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Vernian Process

Exclusive for for Girls and Corpses Magazine
© by Ron Sawyer

all rights reserved

issue #10

Joshua A. Pfeiffer is the one-man powerhorse behind the steampunk music project Vernian Process. Combining his love of visual, timeless themes and post-punk, he has put together a collection of hauntingly lush songs that appeals to listeners on many different level . Our corpse Reporter spoke to him about Vernian Process and his informative post-punk website.

G&C: Can you give us a bit of background and history of "steampunk" and how you got into it?

JP: Well, steampunk as a literal term was coined in the mid-80's by authors like K.W. Jeter, William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling. The Difference Engine (1992) is often viewed as the first official steampunk novel, though it was pre-dated by Jeter's Morlock Night (1979), The Anubis Gate (1983) and even Michael Moorcock's Warlord of the Air (1961). Although Moorcock's work was more a direct descendant of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells who are the fathers of steampunk (or as it was called in the 19th Century: Romantic Science Fiction) than the Cyberpunk offspring of the mid-80s (which is where the term "steampunk" comes from). As far as my involvement goes, my very first memory of steampunk is of the late 60's T.V. show The Wild Wild West , which I saw in syndication as a little kid during the early 80's. When I got older the two shows that really gelled my interests was Bruce Campbell's The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., and Disney's Tale Spin (which is more of a 30's Pulp setting, but a major influence nonetheless) After I saw those shows I started writing my own steampunk themed stories. With setting ranging from the wild west, to far off European castles, and undersea facilities. In recent years, I've seen a steady rise in the interest in steampunk amongst the media, which often times results in hackneyed work such as the film adaptations of the wonderful graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen . Van Helsing , and Will Smith's disastrous foray into the genre with The Wild Wild West . Of course some directors get it right. Such as Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy , and the recent Japanese film Cashern .

G&C: What are some of your major influences?

JP: As far as steampunk influences go: Besides the aforementioned shows, I was also largely influenced by the RPG Castle Falkenstein, and the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli (i.e. Laputa: Castle in the Sky , and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind ). The Final Fantasy series has always been a source of steampunk inspiration, what with their obsession with Airships throughout those titles. Actually, every time I saw a retro-futuristic setting in any kind of media I would always get instantly hooked on it. It's so refreshing to see such a large interest in this style that I have always held so close to my heart. Now as for musical influences: My most immediate ones are In the Nursery, Clan of Xymox (in particular their '86 Medusa LP), The Protagonist, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Joy Division, And Also the Trees, The Chameleons, Kate Bush, The Cure, Gary Numan, Soft Cell, New Order, Siouxsie, Nick Cave, Massive Attack, Juno Reactor, A Split Second, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, Coil, Einsturzende Neubauten, Click Click, Ministry ( Twitch ), Forma Tadre, Skinny Puppy, and a whole bunch of others I can't recall at this moment. I love a wide range of musical genres, and these are just the ones that fall within the post-punk/goth/industrial/new wave spectrum. Of course I'm also very influenced by classical and contemporary composers such as Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Vangelis, Danny Elfman, Graeme Revell, Bernard Herman, Maurice Ravel, Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, and Edvard Grieg. And my influences can't be complete without mentioning the various genres of film I enjoy immensely. Such as Spaghetti Westerns, Akira Kurosawa's Samurai epics, film noir, pulp novel adventures, etc.

G&C: Have you collaborated with other musicians or do you usually work on your projects alone?

JP: I would absolutely love to do more collaborations. I have quite a few people that are interested in working with me. But finding time to schedule meetings is the hardest part. So far the only true collaboration I have done is with a British gentleman by the name of Colin Sharp. He was the original vocalist for The Durutti Column (early label mates of Joy Division). We had been corresponding concerning my website post-punk.com, and I had sent him a copy of my cover of Joy Division's classic "Atmosphere". He was so impressed with it that he asked if I'd like to collaborate with him on a project he was trying to organize. So I agreed and wrote the music to accompany his song "Where Are the Young Men?" (an homage to his old friends who had passed away, such as Ian Curtis, Adrian Borland, and Billy Mackenzie). It came about right around the time I had lost a friend and roommate of mine, so the subject matter was very deeply personal. I think I managed to compose a piece of music that was both respectful to the deceased, and full of vibrant hopeful energy for those they left behind. I didn't want the song to sound like a funeral dirge, more like a beautiful post-punk requiem. The music shared some stylistic similarities to Joy Division and many of the early epic post-punk artists that we were both so fond of. The song at this time is an instrumental, but Colin is supposed to record the vocals at some point in the near future. I'd like to start remixing other musicians work, but so far nothing has come of that, and I've also talked to Jill Tracy about collaborating in the near future as well. I'm really looking forward to that!

