Even if you’ve never seen the gothic horror band, Midnight Syndicate, chances are exceptional that you’ve heard them. The duo of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka has been sonically scaring fans for over a decade. The band continues to expand their scope with music appearing on nationally televised shows, movie soundtracks and even video games.
Midnight Syndicate, resounding through the speakers of your local craft store or satellite radio, was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for Horrorview.
Horroview: Thank you and welcome. Right off the bat, vampire or otherwise, can you tell the Horrorview readers about the most recent Midnight Syndicate CD, The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates and the related film?
Edward Douglas: The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates is a CD of music inspired by our upcoming zombie/vampire film, The Dead Matter. In 2008, it was time for us to write a new Midnight Syndicate disc and when we started brainstorming for themes, we looked at The Dead Matter. Here we have a story with vampires, the living dead, ancient occult relics, druids – plenty of inspiration. So we went with that. The Dead Matter movie which comes out July 30th this year is very much inspired by Hammer Films, EC Comics, and horror cinema from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It’s classic horror (same style as our music) but it’s also chock full of twists and turns to keep you guessing. That’s something I enjoy in films. It stars Andrew Divoff (Lost, CSI:Miami, and the Djinn from Wishmaster) Jason Carter (Babylon 5, Angel), and Tom Savini with some cameos from tv horror hosts Big Chuck Schodowski and Count Gore Devol. Co-produced by ourselves, Robert Kurtzman (co-producer of From Dusk Till Dawn, KNB FX) and Gary Jones (Xena, Boogeyman 3), it’s about this girl who feels responsible for the recent death of her brother and what happens to her when she discovers this relic with necromantic powers that was previously owned by the vampires who want it back. Classic themes with some modern twists.
HV: I particularly enjoyed the title track, Cemetery Gates, which gave me the image of a completely whacked out undead waltz. Sort of like the HauntedMansion, if you ripped the family-friendly comedy out and replaced it with Romero zombies. When you’re composing, do you have a framework in mind for the song or do you wait for a script or stills before you begin?
ED: I love your description, that’s excellent. We call Midnight Syndicate CDs soundtracks for the imagination or soundtracks to imaginary films. The idea being is that when you listen to the disc you are transported to a movie or world of your own creation. Your interpretation of Cemetery Gates for example is exactly what we’re going for. Just giving a spark and allowing the listeners’ imagination to fill in the rest. When Gavin and I start writing for a Midnight Syndicate CD, we first come up with an overall theme and then we begin to flesh out the details of this world we are going to create. After that point we begin writing the music and work together to make the disc a cohesive musical journey.
As far as scoring a film, I like to read the script early to begin getting ideas for a main theme or character theme but it’s not until I have a rough cut of the movie that I begin in earnest. I want to be able to better see the director’s vision and flow of the film before writing.
HV: There’s a series of songs concerning the scarab that seem connected. For the music theorists, do you approach a project with a particular mode or scale in mind for consistency?
ED: I don’t really think about modes when I’m writing. It’s much more of a spontaneous thing for me. I just try to write to the theme or the image that I’m focusing on and let the music dictate the direction. I’m usually not that formal about it.
HV: Midnight Syndicate’s music matches well with the feel of a film, not just the individual scenes. This is particularly evident in the ramp ups and cool downs in The Rage. One example is the difference between Birds of Prey and Uncle Ben Montage. How do these different emotions on-screen influence the music and instrument selection of a piece?
ED: They really dictate the music and instrumental selection. That’s why I only write in really broad strokes before seeing the movie. A theme or a passage that I hear in my head when I read the script might be an entirely wrong path once the scene is not only shot but also edited. This is because it really becomes a new movie, twice actually (once when you shoot it and again after you edit it). You want to write a score that sounds good and is compelling but more importantly that is serving the film, elevating the story, characters and the edit and supporting it. I enjoyed Birds of Prey because it’s such a frenetic scene in the movie. I love a good chase. I try and strike a careful balance of following the emotions on screen just enough without taking it too far and making it hokey.
HV: I had a chance to visit New Orleans again this year and took advantage of my time there. We walked a lot of non-tourist spots by night and participated in things like the Walking Vampire Tour. For projects not tied in to films or games, what type of approach do you find in terms of researching material?
