Nightmares On Vinyl: An Interview With Jonathan Dennison Of Cadabra Records | Haute Macabre

Nightmares On Vinyl: An Interview With Jonathan Dennison Of Cadabra Records

Y’all. I have been bombarded by your beloved dancing pumpkin guy gifs and those “my friends are sad to see summer go but I’m all over here dry humping the early Halloween aisle in Pottery Barn” posts all over social media. I see you and I feel your longing for the morbid thrill of summer’s end that ripens and rots with autumn’s eerie chill. “Our bodies,” we chant, low and desperate, to the somber October gods, “are ready.”

And yet, we are not even to the end of August. Is summer fucking endless, or what?

I have a solution for you. Dim the lights. Draw the shades. Crank that over-taxed window unit or floor fan to it’s maximum roaring potential. Carefully slide a macabre album from the Cadabra Records catalog from its hauntingly illustrated case and gently place it upon your record player. Curl up in your favorite chair, close your eyes, and summon your favorite season of darkening decay as you slowly sink into a fearful tale of terror.

Cadabra Records is a vinyl only, Spoken Arts label which specializes in the horror/weird genre. Fused with a spectral score, it’s “like having your favorite horror fiction on your record shelf instead of a bookcase,” explains Cadabra’s chief-provider-in-terror, Jonathan Dennison. Each release is bursting with features, from to subscriber-only offerings, to commissioned paintings by incredible artists, and exquisite limited color vinyl variants . Cadabra Records provides an experience for their listeners to not only hold something tangible and beautiful in their hands, but to slow down, be present, and truly listen–which is a practice that is exceedingly rare in today’s age of instant gratification digital media.

Haute Macabre caught up with Jonathan this dreadful, eternal August to delve into his deep love for the genre, as well as the origins and future of Cadabra records. See below for our interview and some lingering glimpses of the breathtaking album art! (Samples of various releases can be found on Cadabra’s soundcloud page for appropriate aural accompaniment.)

Haute Macabre: How came you by a love for horror? And how did this enjoyment of the genre–either literary or cinematic?– evolve into the idea to produce a different kind of medium for which horror-fans to enjoy these stories?

Jonathan Dennison: I guess I’ve always been drawn to the things that scare us, it’s too much fun. The drive-in and a Saturday afternoon show in the west coast called Creature Feature really helped shape my childhood.  By middle school I discovered Lovecraft and Poe, but really dug into horror fiction in my high school years. Years back I started collecting spoken word vinyl from the horror genre and quickly realized there wasn’t really much out there, this is where Cadabra Records began.

Unless I am mistaken, there’s not a lot of other folks doing what you are doing, with the spoken-word horror on vinyl; I don’t guess that you have to do much to differentiate yourselves from your competitors–you’re the only game in town! But on the other hand, this type of spoken word audio experience probably isn’t a thing that most people either realize exists or think of as a thing they need. How do you get people on board with the concept? How do you get the word out there?

This has been a lot of work, I really had to start from the ground up. Unlike many operations out there that come and go, I think many people realize they’re supporting something fresh and new for the genre and know they’re part of it. Spoken word on vinyl has been around for along time, but our approach hasn’t. Cadabra isn’t for everyone, but serious fans of the horror genre understand it’s significance. We are very lucky to have such an incredible fanbase, I think word of mouth has helped us more than anything.

This is obviously a passion project, so I have to imagine that, at least initially, many of the titles you’ve chosen to translate to vinyl are stories you, yourself, already love. How else do you go about choosing forthcoming works? What are your favorites so far? And are there any that you’d love to do, but may not work, for whatever various reasons?

Absolutely. All the records i’ve released to date have all been work that I love. I do like different records for different reasons, but I’d say Thomas Ligotti’s “The Bungalow House” is right up there for me as he’s a favorite author of mine, and it was an honor to be the first to produce an audio adaption of his work for vinyl. I’m also huge on Lovecraft, I will keep plugging away at his library.

Not all stories translate well in audio form, so this is one of the first things I size up. Beyond my like for a story, I need to make sure others will think the same.  I also think about what kind of aesthetics the story can bring visually for art, this is very important for those who may be unfamiliar to draw them in. Lastly, running time is a huge factor as vinyl is very limited.

There are some amazing voices on these albums! I have the Dracula album with Tony Todd and of course there’s Lovecraft biographer S. T. Joshi, as well as HPLHS founder Andrew Leman, I believe? How do you go about matching the voice to the story you want to tell?

Thank you! It’s very important that the voice matches the tone of the story.  Andrew Leman is the absolute master storyteller, no one reads Lovecraft better than him. Tony Todd’s voice as Dracula, this speaks for itself. Joshi has a very unique voice and captivating voice. All of our voice actors do a wonderful job at bringing these stories to life. It’s really important that the voice is convincing and has a sense of authority on the subject.

And the art! You’ve collaborated with an ever-expanding assemblage of phenomenal artists on these album covers–Adam BurkeDylan Garrett Smith, and Jeremy Hush are some of my all-time favorites. How important is this visual component for these sonic offerings you produce? And what do you look for in the art/artist that you choose for Cadabra records?

Art is extremely important to me. Although much of the material I’m working with is nearly a century old with dozens of portrayals of imagery, it’s my job to give these stories new life for a new generation… as well as for the ages. I try not to use artists already well known in the field, but if I do, it’s usually an unexpected choice. I work with people who think outside of the box and really push ideas with me to maximize the stories full potential.  I’m very lucky to work with such a great group of artists. Cadabra is a dream job for many, given the chance to illustrate some of the greatest horror fiction in a large LP format is a lot of fun.

Can you share with us any upcoming projects, or what’s next on the horizon for Cadabra?

Two major upcoming releases that I’m very excited about are Edgar Allan “Poe’s Masque of the Red Death” and “Berenice”, read by Anthony D. P. Mann, and scored by Maurizio Guarini of GOBLIN, and Lovecraft’s “Dagon”, “The Cats of Ulthar”, and “The Music of Erich Zann” read by Andrew Leman and scored by Anima Morte. Both of these are absolute masterpieces.  I have a slew of fantastic releases that will see the light of day very soon!

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