Space Junkies Magazine, Canada, January 2006
Interview with Nox Arcana by Wednesday Elektra
n the dead of night, lost souls wander and haunt abandoned mansions, mist-shrouded cemeteries, and ancient ruins. Welcome to the shadowy realm of fantasy artist Joseph Vargo, whose gothic visions are brought to life through art, and further echoed in the music of Nox Arcana. Vargo and fellow musician William Piotrowski explain how they combine their talents to create music from the shadows for creatures of the night.
How have you gone about shaping Nox Arcana's sound, style and image of the band? What do you try to get across to the music listeners and fans in all three areas?
Joseph: I enjoy many different styles of music. In my younger days, I mainly listened to rock and heavy metal, but I also enjoyed some classical and new age music. I began collecting movie soundtrack music when I was in my late teens. I bought a vinyl copy of Jerry Goldsmith's award-winning soundtrack to The Omen. The music was dark and classical with these great gothic choirs performing what sounded like ritual chanting. After that I began collecting movie scores by horror film soundtrack composers like John Carpenter, Danny Elfman, and Wojciech Kilar. As with my former musical project, the sound of Nox Arcana incorporates the best of this style of haunting and dark symphonic music. We create concept albums that immerse our listeners in a dark soundscape of gothic dreams and nightmares. When we set our mind on a specific theme, we utilize specific instruments and musical styles to convey it. We also write and recite some creepy narratives and background stories, and create artwork that further conveys the chosen theme. The band photos are also directed to fit the specific concept in order to subliminally convey the idea that we-the ones who orchestrated this musical journey-have also immersed ourselves in this dark fantasy setting.
William: We also do a lot of research on our chosen subject matter, be it a legendary haunted house, or the works of authors like Bram Stoker or H.P. Lovecraft. We want each release to be informative as well as entertaining and to contain authentic, detailed background information about the history and setting of each theme we are exploring. If the listener chooses to create their own scenarios while listening to our music, that's fine too.
You seem to have a good grasp on public relations, so what are the most important aspects a band must have in order to be, at least, semi-successful? Is there truth in the saying "image is everything"?
Joseph: Image isn't everything, but it is a major contributing factor to a band's success. As a visual artist, I want to create interesting work that conveys the most aesthetic appeal. So many bands pour everything they have into making their cds sound as good as they can, and then don't put an ounce of effort into making their packaging look the slightest bit appealing. I don't understand the reasoning behind that way of thinking. I guess it's just laziness, but it directly affects album sales. If your cd doesn't have anything interesting on its cover, then no one will be motivated to pick it up. And if someone does buy your cd, then I think you should give them some information about the band and the concept behind the music in the liner notes. This is how you gain fans. In this day of digital downloads, I think you should make your cd look as cool and appealing as you can, sort of as an added incentive or a reward for people who lay down their hard-earned cash to buy your product.
What's your background history in music as well as in art?
Joseph: I've played the piano since I was ten. Later, in my teens and early twenties, I sang in several rock and metal bands. Throughout the years, I've written music and lyrics for more than 100 original songs. In 1998, I devised a gothic soundtrack concept album and brought it to life with a local Cleveland band called Midnight Syndicate. I directed and produced Born of the Night, based on my gothic artwork, and later worked on a follow-up album titled Realm of Shadows. A few years later I formed my new band, Nox Arcana, with William. We've released four cds since 2003, Darklore Manor, Necronomicon, Winter's Knight and Transylvania, and are currently wrapping up our latest album, Carnival of Lost Souls.
As far as my art training is concerned, I've been drawing ever since I can remember. I majored in art in high school, and after graduation I attended the Cleveland Institute of Art to study fine art and painting. I became disillusioned by the school's curriculum, and left after one semester. After that, I taught myself how to paint with oils and acrylics. By 1991, I had amassed a fairly large portfolio of fantasy artwork, and I began my own company, Monolith Graphics to publish and distribute prints of my own design.
William: I've been studying rock and classical music theory since I was 15. My first musical project was to score a video production called "Ghosts of Ohio." The soundtrack basically consisted of 5 or 6 creepy background melodies, but it received some acclaim. Joseph and I share similar interests in music and we formed Nox Arcana soon afterward.
What are some of the projects you've created throughout the years and do you have any other projects that are currently in the works?
Joseph: My primary creative outlet is my artwork, which has been published in every form imaginable, from t-shirts, posters and calendars, to book, magazine and cd covers. I've also illustrated the gothic anthology Tales from the Dark Tower, as well as writing several stories for the collection. In 2002, I created The Gothic Tarot, which features 78 images of vampires, gargoyles, ghosts, dark angels, and other creatures of the night. I also have had book of my artwork published, Born of the Night: The Gothic Fantasy Artwork of Joseph Vargo, which contains over 100 of my most popular paintings and drawings.
