Follow the rabbit into the weird: an interview with Mr. Strange

Mr. Strange

Fans of UK musical mutants The Shanklin Freak Show have already been touched, inspired, and seduced by the creativity and psyche teasing craft of the band’s former frontman Mr. Strange whilst his solo work has equally gripped the imagination of a great many. Now though the songwriter/producer/vocalist/musician has taken it all to a new level with the release of this exceptional new album The Wonderful World Of Weird. A release walking the realms of insanity and artistic rapaciousness, it is a diverse and riveting exploration of sounds, invention, and dice into the weird persona that is Mr. Strange. Greedily wanting to find out more we had the joy and adventure to talk to the man himself with the adding pleasure of his artistic cohort Stench on top also sharing thoughts and time with us. Investigating The Wonderful World Of Weird, we talked origins, The Shanklin Freak Show, Marilyn Manson, the bright lights and much more…

Greetings Mr. Strange and thank you for taking time out to let us delve into your world of weird.

Mr. Strange: Greetings! Thank you, sir, I’m glad to be here. Smells funny though!

You are well known amongst fans for your founding and leading of The Shanklin Freak Show (TSFS) until recently but maybe less know about your solo exploits before and running alongside the band; could you give some background to those?

Mr. Strange: Before I started The Shanklin Freak Show in March 2003, I began learning my craft as a programmer / producer way back in 1998. I bought a basic music creation game for the original PlayStation simply called ‘Music’ and became completely obsessed with it! As laughable as it sounds, it was actually quite a competent music tool, and a great introduction to music programming. Before I made the upgrade to professional (real) music software, I made a whole album using just this game and my PlayStation. This album was completed in February 2003, although I did add some vocals and guitars to the final version of the album using my current studio set-up. The final version of the album was eventually released in late 2011 as Sounds From The Asylum, which is an apt title methinks! Anyway, back to 2003. As soon as Sounds From The Asylum was finished I went full-throttle into The Shanklin Freak Show project, greatly helped by the fact I could finally record guitars and vocals with my swanky new production software – which I could not do before 2003. The Shanklin Freak Show project pretty much had my full attention until late 2011. The only exceptions to this were my collaborations with Global Citizen acting as co-producer on two albums – those being Master Stroke and Nil By Mouth – as well as the Mr. Strange album The Fall which I made in late 2007.. But for the most part, my solo exploits only resumed once I stepped down from the forefront of The Shanklin Freak Show in November 2011. Now my Mr. Strange projects are my primary focus… and my cats.

From all the music and projects you have been involved with it is clear to see that your sounds and tastes are rather eclectic, what are some of the major inspirations which have spiced your own ideas over the years?

Mr. Strange: Well, being a rather flamboyant chap, nearly all of my musical influences fall in to the “theatrical” category. Bands and artists who present themselves in a very theatrical way tend to make more outlandish music, and that’s definitely what floats my boat, as it were! I’ll try to keep it snappy, so here’s a shortlist of some of my most influential artists: Danny Elfman, David Bowie, Mushroomhead, Dr. Steel, The Sisters Of Mercy,  Alice Cooper, Mortiis (only the ‘Smell Of Rain’ album), Krizz Kaliko, The Duke Of Stratosphere, Twiztid, Marilyn Manson, The Prodigy, ICP, Mr. Bungle (or almost anything from the mind of Mike Patton), Gary Numan, Tech N9ne, White Zombie / Rob Zombie, and Babylon Zoo. That last one’s not a joke by the way! Stop laughing.

Tell us about creating TSFS and its own unique and dark world?TSFS with Mr. Strange

Mr. Strange: I started The Shanklin Freak Show in early 2003, the first ever Freak Show song was written and recorded in March I believe, a little random fact for those who may be interested. The whole concept was meant as a home, a form of escapism, for those who felt rejected by the world. Basically the kind of outlandish, Tim Burton-esque world I wanted to escape to myself at that time. My failure at finding a place to belong in the world led me to try and make my own, both for myself and others who felt the same. The basic concept is articulated best in the song ‘Twisted Family,’ check it out if you want to get your noggin around what the whole Freak Show thang is about. Musically, it was born out of my love of some of the earlier Insane Clown Posse records and my disappointment with (the then newly released) Marilyn Manson album The Golden Age Of Grotesque – I was expecting a deeply engrossing, dark, twisted, circus-style cabaret show of an album, my dream record, but what arrived was an album of fairly standard industrial pop songs. I imagined it to sound far more intriguing and I found the idea behind the record a lot better than the end product, so I went about trying to create the album I imagined. That’s it really. It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Before we concentrate on your new album, you are still involved with TSFS but just not as the vocalist now? Why the decision to step down from that role?

