Boo Hoo (Projekt)
An Interview with Goth’s Most Eligible Bachelor
by Jamie Kiffel
What does the Devil sound like when he sniffles? How do banshees shriek when their dreams are crushed, and what happens when the under-bed beast feels too sad to reach out and grab a toe or two?
Voltaire, sardonic satyr of the Goth world and nightclub crooner for not-so-serious vampires everywhere, is famous for bringing the make-up-melting warmth of self-satirizing laughter to the pale wasteling set. Somehow, in the midst of moldering tombstones, stuffed ravens, broken gargoyle parts and long, low bell tolls, Voltaire has managed to crack the verdigris cemetery gates with his musical band of grinning ghosties who just wanna have fun. And why shouldn’t he laugh? When he’s not making vampires giggle, Voltaire is busy with stop-motion animation (he directed the famous Hieronymous Bosch-styled stop-motion MTV ID from 1988), the Oh My Goth! comic book series, and the delicate Japanese nymphet-wraith-warrior, Chi Chian, who is the subject of a Sirius comic series and will soon also have her own role-playing game.
Yet Voltaire’s new album, Boo Hoo, is far more of a smirking sniffle than a smile; a giggle punctuated with a sob.
Here, the broken-hearted bachelor reveals the inspiration behind his latest music, what makes his super-active imagination tick, what he looks for in a woman and why Internet dating may or may not be the answer to his romantic dreams.
I like your new album, though it’s a huge departure from the last one.
I was very nervous about it, actually. For starters, Boo Hoo was born out of a breakup, a relationship I was in for 12 years, and over the two-year-long process of breaking up, I went through every emotion you can possibly think of: From denial to bitterness to anger and depression and through irreverence and finally I think to resignation, and reconciliation. So those were songs that were therapeutic: I wrote them as a cathartic experience. When it came time to make a record, they were at the forefront of my mind. But I was well aware of the fact that most of them didn’t have that satirical, evil tone that I think people have come to associate with my music. But at the end of the day, an artist has to create the music that’s true to them, and just cross your fingers and hope that people like it. Once you start second-guessing what the audience wants to hear, you start producing drivel, and I didn’t want to go that route.
And what do people think?
Well, it’s pretty early to say. I’ve been playing a lot of the songs in my acoustic sets for the last year, like “See You in Hell” and “Future Ex-Girlfriend” and “Irresponsible,” and I guess I have this image of an artist going out and introducing new material with a line like “this is a new song!” and everyone groans and gets a drink. But I was pleasantly surprised time and time again when I played live shows: People seemed to really take to the new material. So it was very encouraging, but I was still a bit concerned about the arrangement in particular, because Boo Hoo does have a decidedly jazzier feel to it. It has more of an American music vibe overall, which is so alien to me because I grew up listening to mostly Brit pop, and I really have no idea where this blues swing jazz influence crept in. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t write these songs, they’re just subliminally sent to me by some other, parallel universe, and I think it’s best that I don’t question them, I just record ’em as I hear ’em.
Do you do any astrology?
I’ve always had a very rigid disbelief in astrology. But I have to say: I have yet to see a description of an Aquarian, which is what I am, or for that matter, a fire horse – which is what I am in Chinese astrology – that doesn’t fit me to a T. There are a lot of things that take place in my life that are so random and yet so on the money that I have to scratch my head and wonder if there aren’t metaphysical forces at work. But I have the same stance toward astrology that I have toward God and religion, which is that I don’t know. I am a little, minuscule, tiny microorganism in the scheme of the universe, and who the hell am I to think that I know anything about such things?
Well, the Aquarius bit is interesting because it certainly fits you. Certainly the very intellectual, thinking, constantly doing, moving…
And yet, completely managing to forget to balance my checkbook. You can pretty much forget about me getting anything practical done.
