Praise for Twisted Tales Events

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Monday, 14 November 2011

Ghoultown's Count Lyle interviewed by David McWilliam


The devilishly eclectic Ghoultown have thrilled, marauded, and rocked their way across the musical badlands for nearly 13 years. Born in Texas circa 1998, Ghoultown has been described by Synergy Magazine as "the ultimate embodiment of tequila drinking hillbilly rock". The band's sixth studio effort, Life after Sundown, proves to be their most ambitious material to date. The album is a unique mix of horror rock, punktwang and spaghetti western flair. Think of it this way ‐‐ if Rob Zombie and Johnny Cash were tossed into a meat packer, Ghoultown is what would come out the other side.

In addition to the success of Life after Sundown and Skeleton Cowboys their latest single on Zoviet Records Ghoultown was invited to write and perform a new theme song for iconic horror maven, Elvira. The starstudded tribute was released as the Mistress of the Dark ultra-single, complete with a DVD featuring the music video by director Gris Grimly and an audio CD of new songs including “Mistress of the Dark” and remixes. The video was also featured on Elvira’s nationally syndicated show, Movie Macabre, in 2011. Hailed as pioneers of hellbilly rock, Ghoultown continues to make hearts race and skin crawl on their pursuit to turn the music world upside down ‐‐ one soul at a time.

Ghoultown are:
Count Lyle vocals/guitar
Jake Middlefinger
- lead guitar
Santi - bass/vocals
Lizard Lazario acoustic guitar/vocals
Dalton Black drums
Randy Grimm trumpet

Related websites:



DM: How and why did you put Ghoultown together?
CL: While doing a horrorpunk band back in the 1990’s, called The Killcreeps, we started writing some dark western type material, which had a cool feel to it and a lot of unique personality. When I disbanded The Killcreeps, I thought it would be cool to explore the dark western angle by combining that with punk, rockabilly, and gothic sounds. I had always wanted to create something musically that was very unique, so when I came up with the name Ghoultown, it seemed to be a great concept and had the potential to stand-out from the crowd. 

In 1998, I started writing songs and putting together the members. It started out with a few of the ex-Killcreeps and an old friend of mine, Lizard Lazario, who came in on acoustic guitar. I found a few of the other players by placing an ad in the local music paper. Over the years we’ve evolved a bit from a more spooky, gothic country sound to a more hellbilly cowpunk-rock sound, but it’s still the same basic idea of dark western music that has continued.

DM: When I first heard Ghoultown described as 'Weird West psychobilly', I thought that it sounded like the most niche band in the history of music. However, working my way through your back catalogue, I found that you cover a wide range of styles. Who are your main musical influences?
CL: My musical taste is all over the place, so it’s hard to pinpoint any specific bands that influenced Ghoultown. I love old country, hardcore punk, all kinds of metal, and spaghetti western soundtracks, so any music that fits into those categories is subject to being thrown about in my song compositions. The cool thing about Ghoultown is that I can get away with incorporating a wider range of stuff and it all seems to work since Ghoultown is pretty much its own niche. There’s no rules except the ones I make up.

There are drawbacks to being your own niche, though. After years of battling the music industry and trying to advance Ghoultown beyond cult status, I’ve discovered that people mostly like music that fits into definable genres. Nobody seems to know what to do with us. But I’d rather be fronting Ghoultown than some other run-of-the-mill type project, even though admittedly it would probably be an easier road.

DM: People mean lots of different things by the term 'Weird West', but in Ghoultown's case you combine gritty Westerns with undead horror. Do you consciously draw on the films and fiction from both genres? If so, what are your favourite examples from each?
CL: Yes. In fact, when it comes down to it, I am more influenced by spaghetti western and horror movies than anything. When I watch a cool film, it seems to inspire me to write music. Some of my favorite spaghetti westerns are The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, For a Few Dollars More, Fistful of Lead, Django, and Keoma. As far as horror films, I like so many that it’s hard to list. Movies like The Shining, Return of the Living Dead, original Halloween, The Legend of Boggy Creek, the classic Universal and Hammer films, and on and on.

I also love the old Weird Western comics like Jonah Hex, so that gets thrown into the mix as well.

DM: I found your collaboration with American horror icon Elvira interesting. For those who are unfamiliar with Elvira, could you explain her significance to the American horror landscape? How did you come to work with her and what was it like?
CL: Elvira first started back in the 1980s as a horror host for a television station in Los Angeles.  She did a show called Movie Macabre where she played old horror movies and commented on them during breaks.  Later, she did two feature films which were pretty successful. Anyone familiar with Halloween should recognize her costumes and products; she’s got countless action figures, model kits and other stuff that’s been made in her likeness too. She appears at most major horror conventions these days, and for the last couple of years, she’s been doing a revamped version of her Movie Macabre show which airs on syndicated television stations. Our “Mistress of the Dark” video has been featured on the show and is also available as bonus content on her new Movie Macabre DVDs.

