At Chicago Steampunk Exposition, we had the great opportunity to day party with V is for Villains. They were the movers and shakers to get your partying started at the convention.
They have so much high energy that they bring to the stage. It was pleasant to see a local rock band play for a group of people in the middle of the day and transport them to a night showing.
After the convention, we had a chance to talk to Nicholas Santiago, Mr. Agitator, for a little Q&A.
*How long has the band been around?
“I started V Is For Villains at the end of 2010. I started my first band, Digital Mindy in 2000, and by 2010 I felt that I had hit a ceiling. I wanted to expand, to push myself musically and in live performance. I felt like Mr. Agitator and V Is For Villains was the next logical step.”
*What made you decide to get up & start a band? Did something just click at the right moment?
“Well when I was 15 I broke my back. Two blown discs, one of which was shattered. I was in so much pain I couldn’t move or stand up straight without help. I was stuck like that for quite some time. I started taking steroid epidurals and it helped me until I had my first spinal decompression. In that period of time I was on Painkillers, I couldn’t go to school or really focus on anything through the pain. Out of nowhere I started playing with music, sounds, audio engineering. It fascinated me. This idea that a song can be born. That it did not exist before, and yet after you hear it, it is always there and always alive. It give me a reason to live. That reason has served me well for many years. Through good and bad. It is the ultimate puzzle, and in my opinion the ultimate form of self expression. In 2013 at a convention I broke my back and knee on stage in my costume, but that’s a different story….”
* Has your sound stayed the same or changed in any way from when you first started?
“My music has certainly evolved. My tastes, like most, have changed and refined through the years. I was never too worried about having a “good voice” or a certain “sound”. I was always more entertained by something that is interesting. I think as a songwriter, you end up in a very interesting position as creator and listener. You are creating while listening. If it interests me as a listener, that’s usually where I gravitate. I think my sound in Digital Mindy was different. I try to bring something unique to every album. I never want the listener to say “Oh well, I heard this album 4 years ago…”. I know that is what some people like, and that’s okay, it’s just not the story I’m interested in telling.”
* Which do you prefer doing personally & as a band, live or studio recording?
“I honestly feel that they are two totally different experiences as a performer and as a listener. The Recording process is full of intimacy. Very internal. Where the liver performance is a group experience that is shared with the audience. Two different flavors and I honestly love them both. At the core, I am far more of a song writer and audio engineer at heart. Writing the song is usually the most fun aspect to me. I do however love playing with people on stage and pushing the expected envelope. Mr. Agitator is a fitting code name.”
*How did everyone’s personas come about?
“I think everyone probably has their own personal meaning in their personas. Mr. Agitator is very much an amalgamation of all of these things that have influenced me and remain present. The persona is very inspired by Batman, The Joker, The Phantom Of The Opera,The Shadow, and so on. My only prerequisite was to not take ourselves and our influences too serious. I think humor is important. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and to take negative criticism. It’s all a part of the game.”
*Who are your musical inspirations?
“I am a huge fan of 90s Industrial music. I love Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, PIG, Depeche Mode. I have always been very big into this idea that a synthesizer as a tool can shred like a guitar if you use it correctly. I love the idea that Digital sounds are capable of what the writer pulls from them. On the same coin I grew up listening to film scores. I love composers and scores and still very regularly play them. I think it did a lot to teach me about the narrative of music. That sounds can tell a story. I also grew up loving mainstream artists like Billy Joel, Harry Connick Jr, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra. A good song is a good song. I love my influences but I don’t care to be those artists. I want to make something new.”
*What do you do to inspire yourself to write an album and the songs?
“I feel like the album as a whole work is dying out. In the Digital Age, we are not thinking of works as a whole anymore. Just 2 minute YouTube bytes. I’m not saying this is wrong, but it’s not my favorite method. I like having a full album. I think it’s cool. I always go into a collection of songs trying to provide a greater feel. I always look at my albums as a collection of short stories. An anthology series like Tales From The Crypt or Creepshow. I write purely on emotion. I am not musically trained whatsoever so it just has to feel right. “
*What’s the best way for people to listen to your music? I assume the best way to purchase though would be straight to your website since you’ll all get the money then.
“The latest album “Villains Never Die” is only available for sale on our website until around December. Then it will be available to stream on all streaming platforms. Our other albums “Evolve or Die” and “Murder In The Art” can be purchased on iTunes, through website or on Spotify. We also have dabbled in music videos on YouTube.”
*Why do you prefer the villain over there hero? (Personally I always do too)
“I feel that what makes someone a Hero or Villain is only a matter of perspective. To some people we may be Heroes, to most we are Villains. That line has always interested me. In today’s society of cancel culture and social execution before trial, I feel that line is thinner than ever. I have seen people that I thought would be life long allies turn on a dime. It’s hard to understand or explain, its just a side effect of the current world. I think its so easy to be branded Villain. Why not wear the title proudly?”
*How have the Steampunkers & Chicagians responded to your music?
“Honestly it’s been a very mixed bag. It’s been mostly positive I think. I feel like the larger community expects a certain “thing”. We are NOT that “thing”. I feel like that can lead many to block out or avoid without truly listening or trying. If someone really gives it a chance and it isn’t their thing, I am 100% supportive of that. It’s not my intention to tell someone if my music is good or not, my job is just to present it. I want people to make up their own minds. Most of the people we have met in the community are very kind and supportive. I always appreciate when people listen.”
*What’s the best way for people to contact you for setting up a gig?
“We are an independent band, if you would like V Is For Villains for you live show or Event you may message me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org”
*Is there anything else you would like to add about the new album, you & the crew, or any random fun bits of information?
“After being off of performing for over a year, we are back at it. V Is For Villains next show will be headlining the Cubby Bear in Wrigleyville on Saturday October 26th! Come out, see the show and make up your own mind. Until then, remember: Villains Never Die”