That’s amazing because it looks like you’re doing a lot of self-managing between the comic books and this and stop-motion animation…
The key words are creativity and fun. If something is interesting to me, I’ll indulge in it 150% and I won’t be able to sleep for three days. But I will forget to pay my bills. I will forget to go to the grocery store. And as we speak, there is no toilet paper. I forget which side of the brain controls those things, but I think mine’s been asleep for about three decades.
What’s the latest project that’s completely sucked you in? Is it this album?
I have a hard time seeing music as a project because music is something that just happens. Literally. I walk down the street, a tune pops into my head, lyrics start to form, and before I arrive at my destination, I have a song. I have no control over it, and it’s a little scary. Sometimes I wonder: When are these songs going to stop coming? Whatever alien race is sending me this material just better keep sending ’em.
But I have to say that the project that has consumed the greatest part of my life is Chi Chian. I think about Chi Chian a good 80% of the time that I’m awake.
Why do you think so?
That’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time.
You’ve spent some time in Japan…
I’ve been there a couple of times, for fairly short stretches. It’s not as if I lived there for years. Chi Chian is somebody who’s very, very real to me. It’s funny because whenever I discuss new developments in the universe of Chi Chian, I usually don’t say, “I’ve decided that in the Chi Chian universe, forks are made of plutonium.” I say (laughing) “it has been revealed to me that…” It’s similar to music in that the ideas pop into my head, and I accept them as canon. I’ve come to the conclusion actually, mostly through a series of very disturbing dreams I’ve had, that Chi Chian is very much a part of me. Obviously, Chi Chian is a female and I’m a male, but she is very much who I really am underneath all of the layers of… complex social mechanisms, social behavioral traits, and self-defense mechanisms that I’ve acquired over the years.
May I ask how old you are?
I am… (doubtful laughter) thirty… five? I think I’m 35. I was born January 25, 1967, so however old that makes me is how old I am. Again, that part of the brain – I count on my fingers and toes, and I only have 20 of those, so I’ve been 20 for a long time.
Is Chi Chian something that will go on for a long time?
Chi Chian started out as an idea in Tokyo in 1989. Her personality, her character, her history, her parents’ history, her grandparents’ history, and her universe is something that started to germinate in my mind like an out-of-control virus for years until one night, I decided I was just going to sit down and start drawing a Chi Chian comic book. It was (eventually) picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel’s website as a 14-episode series. And I have to say that those ten months working 18 hours a day on the series were the best ten months of my career. Just having the opportunity to wake up every morning and work with Chi Chian was the best, most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I realize that I border on really hippie-dippy and extreme corniness when I talk about Chi Chian, but she’s that important to me. So my dream, really, is to be able to continue to keep her world alive. And if I don’t have the opportunity to do that commercially, I will just do it for my own satisfaction.
But there’s been talk of a Chi Chian video game, and a feature film, and I pursue those things very earnestly because I really feel that it’s my purpose to allow her world to be. The underlying motivation there is, I think, an interesting philosophy: That your daydreams and your ideas are valuable. There are a lot of people who have an artist inside of them, and they have ideas for songs and paintings, but they think that somehow, there’s a difference between them and people they see on television or on the radio. What they don’t realize is that the only difference is that people on the radio or the big screen are people who decided to give credibility to those fleeting notions in their minds.
I teach stop-motion animation at The School of Visual Arts, and a friend asked me if I would speak to her fifth-graders on career day. I ended up getting a stack of (thank-you) letters from the children. There was this one boy who, apparently, the teacher could never get him to write anything, and he was very eager to write a thank-you letter. He said “I thought I was a bad kid, but I’m not. I’m an artist.” I was on my knees, sobbing. But really, unfortunately, a lot of people are waiting for someone to give them the license to be an artist when really, it’s just a matter of when you accept that you’re an artist, and you decide that you’re going to go out and do something.
Okay, this is turning into a big, self-help thing… we should probably change the topic to something like what kind of lipstick do I like, or something…
You want to tell me what’s the best make-up to put on?
None is my favorite. I prefer no makeup on a woman, for several reasons. First of all, I prefer a natural beauty. Though my version of beauty is so subjective.