This story behind this is that a few years ago we were playing a horror convention VIP party where Elvira’s manager happened to see us. He loved the band, so he told Elvira - Cassandra - about us. The next day I was hanging out with some friends of mine at the convention and someone ran up and said ‘Elvira wants to meet you, get to your booth’. So I headed back to our guest booth and sure enough, Cassandra came by with her entourage and talked for a few minutes. During that time she suggested I write a new song for her. I had a short meeting with her manager later on and came up with a plan to write a song and maybe shoot a video if it worked out. Two weeks later, I sent them a demo of the song, which they liked. From there we recorded it and decided to do a video. I called up our friend, artist/director Gris Grimly, out in Los Angeles and asked if he wanted to direct. He was excited about the opportunity, so once he was on board we headed out to Hollywood and shot the video. Cassandra was able to hook us up with the Magic Castle out there, so that’s where most of the video was shot.

She was great to work with and she worked really hard on the project, even though obviously it wasn’t a high paying gig. I’ve been a long-time fan, so I’m really honored to have had the opportunity to work with her.

The final product, our Mistress of the Dark DVD, includes the video, a making-of documentary, and some other crazy stuff that Grimly had us shoot. It’s sort of like a bizarre take on the old Hee Haw variety show from the 1970s.  It’s pretty campy, just like you would expect from Elivra.

DM: Possibly my favourite Ghoultown song, 'Drink With the Living Dead', tells a tale of a revenant forced to challenge strangers to drinking contests each night as penance for killing a man to steal his last beer. The way it condenses information and creates atmosphere reminds me of Nick Cave songs such as 'Red Right Hand' and 'Stagger Lee'. How do you set about writing a song driven by narrative?
CL: I’m a fan of Nick Cave and certainly “Drink With the Living Dead” is reflective of his work on the Murder Ballads album. It’s also similar to what Marty Robbins was doing with gunfighter ballads in his classic country songs like “El Paso” and “Big Iron”. The approach I took on “Drink With the Living Dead” was similar to these type songs, but even more-so, modeled after Charlie Daniel’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. I really wanted to create a song that had a cool narrative story, and being Ghoultown, of course this should obviously involve some kind of undead gunslinger! I first came up with the basic storyline, then started writing the lyric verses. Once I had the meter of the lyrics I was able to strum out some chords that went along with them. After I had the verse melody, I just let the progression guide me into a chorus riff. Once I had those two main elements, I just kept tweaking the lyrics until I got the story like I wanted it. It turned out to be a really long song - over six minutes - which I thought would be a drawback. We almost didn’t include it on the album because we thought nobody would want to listen to a six minute tale about a dead gunfighter in a drinking contest, but we were wrong! The response was huge on that song. Fans loved it.

DM: As main songwriter for the band, at what point do you present your ideas to the other members of Ghoultown? How do they add to the process of fleshing the songs out?
CL: I write all of the songs on an acoustic guitar and then create a rough acoustic demo using my 4-track.  I give this to the guys so they can get familiar with the song before we practice.  Once we get together, we jam the song with everyone adding in the real drums, lead parts, backing vocals, and all that.  The song sounds better when it’s played by the actual band, of course, but essentially there’s not much change between the demo version and the final song. If you listen to my demo for “Drink With the Living Dead,” for example, it’s nearly the same as the final song except the production is not as good and I use a drum machine instead of real drums and an acoustic guitar all the way. Oh, and I hum out the trumpet melodies on the demos, so that’s pretty funny to hear. We always get a big laugh out of that.

DM: Have you created a mythology or alternate Wild West in which to set your songs, or do you prefer to treat each one as a separate take on the core idea of undead in the Wild West?
CL: I don’t have any kind of universal setting or mythology that I think of when writing Ghoultown material. I just sort of stick with a general dark western theme, but that can have a wide range of possibilities from Johnny Cash to horror to hillbillies. And since we’re from Texas, we often fly the flag of our heritage which seems appropriate to the band as well.

DM: I've seen you mention Rob Zombie as a key influence in another interview: the recent video for 'Drink With the Living Dead' uses a similar animated style to the one for Rob's 'Lords of Salem'. Do you see your videos as a way of establishing the visual identity of the band?
CL: Certainly. The image and artwork of Ghoultown are very important elements, so visuals like videos help to complete the package. As a big fan of visuals – like movies, comic book art, etc. – I place a lot of importance on having kick ass artwork and a cool stage presence to go with the music. I think the concept of Ghoultown translates well to artwork. Fans always love our CD covers and posters, and now with the animated type video we’ve been able to translate the band members into something like animated characters. We rarely play live shows anymore due to various circumstances beyond our control, so I’ve made an effort to expand Ghoultown into the realms of virtual characters. Given the nature of the band, it seems like a natural progression.

