Douglas, Edward (Midnight Syndicate)
In 1999 I had the pleasure of visiting Universal Studios Hollywood’s now-defunct Halloween Horror Nights. One of the featured mazes that year was one created by Clive Barker, a twisted and dark journey into guilt, fear, horror, and all the wonderful things that Barker can do to the human psyche.
One of the main elements of the maze was the music. A mixture of dark horror movie score material and some minor industrial elements, it was just gorgeous stuff that really set the mood. I asked one of the people working outside the maze who it was, and they told me it was a band that Clive chose himself, Midnight Syndicate. I went out within a couple of days and picked up their discs and have been in love ever since. Halloween music and sound effect CD’s come a dime a dozen, but nobody creates living landscapes of sound and music, telling a story without words or plot, like MS.
Prior to the release of their now available new album, The 13th Hour, I contacted one of the two geniuses behind the band, Edward Douglas, to talk about the past, present, and future of Midnight Syndicate.
Mr. Dark: Tell us a little bit about your next project, The 13th Hour. You've decided to return to the story originating on Gates of Delirium about the Haverghast family. After a couple of stand-alone efforts, what drew you back to that story?
Edward Douglas: We’ve always loved the atmosphere and setting of Haverghast Mansion. Up until the new disc Gates of Delirium was Gavin’s favorite Midnight Syndicate CD and pretty high on my list as well. We’d always talked about doing a return to that particular setting. We thought that a further look into the Haverghast family would really open listeners up to a world of new interpretations on both Gates and The 13th Hour. The goal of every Midnight Syndicate disc is to leave the story up to the listeners' imaginations. Back-to-back, these discs will really lay out a wonderfully dark and complex canvas on which to paint that story.
MD: The first time I heard your music was in 1999 at the first Clive Barker maze at Universal's Hollywood Horror Nights. The music stood out so starkly compared to the soundtracks for the other mazes, I asked a worker where I could find it. She pointed me to you, and I've been hooked ever since. You have a unique approach to haunted attractions; you don't require a licensing fee to use your music, only a registration. What lead you to that decision, and how many attractions currently use your music every year? Would you ever be interested in creating a unique score for a haunted attraction?
ED: When we first came on the Haunted Attraction scene in 1997, the only CD's owners had to use were inexpensive sound effects and music tapes that were designed with profit more than quality in mind. From the major amusement parks to the haunter that decorates the house up for trick-or-treaters, we saw a real need for good Halloween music CD's - and so came Born of the Night and what was to follow.
The registry came about as a way to help out the independent and smaller haunts that have to contend with copyright issues when they play existing music. In turn they helped promote us through the poster and other cross-promotional programs.
Over the years Midnight Syndicate has become the most commonly used Halloween music in the haunted attraction/amusement park industries. Since 2001 every major theme park company in America (and many abroad) has licensed our music each year (Universal, Six Flags, Anheuser Busch, Cedar Faire, etc.) This is in addition to hundreds and hundreds of independent haunted attractions, charity haunts, etc., all over the world that use the music as well. We’ve seen a lot more usage of our music overseas in haunts in Hong Kong, the UK, Germany, and Belgium, which is exciting to see since Halloween is still growing in those countries and is nothing like it is here in the U.S.
As far as doing a custom soundtrack, it is definitely something we would consider given the time (which has been hard to come by over the past few years). Ironically we just began talking to Universal Studios Orlando about the possibility of doing a soundtrack for them so it’s definitely a possibility.
MD: We've run the announcement of your involvement with Sin-Jin Smyth on the site. Can you tell us a little more about the film and your involvement in it? How it came about and how it was different from creating your own thematic pieces? Have you been approached by other filmmakers to score in the past, and if so, what made you choose Sin-Jin Smyth?
ED:We have been approached by other filmmakers over the years to score movies. I’d have to say that timing, the right script, and the right crew are really the factors that lead to our involvement with the Sin-jin Smyth project. It’s a very dark and ambient piece with a good story. Additionally the atmospheric nature of the film offers a real opportunity for the score to contribute significantly. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Filming begins the second week of September with new announcements coming in weekly now. (The official website is here, if you’re interested)
Another film project that I’m particularly excited about is the remake of The Dead Matter. Before I started Midnight Syndicate I directed, scored, and co-wrote a full-length horror film called The Dead Matter. Although we had absolutely no budget, the original Dead Matter had a good story and premise that I really believed in. The goal from the beginning was always to remake that film some day and now it looks like that time has come.
