of Fate", and to oversee the creation of a table-top Role Playing Game based on his writing ("Airship Pirates").
Somehow he also squeezed in time to chat with us....
Victorian Adventure Enthusiast: How was Abney Park founded?
Captain Robert: I put together Abney Park about 100 years ago, or so it feels. It was a completely different set of people then. Kristina joined me shortly afterward (I had played with her in a previous band), and we slowly transformed into the band we are today.
VAE: How did the current line up coalesce?
CR: Piecemeal. Kristina and I have worked together since she was a teenager. Nathaniel was half brother to the bands Videographer. Daniel was Kristina's friends husband. Jody is my Cousin, and so on.
Now, for me this hasn't happened yet, but by the time you read this is will have. We are for the first time in Abney Park history varying our format of "Guitar, Bass, Boy Singer, Girl Singer, Keyboards" by adding a permanent, lead guitar player. This gives Nathaniel the opportunity to play more Violin, Banjo, Mandolin, while giving Abney Park the magical playing of Josh Goering. We worked with him many years ago, and his return means we regain some amazing talent we have sourly missed.
In about 4 hours we will ask him to join our band as a permanent member. I hope he says yes!
VAE: What precipitated Abeny Park's shift to steampunk?
CR: I always wrote Victorian Science Fiction Lyrics. Songs like The Change Cage (The upcoming Airship Pirates RPG is based heavily on this song) were actually written years before Abney Park was formed, and decades before we recognized the term Steampunk was a fit. When we actually found the word, it seemed like it was a given that we were meant to peruse it. We then started crafting albums with compositions that fit the feel of those lyrics.
VAE: What is it about steampunk that speaks to you?
CR: It's the perfect hybrid of the era of Adventure, and our modern excitement with gizmos and gadgets vehicles. It allows a day dream where nothing cool is left out!
VAE: Why did you go with the airship pirates look?
CR: On the day we realised our lyrics had Victorian Sci-fi themes, and found the word Steampunk. I happened to be drawing pictures of Airships during all this - mostly because they are easy to draw. Pretty soon the drawing had evovled into an airship flying over a jungle, and ruined mayan temples. The result was that in a few days I had written the song Airship Pirates.
VAE: You've first novel, "The Wrath of Fate", is coming out soon. Not surprisingly it's steampunk in nature. How many of the Abney Park tunes are part of the song cycle related to the book?
CR: The vast majority of them play into the world of the novel. The novel is written in the first person, and as I go through this strange adventure I occasionally see things that inspire me to write lyrics, and I jot them in the novel.
I'm really thrilled because a few of the songs lyrics held meaning to only me. Through this book form, I can explain lyrics like " Sleep, Sleep My Isabella, Safely in your Carosella. Sleep through the spinning, just like your beginning. Sleep my Child, So sleep my child." These lyrics only really hold there full meaning too me, but when the book comes out everything will be explained.
VAE: What's the gist of the novel's plot?
CR: Young starving musician from a broken home finds himself on an adventure through time, inadvertently reshaping the world as he goes. Misguided heroics, and tumultuous relationships within the crew lead to a bleak and exotic future world were law abiding citizens are forced to live in Victorian squalor, and only the outlaws are free. And their are Airship Pirates!
VAE: Is writing songs for Abney Park like writing short stories related to your novel?
CR: Yup. Thats exactly what it is.
VAE: How long have you been writing?
CR: Well, I won some of those "Young Writer Awards" when I was a kid in grade school, and I'm not telling you how long ago that was (30 years), and I've written short stories for the Abney Park Website for years, but The Wrath Of Fate will be my first published novel. As you probably know, I've been focusing on song writing lately, and my lyrics are pretty much condensed chapters with rhyme and meter. The novel is simply putting these chapters in order, and filling in the details that have to be left out of a 4 minute song.
VAE: Is performing in Abney Park like living in fiction?
CR: You could not have said it better. I've heard people say "Abney Park shouldn't pretend to be something they are not!" Know what? I wrote that song on an Airship! I regularly perform in haunted steam ships. I perform secret concerts in anceint victorian power plants under the streets of LA with (literally) fountains of Absinthe. If this life isn't steampunk, nothing is.
VAE: Additionally there will soon be "Airship Pirates" the RPG related to your fiction and Abney Park. How did this release come together? Did you hunt down a publisher or did Cubicle 7 come to you?
CR: Actually, Cakebread and Walton came to me. They had already released many successful games via Cubical Seven, and so I could trust there ability to handle my world well. Once we got rolling, we got brought a ton of wonderful illustrators onboard, and the end result is breathtaking.
VAE: What's your background in gaming?
CR: When I was a teenager, and in my 20's, I assumed game design was going to be my career. I created dozens of games, and submitted them to the likes of Wizards of the Coast, and Mattel.
