Interview with Nox Arcana by Diletta Siagianni - (Greece) July 2007
Diletta: My deepest and darkest greetings, Mr. Vargo and Mr. Piotrowski.
Joseph: Darkest wishes to you, Diletta. It is our pleasure to share our thoughts with you and your readers.
I must admit your music has been an inspiration for me so many times, and it comes the time you wonder how you can make such "unearthly" music. I remember the time I first listened to your music at your website and, still, I shiver!
Joseph: I've been drawn to the darkside all of my life. I've always had a fascination with movies and books that concerned anything horrific or supernatural and consider myself to be well-versed in gothic horror and the occult. Throughout my career, I've expressed my dark interests through my artwork and music. I always take my subject matter seriously and strive to capture the exact mood of my theme.
William: With our music, we envision ourselves in the environment that we are creating, whether it is a haunted mansion, an ancient temple, or gothic castles, then we begin writing melodies that capture the same mood. We also select specific musical instruments from the time period for a truly authentic sound.
Diletta: All of your albums contain such mysticism, fantasy and magic in a mixture of demonized paradises like they've been caught in the ocean of darkness behind the veil of the known unknown... In my opinion, however there are bands that make dark music, yours is something so unique that scars your soul. What can you tell me about this straight way your melodies affect the soul and the fact that you provide so much inner "fuss"?
William: We work very hard to convey the exact sensation that you would feel if you stepped into one of these settings. For example, when we were creating the soundscape for Darklore Manor, we wanted the listener to be immersed in haunting music, surrounded by the ghostly whispers of the mansion's long-dead spirits. We also use vocals to create choirs and chanting that echo Latin refrains to convey the idea of ancient evil. On Necronomicon, we utilized Middle-Eastern and Egyptian themes to create a mystical, dark fantasy feeling.
Joseph: For all of our albums, we begin with sounds and melodies that one would expect to hear in a given setting, and then we explore other possibilities and push it to the limits with counter melodies, orchestrations, chanting, vocals and original sound effects. We strive to make each one sound unique, yet still convey its own dark flavor.
Diletta: Talk to me about your lyrics... I have searched and searched to find them on the internet but I couldn't find any. So, unfold me the tales of your words and what you wish to achieve with them through your music.
William: All of our lyrics can be found on our website. Again, each album has its own unique dark tale to tell. On Darklore Manor, the main lyrics are spoken by the narrator, who introduces the listener to the legend of the house as well as the ghosts that haunt the mansion, There is also a creepy nursery rhyme that is recited by the ghost of a small child, and several songs that contain Latin ritual chanting.
Joseph: Our lyrics are written to accentuate the mood and story of our albums. On Necronomicon, the narrator is reading excerpts from the dreaded tome. These descriptive narratives are used as introductions to several songs to explain the various dark deities of the Cthulhu mythos. There are also a few ritual incantations taken directly from Lovecraft's Necronomicon. Winter's Knight included an opening poem that set the scene for a Yuletide ghost story. The concept of the album was about a dark angel that appears each year on the eve of the winter solstice among the ruins of an ancient cathedral deep in the snow-covered woods. The dark spirit tells a tale of hope and redemption to all who would listen. The album also contains two traditional songs with lyrics, "Past Time with Good Company" and "Coventry Carol," which tells the tragic tale of parents who sing a lullaby to put their child to sleep on the night that King Herod sends his armies out to slaughter all newborns. The lyrics on Transylvania act as warnings along a dark journey that takes the listener deep into the lair of the vampire.
Diletta: Your first four albums are about legends and old, old stories that take you back to a past you have never lived but can easily imagine with different ways and pictures and...plot sometimes. What is the connection among them and how did the theme of each one of them come up to your mind?
William: Darklore Manor was an original storyline about a legendary cursed mansion near Salem, Massachusetts. The house was abandoned by its owners and rumors of dark rituals, murder and ghosts surrounded the place. As the story goes, three teenagers entered the house to conduct a seance there forty years ago, and were never heard from again. Darklore Manor takes the listener on a musical journey that tells our version of what may have happened on that fateful night in 1968. After researching the legends, we uncovered some horrific details of events that allegedly took place in the mansion and were inspired to set them to music.
Joseph: Necronomicon and Transylvania were tributes to gothic horror writers H.P. Lovecraft and Bram Stoker. I love Dracula as well as Lovecraft's tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and found my inspiration in the pages of these horror classics. Winter's Knight was another original concept based on a painting I had done several years prior. I had the idea for an album of dark Christmas music for a number of years, but we didn't begin work on it until late 2004. I wanted to create an album for people who were tired of being subjected to all the sappy Christmas carols. We didn't want it to be depressing, just hauntingly beautiful, melancholy and dark. The message is one of hope and redemption.