In 2004 co-writer Tony Demci and I spent the better part of a year reworking the script. Our partners over at Snap Kick (producers of Sin-Jin Smyth) saw promise in the original film and really liked the rewrite, so they’ve started the ball rolling. We’ve already got some great names in horror interested in the project, so sometime in the not-too-distant future we’ll be making some official announcements as to our plans. I’m very excited. Although I love composing music and Midnight Syndicate would definitely do the soundtrack, the opportunity to direct a film again and work with some of the great people I’ve met in the industry over the years is very exciting for me. The best part is I know that fans of Midnight Syndicate will not be disappointed with the film. When you love watching horror films, you know what you want to see up there on the screen. Lately I’ve just been really disappointed and sometimes amazed at some of the films that are getting funding. With The Dead Matter not only have we had 9 years to figure what worked and didn’t work with the first version, but we’ve just accumulated so much more experience (seen countless more films!). I know that this remake of The Dead Matter will definitely deliver the goods for fans of horror.
MD: Speaking of films, your albums always have a rich theme or even a story to tell, via the music. Have you ever been tempted to translate those stories into films?
ED: It’s really tempting, especially with the world of the Haverghast family that we started in Gates of Delirium and have now explored further with The 13th Hour. I do have storylines and such that run through my head as I listen to those discs.
If we did, I guess we’d have to apply a caveat that this is just one interpretation of the disc because allowing the listeners to interpret the music and create their own movies in their heads is so important, is so much the core of why we do what we do. I would never want my interpretation of what’s happening on a Midnight Syndicate CD to interfere with someone else’s interpretation of what’s going on.
With every passing year we give more and more consideration into developing a live show. If we were to do that, original film would play a large role in the production. I expect that that might be the most likely opportunity to see a visual interpretation of Midnight Syndicate’s CD's as things look now.
MD: When listening to some of the half-hearted music many amazing horror games have had, I've often wished I could replace their soundtracks with yours. Have you ever considered creating interactive projects to correspond with your music? I, for one, would love to wander the halls of Haverghast Asylum!
ED: We would definitely like to score a horror-themed video game at some point. It’s just a matter of finding the right project. Ironically, when our music was used in video games it was not one of our traditional horror themes but some of the fantasy tracks from Dungeons & Dragons. One track was used on Baldur’s Gates 2 for XBox and another for two of the expansion packs for Ubisoft’s Shadowbane online role-playing game.
MD: Horror takes many different shapes and forms. You're really the first artists to create a sense of horror specifically using music to set the mood. How do you go about conjuring up just the right combination of sound to create the atmosphere you're aiming for? Do you ever find it difficult to keep treading new ground while maintaining that mood?
ED: Managing the balance between sound effects and music on our discs is a careful line to walk especially since the blending of those two elements is the basis for our sound.
The 13th Hour is the best Midnight Syndicate disc we’ve ever produced for just that reason. We really feel like we’ve found the perfect blend of sound effects with music on this disc. The result is an audio experience like no other. I really hope that fans will be able to turn out the lights, put on the disc, and just let their minds wander. The mixture of suggestive sounds and themes really puts you in the halls of this Victorian mansion with a sinister history.
MD: So far, your projects have followed a similar thread of fantasy-based, Gothic horror. Is that just where you're most comfortable? Do you think you'll ever branch out to other types of horror moods, perhaps using slightly different styles of music? You've already done that with the Dungeons & Dragons album; I'm wondering if you'll ever take a similar leap in your horror music?
ED: I can definitely see us testing new waters in the future whether it be thematically or stylistically. For years our fans have been asking us to do a haunted carnival disc so the next CD will likely be that in our traditional style. However after that...?
For the past four CD release parties Gavin has designed limited release industrial remixes of tracks from the new album. At some point we will release those. That may allow us to spread our wings stylistically a bit.
MD: Finally, the most important question of all: What's your favorite horror movie?
ED: That’s tough. That’s really tough. There’s so many, the best I can do is name some of my favorites: This Old House, Black Sunday, almost the entire Hammer Films library, Black Sabbath, The Exorcist, The Shining, Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw, Night of the Living Dead, Aliens, House, Sixth Sense, Haunted, The Ring... Recently I really enjoyed The Darkness (it’s the children that get me), and The Devil’s Rejects. I thought Rob just did an awesome job with that one.
I’d like to thank Edward for taking the time to answer my questions during a particularly busy and trying time in his life. The new album is absolutely fantastic, building and improving on everything they’ve done before. Be sure to pick up a copy; you’ll be glad you did.