Paragon Magazine Interview with Edward Douglas - October 2003

Ahh, nothing satisfies more this time of year than a good scare, right? We all look for it. for some reason, we purposely seek getting a little bit of a frightful thrill around Halloween. That's what makes the season so much fun. Well, while you're out this year shopping for your Halloween decorations, be sure to pick up a CD by Midnight Syndicate. These guys know how to send chills down your spine. And they don't need cheesy, cliche sound effects or twisted voices to get the job done. They take music to a whole new level. Try listening to a CD of theirs while you're alone in a dark room, or out driving through some dimly lit backroad. Fun stuff....

Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka, the geniuses behind this extraordinary musical soundscape called Midnight Syndicate know exactly what they're doing. And because of their love of horror movies and scary stories, they know how to invoke emotions within their listeners tha will leave you pretty paranoid of the dark. Their music is a favorite this time of year, featured especially at haunted attractions. Some of you have probably already been to Halloween stores this time of year where a Midnight Syndicate CD was blaring. The music creates the perfect atmosphere to scare the shit out of someone.

But Midnight Syndicate's music goes beyond just being All Hallow's Eve's soundtrack. Check out their discography. They've got six albums of terror and imaginary journeys through darkness that'll excited you no matter what time of the year it is.

Paragon got the opportunity to interview Edward Douglas who helped us understand much better how they are able to produce the music they do consistently. We'd like to think we successfully tapped into Ed's mind just enough to see why he's so great at what he does.

Midnight Syndicate is a very distinctive group, producing "soundtracks for the imagination," that stun and horrify the listener. How did you guys form Midnight Syndicate, and what gave you the innovative idea to create such unique albums? Who was it that stood up one day and said, "Lets take some background music, throw in some eerie sound effects, and make people feel as if they are living a horror movie!?"

E: When I developed the idea for Midnight Syndicate in 1991, the goal was to create music that would transport the listener to a world or movie of their own creation - music that would provide an escape from reality. Originally it was not all dark and orchestral as we've become known for. The first CD, Midnight Syndicate (1997) was a mixture of rock, rap, industrial, and new age among other styles. All over the place musically and thematically but tied together by the goal of creating this alternate world. Unfortunately the themes and styles of music were too eclectic and too varied for the disc to be completely effective. It was after that disc that I decided to do an album with a more focused theme and sound. The dark instrumental tracks on that first disc were the strongest (and my favorite) so the dark sound of Midnight Syndicate took from there. Additionally, at the time there were no good Halloween CDs. You had the cruddy $1 sound effect cassettes and the Monster Mash-type compilations but no real good quality, instrumental Halloween music offerings. We saw it as the perfect avenue to help take our music to the fans without having to rely on traditional methods (like radio, concerts) which we realized wouldn't work for what we were doing.

It's quite difficult to categorize the work you do, so how would you describe yourselves?

E: Gothic Fantasy Nightmare Soundtracks - I have to include the word "Fantasy" in there now after the Dungeons & Dragons CD which definitely has more fantasy elements than the more strictly horror-themed discs we've done to this point. The CDs we do blend orchestral instrumental music with select sound effects designed specifically to immerse the listener in this imaginary world that we try and create.

Obviously, your albums aren't the type that would be found in stores like Sam Goody. Nor are your songs the type that would be heard on the radio. Where do you want your music to go? Are there any particular audiences or groups of people that you'd like to reach with your music?

E: Our fans are a diverse group. We have a lot of heavy metal and gothic music fans that enjoy our discs. Additionally there are a lot of Halloween and Horror Movie aficionados and artists in the Haunted Attraction industry that make up a good part of our following.

Have you reached these goals? Where can your music be heard, and where can your albums be purchased?

E: Every year things are getting bigger, which is good to see. Halloween is a big time for us. We've been used on Monday Night Football and The Today Show during this time of the year. We've also had our music used for Hugh Heffner's Playboy Mansion Halloween parties and as pre-show music for King Diamond's world tour in 2001. Each year the music is licensed for use in hundreds of haunted attractions worldwide. In addition to the many great independently operated haunted houses, this year's list includes Universal Studios, Paramount Parks, Six Flags, Sea World, Cedar Faire, and Busch Gardens. As far as purchasing the CDs, most good Halloween outlets carry our music - the largest being, Spencer Gifts. During the rest of the year, people can find our discs online as well as through gaming/hobby stores and at Hot Topic stores that have music departments. In 2004 we will be showing up in more independent record stores as we work to make our music more readily available outside of the Halloween season.

