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Progressive Rock Interviews

Paul Roland

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Paul Roland from 2010

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

I think the short answer to that would be to ask those who are new to my music to sample the double CD In Memoriam which will be released in September 2010 and which collects my best songs from a 30 year career. The first CD features the best of the psych-pop and Goth tracks and the second CD features the best of the more fanciful and whimsical acoustic tracks with string quartet, woodwind ensembles and other baroque instrumentation. Free samples can be heard on the CD baby website or at There are just too many albums to describe in the space we have here so if you don’t mind I would rather point the curious in that direction and let them discover the delights that await, if I may be so bold.  Incidentally, the first 500 CDs will come with a free book of interviews I gave to various magazines during those 30 years so there is more than enough background there for those who are interested.


I will say, though, that when I began writing songs at the age of 14 my aspiration was to create strange and beautiful music that I wanted to hear and which no one at that time was making (although of course, I heard elements in the work of other artists of the late sixties and early seventies, namely Tyrannosaurus Rex, Nico’s solo albums, The Left Banke and King Crimson).

It was never about becoming rich or famous (which is just as well or I would have been committed to the funny farm long ago!). I have had my share of critical praise – for which I am eternally grateful – and as much press and radio attention as I can handle – but what has sustained me these past three decades more than anything is the genuine appreciation of those who enjoy my music and their continued pleasure for what I created to share with them. I have experienced the buzz of touring, the thrill of performing to audiences from several hundred to 11,000 in Germany, France, Italy and Greece, countless press conferences, interviews and autograph signings and even being courted by four record labels at the same time, but it was meeting the people who listened to the albums and who told me how much it meant to them that really gave me satisfaction and pleasure.

I am not bitter and twisted at having never been signed to a major label as I now realise that I wouldn’t have been comfortable having my life scheduled for several years ahead and pressured into producing an album to their specifications, as if it was just another product to be marketed. I am very self-disciplined and productive as it is and quite happy to create two albums a year if there is a demand, (or none if not!) but I have always valued my independence above all else. Maybe I would have been more successful if I had found a media savvy manager and an aggresively active publisher or label, but I don’t think the songs would have been so distinctive and different.


You are also a writer - can you tell me about your experiences in that regard?

I began by writing short stories at the age of 9 in the style of H.G. Wells and I worked as a freelance reviewer and feature writer for the English music press and various film magazines (“‘Kerrang,” “Sounds,” “Total Film,” etc.) in the early 1980s. I interviewed many successful artists including Motorhead, The Ramones, Velvet Underground, John Lee Hooker, Yo Yo Ma, etc., but magazine work was erratic as publications would close down or periodically reduce their use of freelancers so I decided to concentrate on writing books. Between 1995 and today I have had 30 books published on subjects ranging from mysticism and the occult to music and true crime including Investigating The Unexplained for American publisher Penguin/Bantam, In The Minds of Murderers – the art of criminal profiling with a foreword by FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood and The Crimes of Jack The Ripper (a full list of my books and sample texts can be found at my author website . I have also created a psychological tarot card deck called The Kabbalah Cards which is the result of years of studying and practising that particular system.


If you weren’t involved in music and writing what do you think you’d be doing?

I would like to have been a film director or a barrister prosecuting criminals in court and demolishing their alibis with the erudition, pointed put downs and barbed wit of Alan Shore from “Boston Legal!”


Who would you see as your musical influences?

My initial inspiration came from Marc Bolan, particularly his early acoustic albums recorded as Tyrannosaurus Rex, because he had a very distinctive voice and the ability to conjure up a magical landscape with a poetic turn of phrase. Later I came to love King Crimson, Muse, Morrissey, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin…the list is endless.


 What’s ahead for you?

