Masters of Macabre: An Interview With Midnight Syndicate
By Noah Wullkotte
Today we interview Edward Douglas of the legendary Midnight Syndicate. Their unique brand of gothic music can be heard in movies, tv and your favorite haunted attractions. Edward Douglas has been creating music for this iconic band since 1996 and he’s happy to share his experiences and thoughts on the history and future of Midnight Syndicate.
How would you describe the music of Midnight Syndicate to people who’ve never listened to Midnight Syndicate?
E: Soundtracks to imaginary horror films. Dark, symphonic music blended with sound effects designed to transport you to another world. Each album has it’s own theme like: a haunted mansion, turn-of-the-century dark carnival, haunted Victorian asylum, dragon’s lair, or vampire’s crypt. Our CDs are good at creating a dark atmosphere which makes them perfect for haunted houses, fans of Halloween and gothic music, role-playing gamers, visual artists, and writers.
Can you give us a brief history of Midnight Syndicate?
E: In 1991 I came up with the idea for Midnight Syndicate. The basic idea was a band that would create “soundtracks to imaginary films” by blending pop music, movie score music, and sound effects (a la radio dramas of the 30s). In 1997 I released Midnight Syndicate’s self-titled debut. It was more of a solo project and a bit different from the releases that followed. Not all of the tracks were orchestral instrumental (some were rock, horrorcore, even new age). Additionally, even though most of the tracks were horror-themed there were certain ones that weren’t. Although it laid the groundwork for what was to follow, the album was too eclectic.
After that first disc I decided to focus on what I did best and what I loved most which was dark, horror-themed, orchestral instrumental music blended with sound effects. It was at that time I enlisted the help of the other musical half of Midnight Syndicate, Gavin Goszka and a very talented gothic artist and we released the horror-themed Syndicate album, “Born of the Night.” There had never been any CD quite like it before and it really made an impact in the haunted attraction, Halloween retail, gothic music, and roleplaying game industries. Gavin and I have continued producing CDs ever since including the scores to several actual horror films. This July, we’re releasing “Monsters of Legend.” It will be our 14th studio album.
What was the first Midnight Syndicate album released and what were the reviews like?
E: The first self-titled disc was way too eclectic and most of the reviews reflected that. It had trouble finding an audience because either you enjoyed the darker elements and not the other material or vice versa. Maybe you’d like the musical style of one song but then it would change for the next track. We even had a horrorcore track on there. It was a rap song about being a vampire called “Premonitions of a Killer.” That was pretty far out for 1996. Ironically (and completely unrelated) since then we’ve been sampled by horrorcore icons Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid, and Three Six Mafia.
What’s been your favorite album to work on and why?
E: “The 13th Hour” was so much fun to do. I really enjoyed researching haunted houses and recreating the paranormal sounds for that disc. It also has some of my favorite Syndicate songs on it. “Carnival Arcane” was another one that was so cool to research and create. Finding sounds that were historically accurate as well as imagination-provoking and blending it into the music really created a tangible atmosphere that I am very proud of.
I’m also excited about this new disc. It’s our tribute to classic Universal and Hammer horror films so I’ve had an excuse to watch the classics over again in preparation. I love the way this disc has come together. I think if you are a fan of the old black and white movies or Hammer films, you will not be disappointed.
(“Dark Legacy” music video shoot featuring Gavin Goszka of Midnight Syndicate”)
How has Midnight Syndicate evolved since it was formed in 1996?
E: My decision to narrow the theme and style after that first disc was a turning point. It gave the “soundtracks to imaginary films” concept a chance to find it’s audience. 2001’s “Gates of Delirium”and 2011’s “Carnival Arcane” were milestones in that they both marked a development in our music production and a step to the next level with regard to the way we integrated sound effects with the music. Our upcoming “Monsters of Legend” will mark a new step for us as we further develop the sound and scope of our music. I think that, like many bands, you are constantly evolving and pushing to one up yourself each time out.