No! All you have to do is walk outside and look at every bus shelter and magazine ad to realize that there is an internationally accepted version of beauty that I refer to as “academic beauty,” and I think that’s such a load of bollocks. I mean, yes, I can see that these models are beautiful, but they don’t affect me. But when I encounter it, I’m a complete mess. I go from being the last of the international playboys to a total fool. A drooling, babbling, incoherent fool.
Well, that’s reassuring…
Yeah, I prefer a woman without any makeup, because then, you know what you’re getting.
What about the Goth scene? Obviously, that’s a makeup-ready scene.
I have to say, it’s a lot easier to be Gothic when your face is covered in whiteface and black lipstick and the whole nine. And I really appreciate that aesthetic as well. But at the end of the day, I’m just so sick of washing the black lipstick out of my underwear that I prefer no lipstick whatsoever. Who needs to kiss all that goop? You know?
But you like to play with image…
Hey, I spent all of the ’80s in a full face of makeup and spandex pants, looking very much like the bastard love child of John Taylor and Nick Rhodes. But then I grew up, and suddenly didn’t look so androgynous anymore, and now I put on makeup and just look like an evil clown. So I leave the make up at home at this point.
What do they think of that on the scene?
I feel really lucky that there seems to be this unspoken license given to me not to wear makeup. I haven’t worn makeup in ten years and no one in the Goth scene seems to mind. Plus let me tell you: A guy with black lipstick who has a goatee – ooh, bad choice. That’s exactly the kind of guy who would end up in Oh My Goth!
Have you always joked about the scene, or is that more recent?
In 1995, there was just nobody incorporating humor into Gothic culture. So when I played my very first show to a room full of Goths at a club called Salvation, for the first half of the show, they all stood around looking at each other with their hands on their mouths, praying that they wouldn’t be caught smiling. And by halfway through the set, everybody was laughing. From that point on, people come to my show knowing that it’s going to be entertaining and humorous. But my very first show was about poking fun at us. And I think that’s a really key point: I’m not an outsider poking fun at Goths. If I was, I’d have been skewered long ago. But people get that I’m laughing at us from the inside, and there’s something very empowering about being able to laugh at yourself. Because when you laugh at yourself, suddenly, the taunts of others towards you don’t feel as powerful.
The Goth scene probably does have a lot of people who come from the sidelines and have experienced taunting.
I would go as far as to say that 90% of us are people who were taunted and ridiculed, or worse, came to understand that there was a very distinct evil streak in humans as a whole, and I think decided – subconsciously or consciously – to rebel against culture because it is so hypocritical. You’re being told on a daily basis that people who are religious are supposed to turn the other cheek, but they’re usually the first to throw the stone, and I think that Goths rebel against that (concept) by wearing their darkness on their sleeve. Of course, I think a lot of them take it a little too far, saying “I’m not happy all the time, so I’m going to pretend to be sad all the time,” but by pretending to be sad all the time, you’re just as far from center as those people pretending to be happy all the time. It’s very important to find that place in the middle.
I wonder about the impulse to examine “pretty death.” Does that play in for you?
I think it’s so important to be a whole human being, and to acknowledge that being sad, being frustrated, being angry and having fleeting suicidal thoughts, having fleeting homicidal thoughts, are all part of being human. And I think it’s very important to acknowledge those things. But I think that in acknowledging them, you find a healthy outlet for those feelings. When you deny that those feelings exist in you, they start coming out in weird ways. And I think that’s when people start getting twisted and weird, and to a large degree, that’s where you get a lot of social dysfunction. I think it’s very ironic because a lot of people look at Goths as people who most likely have a tendency to go that route, to be very violent and dark and aggressive… and it’s exactly the opposite. I think it’s the fact that they acknowledge those things that keeps them from turning out that way. It’s pretty clear to anyone who’s had any interaction with Goths that they are, as a whole, an extremely peaceful group of people.
I know you said you’re not into horoscopes, what about occultish goings-on?
I have no metaphysical beliefs of any sort.