ED: Gavin and I love the Victorian era so doing research for The 13th Hour (our CD about a haunted Victorian manor) was a lot of fun. Listening to music from that time period and researching photos, stories, images, and literature from the era was very important to us. We also did some research on the paranormal. Gavin is an amateur ghost hunter, so he was able to pull from his personal experiences. For me, I had the great opportunity to see a presentation from George Lutz before he passed. George was the man on whom Amityville Horror was based. After his talk I was able to ask him about the sounds he heard while he was in the house during the hauntings. I used some of his experiences as the basis for much of my sound effects design on The 13th Hour. Our CD, Gates of Delirium (set in a turn-of-the-century asylum) was another fun one. We toured old asylums just soaking in the atmosphere as well as researching the practices of that time. Really chilling stuff that definitely colored both the music and sound design of that disc.
HV: We initially met at the entertaining Horrorfind Weekend in Baltimore a while back. What’s the convention circuit like for musicians like yourselves whose primary recognition may not be visual? Do you find horror fans typically know your work and recognize you immediately or do you have to explain what you do?
ED: It’s a mix. We’ve been doing this for 13 years and have some of the best and most supportive fans ever so going to conventions is one way where we can meet the fans face to face, talk with them, and thank them. It’s great. What we do get often is that since Gavin and I don’t play out live, most people aren’t familiar with our faces so although they know the name and the music they don’t always realize that it’s us behind the booth. I do enjoy the convention circuit as that’s one of the ways we got our start.
HV: Convention appearances almost always bring stories from the road. Is there a particular tale from the road you can share with our readers?
ED: I’m a horror movie fan like everyone else reading this so most of my stories are just fanboy-type things. Having the opportunity to hang out with people I grew up idolizing (like George Romero and Tom Savini) is pretty cool. These are the artists who inspired me to do what I do. The best convention moments though are hanging out with everyone after the dealer room closes. Having a few beers and talking about Mario Bava and Hammer Films with a group of people you just met which include the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld at 3 in the morning in New Jersey. Good times.
HV: Bands have latched on to holidays as a recurring theme. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has made a killing (so to speak) on their Christmas material. Dee Snider put together a Van Helsing project a few years ago to try and identify with Halloween. How does Midnight Syndicate maintain its identity while other bands try to cut into the Halloween music scene?
ED: I think being first helps a lot. I hear people refer to us the first Halloween band or Haunted House band which are cool monikers we wear with pride. When we started out, there weren’t any good Halloween music. It was all cheap sound effects cassettes and Monster Mash compilations. Halloween fans, haunted houses, and amusement parks were all looking for something better. Something to help set a creepy atmosphere without being cheesey. That’s where we came in. Another key is that we push ourselves really hard each time out to make the next disc better than the last. A lot of reviews have said that The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates is one of our most complex and full-sounding recordings. That’s good to hear because it means we’re on the right track when we set out to top it on the next disc. More than anything though it’s been our fans turning their friends on to us and supporting us throughout the years that has been key. Without a radio hit or even a tour, we’re dependent on their help to spread the word and we owe a huge part of our success and staying power to them.
HV: The Dead Matter will be released soon, and that has certainly represented a significant chunk of time for you. Can you tell me what other projects or plans are in the works for Midnight Syndicate?
ED: We have a lot going on right now. 2010 is our 13th Anniversary so we’re doing a ton of fan-appreciation contests, special panels at conventions, and other cool stuff. We are also working on our first music video, three new The Dead Matter movie trailers, rebuilding both the band and movie websites, and putting together a 13th Anniversary Halloween Music Collection CD which is basically a mix of music from all our discs specifically designed to loop outside your house for Halloween. The Dead Matter movie and score will be coming out in July so there’s special screenings across the country that we’ll be doing. We have plans for 2011 but we’re waiting until we have more details before we announce anything. It’s an exciting time and we hope folks will stop by our site and join us on MySpace or Facebook. The new Midnight Syndicate site should be up in March. The Dead Matter movie website is www.TheDeadMatter.com. We are building a new interactive site there where people can explore the world and characters they’ll be introduced to in the movie. That should go live in early March.
HV: Thank you again for your time. Horrorview readers who want to hear more from Midnight Syndicate, including samples from The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates, can check out www.midnightsyndicate.com.