As far as Nox Arcana is concerned, we are currently putting the finishing touches on our new cd, Carnival of Lost Souls, which is centered around a creepy, old-time carnival that harbors living nightmares and sinister secrets. The music ranges from haunting carousel music to macabre marches along with eerie vignettes from the denizens of the circus. As soon as Carnival of Lost Souls is complete, we'll begin work on our next cd. In the meantime, I'll be writing, editing and creating new artwork for the sequel to Tales from the Dark Tower, which will be titled Beyond the Dark Tower.
William: Our music was recently used to create a new score to the classic 1922 silent film Nosferatu. The new version was produced and broadcast by horror movie host, Dr. Gangrene who has a syndicated show on the WB. We also get a lot of requests from independent producers and student filmmakers who want to use our music in their movies. Our Necronomicon cd is also sold by Chaosium Games and has been their top selling soundtrack Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.
How much of the band and everything encapsulating it are you involved in? Do you do everything from the artwork to the promotion to the writing of the music, or do you have a tight network of people helping you out in the different areas?
Joseph: Admittedly, I'm a hands-on control freak. I'm very involved in every aspect of the band, from conception to completion. I write and perform the music and vocals and work closely with William to mix and master our albums. William also writes and performs our music, in addition to being the hands-on engineer. All the while the music is coming together, we're hammering out the details of the story line, lyrics and album artwork. I create original artwork for each album cover, and once the music is finished, I work with graphic designer Christine Filipak to put the cd packaging together. All the Nox Arcana cds come with a multi-paged booklet filled with creepy stories, poems and original artwork. Once the disc is shipped off to the manufacturer we work on the advertising campaign, which consists of creating one-sheets, catalog and magazine ads, and various internet promotions. Christine handles the marketing with our distributors and music licensors.
What's the blood and guts of Nox Arcana's sound? What type of instruments, programs and/or other do you use to create your masterpieces?
William: We both play the piano and I play guitar, violin and mandolin as well. We also use Yamaha and Roland keyboards, as well as several computer programs to edit, mix and master our own music. We primarily use MOTU Digital Performer for mixing and Bias Peak for mastering. I've worked with other studio systems, but I find these programs to be the most efficient and easiest to use.
Joseph: We record our own vocals using a lot of multi-tracking and layering effects to achieve our chanting and gothic choirs. We've also worked with several guest vocalists on various albums, including occult author Michelle Belanger. We also record and create our own sound effects like thunder, wolves, bats and various other sound bites.
Give us a brief rundown of all of Nox Arcana's past music releases and where can our readers go to hear samples from them?
Joseph: All of our cds are concept albums. Our first cd, Darklore Manor, which was released in 2003, took listeners on a tour through a legendary haunted house near Salem, Massachusetts. The old Victorian mansion has a sinister history, and as the stories go, the place stood abandoned for several years, but was once owned by a family who practiced black magic. Other rumors surrounding the house tell of dark occult rituals, ghosts, missing children and even murder. The music ranges from haunting music box melodies and eerie piano and harpsichord pieces, to fully orchestrated songs with pipe organs and ominous chanting.
In 2004, we released Necronomicon, a dark opus that pays tribute to horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. While retaining our gothic influences, the music was more mystical and fantasy-oriented, exploring Egyptian and Middle Eastern themes in addition to ominous gothic choirs and orchestrations.
Our third cd, Winter's Knight was a musical ghost story for the holiday season. In addition to our usual pianos, harpsichords, pipe organs and orchestra strings, we utilized some different instruments like acoustic guitars and mandolins to achieve a medieval minstrel sound. We also wrote and recorded dark Gregorian hymns, and included gothic renditions of some traditional carols with different guest vocalists.
Our fourth album, Transylvania, was released Halloween 2005. The music was inspired by Bram Stoker's novel Dracula and incorporates a heavy classical gothic sound with an Eastern European flair. There are the pounding and ominous sounds of drums and Latin chanting along with some exotic gypsy music. The vocals range from, solemn recitations to ghostly female wraiths to ominous gothic choirs. Although horrific at times, the music is also very romanticized, creating a full-blooded soundtrack of gothic dreams and nightmares. We've gotten some great reviews, and even more important, we've gotten terrific response from our fans.
Nox Arcana's music is hard to classify. You seem to fall somewhere between the "Goth" and "Soundtrack" categories of music. Will there be any future releases from Nox Arcana that will completely step over these two boundaries, or are you content with the music that you are and have been creating?
