Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Marsh Eyes, Madness and Rock Opera: An Interview with Mike Dalager

Music and horror often collide, and the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival will be no exception. Among those coming to the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, California from September 26-28th will be Mike Dalager, the visionary behind the ambitious musical, "Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera."

We had a chance to catch up with him to discuss his methods, madness and the macabre and more.

You can visit the Witch House yourself at: http://witchhouserocks.com
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you first become interested in the work of H.P.Lovecraft?

I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii in the late 1970s and early 80s, the son of parents who really nurtured my interests in art and music. My dad was in the Navy and out at sea quite a bit, and when he was away I had an uncle who used to take me to watch science fiction and horror movies, rated "R" stuff that I was way too young to be watching.

Mom never knew that both my dad and uncle were exposing me to John Carpenter's THE THING and Ridley Scott's ALIEN well before my teens. Both of those movies have Lovecraftian roots, and I grew to love the genre without even knowing that H.P. Lovecraft was the man behind it all. It wasn't until 2004 when I was cast in Sean Branney and Andrew Leman's silent movie adaptation of THE CALL OF CTHULHU that I began to truly familiarize myself with the works of HPL. He's now one of my all time favorite writers, and I gravitate to his section in the bookstore whenever I go, hoping to find something I haven't read. I've still a ways to go in his catalog!

What's your favorite H.P. Lovecraft story?

The first story I fully read was "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and it left a big impression on me. With my Hawaii roots, I naturally enjoyed the tale's seaside setting and the concept of humans evolving back to life's aquatic beginnings. The idea of living beneath the sea certainly has a romanticism about it, and with a childhood spent half on land and half at the beaches and harbors of Oahu, I felt more like a Deep One than the story's human protagonist, Robert Olmstead. It remains my favorite HPL story by far.

What inspired you to take on Dreams in the Witch House as a rock opera? Was it difficult enlisting others to help you in this undertaking?

As soon as I read "The Dreams in the Witch House" in 2011, I couldn't help but envision theatrical pictures in my mind. I had spent nearly 20 years performing on stages around the world, touring on Broadway National Tours and internationally in Stockholm, Sweden. That span of time fully devoted to performing led to a desire to produce, and after producing a string of small Musical productions in Stockholm, I felt it was time to aim for something big and ambitious. I had built a great relationship with a small Recording Studio in Stockholm called Platform Studio, founded by two extremely talented and genuine friends, Anders Ringman and Chris Laney. Both Anders and Chris are well known music producers in Sweden, with nearly twenty years in the business.

With Sweden's healthy Heavy Metal and Rock scene and own history of epic folklore, I knew that my pitching a Lovecraftian Rock Opera wouldn't be scoffed at. The contrary occurred, and Chris Laney brought in a legend in the Swedish Music Industry, Lennart Östlund of infamous Polar Studios. He's worked with recording industry giants Led Zeppelin, Abba and Genesis, to name a few. 

Once Chris, Anders, Lennart and I got to work building the Rock Opera, I approached Sean Branney and Andrew Leman of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, whom I worked for at the time. I had already produced a highly unique music product with them, the parody album, "Ogham Waite - Live at the Gilman House Lounge", which had been received quite well by the Society's fan base, and as soon as I played a couple of raw sample tracks developed for the Rock Opera, Sean and Andrew were in and all systems were a go. From then on, it was all about continued development, momentum, project enthusiasm, financing and tenacity.

Over the project's 2 year production period, I was obsessed to drive the project home to conclusion no matter what the challenge, and there were many along the way. Passion projects don't find the finish line without some pain along the way. It was all worth it.

What's been some of the Mythos news exciting you lately?

I'm most excited to see Kevin McTurk's newest Lovecraft inspired puppet film, THE MILL AT CALDER'S END. He just released a teaser trailer for it, and it completely blew my mind. Your readers can view the trailer at this link: https://vimeo.com/103773552

What do you see as some of the toughest challenges in bringing forth a Lovecraftian vision from the Cthulhu Mythos?

I'm no expert on the topic, but I think the primary challenge is in fleshing out Lovecraft's conceptual realms and transforming them into the physical. Reading Lovecraft requires imagination and commitment, because he mainly provides a framework for his visionary horror. The reader is tasked to fill in all the voids. Whether Lovecraft did this intentionally or unintentionally, no one knows, but I've often wondered if Lovecraft himself was so horrified by his own dreams that he didn't dare fully explore and re-experience them through his writing. He provides bits and pieces, and in a sense, the reader becomes the protagonist behind the protagonist, puzzle-piecing the horrors together. It's a fully interactive experience, and that's what I've grown to appreciate the most. Lovecraft builds a movie in my mind, and he's taken me to alien lands like no other. How to translate those realms for others to experience via an extension of the Mythos is the uncracked code, and no one has totally nailed it yet because the Mythos is so personal to each reader. Music, however, offers a listener a similar experience in interpretation as literature does.

Listening to a Lovecraft tale becomes an interactive experience, allowing one to build pictures in their mind. Melody, dynamic, and the emotional power of a singer's interpretation allowed "Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera" to melodically marinate in the Mythos in a powerful way. The mind's eye is quite capable at building Lovecraftian realms, and music has the power to paint ultra vibrant pictures.

What's the strangest dream you've had lately?

We've got a really amazing intellectual property lawyer attached to the Rock Opera named Heidy, and I recently had a dream where I met with her in a public place and in the middle of the meeting I realized I was only wearing boxer briefs. I thought deeply on this and decided that the root of the dream was my reflection on how exposed one feels by taking huge risks. This project took everything I had, even my last pair of pants apparently.

This year, the theme is "Shadows Over Innsmouth." What was the big takeaway lesson from that story for you?

I'm of mixed ethnicity, born on a very unique place on earth in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Growing up I was surrounded by half-breeds like myself, exposing me to numerous cultures, languages and traditions on a daily basis. It can be argued that "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" is a reflection of Lovecraft's fears of the time and place he lived. Exotic looking people most likely intrigued him, whether he admitted it or not. I guess it can be argued that I've got the true Marsh eyes, having a mother from the Philippines and a Swedish-Norwegian father from Minnesota. From my perspective on life, the takeaway lesson for me is that as time passes and cultures merge, the world will become Innsmouth and we'll all have the true Marsh eyes.

In the fine lyrical words of my Gilman House Lounge alter ego, Ogham Waite, "When you've got the true Marsh eyes, rejoice a little."

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