Inside Horror Music with Midnight Syndicate

Midnight Syndicate has been creating instrumental Halloween music and gothic horror fantasy soundtrack CDs for the past thirteen years.   The group’s music has become a staple of the Halloween season worldwide as well as a favorite in the haunted house, amusement park, role-playing game, and gothic music industries.   From Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights and Hugh Hefner’s Halloween parties to Monday Night Football, X-Box games, the classic Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, and Barbara Walters specials, their CDs are designed to take listeners on a journey into the darkest corners of their imagination.

Sin: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I want to say first, FABULOUS work. You guys have been part of many really cool things. Before we get to that, how did Midnight Syndicate start?

MS: I had this idea for a band that would create “soundtracks to imaginary films” by blending instrumental music and sound effects.  I always enjoyed instrumental music as I felt that it left  interpretation completely up to the listener and really sparked the imagination.  Take that and add sound effects reminiscent of the radio dramas of the 30s and 40s or a really good horror film and you got a formula for transporting a listener to a world of their own creation.  I’m a huge horror movie, high fantasy, and supernatural buff  so almost every creative project I’ve ever done tends to head down a darker path.  Midnight Syndicate was no exception.   Gavin joined me as my writing partner on “Born of the Night” (our second disc) and we’ve been writing music together ever since.   We just celebrated the 13th Anniversary of our first disc so we’ve been doing a lot of looking back this past year.  It’s been a great journey so far.

Sin: Where do you take inspiration from?

MS: Horror movies, roleplaying games like “Dungeons & Dragons,” and “Call of Cthulhu,” history (especially the Victorian era), horror artwork, and stories of the supernatural.   For me, I have to add EC Comics, Twilight Zone, and Stephen King to that list.  I get a lot of inspiration from those stories.  

Sin: You guys are often known as “Halloween music” or “Haunted House music.” Are you comfortable with that and what genre would you say you think Midnight Syndicate fits in?

MS: We are.  We’ve made a mark in those areas and are proud of that.   When we were first starting out, there really wasn’t anyone else doing anything like this.  Fans of Halloween and Haunted house designers had a choice between a bunch of cheap recycled sound effect tapes from the 70s and Monster Mash-type party compilations.   We changed that by producing effective dark atmospheric discs that focused on the music as much as the sounds.   Quality too and taking a lot of time to get it as good as possible was and always has been a staple of what we do.  I think people appreciated that.   When you are the first to do something (as we were for haunted houses, Halloween retail, and roleplaying games) a lot of doors and opportunities can open for you.   Granted, the fact that we weren’t easily classifiable made it impossible for us to get a record or distribution deal (lots of rejection letters) but we combatted that by starting our own label and distributor, Entity Productions and that’s worked out pretty well for us.

Sin: You have worked with/provided tracks to many other artists over the years: Three-Six Mafia, Twiztid, The Misfits, King Diamond… is there a favorite piece that resulted from any collaboration with other artists or their using your compositions?

MS:  It has to be Three-Six Mafia’s rap track “Wolf Wolf.”  Ironically, I experimented with a vampire-themed rap track on our self-titled debut called “Premonitions of a Killer.”   The music was based on a musical theme I had written for the vampire character Vellich from the original 1995 version of “The Dead Matter” film.  I turned that musical theme into a rap track with vampire-themed lyrics written and performed by some friends of mine that went by the name Dark Side.  To hear a legendary rap act like Three Six Mafia take one of my songs  and turn it into a kick ass rap track was surreal.   To this day, that track is special to me on many levels.

Sin: Last year, AOL put out a list of the Top 10 Best Halloween CDs of all time. Three of these were Midnight Syndicate releases. That’s quite an achievement considering all of the Halloween and gothic-themed music that’s out. What is your reaction to that?

MS: It was awesome.   Both of us were happy and humbled.  It’s great for us because as a part of the Halloween holiday there’s at least one time of the year where we can hear our music playing in bigger venues to more of the general public whether it’s Halloween radio stations like AOL and Sirius XM, amusement parks, haunted houses, stores, tv specials, or homes that decorate for trick-or-treaters.  Definitely a bonus.

