Find out what happened when Rock Out Stand Out’s Steph Warren spoke to Paul Alborough. He is the artist behind Professor Elemental; the mad time travelling, tea drinking, chap hopping Victorian gentleman. His music is very out there but is very positive and foot tapping. They spoke about this mad professor, his music and staying positve.
Thank you for letting me interview you. As this is for a mostly metal and rock magazine, how would you like to introduce yourself?
As this is for a magazine that is mostly metal and rock, I’m kind of often the rapper for people who really don’t like a lot of hip hop. I kind of make hip hop for weirdos. It’s very silly, quite strange and hopefully very positive. It’s Neo Victorian Boom bap style comedy, steampunk, hip hop but better than that sounds.
Sounds amazing. So, you got this whole professional persona of Professor Elemental, and he has got this whole history and backstory. How did you come up with this world and the idea of Professor Elemental?
It is one of those lovely things that came completely full formed, from the first song. We originally only did one song that was meant to be a one-off side project and the whole thing was there like it was waiting to be uncovered. In the Sussex woodland, in a tumble-down mansion and all sorts.
But it developed I think, partly out of desperation of not wanting to get a real job. However, you can’t do the same thing over and over, if your going to keep what is basically a single joke running for over ten years you need to have new elements.
Also working with loads of exciting other people. People bring different ideas to the table, its not something that I’m doing on my own, whether its Tom’s music or my friend Chris who does the comics or Mog with the videos, they’ve all got ideas. It all adds on depending on who your working with, that makes it bigger. I’ve been working with a fellow rapper, who plays my nemesis, and I had a distinct idea of how the story of the album was going to go. But at the end we just said no we’re not going to do that, and it was so much better. So, I think collaboration is the key.
Your music has evolved quite a bit. How do you feel about the evolution and do you think your fans played a part in it?
Yea, absolutely. I am very guided by what people seem to like. People will come and tell me when they like certain things and its quite heartening. People like different elements, but fans do shape it. There is a song called All In Together, which is properly the song that most people say ‘that helped me a lot’. So, when I made the recent album School Of Whimsy, I wanted to make an album that had that feel because I wanted to project that feeling out there. But with out the fans to hang out with, I’m just a weird man in a hat, having a midlife crisis on my own.
You used to be a teacher, so when you left teaching and became more involved with the Professor, where you very anxious and if you were, how did you deal with it?
There was a weird cross over period where the creative stuff is going well, but you still have your day job. I was working day and night and I was becoming a worse and worse teacher, because all the Professor stuff was happening. It was a real disservice to the kids.
When I first decided that right this is want I to do, I spoke to lots of other creative people. I went to my partner (who was pregnant with our second at the time) ‘Sweetheart, I’m giving up my regular solid career, that’s been going quite well and I’ve decided to wear my hat full time, see if I can get paid doing that.’ And she was unbelievably kind of ‘OK, it’s on you. Give it a try.’ Most of my friends, in fact all my friends said ‘why you doing that’ or ‘you’re a bit old for that’.
So, I think if you’re a creative person and you decide to take that leap, the thing you got to have is self-belief, beyond any sane point. No sane person would think this was a sustainable career. Also the thing that helped me the most, I asked a fellow creative ‘how you do this for a living? How do you cope with the fact you don’t get much income? That you’ve not got a real job?’ he said ‘Don’t worry about it, cause the world is full of shit jobs, there are no shortage of shit jobs.’ Not quite as true during Covid, but generally if you’re in a job that’s making you miserable and you want to try something new, you can always go back to your miserable job.
You have a large and international fan base; how does it feel to know you are so successful?
So beloved across the globe? It’s pure relief to be honest. Because I’ve spent ten years working in call centres. I’ve been fired from so many jobs; my children ask me about jobs I’ve been fired form because they love hearing about how bad I was at everything. I’m not sure if that’s good parenting or bad parenting.
It’s the affirmation that, actually, this is a worthwhile thing that I am doing. There are a lot of people who like you and that your tribe is out there. You know what its like, as a nerd, we’ve all had moment of just ‘I’m the weirdo, why am I the weirdo?’ But when you find all the other weirdos, we are properly all in together, a tribe of other freaks like us.
The messages you give out in your music are incredibly positive and very much about being together, being a community, is that and important thing for you? Having a community of fellow weirdos?
Its not just weirdos, but people who don’t submit to the regular norms of life. Yes, its really important, of course you know all art is selfish to a certain extent. I’m doing it for the love of doing it but also, as a 45 year old man, I get to have someone to say ‘what your doing is ok’ That’s a really important thing and I’ve missed that through lockdown.
More than that, like so many you that are slightly outside to average, lot of people struggle with our mental health and with some of the big hit stuff. I think it’s really important to talk about that stuff, to open up, expose your own faults and the things your concerned about. Its positive for me because it kind of free therapy and its good for other people because you see someone on stage and go ‘ah so he’s a mess as well, that’s kind good. We’re all messy together’
You are very open in your sets about your life. Do you fell like you get a lot of support from your fans and do you feel like your help them create support for each other?
I think its lovely to be really open, it does create a real communication. For example, I revealed a couple of years ago, far too late in the game, that I’m bisexual. There was a funny story that went along with how I realised this. I didn’t tell many of my friends or much of my family, but in a magical moment on stage I found myself blurting it out to the audience along with the story that went with it. It was like ‘wow this is a really intermit thing I’m sharing with strangers’ and its sometime easier to share with strangers.
But it also comes with a danger of being so open that I become like a sort of labrador, all excited and happy. I think that has been to my cost sometimes. I can be too open, trusting and give of signals that say ‘I will be your best friend forever’ when that’s not what was really meant. So, you don’t want to close up, but you need to keep an eye on your boundaries.
As a man of such positive thought proses and such great wisdom, do you have any words of wisdom or advice to share with people during the global pandemic?
Its very easy to get caught up in social media and how awful everything is going. Remember your not responsible for that stuff. Your responsibility is to yourself, making sure your mentally well and to the people round you, making sure the people you love are doing ok. If your doing those two things, then you’re doing fine. Just keep reminding yourself that you are fine. That you can’t worry about everything else that’s going on, that’s not your business. You can still achieve your dreams during Covid, you just have to keep your dreams really small. My dreams generally involve eating a giant size galaxy bar in the bath while reading a Batman comic.
Thank you for talking to Rock Out Stand Out.