Moving Up Villainy One Musical Album at a Time

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 visforvillains@gmail.com”

*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”

New Convention Puts Chicago Steampunk on Full Display

In 1893, the World’s Colombian Exposition brought many wonders to the city of Chicago, and this September you can imagine yourself walking the thoroughfares of an “alternative” 1893, filled with strange contraptions and eccentric inventors. Experience retro-futuristic visions of an antique future at the Chicago Steampunk Exposition as you wander through the exhibits, artists, authors, vendors, presenters, and entertainment in Rosemont Illinois on the weekend of September 27 – 29 at the Westin O’Hare Hotel.

The term Steampunk was whimsically coined in April 1987 by American science fiction author K.W. Jeter as a play on Cyberpunk when he noticed a new trend of some novels that had Victorian settings, but with dystopian themes. While the name Steampunk is 32 years old, the genre itself stretches back to Victorian authors such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and some date the birth of Steampunk as June 14th, 1822, the day that British engineer Charles Babbage almost invented the first modern computer, The Difference Engine! It was designed in 1822, but was not actually built until 1991 when it was proven to actually work. So in the laws of alternate realities, the Information Age occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria, and Steampunk fans like to dream and create what that world might have looked like; they are “historical reenactors of a future that neverwas.”

While Steampunk is the main focus of the Exposition, there are several rooms devoted to specific aspects of the fandom

It was around 2005 that Steampunk began to evolve from a literary genre and blossom into the full subculture of music, art, fashion, and shared community that we enjoy today. During that time Steampunk events have been emerging across the globe, and this year Chicago is ready to play host to one of the biggest in the world. The Chicago Steampunk Exposition is a blend of part Comic Con, part Renaissance Festival, and large dash of eccentric mad scientist, all mixed up with Victorian style and grace. In September, both floors of the Westin O’Hare’s conference rooms will play host to the massive gathering with almost a hundred exhibitors including artists, writers, musicians, vendors, and over a hundred hours of workshops, presentations, and entertainment.

Goth and satirist Aurelio Voltaire headlines the music program which also includes: Unwoman, V is for Villains, Sir Reginal Pike Devant Esq., and Chicago’s favorite retro-futuristic DJ, Vorteque. In addition to music, the entertainment also offers dramatic and comedic theater performances from Outerworld Theatre, Moebius Theatre, Terra Mysterium, and L.I.V.E. (Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment) Radio Show. Throughout the weekend, there are also workshops on costuming, prop building, and a huge variety of presentations on Steampunk related topics. 

Numerous speakers will be offering up their real and alternate history expertise, many of whom are widely regarded in the Steampunk community and publishing industry. Writers Leanna Renee Hieber, Michael Coorlim, and other authors will share the joys of writing and Steampunk literature. From film and television the Exposition is joined by actor Bishop Stevens of The Steampunk Adventures of Salem Tusk, Thomas Willeford of the show Steampunk’d, H.H. Holmes documentarian John Borowski, and other filmmakers. Diana Pho, the leading Steampunk multicultural expert and TOR Publishing editor, is the featured speaker for the “Around the World” track that brings Steampunk from beyond Europe and North America.

While Steampunk is the main focus of the Exposition, there are several rooms devoted to specific aspects of the fandom, such as the aforementioned “Around the World” program. For those liking the darker and shadowy side of the Victorian Era, there is the “Gothic Parlour,” and for those who like tabletop gaming, there are several rooms devoted to board games and role-playing games in the “Steampunk Gaming” track. If you like to make things with your hands the “Maker Room” and the “Crafts Room” are places you should visit, and for aspiring writers or avid readers, the “Retro-Futurist Writers Conference” is a must. There are various other presentations on offer, and with activities for all ages, much of the weekend is family friendly.

For a Chicago event of this size, tickets are very reasonably priced, starting as low as $5 for Sunday tickets for children aged six or above; five and under get in for free on any day. One day tickets are available for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, but many people opt to buy a full weekend pass in order to get the whole experience. Parking at the Westin O’Hare is just $10/day, which those familiar with Chicago events will know is a great bargain. For those taking public transit, the Westin O’Hare is just a block from the Blue Line Rosemont station, and a dozen bus services also go to the Rosemont CTA stop. A free shuttle runs from O’Hare Airport to the venue, so whether you are flying, busing, driving, taking the train, or steering your steam powered airship, the Chicago Steampunk Exposition is easy to find.

It is worth noting that while many people will dress up in various outlandish and elegant Steampunk outfits, all explorers are welcome regardless of attire; as Steampunks like to say, “costume admired, but not required.” That said, however, there will be plenty of merchants at the Exposition with amazing outfits and accessories available if you find yourself taken with the style. Also, there will be many workshops that teach you how to make your own Steampunk props and costume pieces for the DIY inclined.

To find out more, and delve further down the rabbit hole, visit www.ChicagoSteampunkExpo.com for information about ticket prices, special events, entertainment line up, and much more.