A long productive life I hope. I have so many projects that I would like to pursue but I never start anything that I do not intent to finish. I concentrate on one project at a time and give it one hundred percent before I move on to the next one. At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to an acoustic album (Grimm) based on the Grimm Brothers’ macabre fairy tales. It’s the first time I have played all the instruments so it has a very unique and intimate atmosphere. The next album will be very different – a psych-pop album of songs with a macabre and quirky sense of humour. I need to express both of these aspects of my personality – the “fairy tale” troubadour type and the Addam’s Family member who has been locked up in the attic with his guitar! Maybe I’m schizophrenic.


Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

I have worked with several really original characters in the past – Robyn Hitchcock, Andy Ellison (John’s Children), Nick Nicely (of “Hilly Fields 1892” fame), Bevis Frond and members of Caravan to name a few, but I have just discovered the pleasures of working alone and playing all the parts myself and when I have had enough of that I will work with the best musicians I can find whether they are famous or not. I would love to write a horror chamber opera for a band and have my songs covered by other artists and produce them, but I think they are afraid of asking me because they believe I am a recluse and unapproachable.


Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians? It's been said by the major labels that it's essentially the heart of all the problems they are having in terms of lower sales - would you agree?

The majors make more than enough money and so do the top selling bands. They should shut up and be grateful that people like their music enough to copy it and distribute it to their friends. How much money do these greedy people need? I actively encourage the people who like my music to use it as a soundtrack for their own videos to be posted on YouTube or wherever. I can’t supply all the radio or press with promo copies so I rely on fans to “share” my music with their friends and spread the word around. Enthusiasts are the life blood of the music business. More power to them I say. Damn the greedy control freaks of the corporate music burger business.


In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

I am even more in favour of that than downloading because these shows are not for release anyway so what right do bands and labels have to prevent fans from making a copy for their private collection and sharing it with other fans. As a fan, myself, I love having different versions of favourite tracks (live and radio session versions, demos and outtakes) with alternate lyrics and instrumentation. How much poorer would we be if we had been denied the likes of the Pet Sounds Sessions or the Doors 40th anniversary remixes or the Bob Dylan official bootleg series, for example. 


If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

 First of all I would have to be The Human Torch because he doesn’t wear his underpants on the outside of his trousers and he was my comic book alter ego when I was a kid. I loved the idea of flying and being in flames. How cool is that?


OK, so to my nemesis – there are just too many airheads in the music business to target just one - they’re so bland that I couldn’t identify one from another, do they clone them in the basement of Sony Music headquarters I wonder – I’d have to be able to organise a mass cull, or be allowed to pull the plug on the whole illusion like in The Matrix to bring everyone back to their senses – but if I had to pick one who irritates me it would be Celine Dion – not that I would recognise her voice if I heard it because all these bimbos sound the same, but anyone who confuses endless vocal acrobatics with soulful expression should be marooned on a desert island and forced to witness the effect their warbling has on the wildlife. That’s what I call animal cruelty. Why can’t that woman find the bloody note she’s looking for and hold it? Why does she have to inflict her vocal gymnastic exercises on the public in the mistaken belief that she is embellishing a melody in the same way that early opera singers ornamented a line by Handel or Monteverdi. Maybe she is trying to distract from the fact that there is no discernible tune. Being a true diva does not mean putting your ego between the composer and the audience. That’s being a prima donna, not a diva. The singer should serve the song.     


If you were to put together your ultimate band, who would be in it and why?

That’s a hard one. There are so many artists I admire. If I could have two guitarists to trade licks and hammer home the riffs it would be Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi (the nicest gentleman I ever interviewed by the way), John Entwhistle on bass (and he shared my black humour from what I can tell from songs like “Doctor Doctor”), Marc Bolan on backing vocals, Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Alan White of Yes on drums because he combines the attack I like with the ability to change between complex patterns.

If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

Muse, Rammstein, Morrissey, Lou Reed, Michael Nyman, Black Sabbath, Yes, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.