All of your albums delve deeply in the darkest places of the human mind, and evoke some of the most terrifying emotions through the music and the sound effects within it. You do this in tracks that range from several seconds to a few minutes in length, without the aid of any lyrics, and hardly any vocals, aside from spoken word verses, correct? How do you produce album after album of such an intense, dark nature? Does dark imagery and sound appeal to you both? What inspires the music?

E: I think that both Gavin and I have dark sides that we like to explore. For as long as I can remember I've been into ghost stories, horror movies, and gothic/horror/fantasy imagery. That being the case, when it comes time to express myself artistically, the darker music comes naturally. We draw inspiration from a lot of sources but mainly from those I just mentioned. I love Hammer horror films, the art of Joseph Vargo, Alchemy, and Keith Parkinson, as well as Stephen King, Tales from the Crypt comic books, and roleplaying games.

Your albums can also be considered soundtracks to horror movies, and each album has its own unique theme (Vampires, Asylums, Hauntings, etc.) Are you guys into horror movies and stories? Is your music a sort of release for your imaginations and darkest thoughts?

E: Of all the sources of inspiration, horror films and their scores are probably the biggest for us. John Carpenter, Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal, Wojciech Kilar, and Hans Zimmer, are just some of the great composers that have had a huge influence on our music. The imagery and stories that appear in the movies also supplies plenty of ideas. The CDs are definitely releases for our imaginations and the goal is that it will do the same for our listeners.

Two of your albums, Born of the Night and Realm of Shadows, mention a place called the Dark Tower. Gates of Delirium takes place at Haverghast Asylum. Tell us more about these places. Where did they come from and what inspired them?

E: All of the albums' settings take place in the fictitious world of Linfaldia which was conceptualized while first putting together the concept for Midnight Syndicate. The Dark Tower, the setting for Born of the Night, was thought up by Joseph Vargo. A few years later, he even released a book of short stories called Tales from the Dark Tower which all revolve that setting. The Born of the Night disc and book compliment each other nicely for a good nighttime read. Realm of Shadows is set in the town of Arcacia which was referenced in several songs on the first self-titled CD and accompanying live shows. Haverghast Asylum was inspired by turn of the century asylums that Gavin and I toured before beginning writing for that disc. There's a map in Realm of Shadows and Gates of Delirium that give clues as to how these three places tie into each other.

Who writes the chilling descriptions found on the back of each album?

E: Artist, Joseph Vargo wrote the descriptions for the back Born of the Night and Realm of Shadows as well as the narration that is performed on those two discs. Since then, it's been me although I called in a writer to help with the Dungeons & Dragons disc. We spend a lot of time on song titles and the text in the packaging. We try and give enough information to spark the imagination but hopefully not too much as to limit the listener's interpretation of the CD.

Another great thing about your albums is the artwork. Describe for us the artists that you've worked with, and the art that they created for your albums. It's important to have art that complements the music, so what do you look for in an artist and his/her work when considering them for your album art?

E: Well Joseph Vargo was more than just the artist for the first two discs. He was integrally involved with the production of Born of the Night from its inception to its completion. Not as much musically but as far as developing the cohesive look of the disc, adding the voice-over elements and working as a kind of Executive Producer. That role carried over to a lesser degree with Realm of Shadows as well. I had originally approached Joseph because I really liked the traditional gothic styling of his artwork. It helped that he was based in Cleveland too so we could meet in person and work hand-in-hand on the project. For Gates of Delirium, we wanted to integrate more actual photos on the packaging and offer a different look. Mark Rakocy (who did the design for Midnight Syndicate) is one of the finest graphic designers and photo manipulators I've ever had the pleasure of working with. The silhouette shot of Gavin and I that he developed during that period has become the trademark Midnight Syndicate image we still use to this day. When it came time to design the packaging for Vampyre we wanted to go back to a more traditional feel. Keith Parkinson is, simply put, one of my favorite artists - Gavin's as well. The work he did on the D&D module Temple of Elemental Evil is a personal favorite and exactly what we were looking for the disc. We knew he could do a tremendous job and he did. I was extremely happy with the end product. Like Joseph, his style is an excellent reflection of what Midnight Syndicate is all about. For Dungeons & Dragons we ended up using material from all the D&D rulebooks and accessories. I've always been a huge fan of Dungeons & Dragons artwork so having free reign on that material was fun.