Diletta: Carnival of Lost Souls "explores a creepy old-time carnival that harbors living nightmares and sinister secrets". Tell me more about this album and its different dark story.
Joseph: This is another original storyline. Most of it comes from our own dark imaginations, but it was also inspired by films like "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao." Many people are frightened by clowns, so a circus atmosphere already has a brooding sense of menace. The storyline centers around an old-fashioned carnival called "The Circus Diabolique" that travels from town to town, leaving a trail of missing children and drifters in its wake. The listener will be surrounded by eerie carnival music and strange sounds from attractions like a haunted carousel, a menagerie of living dolls, gypsy fortune tellers, caged freaks, a theatre of nightmares, a hall of mirrors, snake charmers, an act called The Devil's Daggers, and a relentless ride called the Soul Stealer.
Diletta: Something else I also do admire and love about Nox Arcana is the artwork. So beautiful and enchanting covers "biding" and "embracing" your music. What is the procession until you end up in the final pictures? What feelings do you want them to "plant" in the listener's soul and, of course, your own?
Joseph: We really want to immerse our listeners in our chosen theme, so we put a great deal of work into creating artwork and writing the storyline for our CD booklets. I began my gothic career as an artist and the visual elements really matter when it comes to establishing a complete mood and concept. Our CD booklets are filled with imagery that puts the listener in the mindset of the story and completely surrounds them with dark visual cues.
William: Darklore Manor contains several photos of old dolls and sinister family portraits while Transylvania depicts living gargoyles, Dracula and his ghostly brides, witches and werewolves. Winter's Knight looks like an old illuminated manuscript with sheet music and gothic etchings, whereas Necronomicon contains several illustrated pages from an ancient book of dark rituals. We really believe in giving our fans their money's worth when they buy one of our CDs.
Diletta: Blood of Angels is a maelstrom of haunting music and forbidden passion. Your collaboration with Michelle Belanger, known for her vampire-related writings, created a masterpiece. It's a dark album sending shivers, passionate and mystical. How did you come up with the idea of working with Mrs. Belanger? Tell me more about this special work.
Joseph: I've been friends with Michelle for over ten years and we have both been extremely busy with various creative projects during that time. We discussed collaborating on a music cd a few years ago, but our hectic work schedules did not allow us much time to do anything. We had a one-week window of opportunity in July of 2006, and we just decided to get together in the studio to pool our creative talents. Knowing that our time was so limited, we worked 16 hours a day for the entire week, writing and recording a complete album of songs. We had some basic melodies and Michelle had some lyrics written before we got together, but the majority of the songs were written in the studio. Michelle's concept centers around the legend of the Watcher angels who were condemned to live on Earth after they shared their passions and dark gifts with mortals. The songs convey the beauty of darkness throughout time.
Diletta: Blood of the Dragon is an epic release. Falling kingdoms, dragons, wizards, warriors all make up a legion of darkness. A quite beautiful story to tell through music. The orchestrations and the choir are so powerful and help these legends come to life in the most realistic way. What seduced you so much about this tale?
Joseph: We are both fans of the Sword and Sorcery genre and have always enjoyed films and games that center around this type of epic fantasy. I love the concept of a primal struggle between the forces of light and darkness. We decided to create music that would reflect the power and majesty of a fabled time when dragons ruled the skies and kingdoms were governed by might and magic. The album is very diverse and contains some of our most powerful orchestrations as well as some hauntingly beautiful choir and minstrel pieces. The storyline involves an ancient tale about a quest for a legendary treasure, buried long ago in the caverns of a dragon's lair. In keeping with the concept, the cd also contains a hidden quest, concealed in the music, booklet and disc itself. Once resolved, the quest leads to the fabled Treasure of the Four Crowns.
Diletta: This question goes to your new album, Shadow of the Raven, based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. It's needless to say that Poe's works are of the darkest ones ever and can be a great inspiration for music compositions. What do you like about his works? How can he be related to your music and is there going to be a choir, too?