What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

The Doors 40th anniversary remasters. I must admit there are some tracks that don’t do anything for me and I always thought there were far too many 12 bar blues variations on LA Woman, but other than that music of that quality and with that distinctive sound has the power to transport you back to a time and place in an instant like nothing else can. I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I remember the summer of Love and the Sixties even though I was only a kid and the Doors and other bands of that period can take me right back there like Proust when he recalled his childhood just by tasting lemon tea, or whatever it was. Who needs drugs when your own brain can respond that way to music” That’s something Celine Dion and her kind can never do.  

Have you read any good books lately?

Unlikely as it might seem I’ve actually been reading some football (ie soccer) books after seeing the film “The Damned United” and I’ve also been enjoying books about mountaineering such as Joe Simpson’s The Beckoning Silence. And I always read movie books in between everything else – books about the making of “the Godfather,” for example, or biographies of actors I admire and who have gravitas such as Pacino, De Niro, Orson Welles or “old” British screen stars such as Richard Attenborough and John Mills. The 40s and 50s were a golden age in British movie making and I’m sad that that quality of character has gone.


What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

I honestly can’t remember the last time I went to a gig. Must have been back in the 80s for “Kerrang.” That’s when I met Ozzy and backstage he gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever had. He said, ‘Keep away from f****ng record companies. And so I did.

Do you have a musical "guilty pleasure?"

1970s glam rock. Those Chinn-Chapman hits for The Sweet and the other bubblegum pop song factory singles by Slade, Mud, Alvin Stardust etc. were great sounding records and perfectly crafted conveyer belt pop. The hooks were strong and there wasn’t any padding. Every bar had to count. There was real energy in those records and the drum sounds were meaty and the guitars tastefully distorted. That was a high point in pop, but unfortunately it went very silly very quickly.


What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

I honestly can say that I haven’t had one, although you may count the German tour of November 89 when the idiot promoter printed posters advertising us as “Electro Beat” because he had misheard me over the phone when I said we should be billed as “Paul Roland and his electric band!” Christ, that was bad. Then to add insult to injury he booked us in the remotest towns, or should I say villages, that he could find. We had to treat it as a rehearsal for the next tour and put it down to experience.


But the most Spinal Tap episode I have actually witnessed was the debacle that was Opal. We were supporting them at selected venues across Germany in 88 and the female singer was a real pain. A spoiled rich kid who kept complaining about everything. “I ordered pretzels and they gave me peanuts!” she moaned at every opportunity and we have adopted that in our family whenever we want to let someone know that they are over reacting and being a brat! At one point she asked one of her band if she sounded like an airhead in a radio interview and we had to put our hands over our mouths to stop us answering her as we would love to have done.


They kept firing different personnel, road crew and sound engineers as they travelled from gig to gig. It was hilarious – our on tour entertainment was never better. We could hear them arguing with each member of their crew in the hotels until there was no one left! They even ended up firing their tour manager – the only person who knew the itinerary and spoke the language! What idiots. The highlight though was when the airhead went on stage and her vocals couldn’t be heard above the band. After five minutes a roadie walks on and switched the microphone on! And to think these people sell tons of records.


If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

The humanitarian in me would choose Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed so that I could persuade them to talk sense to their followers and shame the self appointed religious “authorities” into listening to the shared message they originally tried to teach humanity and stop corrupting those teachings for their own selfish ends.


But then the more selfish me would probably think that nobody’s going to listen to Jesus and his friends anyway – they didn’t the first time so why should they do so now – so then I would plum for Orson Welles, Marc Bolan and Michael Nyman.   


Alternatively, having Jack The Ripper, Adolph Hitler and Jesus to dinner would guarantee that I could get a couple of bestselling books out of it!


Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

As a wise man once said, “Space is dark it is so endless. When you're lost it's so relentless. It is so big, it is small. Why does man try to act so tall?” (Dave Brock, Hawkwind)

You can’t say anything more profound than that, can you?
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at
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