Scoring Horror: An Interview with MIDNIGHT SYNDICATE
An Interview with Midnight Syndicate
By Barry Lee Dejasu
Walk into almost any haunted attraction, and you’re bound to hear eerie music playing in the background, often accompanied by screaming victims, clanking chains, monstrous howls and assorted other sound effects. Compilations of such soundtracks are widely available for this entertainment market, but there are few groups that exist solely to create such music. One of the most prolific and hard-working groups in this field is Ohio-based Midnight Syndicate.
Comprised of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka, the group specializes in creating gothic horror soundtracks to films that exist not in the cinematic medium, but through the images that they invoke in the mind of the listener—and almost exclusively through synthesized orchestrations, keyboard melodies and sparing uses of atmospheric sound effects. To date, they have produced fourteen releases, including two compilation albums, a collaboration with singer Destini Beard, an official soundtrack for the classic role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, and the scores to two films, THE RAGE (2007) and THE DEAD MATTER (2009), the latter of which was also directed by Edward Douglas.
Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka were kind enough to share their thoughts on their take on this medium, and in particular, their influences and inspirations of horror cinema.
Have either of you ever considered making one of your albums into a film (or having one made by others)?
Douglas: It’s come up a lot over the years. The idea behind Midnight Syndicate has always been that the music is designed for the listener to come up with their own ideas for what is going on in a certain song or disc. That’s a really important part of what we’re all about—escapism. If we did a film we’d want to be careful not to proclaim it as the “official” interpretation of a disc. That being said, I’ve always wanted to do a film on the Haverghast Asylum and family members (featured on the Gates of Delirium and The 13th Hour CDs).
Let’s say such a thing happened: would you score a whole new soundtrack, or would you oversee that the film be “truncated” to fit the existing album?
Douglas: Interesting question. I definitely think we’d score a whole new soundtrack and work in some material from the original CD when possible. Music is such a critical part to any movie. If we were making a movie (any movie), I would want the score to elevate the film as much as possible. The score needs to serve the film’s needs first and foremost. That means crafting the score around the story, characters, and action of the film, once it’s pieced together. I would never want to “force” existing music in to that. Although the music can sound similar—writing a score to a film and writing for a Midnight Syndicate album are very different.
Goszka: I agree about scoring a new soundtrack. I think it would be more difficult to try and develop a film around an existing album. Bringing in existing themes, as Ed mentioned, is always an option, but I think we’d want to let the film itself guide the music rather than the other way around.
What are some stories/themes/locations you’d like to visit in future albums?
Douglas: There’s so many worlds we have yet to explore—that’s exciting. I see us doing a CD geared towards Lovecraft (although we touch on that in The 13th Hour). We’ve also had fans asking for a Christmas-themed disc since we started, so that’s just a matter of time. Steampunk, werewolves, other fantasy settings, a horror sci-fi, the world of Poe… I could go on and on.
With the Dungeons & Dragons album, you created a soundtrack to a role-playing game. Do you have any plans for any other non-film scores, maybe to a video game or even a novel?
Douglas: Absolutely. We had some of our music used in Baldur’s Gate 2: Dark Alliancefor X-Box and the online role-playing game, Shadowbane. Scoring videogames is definitely something we would like to do more of in the future. It’s funny you mention it, because putting our music to a novel and a board game is something we are in talks with a company about doing right now. Hopefully we’ll have something to announce on that front this year.
Will you be scoring other films in the near future?
Douglas: Yes, we begin work on the score to BUNYAN this June. BUNYANis a great, fun film directed by Gary Jones (XENA, BOOGEYMAN 3) that’s a dark contemporary take on the Paul Bunyan legend. It’s got Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty) in there, along with Joe Estevez and some other genre veterans. A cool film which will definitely stretch us into new areas, musically.