Joseph: Poe was an amazing writer. "The Raven" is my favorite poem. It is a fantastic work that tells a romantic and morbid tale of lost love. In the end, Poe is left beneath the shadow of the raven, to live out his remaining days in darkness and gloom. Some of his stories are very strange, but his tales of horror are realistically chilling. I love the way he portrays murderous madmen who spend most of their time trying to convince the reader that they are not insane. "The Tell-tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado" are two of my favorite tales. Poe was truly a tormented soul who had endured much tragedy in his life, and his writing is a dark reflection of his reality. With "Shadow of the Raven" we wanted to capture the brooding darkness and melancholia that overshadowed Poe's life. The music is very haunting in a Victorian style, with several piano and harpsichord pieces. There are also some very ominous orchestrated pieces that reflect a sense of menace and mounting tension. The choirs are used as ghostly background vocals to represent mournful laments of undead spirits, such as "Annabel Lee," and "Lenore."
Diletta: Where do you compose your music, where do you have the inspiration of the lyrics and the whole magic? What is your psychological condition when "the idea comes your way and meets you"?
Joseph: We each come up with basic melodies separately, but the real magic happens when we begin working together in the studio. We try out various instruments and melody and key changes and flesh out the songs from their original skeletons. It's a great collaboration. But we are both very critical about what makes it onto our CDs and we've axed a number of completed tracks because we felt that they weren't exactly what we wanted.
William: Of course, it helps that we own our own studio, so we don't have to rush while we're composing. It's a very relaxed working environment and we have a wide variety of instruments at our disposal to bring out the full potential in each song. The studio is also adorned with lots of gothic imagery such as Joseph's prints and gothic sculptures. Since we spend so much time working there, the studio environment is very important to us and we make the atmosphere as moody and inspirational as possible.
Diletta: Is there one title of your songs that could wholly describe your path till now? Or does one of those legends touch your soul with a special way?
Joseph: All of our music is so varied in style and theme that it would be impossible for me to select one particular piece to represent our entire body of work to date.
William: One title that comes to mind as an anthem is one of my favorite tracks from Darklore Manor, "No Rest for the Wicked." That kind of sums up our work ethic. Most bands these days put out an album, then go on tour to promote it, then after a couple of years, they come up with eight new songs for a new album. We really work hard to put out high quality albums at a steady pace, giving our fans something new to look forward to every six or eight months. Often, before one album has even been released, we go right into working on the next. In fact we already have some great tracks written for our next two releases after Shadow of the Raven.
Diletta: How do you promote your music in the world? I bet it's a bit hard to play those masterpieces live but I would really like to know, how there are people that worship your music all around the world.
Joseph: Yes. Our fans are extremely loyal and enthusiastic and since our music is not sold in many conventional record stores, they seek them out in the various smaller stores throughout the world. Many of them buy the CDs directly from our website.
Diletta: How Bram Stoker's Dracula did inspire you? It's my favourite vampire film, the best made ever, so gothic and blood-curdling, it's like it forces you walk and live with the characters. What other films mean so much to you and to your music?
Joseph: I agree. Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of our favorite films and it has a terrific soundtrack by Wojciech Kilar. I also love The Crow, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Halloween, The Omen, The 13th Warrior, and The Lord of The Rings trilogy. These films all have great soundtracks as well.
William: I think that Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the most artistic and authentically gothic films that I have ever seen. No matter how many time I watch that movie, I still find something new. Aside from Stoker's novel, Coppola's film was a big inspiration for us while we were working on Transylvania.
Diletta: "I have crossed oceans of time to find you". As you surely know, a line from Dracula. How do you interpret the meaning? What would you do for your own "fatal love"?
Joseph: Dracula refers to abandoning his faith and completely surrendering to the dark in order to attain immortality in the quest to find his one true love reincarnate. I am a romantic at heart, so I would do anything short of murder and selling my own soul for my true love. No personal sacrifice would be too great.
Diletta: Do all those legends for you exist? Opinions collide and there is so much saying... I think those who do not accept them are those too realists that are stuck on a bear reality with so many vacant and empty ideas. If they do exist, what are their roles in our nowadays world and history?
Joseph: I believe that all legends have a certain basis in truth. There are still many things that we don't fully understand, and perhaps we cannot even comprehend some of the greatest mysteries of the universe, but that doesn't mean that certain things don't exist.
William: Whether someone believes the legends truly exist or not, I feel that it is our job to make them seem as authentic and real as possible through our music and the artwork that accompanies each of our CDs. While they are listening to our music we want to surround them in a mood-drenched atmosphere and immerse them in a story that is as realistic as their imagination will allow.