What are some of the movie soundtracks you guys have worked on?
E: Although Midnight Syndicate is our primary focus, Gavin and I also have side projects we like to work on. For me, it’s been scoring films. Outside of my student horror films and the original “The Dead Matter (1996),” I’ve scored Robert Kurtzman’s “The Rage,” “The Dead Matter (2010),” and Gary Jones’ “Axe Giant: The Revenge of Paul Bunyan” which is coming out this June. We’ve also licensed our music out to a lot of independent films, video games, and television shows over the years.
Tell us a little about the movie, The Dead Matter and what was involved in getting it made?
E: I made an earlier version of “The Dead Matter” back in 1996. We had no budget, no digital cameras, and it was our first feature film, so we had that working against us. However we made it and got invaluable experience. I composed the score and a lot of the songs and themes I didn’t use on that score became Midnight Syndicate tracks on “Born of the Night” and “Realm of Shadows.”
Anyway, I always had this dream of remaking the film with an actual budget. That opportunity came along when Robert Kurtzman (producer of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” co-founder of the legendary KNB FX) moved back to Ohio. After scoring his film “The Rage” I approached him with the idea for a remake of “The Dead Matter.” He liked it and things just went on from there. We raised the funds, shot the film in and around the Mansfield Reformatory (home of “Shawshank Redemption,” “Air Force One”) in August of 2007, and released it in 2010.
It’s had a great run. The reviews from the horror press and convention screenings were really good and we got a lot of positive feedback from the fans. The film is a kind of dark fantasy/horror hybrid featuring vampires (Andrew Divoff, Tom Savini) and zombies. If you like story-driven indie horror and are OK with a touch of camp, you’ll like it. In addition to it’s run at film festivals and conventions (it’s at California’s BayCon next weekend), it’s enjoyed a great extended run at RedBox since October. People seem to have fun watching it. Watching their reactions and hearing from them at the conventions we do has been very rewarding.
In July you have a CD coming out titled Monsters of Legend. What do fans have to look forward to and how does it differ from previous work?
E: This disc is our tribute to the classic Universal, Hammer, Euro-Horror, and silent films from the 20s through the early-70s. We wanted to make you feel like are “in” one of those classic movies and we do so by really upping the sound design again (like “Carnival Arcane”). I think we’ve expanded our musical sound too (which is something you’re always trying to do as a composer). It’s classic horror music and sound which is at the core of what we do. I think if you’ve enjoyed our discs like “Born of the Night,” “Realm of Shadows” “Vampyre” “13th Hour,” you’ll love this one.
Midnight Syndicate music has a unique sound that separates itself from other horror music. What different techniques and instruments are used when putting together a new album?
E: As for techniques and instruments, the theme of the disc usually dictates the palette. It’s always been a combination of synthetic instruments, real instruments, vocalists, actors, and sound effects (most of which we create in-house). As for our unique sound, when we started out, there was no one to compare ourselves to. No one was taking music and sound effects and putting out album after album of these “soundtracks to imaginary films” quite like we were doing.
You did have Mortis and Danzig’s “Black Aria” album but that was more fantasy music. So over our career we’ve had to craft our own sound and then continually re-evaluate what we’re doing each time out so we can take things to the next level the next album. It’s a constant process.
(“Midnight Syndicate’s music video “Lost” from the The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates CD”)
In 1996, technology wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is today. How did you create and promote music back then when the internet boom was just starting and there weren’t as many music programs to make things easier in creating great music?
E: How true. Right now I have a DA-88 digital 8-track recorder in my basement that I used to record the score to “The Dead Matter (1996),” the self-titled debut CD, and some of my tracks for “Born of the Night.” That piece of obsolete recording equipment cost me $4,000 back then. When I think of what $4,000 can buy you nowadays, it’s insane! Good for the artists of today. The equipment is easier to use, and will often yield much better results at a cost we never could have dreamed of back then.