DM: You have contributed music to several film soundtracks- is this something you’d like to do more of in the future?
CL: It’s been fun to write songs for horror soundtracks. It gives me the chance to write a song based on someone else’s concept or guidelines which is a cool change. I’ve been approached several times about doing actual soundtracks for westerns too, but nothing has come of it so far. So I’m open to the idea, if it comes along.

DM: Furthermore, would you like to create original Weird West stories, either for the page or screen?
CL: I’ve done some of that already. About 10 years ago, I developed a horror western comic series that got picked up by a small comic publisher here in Texas. The comic was also called Ghoultown, but it focused on a cast of completely different characters, not the band members. We appeared occasionally in the background, but it was a stand-alone story on its own. The outlaws were sort of like twisted vampire cowboys, set in a post-apocalyptic old west. The company published two issues of a four-issue mini series and then stopped doing comics. Since I no longer had a publisher, it just sort of died there. I just didn’t have time to pursue comics without a publisher helping me. I had my hands full running our label and doing all the band business, so we sold up the issues we had and that was that.

I’ve thought about trying to bring the Ghoultown concept to the screen by writing a script or something, but so far I haven’t gone down that path. I have a lot of cool ideas about weird west concepts, so maybe at some point I will pursue this further. I know a few guys that do movies, but making any kind of western, especially one that will require a spooky slant to it, is something that will require a substantial budget. If I do something along these lines, I just want to make sure it’s done right, not just some lame, low-budget horror western, ya know.

DM: It’s a shame that you don’t play live much anymore- from the clips I’ve seen on YouTube it looks as though you put on a great show. What are your plans for taking Ghoultown forward?
CL: The live show is definitely a strongpoint of Ghoultown, so it sucks that we can’t bring it to more places. But after 13 years of doing this, it’s become increasingly more difficult to keep pounding the pavement at our own expense. Now that some of the guys have families and can’t just quit jobs at the drop of a cowboy hat, we’ve had to be more selective in our gigs. We can obviously play locally in Texas, and we’ve done short runs to Europe, and one-off gigs that we can fly to, but really those are a drop in a piss bucket compared to all the potential places we’d like to play. We had hoped that having a record company would help boost us to real tours, but that didn’t happen. Now we’re back to doing things on our own again, so the touring opportunities are very limited. When it comes down to it, we don’t make any money at this, so it requires a lot of time, effort and our own cash to keep it going. Nothing that any other band at our level wouldn’t also tell you, so I don’t think we’re any kind of exception. It’s just that it’s really gotten to us in the last few years because we feel that the band is so good and had such great potential, that it’s a shame we can’t bring the show to more fans. But that’s the reality we’ve had to face regardless of our love for the music. At this point, we’re shifting the focus on being a recording band, not so much a performing band.

For the next release, I’m putting together a collection of rare and unreleased tracks that have built up over the years. Newer fans have a hard time getting a hold of the old material, so I thought it would be great to put this on one release with all the tracks remastered. It’s gonna have a few live tracks, and maybe even a new song as well, so probably about 18 to 20 tracks total. I’m even gonna throw in some of my original concept demo recordings from 1998.

DM: Outside of Ghoultown you also write for the horror magazine, Rue Morgue. How did this come about and do you see yourself pursuing a writing career alongside the band?

CL: That started over a year ago when some of the Rue Morgue staff was down here for Texas Frightmare Weekend. I’d met several of the guys before, and they had featured Ghoultown a few times, so we were already friends. Around the time they were in Texas, I had been inspired to write a few articles on horror movies that featured Bigfoot-like monsters, so I just happened to mention that to the guys and showed them an article. They really loved it and so we talked about me contributing to the magazine on a regular basis.  After discovering a mutual fascination with cryptozoo creatures, we came up with the idea for my Monstro Bizarro blog which is featured on their website. I also write for the print magazine doing features, movie reviews, and stuff like that.

I also have a non-fiction book coming out next spring on Anomalist Books, called “The Beast of Boggy Creek: True Story of the Fouke Monster”. The book covers the complete history of the Fouke Monster, a creature said to inhabit the swamplands of southern Arkansas just three hours north of my home in Texas. It was made famous by the Charles B. Pierce classic horror film, The Legend of Boggy Creek, so I cover both the monster and the making of the movie which is really fascinating. It’s a long story as to how I got interested in this subject, but basically I met some people who had been part of the movie and also several credible people who claimed to have seen the creature at one time or another. Once I started looking into the whole subject, I was inspired to write a book on it. If people want to know more about my various writing projects and about the Boggy Creek mystery, just visit my website.

So back to the question about me pursuing a writing career. This is definitely the case. I’m starting work on a second book now, so I hope to continue expanding my professional writing career as I move forward. I will continue to push Ghoultown as much as I can, but I think at this point the future is in the hands of the fans. We’ve created the ultimate weird west monster, so I guess we’ll see if the townsfolk burn it or sustain it.

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