Mr. Strange: Indeed, I’m still involved with the band, but just on the side-lines at the moment. I have to admit that my input has been very minimal since my departure, although that was not a conscious decision, that’s just how it’s played out up until this point. I may play a more active role in the band next year, songwriting and maybe doing the odd live shows here and there, but that’s all dependant on working it around what I’ll be doing with my own projects. There were many different factors contributing to me stepping down as the vocalist and retreating from the forefront of the Shanklin Freak Show, although the main factor was simply that I find performing live extremely nerve-wracking and didn’t want to do it anymore, at least not for a few years. I suppose the other main factor was that I was feeling burnt out with the project and my heart wasn’t really in it, at least not enough to knuckle down, overcome my nerves and keep playing live shows. I started the Freak Show in 2003, so I spent a full 8 years solely focused on that one project and to be honest, I think I just wanted to try new things, things that might not have worked within the context of The Shanklin Freak Show, if that makes sense?

You have just released the brilliant album The Wonderful World Of Weird, our favourite and one of the best if not THE best album this year, how long has it been in the making?

Mr. Strange: Firstly, thank you very much! Secondly, too damn long! I started the album in October 2011 and finished it in October 2013. The reason for this overly long development process was due to uncertainty as to where I wanted to go after the Shanklin Freak Show. I had loads of ideas, but for my first release after TSFS I wanted to make a record that would be fresh and also slightly familiar, that’s a very specific sound to try and go for, and one that was tricky to find balance for. I’d write a few songs, then over analyse them and come to the conclusion that I wasn’t heading in the right direction, so they’d gather dust for a few months while I procrastinate, then I’d become enthused with the Wonderful World of Weird project again and get a couple of more songs done, then doubt myself again. This process happened a few times, probably half of the two year development cycle was either spent doing nothing or writing material separate from the WWoW project! I’m currently working on developing and finishing those other ideas for my next record, needless to say it already sounds incredibly different to the Wonderful World of Weird and is even more of a departure from The Shanklin Freak Show sound.

StenchYou co-wrote many of the tracks and recorded it with TSFS’s guitarist Stench (Gary Mason to his mum); how easy was it to fit this in as I know the band is recording their own album too; are you to blame for the delay in the finishing of their album??? 😉

Mr. Strange: Having Stench work on the album with me has had no bearing on the speed of The Shanklin Freak Show’s musical output, don’t blame me! Haha.

STENCH:  I don’t think Mr Strange is to blame in the slightest. The delay has been down to a few factors. The Last Show mixing process has been troublesome and we were never completely happy with it and didn’t want to release something that would make us cringe, knowing that we could’ve done better. Obviously, we had the addition of Kronik on Bass, rehearsals, gigs, festivals and the continual cycle of writing and recording. Plus, we’ve had the steep learning curve of being responsible for our own production. We have lots of songs that we’re working on and which are at various states of creation/completion. Plus, very recently, Mr Foul became a Daddy again. All in all, I think we’ve done pretty well, considering.

Mr. Strange: Thanks for backing me up there, Master Stench! I’ll slip you a fiver later.

How did the song writing work for the album and at what point did Stench get to add his explorations to your ideas?

Mr. Strange: We began working together full-time in late 2012 (we’d done bits and bobs together for the album before then, but it was an intermittent thing) almost exactly a year after I began work on the record. At that time I probably had roughly half the album that you can hear today, albeit in a very rough state and with very little guitar work on it. I think ‘White Rabbit’ is the only song that I play all of the guitars on, the rest of the album is pure Stench! With regards to songwriting, it kind of varies as to the approach we took. A lot of the songs were already half written, so Stench worked his magic over what was already there, but a few songs were written in a much more free-form manner. The songs Psycho Surfing A Go-Go‘ and Metropolis 2984 were the result of me and Stench just jamming and coming up with crazy stuff, which I’d never done before, so that was a great experience! Sadly a lot of our random jam songs didn’t make the cut for the album, but they’ll appear eventually. A lot of the tracks we wrote were simply too damn off the wall for the Wonderful World of Weird!

