There’s already a Midnight Syndicate Sinister Seven with Edward Douglas from 2011 done by the talented Sean Plummer. So why do another one?
The last interview covered Midnight Syndicate’s movie The Dead Matter as well as their collaboration with Destini’s Beard on the album A Time Forgotten. This time around, we’re going to delve into the duo’s origins. Who cares? You should, if you like Halloween and horror themed music.
Before Midnight Syndicate – a two-man machine comprised of Gavin Goszka and frontman Edward Douglas – came along, it was almost impossible to find Halloween- or macabre-themed soundtracks at your local music store. Sure, there were a few spooky songs that trickled into vinyl and cassette collections, but Halloween music came into its own with the success of the Ohio-based duo’s Born of the Night (1997). As a result – for better or worse – it’s hard to go into a music store during the Halloween season nowadays without tripping over a stack of CDs that try desperately to sound like Midnight Syndicate.
After more than fifteen years, the duo still records and performs musical macabre masterpieces that have kept fans begging for more. I was lucky enough to catch up with Douglas at the German Spielemesse in Essen, Germany. Here’s what he had to say:
What are Midnight Syndicate’s origins?
I began the Midnight Syndicate project in the early ’90s. The idea behind the band was to create “soundtracks to imaginary films” – CDs that would blend instrumental music and sound effects with the goal of transporting you to a world (or movie) of your creation.
The first self-titled Midnight Syndicate CD was released in 1997. It was a very eclectic disc. Although most of the tracks were horror-themed and some would appear on later Midnight Syndicate discs, not all of the tracks were dark. Additionally, there were several other styles of music included with the orchestral instrumental songs we’re known for. These other tracks included rock, ’80s-style goth, techno and horrorcore! It was a wild combination. Although I wrote the music, I utilized a lot of guest artists to capture the different styles.
After that first disc, I knew I wanted to focus on just horror instrumental music and sound effects for the next one. Not only has horror been a part of just about everything I’ve ever done creatively but I also felt that orchestral instrumental music is what worked best for my vision for the band and what I enjoyed doing most. I approached a local gothic fantasy artist, Joseph Vargo to handle the CD design and marketing of the next disc, which would be called Born of the Night. His artwork was a good match for the music.
The first disc was more of a solo project and I was looking for a fellow songwriter and band-mate going forward. I approached my friend Gavin Goszka. We had met at our music store years earlier and shared a common love of the horror genre, the supernatural, as well as similar music tastes. Together Gavin and I wrote and arranged the music for Born of the Night. It’s a process we’ve done for every Midnight Syndicate CD since. In the studio, we were aided by engineer Tim Blue, who helped with the mix and mastering. Another friend, Dan Owens contributed some of the sound design and Joseph added voice-overs.
When we released Born of the Night in 1998, there wasn’t anything quite like it out there. [There were] certainly no Halloween music CDs like it. At that time, no one had ever really taken Halloween music seriously. However, there was a demand for high-quality, seriously dark atmosphere by fans of Halloween, professional haunted houses, and amusement parks. We filled that niche. The response to the disc was great. Things really took off. Even with the early success though, we couldn’t find a label or distributor. I had to go the indie label, self-distribution route. I began by cold-calling hundreds of stores, pitching the music and the band. It took a while, but we built our own international customer base and distribution network. We’re going on sixteen years now, fourteen discs. It’s been a great ride.
Can you tell us a bit about your method of storytelling in music?
After we decide what the theme of the disc will be (i.e. a haunted asylum, dark carnival, vampire’s crypt), Gavin and I go off and immerse ourselves in that world. We’ll read books, do historical research, watch films, explore artwork and photography, etc. From there, ideas for scenes, images and characters just come and we begin to write music based around those things. One thing about our discs is that although we might hint at a story, everything we do is about allowing the listener to determine what’s happening, what they’re seeing. Sure, we want to create as cool a palette as possible for listeners to spark their imagination, but it’s up to them to take the disc and imagine what’s going on story-wise on their own. We love hearing how fans interpret the discs and songs.
How much research do you do on an era/subject when preparing to do an album?
As much as possible. I really enjoyed doing the research for Carnival Arcane. I read a lot of books on the history of traveling carnivals, talked to historians, etc. Our carnival is set in the early part of the 20th century (the heyday for traveling carnivals in the US). I wanted the sounds and scenes we explored to be as historically accurate as possible. For the song “Carousel Ride,” I listened to as many classic carousels and mechanical instruments as I could. Then I did my best to recreate that. Gavin used his background in Victorian era music to write “Under the Big Top” which is pretty close to what you might hear at the carnival’s main event of the time. When the disc has a theme like our new disc (classic horror from the ’30s/’40s/’60s), I try and immerse myself in films from that era. Doing the research really helps keep things consistent – and I enjoy it.
Do you have a favorite composer (classical or modern) that you draw inspiration from?
So many. Of course anyone who listens to our material will guess John Carpenter – you can hear that influence immediately. Danny Elfman is a huge influence for both Gavin and me. John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith are composers I listened to growing up. They inspired me to dream of scoring films and making this type of music. Other composers include: Hans Zimmer, James Bernard, Bernard Herman, and Elliot Goldenthal. James Horner’s soundtrack to Aliens is one of my all-time favorites. We’re also influenced by heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath and King Diamond as well as bands like Dead Can Dance and Sisters of Mercy.
What are the craziest ideas fans have run by you?
We’ve gotten a lot over the years. Most of the crazy ideas are actually really good ones. From the day we began we’ve been hearing “Midnight Syndicate, you gotta do a Christmas album!” That may sound crazy to some but it does have a lot of appeal to us. Christmas instrumentalists Mannheim Steamroller did a Halloween CD a few years back , I can see us crossing over and doing a dark version of a Christmas album in the future. We even have a fan who sketched out the artwork already. We really appreciate our fans. We definitely listen to them.
What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to the group while trying to record an album?
I think it was for 13th Hour, Gavin had just moved to his new studio and we were recording the sound effects for the disc. We were running all these extension cords and microphone cables out the top floor of his window to the garage. Then we were out there smashing wood, glass and dry wall. Also, we had Lily Lane on that disc – not screaming – well, yeah… screaming, moanining and making strange noises. We had a few neighbors coming by. We used real swords for the sound effects on the Dungeons & Dragons soundtrack, that was kind of fun, took a chunk out of the wall. It wasn’t hilarious at the time but looking back at it now it’s kind of funny.
You and Gavin took a hiatus for the next CD; can you tell us about what we’ll see next?
2012 was a crazy year. We were working on the new CD when I got called in to score the horror film Bunyan. It’s a fun, grindhouse-type horror film about the American folklore character, Paul Bunyan, except in this scenario, Paul’s got a big, blood-soaked axe and is running around in the woods, chasing unfortunate teenagers. Classic beer and pizza movie – a lot of fun, especially for fans of creature features. Scoring the film was fun and fans can expect some sounds they haven’t heard from Midnight Syndicate before in there. We’ll be releasing a soundtrack CD along with the movie when it comes out late next year.
Our main focus now is on the next Midnight Syndicate CD. It’s called Monsters of Legend and it’s a tribute to the great Universal Monster films from the ’30s and ’40s as well as the Hammer Films, Amicus and other European horror films of the late ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s. We are really excited about this one! Most of the tracks are already written and we just finalized the song list a week ago. Sonically I think that we’ve taken things up another notch. We can’t wait to release this one. It will be out in mid-2013, well before Halloween. There are also a few other really cool projects in the works right now that I hope pan out. We should have more information on those in the next several months. As always, folks can visit us on Facebook, Twitter our our website to keep find out the latest or hear samples of our music.