If you’re into classic horror stories by HP Lovecraft and never thought that a faithful Rock Opera could ever be adapted from one of his creepy tales, think again!
Back during San Diego Comic Con in 2014, a new rock opera concept album based on HP Lovecraft’s 1932 tale “The Dreams in the Witch House” was announced. The story centers on a young math whiz who discovers a trans-dimensional portal to other worlds via Non Euclidean Geometry. The dark secrets of an ancient witch, who torments the residents of an old Arkham, Massachusetts, live in a twisted tenement known as the Witch House. There’s a slew of cameos by some of Lovecraft’s other characters, “Nyarlathotep” a.k.a “The Crawling Chaos,” the Cosmic Entity “Azathoth,” and “Brown Jenkin”, a half man, half rat humanoid hybrid.
The album is the brainchild of Executive Producer, Mike Dalager, a former Broadway actor who transitioned into a Film & TV career in Hollywood. With an impressive line-up of musical and vocal talent that features musicians from KISS, W.A.S.P, and Depeche Mode, as well as the voices of Hollywood Horror Icon Tony Todd (Candy Man) and Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn) , the album and its companion tracks have garnered much critical acclaim.
Still, a concept album is simply the genesis for a much larger goal. I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike to prod him on the process of producing the original concept album, and if the Lovecraftian stars align, where this grand Rock Opera might be headed.
Shane (Nerdbot Contributor): Good to have you with us on NERDBOT, Mike.
Mike Dalanger (Executive Producer): The pleasure is all mine, Shane! I love nerds. I am a nerd. We rule!
S: Agreed. So tell us, what’s been brewing in the Witch’s cauldron?
M: Well, our “team” I call it, as we’re NOT a band, Witch House Rocks, has been doing the Con circuit to spread awareness of the concept album. We’ve gone world-wide with appearances at San Diego Comic Con and SD Comic Fest, Stan Lee’s Comikaze, The Days of the Dead Chicago, the NecronomiCon in Providence, Rhode Island, the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon, and all the way over to Sweden, Denmark and Finland for various “Road Show” stops at genre Film Festivals and marquee NERD outlets.
Scandinavia is Lovecraft Mania-ville for some reason. I think the long nights under the Northern Lights instills a love for all things superstitious up there. We have a great fan base there. Swedes and Danes are also Heavy Metal crazy. So a Lovecraftian Rock Opera fits right into the Pagan / Viking mold.
S: Very cool. I actually enjoyed the heavy metal elements on the album. But what of the other sub-genres of Rock that are represented? I mean, the music really runs a gambit of styles which meld well with the story’s arc. Was there a road map you and your team followed in choosing how each track advanced the story through the melody, lyrics, song style and dynamic?
M: Absolutely, our 16 track Rock Opera was meticulously mapped out, and each song was sculpted to pull a listener deeper into the abyss uncovered by the story’s protagonist, young Miskatonic University student and math whiz, Walter Gilman. As he descends, the music descends into darker soundscapes. That’s why if you’re listening to the album in one sitting, like an audio book, you first encounter more melodic and commercially catchy tunes at first, as Walter’s story begins with obsessive optimism. The more you explore the Witch House, the more chaotic the tracks get. Each vocal performer parallels the emotional intensity of the tune. The final song is a re-birth into something spaceless and atmospheric. We actually used underwater sound effects at this moment, so that our audience would feel like they were in the amniotic sack of the universe. You don’t get that type of emersion in a 200 Million Dollar Marvel movie! There the sack is so in-your-face, as entire cities crumble under the weight of an endless melee. Fun perhaps, but our Album is quite subtle amongst all the Rock n’ Roll. It is after all a Rock Opera. The drama is much more emotive.
S: Let’s talk about Rock Operas. My favorite of all time is Jesus Christ Superstar. Were there any Rock Operas that inspired you and your team for Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera (DITWH)?