Douglas: I’d love to direct again. The fan response and reviews for THE DEAD MATTERhave been great and that has set us up to do another one. At this point, it’s just going to be determining when the best time will be. 2012 is an extremely busy year for us between the scoring, a new Midnight Syndicate CD, and other projects. Music is always our primary focus but I do hope to direct again soon.
With THE DEAD MATTER, you released both an official motion picture soundtrack as well as an album called Cemetery Gates. What was the “idea” of this album?
Douglas: The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gatesis like any other regular Midnight Syndicate CD, only for the theme, we pulled from the elements in THE DEAD MATTERmovie (cemeteries, the living dead, vampires, Egyptian relics, etc.). Looking back I wished we had called it simply Cemetery Gatesas I think we caused a lot of confusion over the title (people thought it was the actual soundtrack to the movie). Still Cemetery Gateshas become one of our most successful and critically-acclaimed discs. It spawned our first two music videos (Dark Legacy and Lost) and was just a really fun disc to work on.
Goszka: Working on the album’s bonus tracks was a treat as well. We’ve had limited-edition remixes of our music available at some of our CD release parties in the past, but it was nice to finally make one of these remixes available as part of an “official” album. It was also great to explore some of my rock/industrial leanings a bit in a way that was completely keyed in to the film.
If you could re-do the score any already-existing genre film, which would you choose, and why? (Particularly older, pre-1970s, films?)
Douglas: Perhaps the (1931) DRACULA. That would be fun because there wasn’t music on the original release. I would like to take a stab at the original THE OLD DARK HOUSEas well. I love those old black and white films for their atmosphere.
Goszka: Definitely the original THE HAUNTING (1963) for me. That film was all about subtlety and suggestion and I think it would be a great challenge to create a soundtrack that could be effectively creepy without becoming too obvious or overbearing.
There are numerous films currently in development, such as the PET SEMATARY remake, an adaptation of Guillermo Del Toro’s THE STRAIN, the INSIDIOUS sequel, etc. If you had first dibs on scoring any of them, which would you do, why, and what would you bring to them?
Douglas: All of those sound awesome. Pet Semataryis one of my favorite Stephen King books and favorite movies, Del Toro is absolutely amazing, and the paranormal horror theme of the INSIDIOUSfranchise couldn’t be more up Midnight Syndicate’s alley. I would love to work with Hammer Films. The Hammer Films of the 50s-70s were a huge influence for me creatively. To work with that company at anytime would be a thrill. I’ve loved all of the films they’ve put out recently. WAKE WOOD was so good!
Goszka: I’ve been keeping my eye on the film adaptation of Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. Caroline Thompson (A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, etc.) has signed on as the screenwriter, which couldn’t possibly be more perfect. I literally could not put that book down—I think I finished it in something like six hours, which was certainly a personal record! It offers a darker take on the realms of Faery, and I think its atmosphere would be a real treat to explore musically.
Would you like to add anything else?
Douglas: I’d like to invite people to visit us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/midnightsyndicate) or on our site. 2012 is going to be a busy year for us, with lots of cool releases (including a new CD, a new Destini Beard CD, a re-release of THE DEAD MATTER, and more). Our latest CD, Carnival Arcane has received a lot of accolades lately, which is cool. I’d invite people who aren’t familiar with us to check it out (especially if you enjoy carnivals, the Victorian era, or SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES).
Midnight Syndicate Discography:
Carnival Arcane (2011)
Halloween Music Collection (2010)
The Dead Matter: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2010)
The Dark Masquerade (with Destini Beard) (2010)
The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates (2008)
The Rage: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2008)
Out of the Darkness (Retrospective: 1994-1999) (2006)
The 13th Hour (2005)
Dungeons & Dragons: Official Roleplaying Soundtrack (2003)
Vampyre: Symphonies From the Crypt (2002)
Gates of Delirium (2001)
Realm of Shadows (2000)
Born of the Night (1998)
Midnight Syndicate (1997)
Interview © Copyright 2012 by Barry Lee Dejasu