How much did Stench evolve and twist your ideas into new sparks within songs or did you go all dictator on him in this area? 😉 (We at The RR know he likes to be dominated…)

Mr. Strange: While there was indeed a fair bit of dictating going on, Stench’s guitar wizardry certainly evolved a lot of songs in many ways. Even songs which were mostly finished by my lonesome have changed in tone and texture considerably since Stench shot his load over them! Songs which may have been dead ends from my point of view (as in not worth finishing) were saved by Stench taking the tune in a new direction with his magical, distorted, electrically-powered stringed instrument. The addition of guitar solos to a few songs has also altered the structure of some of the arrangements, giving the whole album a more free-flowing and natural feel, a definite departure to the more rigid electro-industrial pounding of some of my earlier songs with TSFS.

The guitar work provides a bait of hooks and grooves across the release which seems to breed from the other exotic or should that be erotic melodies and lures at large; did these come after the heart of the songs were exposed or in their initial breeding?

Mr. Strange: Wow, that’s one very eloquently worded question! I want some of what you’re smoking, sir! Haha. Methinks I’ll pass this one over to Stench.

STENCH:  I have to say, Mr Strange is always a pleasure to work with and we seem to be able to communicate very easily musically. So, I suppose that both cases are true as regards to the creation of the tunes. Sometimes, Mr Strange will have an idea of what he wants beforehand and I’ll just add my guitar parts under his strict instruction. Thankfully, I no longer have to wear the gimp mask. Other times, we start completely from scratch. Either way, it’s always fun and inspiring.

The Wonderful World Of Weird is a roller coaster of styles and flavours including industrial, steampunk, surf rock, 555928_584429381594861_1695733989_npsychedelic and gothic rock and much more all merged into the narrative of the album. This is a true reflection of both your musical tastes and the way your creative imaginations works, or predominantly Mr S’s (Saul); the album truly a landscape of your ideas and musical psyche?

STENCH:  I think we both have very eclectic musical influences and appreciate each other’s tastes. This makes it much easier to work together and helps with communicating ideas. But, yes, the album is predominantly Saul’s genius and I add either the cherry on top or the fly in the ointment, whichever is required at the time.

It is fair Mr. Strange to say the album is very different from your earlier songs as on The Fall and those written across all your projects as collated in the Freakshow album, both of 2011. I will admit this was a little bit of a surprise considering your major input and dramatic style within TSFS, so has this been a natural progression or have you had to consciously veer away from anything sounding like the band?

Mr. Strange: Yes, it was definitely a conscious decision to try and move away from the sound of the Shanklin Freak Show. The more complex song arrangements, featuring less prominent/heavy guitars, changing the tone and pitch of my vocals somewhat, being more daring with mixing varying genres on one album, all of it was done with the sole intention of trying to not sound like a new Freak Show album. I’d done 8 years of the Freak Show; I wanted to see if I could create something a little different. With all that said, I also tried to not move too far away from the Freak Show sound as to completely alienate people who may be following me after hearing the Freak Show. You can hear echoes of TSFS on songs like ‘Fire’, ‘White Rabbit’ and on ‘Exile’.

As the album is lyrically and musically a journey through the mind of Mr. Strange did you have a definite step by step guide to the order of songs and their effect on the album in mind before everything was recorded etc.?

Mr. Strange: I did indeed! However, what I planned out and what ended up being the Wonderful World of Weird album are two very different things. The narrative you hear on the finished record was re-written to fit the finished songs only a few months before the album’s release. I originally planned something far grander and more complex, but it was sounding so overblown, silly and pretentious that the scope for the record was scaled back considerably. It’s far more personal now; I think that works in its favour.

We described the opening title track to The Wonderful World Of Weird as Dr. Jekyll meets ICP as early Marilyn Mansion helps Victor Frankenstein create aural life for them to toy with upon a set designed by Willy Wonka, a description which in varying ways applies to the whole album; how would you describe the album to newcomers?

