Have you ever wanted to write a steampunk rock opera? Ambitious, we know. Well, as it turns out, Night Watch Paradox is filled with ambitious people because they wrote “Magnificent Machines and Astonishing Tales,” which is what? You guessed it: a steampunk rock opera. They are releasing it in double-disc form Saturday night at The Blue Side. We recently caught up with Andy Hunt, co-founder of the band, to talk about how the band got together, what goes into making a steampunk rock opera and who some of their biggest influences tend to be when they sit down to write.
First, how did Night Watch Paradox get together?
Andj Stainer and Andy Hunt began playing guitar and writing songs together in 2006 as part of an alternative rock band in Maryland called The Treading Lemmings. When the group disbanded in mid-2013, Stainer wanted to do something completely different and pitched the idea to develop a musical project based on steampunk. Hunt eagerly jumped into the project and agreed to switch from playing rhythm guitar to primarily bass guitar. The pair set out a vision for a group that would engage audiences musically and visually. When they began writing songs for what would become Night Watch Paradox in late 2013, they agreed not to feel compelled to write music in a particular style, but use a variety of styles to help tell the story of the song.
It was also decided that since most steampunk fiction is either centered around 19th-century London, or the Wild West, this group would take a different location as their setting and inspiration. They would center their world on a steampunk/alternative history version of 19th-century Baltimore. Thus began the inspiration for a series of songs written by Hunt and Stainer about a steam-powered, time-traveling airship with a crew of privateers and inspired by Baltimore history and characters. In October 2013, the pair assembled a band and began to rehearse and develop original songs. The group has gone through several iterations, most notably with different drummers and female vocalists between 2014 and 2017.The group’s current lineup features vocalist Kaya Kismet, Andj Stainer on guitar and ukulele, Captain Andy Hunt on bass and acoustic guitar, Jeff Sasser on drum, Kim Eloshway on flute, Joe Weber on harmonica and Dani Maynard on cello.
What went into the making of “Magnificent Machines and Astonishing Tales?” How did the idea come up to make a “steampunk rock opera?”
From 2013 to 2017, Night Watch Paradox played a variety of small venues and also a few large festivals and events as an opening act. The creative duo of Hunt and Stainer wanted to move the group beyond simply being a band that plays music in clubs. Because each of their songs told a story in itself, the two wanted to take a more theatrical approach to the songs and weave them into a cohesive story with a beginning, middle and end. An opportunity to present a show at the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival in early 2016 was the birth of the idea for their steampunk rock opera “Magnificent Machines and Astonishing Tales.” Hunt and Stainer began drafting a script and vision for the show in late 2015 and made a variety of revisions to the script over the course of performing the show at different festivals (Charm City Fringe Fest, ArtScape, The Steampunk World’s Fair) over the course of 2016-18.
“Magnificent Machines and Astonishing Tales” is a rock opera where the story is told primarily through the music and lyrics of each song, with some narration and dialogue between songs. This approach to the art form is inspired more by The Who’s groundbreaking rock opera “Tommy” than by a classical opera/musical theater format with a cast of actors singing. This rock opera centers around the steam-powered, time-traveling airship Night Watch Paradox and its crew of Baltimore-based privateers. The story follows the crew members’ heroic journey as they encounter characters, face challenges and help defeat the British during the War of 1812, before returning home to celebrate victory. The music ranges from ballads, to all-out rockers with a mix of styles including Americana, cabaret, klezmer, jazz, country and more.
Who are some of your biggest influences and why?
We have a wide variety of musical influences between all of the members of the band. Our flute and cello players are both classically trained, and others are “schooled” over decades of playing in a variety of rock, blues and country bands. Hunt and Stainer have a variety of influences in their songwriting, but they have slightly different approaches to the art. Hunt says his primary influence is Pete Townshend and The Who, and Stainer often sites XTC and the Beatles as his. The storytelling, mix of styles and ground-breaking creativity of those groups are inspiring.
What do you think is the greatest song ever written and why?
You’re probably going to get a different answer from each member of the band on this question. So, to avoid arguing, we don’t think there is a definitive answer to the single greatest song ever written.
And finally, what can we expect from your show this weekend at The Blue Side?
The evening will begin with an opening set by Wanderlight, a great original group from Maryland. The main attraction for the evening is Night Watch Paradox celebrating the release of our double disc album version of the rock opera. You may expect to see some of the hardcore fans completely decked out in steampunk attire, but attending the show in regular clothes is perfectly acceptable. If you come to the show, you’ll hear all of the songs from the upcoming album, such as “The Admiral Fell” about a steam-powered airship that helps defeat the British Navy in the War of 1812; “Mobtown Riot,” which tells the story of the Pratt Street Riots of 1861; and “The Ballad of Henry Clemm,” which speculates about the mysterious death of Edgar Allen Poe’s young cousin. You will find yourself tapping your toes, clapping and singing along with these catchy songs. So, whether you are fully initiated in the steampunk world, or you are a complete novice to the concept, you are guaranteed to have fun and be entertained. If you play your cards right, there may even be an opportunity to help give more cowbell.