Maybe that makes it easier to write about the God-Devil archetypes.
I find all that stuff very interesting because it moves people so deeply to the point that they will kill others for their religious beliefs. I think that’s one of the scariest things about humankind. I just hope that I will never be so egotistical that I believe I know who or what God is. Like I said, who the hell am I to claim that I know what God wants, or that there is a God? By the same token, I am in such awe of nature and creation, and I’m sure it’s not much different from the first caveman seeing lightning strike and assuming there must be this war in the Heavens, that God is on top of a volcano throwing lightning bolts at some other dude who he’s pissed off at. I’m really in awe of all these things, but I honestly believe that I’m not meant to know. If the heavens open up and reveal themselves to me personally, I’ll be the first to get down on my knees, but that simply hasn’t happened.
Any belief in energy systems? Making things happen with your will?
I live on two levels simultaneously. On one level, I believe that life, existence, is a game that we have chosen to be part of. And part of the game is not being able to see it from the outside. Once you’re in the game, you have to play the game. So I play on a daily basis, and I’ve learned that if you’re good to people, they will generally be good to you, though there’s no guarantee. And I’ve also learned that spending energy to be bad to people just isn’t worth my time and just drags me down. So I’ve learned how to get by, more or less, in this world, and I just take it on a day-to-day basis.
At the same time, I try to view reality from the outside, and I have come up with so many interlocking theories about how reality works that I sometimes wonder if I won’t figure it out before I leave this place. I see myself as potentially having the ability to become Yoda someday. (laughing) I honestly and truly study reality, and I feel like on some level, I’ve started to see through the fabric. I could give you a bunch of rules on how reality works.
(After much cajoling) What’s one?
Well, all right. Here’s a really simple one. I deplore optimists. I hate them with the blackest heart of Hell because optimists do nothing but trip themselves up and set themselves up for disappointment. And they drag everybody else along with them. So I believe in the power of negative thinking. If you are constantly shooting for the best but at the same time, acknowledging that the worst will most likely happen, if the worst happens, you have the self-satisfaction of having seen it coming and most likely having prepared for it. If the best happens, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Either way, you win.
What do people think when you tell them this?
For the most part, people just think I’m a crackpot. (laughs)
A friend was telling me yesterday: He’s expecting to be able to walk on water soon.
Well, the best way to achieve a goal like being able to walk on water is to believe that there’s absolutely, positively no way that it can be done. Because The Fates, or The Writers of Reality, as I sometimes call them, want you to believe that there are very distinct rules. They want you to believe in the game, and they don’t want you to be able to see outside the game. So the minute you really and truly believe something is going to happen, they will make sure it doesn’t. So the best thing you can do is absolutely, positively believe that something cannot happen. That usually tricks them into making it happen.
So do you attribute losing things and misplacing things to that same kind of idea?
(laughing) No, it’s usually just senility.
I have friends who believe in sprites and fairies and wormholes.
I don’t believe in fairies, but God, I want so much to meet one! The one thing I absolutely can’t wholeheartedly say it does not exist is extra-terrestrials. Because again, how incredibly arrogant and egotistical must we be to believe that we are the only intelligent life in the universe? That’s got to be right up there with God having made us in His image. Like, you seriously think that God couldn’t have found a better model?
So there’s a more perfect version then.
Oh God, there’s gotta be. Honestly? I think that humans suck. I just hate humans, I really do.
Physically? Emotionally? On all levels?
You know, at four in the morning after a few drinks, there’s a couple of humans I don’t hate at all. But I think humans are just so awful. Myself included. (Pause) There’re things about them I absolutely love. Which is why I bother talking to some at all.
Innocence is my favorite characteristic of humanity. Innocence will bring me to my knees and have me sobbing every time. Everything else is either mildly amusing, mildly annoying, or really irritating.
Yet you keep a sense of humor.