G&C: Each of your songs is very cinematic, epic and multi-layered. What steps do you go through in writing a piece of music, from start to finish?

JP: Well, it depends on the song, but often I will lay down a basic 8-bar drum arrangement, and a simple bassline, then build it from there. As all of my music is done on computer, it's fairly easy to just throw random bits in, until it sounds right. On the more orchestral work, I will usually do a basic string melody first, and then layer on other sections after. As of late however, I have been experimenting with finding thematic melodies that I will repeat throughout a release, much the way an actual film score will have certain melodies for particular characters or scenarios that are re-introduced throughout the score. The one thing I love about doing music on a computer is the ability to do anything I want. I can have a full orchestral arrangement at the tips of my fingers. It's a wonderful feeling. I have also been recently incorporating more brass, woodwinds, and various percussion into my work. As well as a number of ethnic world instruments. It adds such an extra dimension of depth to the typical guitar/bass/drums/keys setup of most traditional bands. I have also started incorporating vocals into my original pieces, something that I've shied away from for the most part in the past. I think once I did that "Atmosphere" cover, I realized I actually had the ability to sing!

G&C: Besides working on Vernian Process, you also DJ and have a fantastic post-punk website. Describe these and other things you might be working on.

JP: Well, my DJing seems to have taken a back seat to my own music. But I still do frequent guest appearances at events around the bay area. As for the website, some major changes have been occurring with Post-Punk.com recently. I've recruited the help of my friend Andru to keep the site maintained, and we actually have a pretty brilliant strategy to meld the site into our myspace.com presence, to create a truly interactive website. The only other things I'm currently working on are two side projects. The first being my minimal electronic project "Digital Disorder", and the other is my Dark Ambient project; "formsunknown". I'm basically taking all of my experimental tendencies and venting them through this project. Of course it is still largely orchestral in nature, but it's a much more Dark Ambient (or Deathbient, as I call it) project. The songs range in theme from "The Lurking Fear", which is about H.P. Lovecraft's ancient gods, to "Charon (The Ferryman)" which is themed around a journey across the river Styx. The one thing I notice about most ambient in general is that it is usually not very engaging to the listener. It's meant to be background soundscapes, but I am attempting to make "formsunknown" a much more interesting listening experience than your average dark ambient music. How successful I am is up to you the listener? All I know is that I'm having a great time creating these shadowy soundscapes.

G&C: You have created some fantastic cover (or perhaps I should say 'reinterpretation') versions of old post-punk classics, proving that steampunk and post-punk can be merged with stunning results. How did you go about creating these pieces?

JP: Well, honestly, the first few covers I did (Joy Division, The Cure, Gary Numan) were done by finding tablatures for the songs, and arranging them myself. But on my most recent cover versions, I found actual midi transcriptions, which I then simply load into my sequencer, and just add the various instrument samples myself. It's still a lot of work, because I have to treat each and every instrument, and add effects. I also record vocals on most of them. I recently released an E.P. of cover versions entitled Catalysts . These were all songs that were catalysts for me. Songs that inspired me to work on my own music. I plan on releasing a full L.P. of covers sometime this summer as well, in addition to another E.P. of original material. Covers are so fun to do for me, because once I'm done, I go back and dissect the songs, to see how they were written. I then use that knowledge to further my own original songwriting. I also really try to be respectful to my source material when doing cover versions. I don't want to just outright copy the songs, but I also don't want to make them sound cheesy.

G&C: You've talked about plans for elaborate Vernian Process live shows. What exactly do you have planned (or would like to plan) for future shows?

JP: I'd really like first and foremost to make some videos to play onstage to accompany the music. I'd also like to incorporate interpretive, and burlesque dancers. When I actually have a budget I'd love to build some working mock ups of steam engines and giant factory gears, etc. Lighting and atmosphere will also play a major part in the live experience. I also think it will help when I have more vocal songs to sing. It keeps the audience engaged, and I'm all about theatricality!

G&C: What are your upcoming plans and projects?

Well I'd like to get an actual fully official album release in '06. So far I have five self released CD's, but none of them are on real CD (just CDr burns) and there is no distribution for them. I think it will help to have an agent at some point as well. Although that requires money (of which I have very little). I suppose my biggest plans are to start attending school and learning music theory as I feel it will really help me to put all of these random chords, and other musical elements together more cohesively. Not to mention finally getting some scoring gigs. That's my biggest hope for 2006, to finally write some scores for other people's projects!

G&C: Thanks Joshua -- from the bottom of our graves.

More on Vernian Process at: www.post-punk.com

Interview by Ron Sawyer

Photos by Pasha Smith and Tristan Crane