Who Made Who? World Exclusive Interview With Chap-Hop Superstar Professor Elemental / Paul Alborough - Part One

Interview by Scott Hamilton

It's very rare that the worlds of geeks and music collide in a powerful way, but Professor Elemental has made that happen.

'School of Whimsy' sees Brighton's finest export solidify his career with his strongest album to date. Over a ten year journey Paul Alborough has helped create the phenomenon of Chap-Hop, a mix of hip hop and a tongue-in-cheek take on English gentry.

The character of Professor Elemental has allowed Paul to push the boundaries of his music, as well as allowing him to show the world his love of anything nerdy. His songs are littered with references to superheroes and comics, and have a huge underlying message of positivity.

Luckily, Fantastic Universes' resident music ninja Scott Hamilton managed to chat not only with Paul, but also with the crazy genius that is Professor Elemental. Here's part one where we talk to Paul about his musical career, his love of comics and what we can expect from the Professor in the future.

Scott Hamilton: How did you first get into Hip-Hop and the music business?

Paul Alborough: It was a passion for me as soon as I heard it. I was left alone at an American uncle's for the evening when I was about 12, just me and a pile of his Hip-Hop tapes. From the first time I heard 'self destruction' I was totally in love with the music. I never really got into the actual music business, but was lucky enough to be making my way when the music industry was collapsing and it was getting easier for an artist to make his way on his own. 

SH: Did the character of Professor Elemental come together gradually, or was there a light bulb kind of moment for you as an artist?

PA: It happened really suddenly. I bought a silly hat on a whim and was lucky enough to be playing at a Victorian variety night and the professor popped out more or less fully formed. 

SH: What is your favourite aspect of the Professor Elemental character?

PA: I think his outlook on life. He is useless, egocentric and fails at most everything he tries, but he never loses his optimism. 
SH: What influences you as a musician? Do you draw just from Hip-Hop as an artist or do you also take from other musical genres?

PA: Music wise- it's mostly Hip-Hop. Tom (Caruana's) beats provide all the musical inspiration I need and I like hearing new Hip-Hop to keep me fresh. In terms of subject matter, there are a lot of books and comics distilled into every Prof album.

SH: I thinks it's fair to say that you're a bit of a geek? When did you start getting involved with things like that?

PA: Yeah that is very fair to say. Being a geek is in my very bones. It was much harder as a kid when being a geek was in no way cool and reading comics was much more likely to get you punched in the chops. I feel very fortunate that geekery is so well received and that we basically run popular culture now.  

SH: It's cool to see comics and other geeky things being referenced in your songs. Does it come quite naturally or do you find yourself thinking before hand of what you'd like to mention?

PA: That comes very naturally, Its just my constant internal dialogue. If anything, its harder to write stuff that isn't just a big collection of references to weird things I like. 
SH: What's your favourite geek thing? Are you a fan of a particular kind of comic or T.V. show?

PA: Heh. I love old Hannah-Barbera cartoons, Chuck Jones, Plastic man, weird silver age DC comics, horrible horror movies, 90s rap and the work of Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman equally. 

SH: What's your favourite geek item in your possession? If money and space were no object what would you most like to collect or have?

PA: It's the Muppet collection I think. I spent far too long and too much getting a near complete collection of Palisades Muppet figures. How I wish they hadn't gone out of business. If money was no object, I would definitely complete my DC super Powers collection, but they are far to expensive to ever justify buying these days. Besides, part of the fun of the collecting is the same as being a kid; it's not the getting of something, it's the aiming to get it. The journey as much as the destination. 
SH: I think the new album really, really works so well and I absolutely love it. Did you and Tom Caruana have a musical plan to work from? How does a Professor Elemental album start coming together?

PA: Thanks you so so much. Musically, this is easily my favourite. I think having all of these gifted guest stars and taking a lot of time over it really made the difference. There's two ways we make them: Either just start making songs for fun until we have got enough to call it an album ("Indifference Engine" and "Father of Invention") or work carefully to a concept and bounce back and forth until every part of the album reflects the concept or tells the story ("Apequest" and "School of Whimsy").

