Chap hop sensation Paul Alborough, otherwise known as Professor Elemental first gained notoriety with his music video for his cult hit Cup of Brown Joy and has since become one the faces of Steampunk, with spin-offs including an appearance in Disney’s Phineas and Ferb and his own comic book. We caught up with the Professor to find out more.
STARBURST: How did you become Professor Elemental?
Professor Elemental:Well, originally it was Tom Caruana, the chap who produces all my tunes. We got together and spent a very silly night, mostly in a tree. We were going to do an album set in different periods of time and we ended up just doing the Victorian song. We’d watched a documentary on the subject whilst in a bit of a state and decided to do a one-off Professor song. Then I realised that I had found my muse and identity.
How does taking on the persona of the Professor change your performance?
It makes a huge difference; it’s something to hide underneath. I was a hip-hop MC for years before taking on the mantle of Professor Elemental. It wasn’t very interesting; no one needed another white, middle-aged, middle class MC. As soon as I found another niche, I found a way of communicating with people who are like me in the sense that they are nerds. It was nice to reconnect with a group that I always felt I belonged to. It also allows me to be much sillier.
What is the story behind your cult-smash single, Cup of Brown Joy?
I recorded it when Tom was out the room as well. It’s always the way; the big epic songs that you toil for years over thinking that they’ll be a masterpiece, nobody pays any attention to. The little silly song that you knocked out late at night when your producer was out of the studio, that becomes the thing that you get known for. It’s the way it seems to work. I wasn’t expecting anything from it, but that and the video that Moog did completely changed my life and allowed me to do this for a living. That song going viral on YouTube made all the difference.
How has the Steampunk community changed your life?
As is the way with so many Steampunk people, most of them don’t know they’re doing it until somebody tells them. I had loads of Americans getting in touch saying “Hey Man, you’re so Steampunk, you have to come to a convention.” I had no idea what they were talking about and it’s only through that I discovered it and embraced it myself. I’ve been delighted to discover that Steampunk is often made up of all the people who didn’t belong or couldn’t fit in to all of the other subgenres. All the people on the edge of all the other subgenres seem to end up in Steampunk and I very much put myself in that camp as well. It was like finding a lost tribe. “There’s my people all along!”
Where does the song Don’t Feed the Trolls come from?
Like anyone who’s spent more than half an hour on the Internet, I’ve seen some awful bullying, and I’ve had people trolling me in the past, particularly some of the more sexist trolling. Particularly nasty campaigns like the whole GamerGate make my blood boil. The thing upset me so much that it seemed like a very obvious topic to do a song about. It’s always nice to do something where you feel a bit of passion about. I was able to channel my anger into raising a load of money for charity and we made a lovely video out of it as well.
Steampunk is very well defined as a literary genre, but not so much when it comes to music. Can you help define it?
It’s all over the shop, it’s a mess. It’s a huge great glorious mess of music. It’s got certain themes that come up and there’s a certain sensibility to it; all of the bands are lovely people. In terms of genre, there are none. If you look at The Men Who Will Be Blamed for Nothing to Mysterious Freak Show to someone like me or Montague Fromage, it’s all over the place. It’s a nice umbrella for lots of lovely and weird bands. I think it’s separated itself from the literary genre; people are into it for lots of different reasons. I know people who like the historical aspect, others concentrate on the persona. I just go along because I like fancy dress and it’s filled with nerds I can talk to.
Will Steampunk run out of steam?
I think it’s safe from that. Once us nerds like something, we stay with it forever. We don’t tend to chop and change all that much. Also, there is no way for the mainstream to get into it and ruin it, like so many other things. The entertainment industry tried it and couldn’t make any cash out of it, so that kind of protects it, keeps it safe. Similar to Live Action Roleplay; it’s something that is always going to be doing its own thing. It is completely inclusive and extraordinarily polite.
Is Steampunk a revolution through manners?
I think it is, actually. It’s a nice way of placing manners at the forefront of things. Something about Steampunk that builds these layers of English manners.
What’s your next big project?
After trying the whole crowdfunding thing with Don’t Feed the Trolls I’m going to go searching for Geoffrey. He’s my ape butler who at the end of one album stole my time travel trousers and got lost in time. I’ve decided to pull together every aspect of what I’ve been doing so far. There’s going to be a comic part of the story, an album part of the story with every different guest star that I could possibly pull in, with some really weird and wonderful people. I’m trying to make a Marvel/DC style event.
If you were stranded on a desert island, how would you survive, and what one book would you want for company?
That’s a good one. I would eat all the foliage and very slowly eat my own clothes until I was stuck eating my own hair. To read, I would probably want a Pan book of Horror stories. A big, big book of horror stories.
Professor Elemental can be found on Twitter via @prof_elemental, and his new album, The Giddy Limit, is out now. He will also be at this year’s Weekend at The Asylum event in Lincoln.
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