Your latest release, Dungeons and Dragons, is actually a soundtrack for the role-playing game, in addition to being a separate Midnight Syndicate release. How did this collaboration come about?

E: For years, roleplayers have been using our discs as background for their gaming sessions - especially for the darker-themed games like Ravenloft, Call of Cthulu, and Vampire: The Masquerade. Support grew to the point that we started setting up at gaming conventions in 2001. It was at our first show that one of the heads of Wizards of the Coast came up to us and asked if we would be interested in doing a soundtrack specifically for Dungeons & Dragons. Needless to say we were very excited by the opportunity. Not only were we fans of the game but Dungeons & Dragons sessions often provided inspiration for the music on some of our other discs. The writing for the D&D disc came very natural and working with the developers at Wizards of the Coast was great.

Tell us about the process you go through when writing the material for your albums. Do you guys work together or separately, producing your own songs, or helping each other?

E: First we decide upon the setting that we are trying to create and then fill in as many details on that setting as we can. After that we both go to our own studios and write for the disc. Although we write separately, we continually bounce ideas off each other throughout the process to make sure that what we are doing is cohesive and on track for the disc. Once all the material is written and arranged we come together and work together on the mixing and mastering processes.

What instruments do you use to obtain such eerie, deep, and sometimes spine-chilling sounds? How do you choose exactly which sounds to use at certain times to create the perfect atmosphere within the music?

E: I think instrument choice comes naturally. When you have a specific image or setting that you are writing towards, the sounds and sometimes even melodies fall in line themselves. Before I begin writing, I pick pictures and images that I feel reflect the world I'm trying to create musically and keep them near to me in the studio. I think that helps me maintain focus. For the Dungeons & Dragons disc I had the floor covered with D&D module covers and artwork.

Where do you see Midnight Syndicate going in the future? Are you planning on releasing more albums?

E: Absolutely. Although it may not be released until February of 2005, we are already developing rough ideas for the next disc. It's early right now but we'll definitely be going back to our more horror-stylings on this one. We plan on taking a little longer with the production and make it something really special. We both have some ideas already and are looking forward to starting work on that towards the end of this year.

Are you satisfied with how far Midnight Syndicate has come thus far, or are you striving for higher levels of success?

E: I am really happy with our progress so far but know that there's still a lot left to do. Because of our style of music, it is very hard to tour, or get spins in clubs and radio. As a result, there are still a lot of people out there looking for the kind of music that we do that don't know about Midnight Syndicate. Fortunately for us, we have some of the greatest fans in the world. Word-of-mouth is critical for us so their spreading the word and turning others on to what we're doing has allowed us to grow and continue producing CDs. As far as other future plans, I'd like to explore scoring films. I produced an independent horror film called The Dead Matter in 1996. Scoring the production was the highlight for me. I'm very interested in pursuing that area further although to this point, our schedule hasn't allowed us to take on any additional projects.

Do you ever perform your music live?

I think the most difficult element to Midnight Syndicate is the fact that, because of our style of music, we can't just walk into a bar or venue, set up, and start playing. Making personal contact with your fans is really important to an artist and not being able to do that has been very frustrating (especially over the past three years). Most bands that have been fortunate enough to see sales and support like we have, have already toured the US and Europe. We haven't played out since before Born of the Night.

We did do a show in March of 1998. It was a multimedia concert to promote the first Midnight Syndicate (self-titled) album. The concert blended original film, live music, computer animation, and theatrics. It was a very involved and resource-intensive project. So much so that it has really held us back from developing a new one. We were considering it at the end of 2001 but when we looked at our time schedule we had to chose: develop a show and tour or release a new CD. We couldn't do both. Needless to say we decided it best to begin writing for Vampyre since it had already almost been a year since Gate of Delirium's release. Production on Dungeons & Dragons began almost immediately after Vampyre finished.

What are you planning on doing this Halloween? It has to be your favorite holiday!

E: It is. I'll be hitting plenty of haunted houses in our area and renting a ton of horror flicks for midnight viewings. We just had our first child, Mary Kate, earlier this year so we'll be getting her dressed up and taking her out for her first trick-or-treating adventure.

Lisa - Paragon Magazine