Professor Elemental is many things (#3 on the list being Erotic Dancer), but untalented isn’t one of them. Dressed in his pith hat and chomping on a pipe, he raps about important topics such as tea, exploring, and genetically modifying animals. Ever since his single Cup of Brown Joy caught wide-spread attention in 2008, The Professor and his monkey butler Geoffrey has been traveling the globe delivering Hip Hop to the masses while looking for the perfect cup of tea. I was lucky enough to catch up with Paul Alborough, the man behind Professor Elemental, and have a chat about the true origins of The Professor, his latest single, and the finer points of tea.
Paul Alborough: Its tricky… Steampunk is what I tend to ally myself with when the Professor’s in the house. But it’s hip hop really, just that ol’ boom bap… Served with scones and cream.
GG: How long have you been performing as Professor Elemental and what was the original inspiration?
PA: About 5 years ago, producer Tom Caruana wanted to create an album with various rappers doing tracks set in different eras… and gave me a beat for the Victorian chapter. In the midst of mushroom season, we watched a documentary about the very wonderful Vivian Stanshall (of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band) and then set about the track – the Professor just appeared out of nowhere! Now I seem to spend more time talking his voice than my normal voice. Maybe that IS my normal voice now. Anyway, the rest of the album never happened, but the Professor has been dancing around like a loon ever since.
GG: I know that you are involved with a wide range of entertainment; from the more adult variety show of “Come into my Parlor” to your family friendly children’s shows to steampunk conventions. What do you think it is about Professor Elemental that makes him so appealing to such a wide variety of people?
PA: It’s because he’s a bit of a twit really. On stage, the Professor is full of boasts about scientific exploits and his sexy break dancing, but it’s obvious that he is a complete nutcase and a terrible dancer. He either doesn’t care or doesn’t know this and that can be quite endearing. It’s lovely British comedic stereotype. Plus, the more you play up to being an idiot, the better people feel about themselves.
GG: I have heard you are very involved with the community; what sort of work do you do?
PA: I’ve done rap workshops for years now with all kinds of groups and it’s one of the best sides to Hip Hop. If you can talk, you can rap and it’s very empowering to be up on stage getting people to have a good time. It’s also good to show people that rap music isn’t all guns and diamond encrusted teeth, that was never what it was supposed to be about.
GG: Is there somewhere online that readers can get more information about the workshops and programs you’re involved with?
PA: Probably the best way is to get in touch at ProfessorElemental.com I’m happy to give any advice to people wanting to try their own rapping or workshop leading too.
GG: Your most recent single, “Fighting Trousers,” seems to really be picking up steam and is quickly becoming a viral video hit, collecting over 100,000 views in the week since it’s been posted. This week it’s also the 48th most favorited music video on youtube. How does it feel to be getting so much international attention and praise from people like writer Warren Ellis?
PA: It’s been brilliant! I mean, Warren Ellis?! My favourite writer saying nice things about my words is pretty much as good as it gets for a comic geek like me. Plus I have had more odd offers than I could have possibly imagined: everything from gigs in aquariums to offers to do a nude photo shoot. I had to say no to that last one though, I don’t think people are quite ready for me to do the full monty, despite the fact that I have honed my body to near physical perfection.
GG: The new single is also a diss song that targets self-proclaimed “Gentleman Rhymer” Mr. B. What prompted you to write this song and why Mr. B?
PA: Over the last couple of years, I have hardly been able to do a gig without someone mistaking me for B or asking if I am going to battle him. People tell me he has been biting my style, ripping me off etc. Anyway, I am a hip hop emcee first and foremost and the way to settle things in hip hop is by way of a lyrical battle. Hence the song ‘Fighting Trousers’.
GG: Ideally, how would you like to resolve this feud? Would it be a freestyle battle to the death in front of a live audience? Also, may I suggest a stipulation that he shave his lip warmer if he loses?
PA: Yes! And if I lose I’ll do my gig wearing lederhosen. Oh hang on, I do that anyway. Yeah, I want a battle to the death, or at least until one of us starts to cry. I reckon we’ll make it happen early next year.
GG: Have you heard any response, either directly or indirectly, from Mr. B about the track?
PA: There have been a few promoters that want to put the battle on, but we don’t know if B is up for it yet. If there IS a battle, I will, as my grandma used to say, have his guts for garters.
GG: But you haven’t heard anything from Mr. B about a possible match up or musical rebuttal?
PA: Well, we are supposed to be meeting up to discuss it over tea.. but it’s not confirmed yet, I only hope it doesn’t end up in some kind of enormous Battenberg fight. (Editor’s note: a Battenberg is a light sponge cake with a pink and yellow checkered interior. It is covered in marzipan and looks delicious.)
GG: I feel that one large difference between yourself and Mr. B are the tracks that you rap over. What is the process like when you’re recording? Does Tom Caruana come to you with the track already in the process of being produced, or are you more hands on with this point of the production?
PA: The music is completely Tom, I can’t pretend I do anything useful in the production stage. He’s incredibly prolific (check the many albums on TeaSeaRecords.com if you want to hear more or pick up some beautiful freebies). He normally gives me 50 beats or so and I get to choose which ones would fit. We often write the concepts together and he raps too, so we did the last album Rebel Without Applause with both us sharing the vocals. Plus he’s a lovely chap. Like a hobbit or a friendly badger in man form.
GG: Now that you’ve released your new album, what’s next for Professor Elemental?
PA: World domination, followed by a nice sit down. Other than that, it’s all about new things – I’ve been working with Sarah Angliss of Spacedog to get actual working robots on stage, rapping some of the parts. Plus there’s more Steampunk gigs in the colonies and Canada coming up. It’s just splendid meeting so many new folk at these things and seeing where it takes you. I am fairly sure that life couldn’t be better than it is right now. Unless I had a nice scone. I’d love some scones.
GG: Are there any plans to produce another video for the new album?
PA: The next ‘single’ is going to be Splendid and I really want to do it with muppet style puppets or animation. I just need to find someone who I can collaborate with on the puppet/ cartoon side… so if anyone can help, they can drop me a line.
GG: Being from the United States, I am grossly under-educated about the finer points of tea. Are there any tips you can give us Colonials about tea?
PA: You poor, poor things. I’ve been over there, I’ve tasted Lipton. Dear god, I had to use four tea bags to work up anything remotely like a brew. Get a teapot and some good leaves.. and then take time over it. Afternoon tea is something to be savored and enjoyed with friends. Ideally it should take you all the way through to your evening meal, directly after which you should have evening tea and so on.
GG: Also, what is your feeling on Green Tea?
PA: A very nice aperitif after you have finished your real cup of tea.
-For more information about Professor Elemental, visit ProfessorElemental.com
-For more music involving Tom Caruana, including free samples and remixes of Elemental’s music, visit TeaSeaRecords.com
-Professor Elemental will be present at The Steampunk World’s Fair in Piscataway, NJ May 20-22 2011.
-The Indifference Engine and Rebel Without Applause are available now on ProfessorElemental.com, TeaSeaRecords.com, iTunes and The Zune Marketplace.