If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I’d have cut my own head off a long time ago. There was a period in my adolescence, like most teenagers, where I decided that I’d had it and I wanted to kill myself. And I did, metaphorically speaking. I got to the point where I was completely resigned and ready to die. And then at that moment, I thought to myself: Well, why not spend just one more day knowing full well that I’m going to die? Suddenly, I knew nothing had any power over me. Nothing can possibly hurt you if you’re willing to die. And that next day was so brilliant because I took shit from nobody and I spoke my mind and I took risks and I did the things that I wanted to do as opposed to the things that others insisted I do for them. And after that, I thought well, hell, I’ve gotta have another day like this! And that is how my life has progressed ever since.
So forget about killing yourself and just give yourself that power, and suddenly, life becomes a pretty interesting place. Humans still suck, and life is still 80% bullshit and 20% the pursuit of joy, but it’s so much more interesting when you give yourself the freedom to do the things that make you happy.
And you’re pursuing most of them.
It’s all I do, which makes me an extremely irresponsible person, mind you.
But you’re doing all right, aren’t you?
Hmm. I am very much emotionally fulfilled on that front. That doesn’t mean my life isn’t a complete train wreck because it is when it comes to things of a more practical nature.
So the other stuff, socially, you’re not happy?
I’m a wreck. Hey, if I wasn’t a wreck, Boo Hoo wouldn’t have been written. And I think I do a fairly good job of keeping my sense of humor, even in the context of writing a break-up record. I dunno. I do single with style for sure. I’ve most definitely been making up for lost time. But I’d really much rather be in a relationship. It just so happens that finding that one person that I would want to spend the rest of my life with is such a daunting task, if for no other reason than my idea of who that person is is so specific that it just seems impossible.
So what about finding soulmates through the Internet?
Oh my God… I can’t believe you brought that up…
Okay, lemme tell you. When I became single about a year and a half ago, I thought obviously, I should be playing the field. And it didn’t take much time for me to realize that’s a fairly empty existence. It’s fun, but it’s really not what I’m looking for.
And I couldn’t understand why it’s so bloody impossible for me to meet someone who could potentially be That One Person. I thought, obviously, I’m not dating enough people – famous last words. So I thought I’d just date ten times as many people than I was already. I was going to put my search for a girlfriend on the fast track. So I signed up with a bunch of these Internet dating sites, and… well, there was a period in October where I think I had 12 blind dates in 12 nights. I was so out of control, I was a monster. It was an open call for Voltaire’s girlfriend. It was so absolutely retarded. After like two months of dating 57,000 women, I realized at the end of the day, all I had was more of the same.
Anyway, then I kind of cooled out about the Internet dating thing. It just got to be so annoying. And I realized again that the one person I’m looking for is so specific. I hate to say it, but basically, Chi Chian. Then, of course, we had to start downsizing at “Voltaire Industries.” I had to start passing out pink slips. Things have like gotten remarkably calmer in my life since then. It’s the whole concept of reality: You’re not going to get what you’re feverishly looking for. The Fates are going to wait until you’ve given up all hope, and then it’s going to fall into your lap.
What if it’s just that you’re pulling for something, but you’re acknowledging that you’re coming from someplace you don’t like, so you’re giving out a mixed signal?
Well, my problem never seems to be that I was scaring them away. This is going to sound absolutely terrible, but I’d go on a date with somebody who I’d met online, and they’d decide that I was their boyfriend.
But I have to say, I have been notorious for projecting onto people because I want so badly to have a girlfriend that I’ll meet like a hunchback goat fucker who lives under a bridge, and they could be sitting across from me drooling and shivering, flies emanating from the gaping hole in their face, and I’ll just be like, you’re so beautiful. I love you. Because I so desperately want to be in love. And I really don’t know that I can live without there being love in my life. There are two things that motivate me: Creating and being in love. If I’m not in love, I’ll try desperately to convince myself that I am, because otherwise, there’s no point to my being here. The rest is just crunching numbers and making sure the toilet’s clean.
Have you realized that this stopped being an interview a while ago and just turned into a conversation between two girlfriends? People are going to read this and say “what the fuck IS this? The first paragraph was about music, and then it got all gay!”