Mr. Strange: Tim Burton and Danny Elfman taking an absinth-fuelled journey through a variety of pop and rock’s more outlandish genres.

I imagine this album might appeal to people who like quirky / alternative pop. I was inspired by lots of the 80’s goth bands and loads of steampunk artists while making this record, so perhaps folks with similar tastes would enjoy it, too.

Tell us about our favourite track out of a great many on the album, Psycho Surfing-A-Go-Go.

STENCH:  Now this song is an example of how suddenly things happen organically. I think this was the fastest tune that we’ve ever written together. The major bones came together in an evening and the riffs were written on an old 1960’s Burns bass. Suddenly, it began writing itself. It was great fun to play as it has a tongue in cheek feel to the guitar lines. Also, it was nice to get outside of the box and let rip on some retro sounds. Mr. Strange knew from the off what he wanted to do vocal-wise and before we knew it, job done.

Mr. Strange 4Can we get a brief glimpse of the man behind Mr. Strange, we get the impression he is a shy retiring type… a tea drinker 😉

Mr. Strange: Of course I like tea, and no, you can’t get a glimpse! Aha! Although your impression could be considered strangely accurate…

You both hail from The Isle Of Wight which seems like a small hotbed of talent right now, covering numerous styles?

STENCH:  Absolutely, the music scene here is great and vast. It would take up another couple of pages to name every great musician or band based here. Of course, we have our favourites and it would be rude not to give them a shout. *Deep breath* Pleasurade, Hentai Babies, When Prophecy Fails, Becoming The Leviathan, Born Ina Barn, Silencing The Voiceless, Puritan Slain, Kingz Of Vocals, Counsil Estate Supermodels, The Ohmz, Hollowdrone and Nately’s Whore to name but a few. So you have your Alt-Pop, Progressive Metal, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Grunge and Punk. But, as with any music scene, anywhere, it needs support.

You have not been tempted by the bright lights of the mainland for musical reasons?

Mr. Strange: Career wise? Yes, but many factors prevented that from happening. I haven’t thought about it for years. I’m happy where I am right now, so I have no plans to move closer to the action, there’s more than enough in my trousers to keep me entertained, although the career opportunities are limited.

What is next for Mr. Strange, you do not seem like an artist to sit back and take a rest.

Mr. Strange: Indeed, you know me too well, sir! Were we lovers at some point? I have two projects / albums planned for next year. The first album (which I’m writing at this very moment) is progressing extremely fast, possibly dropping in April 2014. I’d wager no one will see this one coming; it’s so completely different to anything I’ve done before. Once that album is out and people adjust to the new strangeness, I’ll begin work on the next album, the one that will usher in my return to live music and my inevitable conquest of planet Earth! I hope to have that second record ready by the end of 2014, possibly with live touring to follow in 2015. Don’t hold me to those dates though, I’m just speculating at this point. Both albums will have completely different musical styles and theatrical imagery to match, but I shall say no more.

Where can people treat themselves to all things Mr. Strange and especially The Wonderful World Of Weird?

Mr. Strange: I think it would be very spiritually rewarding for people to go to my website and gasp in ecstasy at pictures of my devilishly handsome face! Links to all of my music and whatnot are located there, but my sexy pictures are where it’s at.

www.mrstrangemedia.comMr. Strange 3

If folks are into the social media thang, I’m on most of the popular sites, too:

www.facebook.com/Official.Mr.Strange

www.youtube.com/user/MrStrangeMedia

www.twitter.com/MrStrangeMedia

Once more thank you and of course to Stench for leaving your bedlam to talk with us, any thoughts to leave us with?

Mr. Strange: Expect the unexpected!

…and lastly please give us five records which shaped Mr. Strange.

1. Marilyn Manson – Portrait Of An American Family

2. Dukes Of Stratosphere – Chips From The Chocolate Fireball

3. Insane Clown Posse – The Great Milenko

4. Dr. Steel – Read-Along Album

5. Danny Elfman – Nightmare Before Christmas OST

Read The Wonderful World Of Weird review @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/11/28/mr-strange-the-wonderful-world-of-weird/

Pete RingMaster

The RingMaster Review 23/12/2013

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