As for promotions, we came out right around when the internet was starting to take off (man am I starting to feel old here). One good thing the internet did was it allowed you to reach fans directly. It allowed you to circumvent the traditional record labels, distributors, and radio stations that had a choke hold on the industry. It’s good the internet came around when it did because when we were first looking for distributors and record labels all we got were rejection letters.
They were telling us things like “we don’t get this ‘soundtracks to imaginary films’ concept” and “Haunted house, Halloween music CDs? Do you mean covers of the Monster Mash?” Needless to say, we needed to make our own way, build our own label, and our own distribution channels. That would have been much more difficult had it not been for the internet leveling the playing field a bit.
Midnight Syndicate is world famous for its horror music, but have you ever thought of making an album with Christmas music?
E: We have been asked that question since we first released “Born of the Night.” Yes, I definitely see us putting out our spin on a Christmas album at some point. Our friend, artist Ed Beard, Jr. (father of Destini Beard who we’ve collaborated with twice now) even has some excellent album cover art ready for it.
Tell us a little about the talented members that help bring Midnight Syndicate music to life.
E: Musically, Gavin and myself have written, arranged, and produced all of the music for all of the songs on all of the Midnight Syndicate CDs. Over the years we’ve collaborated with a lot of talented soloists and voice over artists that have added something special and unique to each album. For example, on “Carnival Arcane” it was actor Jason Carter (“Babylon 5”) playing the role of Ringmaster Montgomery Lancaster. On the upcoming “Monsters of Legend” CD we teamed up with voice over artist Dick Terhune (www.voicefromhell.com). He was brilliant and really adds to the character of this album!
Midnight Syndicate albums use beautiful artwork featuring castles, graveyards etc. Who does the artwork and how do you decide what you want the next album to look like?
E: We’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great artists over the years. The highlight for me has to have been working with one of my Dungeons & Dragons idols, the late Keith Parkinson (“Vampyre” and “The 13th Hour”). He was an amazing talent and person. For “Monsters of Legend” we’ve actually licensed images from the original Universal Studios horror films and had our friends at Brainstorm Studios work their magic. So I guess to answer your question it really changes from album to album.
Why do you think Midnight Syndicate music is so popular with haunted attractions?
E: We were the first to create good quality Halloween-horror music CDs for haunted attractions and amusement parks. We also gave them an avenue to use it legally in their attractions through our Haunted Attraction Registry – www.midnightsyndicate.com/hauntedattractions.htm. Now there are a lot more musical options out there which is good for the industry. I think one of the good things about our discs is that they can be used in so many ways (individual scenes , queue lines, parking lots). A lot of haunts have taken to combining our music with additional sound effects specific to a particular scene to great effect. For us we just want to make sure that we are putting out our best stuff and taking it up a notch each time for them.
What are some of your influences when creating a new album?
E: Movie composers like Danny Elfman, John Carpenter, James Bernard, John Williams, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and Hans Zimmer as well as heavy metal artists like Black Sabbath and King Diamond. After that, bands like Sisters of Mercy and Dead Can Dance just to name a few. I love watching horror films. It’s my hobby. So that always influences each disc. Not necessarily the music but the imagery, the characters, the atmosphere. That’s why I love classic horror and European horror so much – there’s a lot to draw from.
What has been your most successful album and why do you think that is?
E: It’s more difficult to say now only because you can’t judge a disc just by physical CD sales anymore (which would be “13th Hour”). It’s a toss up honestly, which is just the way I want it. Everyone has their favorite and for various reasons. We’ve had great support on every one of our discs. I’d like to think part of that is because we really push ourselves each time out but I know big part of it is because we have the best fans and supporters in the world. Simply put.
Where can people purchase Midnight Syndicate albums?
E: Our website: www.MidnightSyndicate.com is an easy way to preview and purchase our music. It’s also available on Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, and at your favorite Halloween retailer that time of year.
City Blood would like to thank Edward Douglas for giving us insight on Midnight Syndicate. You can find more information on this incredible band by going to www.midnightsyndicate.com.