Well, if this is getting too flowery…
You know what, it’s real… I don’t know if people want real, but it’s real. It’s kind of appropriate, really, that we talk about love, because that’s really where Boo Hoo comes from.
You know, the really sad thing is that I have all these lofty beliefs about dating, and I’ve come to realize that my relationship with women is the same as my relationship with food. I spend the day trying to only eat what’s good for me; I try to stay away from junk food, try to eat in moderation. And then I go out and have a bunch of drinks. At four in the morning, I’ll eat anything. It’s sadly what it’s come down to. (laughs)
(Half-joking) Should I stop the tape?
No, I’m still going! There’s nothing I wouldn’t tell a total stranger that I would tell my best friend. Not that I have any friends… And I’ll tell you why: I only ever require one friend, and my friend is the person I’m with. That’s the person I tell everything to, and that’s the person that consumes all my free time. Certainly, I know lots of people, and there’s lots of people that I care about, but… I’m a terrible friend. Really. I’m just the worst friend to have.
Because I spend 90% of my day thinking about my projects and my ideas, and trying to manifest them. My philosophy toward friends is the same as my philosophy toward pets. I absolutely love animals; I refuse to keep pets. Because I think that pets deserve a whole heckuva lot more time than I have to give. I just don’t think I’m the kind of person you could call at any hour of the day when you have a problem and expect I can come running over to talk about your fingernail being broken. I’m hugely self-obsessed, and I don’t perceive that in the negative sense, that I’m arrogant and think I’m God’s gift to the world, and subsequently don’t care about anybody else. I feel like my brain is so packed with ideas and things that I want to bring to fruition that I have very little time to think about anything else. So I think I’m an awful friend. I think I’m a helluva lot of fun to hang out with, particularly at four in the morning, (laughing) but I don’t think I’m a good friend. But (in European accent) I’ve been told that I’m the world’s greatest lover.
Once I’m with somebody, I’m the greatest friend in the world. It’s just finding that one person. (whimpers)
When you’ve got a lot of tracks running at the same time. People do get left behind.
You know the worst part of the whole dynamic of me trying to find a girlfriend? That the kind of woman I’d totally fall for is exactly the kind of woman who’d never approach me. You can probably imagine I get approached a lot. Not in the sense that I’m some hot stud, and I go to a bar and women just line up, but obviously, if I play shows, I spend a lot of time talking with people afterward, and I do get the occasional, y’know, G-string thrown at me during a show, or a girl walking up after a show and handing me her phone number. But exactly the kind of woman that I would totally fall for is most likely that woman who’d never in a million years walk up and introduce herself. It’s an absolute tragedy. And I’ve definitely met a couple of women who I really kind of fell for from across the room, and walked up to them, and they were just so completely freaked out that they ran in the opposite direction.
Isn’t it funny how you can be so verbose and so eloquent and so charming when you’re passionate about something, but the minute you really, really, really care, you become a complete idiot.
I get a lot of email from people, and they say things like, “I went to your show the other night and I wanted to come up and say hello, but I was too shy.” I reply, “that’s so silly! You just should’ve said hello. I don’t bite!” I love talking to people, and I have a tremendous appreciation for anybody who has any interest in what I do. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be working at Starbucks. I would’ve bought them a drink! We could’ve hung out! (pauses) Yet I’ve run into Björk three times in the past week and I just hid in the corner all night. I absolutely love that woman’s music.
What’s your super-secret special thing you’ve been dying to tell everybody?
Wow. I’m a transvestite! Ooooh! I’m a gay transvestite alcoholic gypsy vampire!
Well, that’s not really true. Not the part about the gypsy vampire, anyway.
So if the right lady is reading this, what should she do?
Oh my God! God, that’s so scary. I’m totally nervous now. You know what’ll happen though? I’ll get a thousand e-mails from people who are not quite right, and That One Girl (who doesn’t email) is gonna be like, I’m so not right. The whole thing is so crazy, isn’t it?