SH: Brighton seems to be a really cool place culturally. Do you think it has an influence on you at all?

PA: I think so, it's nice to see a place of acceptance where people of all flavours walk around with a smile on their face. 

SH: I've noticed a few artists going down the Patreon route over the past few years, such as Amanda Palmer. What works with it for yourself? Do you find it freeing or is it another way for you to have a set of guidelines to work around?

PA: Patreon is awesome. The regular income has helped me make so much more art and I genuinely enjoy having a place to share stuff and ask listeners about ideas. They are a wise crew, my Patreon people. 

SH: How did the comics and "The Adventures of Professor Elemental" come about? Are there plans for any more?

PA: That was entirely the brain child of Chris Mole, writer and editor. He introduced me to so many wonderful artists, the whole thing was a dream come true. We are definitely working on a new one for next year and it will be something big
SH: Where do you see the Professor character moving forward? Do you and Tom have a character and story line arc in mind?

PA: Funny you should ask! I think the professor is established enough now that its important not to get complacent. That's one of the reasons I wanted so many guests on the last album, he is, in many ways, a single note character, so its important to keep him fresh. I actually have 4 (!) albums in development at the moment, but the next BIG professor one will stretch Professor Elemental to his limits. The poor bastard. 

SH: I think it's fair to say that Geoffrey, the ape butler, has been a popular character. How did he start off?

PA: It was just a throwaway line in a song 'I have a pet orangutan with a mechanical eye' and then it grew from there. My daughter suggested the other day that I should have him get married to a pig. So that's something for listeners to look forward to. 
SH: I know you've talked about diversifying things by looking into writing songs for children? How's this coming along?

PA: Slowly to be honest - I have too many ideas to pin down. I am looking at doing some kids shows next year though, that will spark things along I think. 

SH: Mental health issues have become a very hot topic recently.I suffer with anxiety and depression and your music is a real tonic, it has often helped lift me on particularly bad days. Do you find that it's easy to address something like this using the character of the Professor for example, and do you get much feedback around this?

PA: It's a subject close to my heart. Pretty much everyone I know (and probably the reader knows) has *some* sort of mental health issues, whether they realise it or not. Not in any way to belittle those for who these issues are really debilitating, but I think there's some comfort in that. We are all struggling in our own way.

On the 25th of June, we'll be releasing a new EP called 'Nervous', which deals with social anxiety and panic attacks and we'll be giving the profits entirely to the Young People's counselling service in Brighton.

Talking about mental health and seeking support is the most vital thing we can do to address it, both personally and as a whole.

SH: Are there any particular artists you would love to collaborate on in the future, either in the comics, literarature or music?

PA: I still have ambitions to work with one of my Hip-Hop heroes: Grand Puba or Masta Ace would be nice. Other than that, I am blessed with some very creative friends and working with them is about the biggest honour I could have.
SH: I love the use of Neil Gaiman's speech in "Make Good Art" on the new album. How did that happen?

PA: We just sampled it, like we do with everything else. Sample first, apologise later if necessary. Hopefully he won't mind. He seems like a nice fellow, and our song was a tribute to his ideas on creativity... so, fingers crossed. 

SH: What's coming up for yourself and Tom Caruana? Should we be expecting any new music soon?

PA: Like I mentioned, I'm going to do something terrible to the Professor next year. I already feel bad about it. He's such a happy fellow, but I don't know if even he can survive whats' coming next. 

SH: So, over the years you've probably been asked all kinds of questions. Is there one you always wanted to be asked but never were? What is that question, and what's the answer?

PA: No there's not really. But if there was, the answer would probably be a resounding "Yes!" 
Super special thanks to Paul for taking the time to go through this mammoth list of questions.

If you'd like to know more, please head over to www.patreon.com/professorelemental to support him, get further insight into his work and get extra music.

The "School Of Whimsy Album" is out now at www.professorelemental.com (which you really should go out and purchase as it will make your life infinitely better) and you can follow him on that there Twitter: @prof_elemental

Stay tuned for the second part of this interview where we talk to the good Professor himself!


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