Diletta: Do you think that if present and past unite... the world will change? I mean, it seems that nowadays we are all so close-minded in comparison with the past, and this is not natural..! We seem to deny all those facts that are out of reality and stay attached to the limit, there that our minds cannot pass through to discover new horizons.
Joseph: I do agree that the world has changed quite a bit during my lifetime, and unfortunately many of these changes have not been for the better. Yes, many people are very close-minded and it seems like there are others who control them like mindless livestock. America in particular has suffered greatly during the Bush regime, but no matter how many moronic and harmful decisions this idiot makes, there are still millions of people who follow him blindly as he leads them around in the dark.
Diletta: Do you have the face of the "raven dark count" only when you have to compose music or you're just like this even in your everyday life?
Joseph: We adopt a different persona for the portraits that grace each of our albums. The photos in Necronomicon and Winter's Knight are what we look like normally. The others are just different dark fantasy personalities that reside deep within the shadows of our souls.
Diletta: There is so much prejudice about the dark and gothic world. What is your say about those opinions? Because I live in this world, too and I think that we gothicans are the actual humans and not those who are against us. Everything touches us, moves us and makes us curious about exploring, discovering and creating more and more each time.
Joseph: You are exactly right. Most goths are intellectuals who enjoy reading, writing, and creating art, music and poetry. Because this isn't normal in today's society, they are misunderstood and maligned by the popular majority. I think that once you cease to be curious about the world and life's events, then you cease living and simply exist from day to day. We love being creative and exploring the depths of our own imaginations, especially the shadowy areas.
Diletta: How important is poetry to you? It makes me furious that many people characterize poetry as something silly and vacant. And it is fills me with woe that those people seem to increase and don't even care about it.
Joseph: Most people haven't been exposed to a lot of classic poetry, so they dismiss all poetry as trivial. This is unfortunate. Most of today's great poets are virtually unknown unless they write song lyrics. I really enjoy good poetry. I love the works of Edgar Allan Poe. "The Raven" is my favorite poem of his, but he has so many other great melancholy pieces. Lord Byron is another one of my favorite classical gothic poets.
Diletta: I was just looking at Monolith Graphics and it sent me shivers down my spine! Tell me more about Madame Endora's Fortune Cards and The Gothic Tarot! Also about Mr. Vargo's Tales From The Dark Tower and the gothic fantasy art book Born of the Night.
Joseph: I established Monolith Graphics in 1991 as an outlet to distribute my artwork on posters, calendars and t-shirts. The business has grown steadily ever since, and over the years we've branched out into the realms of music and literature.
In 2000, we published Tales From The Dark Tower, an illustrated collection of 13 gothic tales based on characters in some of my most popular works. The book includes stories of vampires, ghosts and other things that go bump in the night, all set in and around a haunted gargoyle-encrusted castle known as the Dark Tower. Each of the 13 stories stands alone, yet they all fit together, weaving back and forth throughout the centuries to create the saga of the curse that overshadows the Dark Tower.
The Gothic Tarot is a complete set of 78 Tarot cards featuring vampires, gargoyles, dark angels and ghosts. All of the cards of the Major and Minor Arcana are illustrated. Madame Endora began as a regular feature in Dark Realms Magazine and became quite popular. About a year after the Gothic Tarot was released, I worked with Christine Filipak on the The Madame Endora Fortune Cards. The set of 48 cards features Christine's artwork and combines many of the concepts from ancient cultures, mythology and lore. Both The Gothic Tarot and Madame Endora decks have been very well received by Tarot enthusiasts around the world.
My art book, Born of the Night, contains over 100 gothic images that had been previously featured in calendars and posters, as well as other paintings and sketches from my private collection.
Diletta: What does Nosferatu and all the darkened night creatures mean to you?
Joseph: I love vampires. They embody the allure of the darkside. I really think that many of my paintings of night creatures are manifestations of things that dwell in the shadowy recesses of the human mind. They represent unbridled emotions such as fear and lust on their most primal levels. No matter how intellectual or advanced we become, these feelings stay with us and remain buried deep within each of us. It's not wrong to fantasize about these things. I think that it's just part of human nature.
Diletta: And last question... Will you ever come to Greece for a fable meeting? We'll be really proud of it!
William: We are so busy right now that we wouldn't be able to plan a tour or trip for at least two or more years. But if and when we make it there, we'd love to get together with you.
Diletta: I would really like to thank you from the depths of my black heart for accepting my invitation. It was an honor talking to you both. You may close this interview as you wish.
Joseph: You are most welcome. Thank you for the opportunity to reach your readers.