Sin: Midnight Syndicate created the first original soundtrack for the Hasbro roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons and has been featured in a few other computer games as well. How did that come about? Were you excited about these projects?

MS: Absolutely.   Both Gavin and I are huge fans of Dungeons & Dragons.  To to be asked to do the first official soundtrack to a game we grew up playing (and was a influence for our work in Midnight Syndicate) was an honor.   It also let us stretch our wings a bit since the theme dictated more of an  fantasy feel than the typical horror themes we deal in.  It was a great project and working with Wizards of the Coast was awesome.   The disc did really well for us and that led to some licensing opportunities with the folks who put together the game Shadowbane and Baldur’s Gate 2: Dark Alliance for the X-Box.   As a huge fan of the Baldur’s Gate franchise it was excellent hearing our music in there.
 
Sin: Tell us about The Dead Matter (movie). How did you become involved with it? Did you enjoy working on it? 
 
MS: I did an earlier version of “The Dead Matter” back in 1995 as my first project out of college.   We were really limited by the budget so our goal was to complete it and use it to put ourselves in a position to remake it with a budget down the road.   That opportunity came about through Midnight Syndicate and Robert Kurtzman ten years later.   We shot the new “The Dead Matter” movie in 2007 and released it on DVD this past year.  It’s a supernatural thriller about this relic that can raise and control the dead (“dead matter”).  It’s got both zombies and vampires mixed in there with lots of twists and turns to keep you guessing.   Unlike Midnight Syndicate, there’s also is a bit of humor in there which audiences seem to be enjoying.   I directed and scored the film as well as co-produced it with Robert and Gary Jones.  My goal was to make a film that would entertain people and it seems like people are having a lot of fun watching it (which is the a great feeling having worked on it for so long).  The whole process was a great, tremendous experience and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Sin: In April of this year, you came out with your first music video for Dark Legacy and then in June, your second video, for the song Lost. What made you decide to do a music video and how was making it different from other projects you have worked on (if at all)? Were you happy with how both turned out?

MS: We were really happy with how they turned out.  As far as why we did it, we just felt that it was something way past due,  it would be a great thing our 13th Anniversary, and we knew they’d make cool extras for “The Dead Matter” DVD so we did it.   After coming off “The Dead Matter,” I wasn’t interested in directing the videos so it was really David Greathouse (for “Dark Legacy”) and Andy Smoley (for “Lost” ) that came up with the concepts and executed them both.   It was quite a different experience as Gavin and I are usually right in there on everything.   But when you trust the director’s vision (like we did with Andy and Dave) it makes it easy, even fun, to just sit back and watch them do their thing.  They are both two very talented directors.   The “Dark Legacy” music video marked the first time Gavin and I had played together live on stage so that was a lot of fun.   I loved the attention to detail Dave and the Precinct 13 artists put into the scenery and his whole vision.  In “Lost” I loved all the little references that Andy and the 529 Films team dropped in there.   From the “The Dead Matter” on the theatre marquee, on the television, and on the computer, to the radio station playing all Midnight Syndicate – it’s just really, really entertaining for me to watch.  

Sin: You are the inspiration and an influence for many other artists. Who would you cite as the influences behind Midnight Syndicate?

MS:  Musically our influences are film composers like Danny Elfman, John Carpenter, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Hans Zimmer, and James Horner as well as heavy metal artists like Black Sabbath and King Diamond.   I’m also influenced a bit by bands like Sisters of Mercy and Rob Zombie.   For Gavin it would be Dead Can Dance and early Genesis.   Movie sound design and the radio dramas of yesteryear have been a big influence on the Midnight Syndicate sound from the beginning.

Sin: What’s next for Midnight Syndicate?

MS: Gavin and I are at work on a brand new Midnight Syndicate CD we’ll be releasing in August of 2011.   It’s going to have a dark carnival theme with a twist.   After a year or so of post-production and handling the release of “The Dead Matter,” we’re just really excited to be getting back to making another Midnight Syndicate CD.

Find out more about Midnight Syndicate at: www.MidnightSyndicate.com

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