M: Definitely. You hit the nail on the head. JC Superstar was a huge inspiration. There is a big Judeo-Christian story element in Dreams in the Witch House, one that is quite rare in a Lovecraft tale. I wanted to enhance this religious element and further bolster the Faith versus Science dramatic device. I like to imagine that DITWH is a fusion of JC Superstar’s musical theatrics and Blade Runner philosophies on what it is to be human. The Mythos Creatures therefore are the Replicants, and Walter Gilman is Deckard, the “Blade Runner” assigned to hunt down and terminate the Replicants. In the case of DITWH the hunter role is reversed, and Walter Gilman is the one who is chased and tormented. It’s such a great story! I am aware that Blade Runner isn’t a Rock Opera, but with the rich Vangelis score, there is no denying the power of it musical soundscape.
S: What’s this I hear about a Comic Book and DITWH?
M: Who’s your source? That’s Top Secret, haha! Over a year ago I met San Diego based Comic Book illustrator and self-publisher, Chad Cavanaugh. He and I hit it off immediately, and I commissioned him to develop Story Board artwork for one of the tracks, “Signum Crucis” which we recently re-released as a Mega All-Star version titled “Signum Crucis: Unholy Mutation.” The purpose of Chad’s Story Board artwork was to prep for a Music Video I was going to produce utilizing Japanese Bunraku puppetry… kind of like a Dark Crystal experience on Heavy Metal acid. The Music Video stalled as we’ve now upgraded our goal to full-on feature film, but Chad’s story board art quickly morphed into comic book pages, as that’s where his talent simmers. The artwork is now graphically designed into a really cool “Comic Libretto” game-board poster, where you follow the song’s wicked narrative by following a trail of violet light through each panel in-synch with the song in an inward spiral fashion towards a dark void at the center. This new merger of music and art will be released at San Diego Comic Con in July.
S: Wait, did I just hear you say “Feature Film?” Who’s on board and who do you wish to cast or direct?
M: I don’t wanna jinx the process, because an experienced movie producer I really respect once told me that producing movies in Hollywood is like walking through a minefield in a swamp. But I can say that since our original concept album debuted in October 2013, we’ve steadily added some iconic warriors to our line-up. As I mentioned, Tony Todd and Coutney Gains are champion allies, and we also have Swedish International Movie Star, Stefan Sauk on board as a Co-Producer. He was a major character in the original Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Do I have some dream cast scenarios? Of course I do. Patrick Wilson (The Watchmen) got his start on Broadway. He’s got great pipes, and I’d love for him to join us in a cameo role. I could reveal some secret meeting info regarding potential casting / directing prospects, but that would stall the process. Hollywood is very secretive until all the elements are in place. Could you imagine if George Lucas blabbed about Christopher Walken as a candidate for Han Solo before he got the financing to do that movie from 1977, Star Wars. Have you heard of that film? It’s really good!
S: Haha! That’s a good one. So are you saying that this is your Star Wars?
M: In a way, I guess so. I’m as much a Lovecraft nerd as George Lucas was a Flash Gordon nerd. George had to step into numerous Studios to pitch his risky, never-been-done-before Science Fiction film that featured a 7 foot walking dog with a crossbow, a space pirate in a black vest and spandex pants, a white-robed beauty queen with twin-bun hair, and a couple of bleepin’, chatty droids. Someone brave at 20th Century Fox gave him the green light, and now we have what has basically morphed into a religion of sorts. People get married as these iconic characters! Do I think that’s the future of DITWH? I’m not so presumptive to directly compare The Force to The Mythos, but it is what drives my dream. I truly think fans are ready for something fresh that has never been done before. Rock music has a power to transcend rules, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a Rocky Horror for this generation? Look out for a man cosplaying a humanoid rat man at your neighborhood Con someday soon!
S: That would be something. We need more cosplay witches as well. Thanks for taking the time to cover all your Lovecraftian dreams with NERD-BOT, Mike. And good luck on all your team’s future endeavors.
M: Rock on NERDBOT!
You can check out Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera via their website at WitchHouseRocks.com, and they will be attending ScareLA in August.