Joseph: Nox Arcana's music is definitely Gothic in a classic sense, but we've also ventured into other musical realms as well. First, not all of our songs are instrumental pieces. Winter's Knight, for example, has a handful of tracks that feature singing, and as we mentioned earlier, we've worked with different guest vocalists on our various releases. Some of our music has been played on rock radio stations, as well as at various Halloween attractions and Renaissance Fairs. Our music is much more diverse than the categories you mentioned, and although we won't stray too far from our roots, we'll be exploring some new musical styles on our future releases.
What Can you tell us about your company Monolith Graphics?
Joseph: I started the company in 1991, manufacturing and selling a few art prints and t-shirts as well as calendars and stationery at local shops and Renaissance fairs. In 1992, graphic designer Christine Filipak came on board and our line of merchandise continued to grow. Later we began producing gothic music cds, and even branched into creating new products ranging from sculpture to fortune telling cards. To date, the Monolith line of merchandise consists of posters, t-shirts, tarot cards, calendars, music cds, writing journals, books, postcards and stickers, which we produce and distribute worldwide. We also publish Dark Realms Magazine, a critically acclaimed publication that explores the shadows of art, music and culture. The magazine has reviews of movies, books and cds, and features that cover a variety of goth-oriented topics such as fashion, hauntings, mysticism and the occult. Dark Realms also showcases the works of up-and-coming artists to help them gain recognition and exposure. For more information, visit our website: MonolithGraphics.com.
Do you have any advice to share with other musicians that may be reading this interview about life as an artist and all the hardships you must endure?
Joseph: If you really want to be successful, you have to be committed to working hard and doing whatever it takes to achieve your goal. It's that simple. Of course imagination and creativity also play a big part in being successful, but I think the biggest misconception about working in creative fields like art, music, and writing is that there isn't any discipline involved. The truth is that you can only get so far on raw talent, and every professional artist and musician will tell you that they practiced and trained very hard for a long time to get to where they are. Likewise, good writers always go through several drafts and edits before they finish any story.
Also, don't get discouraged by rejection or constructive criticism, just take it in stride and work harder at honing your skills. Life has a funny way of presenting opportunities, so make sure that you're prepared to go for it when opportunity knocks. Never let go of your dreams and never lose sight of your goal.
What are some of your favorite dark bands and horror films?
Joseph: As far as dark musical artists are concerned, I like Lordi, Rob Zombie, and older Alice Cooper. I love horror films. Some of my favorites are The Crow, Halloween, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Pumpkinhead, Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Sleepy Hollow. Most of these films have great soundtracks as well.
William: I really liked the story and stylish look of The Ring. Although not technically classified as horror films, The 13th Warrior and The Lord of the Rings trilogy both have phenomenal soundtracks and are among my favorite movies with darker themes.
Do you have anything planned for Halloween?
Joseph: Just a human sacrifice with the members of a secret blood cult. Actually, I'm not kidding. I orchestrate these elaborate Halloween parties at my house every year, and completely redecorate my home to fit the theme. In the past, my guests have been invited to explore a Lovecraftian insane asylum, a haunted Victorian mansion cursed by witches, and even Edgar Allen Poe's sinister House of Usher. This year's theme involved a group of psychics who have been invited to an abandoned mansion in which several grisly murders took place years ago. The house was once owned by a secret occult society known as the Crimson Order. The party guests get hypnotically regressed back through time and must explore the mansion along with ghosts from the past. Guided by a mysterious masked figure known only as the Elder, they search each room for clues, unlocking dark secrets along the way. If they're lucky, they just might make it out alive.
How can our readers get in touch with you and where can they go online to check out Nox Arcana?
Joseph: The Nox Arcana website (http://www.noxarcana.com) has music samples, as well as band info and the dark legends of Darklore Manor and the Necronomicon. There's also an online store where people can buy cds and t-shirts. The Monolith website offers all of the other products I mentioned, including tarot cards, books and prints of my artwork. Our products are also available at a lot of occult shops and new age boutiques as well as Hot Topic stores. Spencer's Gifts has introduced a new line of movie-sized posters of my artwork.
William: People can also correspond with us in our online forum. We check it often and answer questions from members. There are also areas where they can discuss movies, books, and post poetry of their own. It's a gothic sanctuary for creative minds to explore the darkside.
Thank-you for this interview! Do you have any final last thoughts or other information you'd like to share with our readers?
You're welcome. We really appreciate all the support of our fans and we love hearing their comments and feedback. We read every letter and email, and answer as many questions and requests as we can, so keep those letters coming.