Mattel told me they were only looking for games that had Electronics in them.
Wizards Of The Coast told me they didn't want to "buy" a game designed by someone outside the company. Then they told me they weren't hiring. Then my friend submitted my game under his name, and got promoted from the collections department to Lead Game Designer. So, I rightly said, "Fuck this shit! I will go the music music biz, were artists are teated fairly!"
I buried the dream of game design for 20 years, only to have a couple companies from England approach me with the concept. I was skeptical, because I still feeling burned by the industry, but they eventually convinced me. Now I'm being told Airship Pirates, The Abney Park RPG is going to revitalize the RPG industry.
I'm thinking about mooning Wizards of The Coast.
VAE: The game was written by the afore mentioned Cakebread and Walton, how involved in the game's creation were you?
CR: I played a roll more akin to Producer and Director, then writer. They read the novel, and the songs lyrics, and I read what they wrote and made sure it stayed consistent with what I was working on for the novel. I also directed the illustrators, and did some illustration and design myself.
VAE: Was it uncomfortable for you to see someone else catalog and notate your world?
CR: At first, but they put such effort into understanding the world, and the subtext behind it, that it took no time at all for me to trust them.
VAE: What products are scheduled to be released for "Airship Pirates"?
CR: The first supplement is already out, "Ruined Empires", which is takes it name from a lyric in the song The End of Days. We should be starting on a second book due out this Christmas, and I'm sure there will be countless other supplements.
I hear the publisher released the game at Gen Con, and it sold out in ten minutes to a crowd of fans singing Airship Pirates. I think that sends a clear message to the publishers that the world wants more! :)
VAE: I've heard game writers described as "frustrated novelists", do you think that you're a writer who's a frustrated gamer?
CR: Naw, I'm really not frustrated. I'm a day dreamer, with a dozen ways to record those dreams, and thousands of people wanting to hear them. There couldn't be a more pleasant place for a dreamer.
VAE: Have you gotten the chance to sit down and play the game?
CR: NO! I don't even have a copy yet, save the source files! I need to do this!!!
What'cha doing next wednesday?
VAE: Some writers have been resistant to RPGs because they don't like the idea of fans mucking about with their world and characters. How do you feel about Abney Park fans creating their own take on your fiction?
CR: I love the idea. Abney Park really developed through the interpretations of our fans. When fans said, "I see all the songs as having one undercurrent of a story" I said, "Good idea! I'll write the novel". When fans said, "This should be an RPG!" I said, "Good Idea, Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton! Lets do it!"
When me and the fans all day dream together, this becomes a lush, and detailed world.
VAE: What's next for Abney Park?
CR: Currently we are either about to release, or have just released:
Full Studio Album
Novel, "The Wrath of Fate"
RPG, "Airship Pirates"
All in the next 6 months. After that, I plan on taking a nap - and if I never get up again fans will have plenty to keep them busy for a while.
VAE: What's next for steampunk?
CR: ts already a internationally recognized genera, like "Pirate" or "Hip Hop" or "Tudor". Its probably the only style I have ever seen that bridge all art forms, so it really has potential to be something history will not forget. But major artists are taking the "fashion" and leaving the musical style: Rush, Lady Gaga, T-Pain, Sugarland…all these people have been seen dressing steampunk or with steampunk stage sets, but continue to make regular contemporary music. *yawn* To them, its "this years buzz word", which is i guess more then we thought it could be.
The only question I still have is will it become a world-recognized musical genera. I honestly don't think musicians in the scene are really taking it seriously enough at the moment for that to happen. Steampunk musicians have some great music, but are making crappy products (not recorded well, not mastered, not marketed) and they give it away for free - which means they never have money to put into the next product or justify really honing their craft. I only know of a couple that are producing really quality music, but they are taking it from such a comical standpoint that i think it makes a narrow demography and a limited replay-abilty. After you have been told a joke, how many more times do you want that joke told to you?
Abney Park is trying to step up our game, since we are currently in the best position to move this genera mainstream. I hope we can, but I'm not vain enough to think we have produced good enough work in the past for this. And if we can't, I hope someone else can! Other artists need to realize this has the potential to be more then just a fringe curiosity, and step up what they are doing, so we can present this to the world. We steampunk musicians need to not be content with being big fish in a little pond.
VAE: You've got your family, your band, a novel in the works and a Role Playing Game about to come out... what's next for Robert Brown?
CR: I want an iOs adventure game in this world, an MMO based on the RPG, and either a TV series or a movie based on the story. I'd take Broadway, too, if i could have Les Mirserables quality sets and productions. Years ago these would seem like unreachable dreams, but everything else has come true, so I'm optimistic.
Thank you Robert!
For more with Captain Robert check out our sister site: Sepiachord.com
Airship Pirates RPG: