An Interview with David Cummings of the NoSleep Podcast

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Intro by Anthony Montalbano

Today we’ve got a very special podcast interview for you guys. One that I’ve been waiting for a long time to share with everyone. It’s the first podcast that I started listening to and the one that really got me into listening to podcasts. I’m talking about none other than the horror anthology The NoSleep Podcast. Today’s interview is with David Cummings, the host and producer of the show and occasional voice actor as well. The show is currently in its 16th season and 10th-anniversary, weaving tales of horror to frighten and disturb with weekly themed episodes alongside themed seasons. With a myriad of professional voice actors and writers, sound effects, their own music composer, whom of which we have an interview for you guys next, Brandon Boone, this is a show that’s got something for everyone no matter your taste in horror. Churning out hours-long weekly episodes and bonus ones all year round, it’s perfect for sitting around a campfire or listening at work alone at night as I do. So, let’s get right to it; here’s David Cummings!

Andrew:
David, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. How are you? What have you been doing to pass the time?

David:
As for pretty much everybody, 2020 was a challenging year. I’ve been extremely fortunate because I’ve been working from home for over five years. So there wasn’t much of a transition for me. But isolation from family has been difficult. On a much brighter note, my partner Kelly Bair and I were able to be married on Oct 28th in a small COVID-safe ceremony in her mother’s backyard. So that was a shining light in the midst of a very dark year.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory. What are your origins? How did you become interested in horror and, subsequently, voice acting?

David:
I grew up listening to old-time horror radio shows, so I’ve always had an affinity towards audio fiction and horror. Years later, I wanted to try my hand (or voice) at voice acting. When the chance came around to start a podcast featuring horror stories from the NoSleep subreddit, I offered to be involved. And when no one was taking the initiative to produce the show and get it off the ground, I stepped in. And since June 2011, I’ve been the host and showrunner.

Andrew:
My understanding is that NoSleep began as a subreddit and grew from there. Is that correct? How did things evolve from Reddit to where they are today? How did the podcast as we know it today come together?

David:
Yes, the original concept was to narrate stories from the subreddit. Over the years, we found it more and more difficult to cull stories from the overwhelming number of stories posted to that popular subreddit. We decided to accept direct submissions from writers. Our focus for the past few years (and moving forward) is on stories sent to us directly. We have discovered a wealth of extremely talented writers out there, many of whom we have partnered with on various episodes and productions.

Andrew:
You’re the showrunner and producer of the NoSleep Podcast and have been since 2011. What’s it been like assuming that role? What are some of the challenges you face?

David:
Starting a podcast back in 2011 – when hardly anyone knew what a podcast was – allowed me to learn as I developed the show. I was making it up as I went. There was no textbook to follow; I simply kept working at it and guiding it to the show I always wanted it to be. In 2014, I was able to make the podcast my full-time job – another unheard-of thing at the time. Starting a podcast and turning it into a successful business has been the biggest challenge. I’m thankful I’ve been so tremendously lucky to have built an amazing team with whom I collaborate. It’s gone from being a “mostly me” show to the robust creative team we have today.

Andrew:
The NoSleep Podcast is run through your production company; Creative Reason Media, Inc. Tell us how Creative Reason began.

David:
In 2013, I decided to try to make the podcast into one which could support itself and its collaborators financially. That meant selling memberships to our Season Pass program, where people could get extended episodes with more content. This was prior to platforms like Patreon being an option for me. So in order to create a business entity to handle that side of the podcast, I created my own company called Creative Reason Media. The name reflects who I am, someone who is creative with a mind for reason and rational thought. A few years after starting the company, I was able to incorporate the business. So I am, in fact, a corporate CEO. That might seem impressive until you realize it’s a one-man operation from a business perspective. I don’t even have a huge oak desk to sit behind.

Andrew:
What is it about horror and storytelling in general that you love the most? What has drawn you to it over time?

David:
Horror is unique among literary genres because it’s the only one which seeks to instill an emotion we try hardest to avoid in real life: fear. We want to laugh at comedy, swoon at romance, be thrilled by action/adventure. But no one wants real fear in their lives. Trying to frighten and disturb people is challenging. But I love it when we can work that alchemy into a tale which terrifies the listener in a safe way. And horror very much demands the listeners to engage in the story, to use their imagination to conjure their own fears as they listen. That’s why audio horror works so well. I love using only words and audio to craft our productions.

Andrew:
On the subject of horror, what subgenre within are you most fond of? Psychological? Slasher? Occult? Gothic? Which is your favorite, and why?

David:
I’ve always been drawn to the classic ghost story. Give me a good haunted house story, and I’m frighteningly happy. I also love stories which are disturbing because they take normal life and alter it just enough to make it weird. Ordinary people who are acting ever so slightly “off” make my skin crawl. I lean towards the fantasy elements of supernatural horror, more so than tales where bad people do bad things to good people. I want horror to help me escape the real-life horrors.

Andrew:
Last season was the NoSleep Podcast’s 15th. It’s was a great one. I truly enjoyed the “Lost Highway” theme. I want to dig more into that. How did you all come up with the theme? What goes into it? Aside from the obvious, what’s the through-line that we as listeners should take away from this season?

David:
The theme for Season 15 started back in Season 14. One of the excellent regular writers, Jared Roberts, submitted a story which was intended to be our season finale. It was a bit polarizing with our editorial team, but I fell in love with it because I thought it was exactly the kind of story David Lynch would write. I love the stories Lynch tells and how challenging and weird they are. So we decided to ask Jared to tweak his story a bit so we could use it as our Season 15 finale instead. As such, we decided to give the whole season a Lynchian vibe. Our composer Brandon Boone crafted an amazing Lynch-style arrangement of our theme, and I added a lot of Lynch references to the tone (lost highway, “and now it’s dark,” and other references to his films). The season concluded with Jared’s story, “Sunburn.” Very much a mind-bending and challenging story but one I am immensely proud of.

Andrew:
Seeing as you’ve wrapped up season 15, let’s look back. What are some of your favorite tales from this past season?

David:
Season 15 included both our Halloween and Christmas episodes and their bonus episodes. I always love holiday episodes, so I feel the stories we did for both Halloween and Christmas were some of the strongest we did in Season 15.

Andrew:
As a voice actor, how do you get into character? Does it come easily for you? That is to say, are you able to snap in and out of character, or does it take a lot of preparation? What types of characters do you most enjoy acting out, and why?

David:
Having done this kind of voice acting for almost ten years now, I do find it relatively easy to slide into characters. I know my range and the kinds of voices and people I can inhabit. Once I read over the stories, I find myself creating a mental picture of my characters. I can see what they’re wearing, what they look like, hear how they talk. From there, I let that shape how I perform them. I enjoy playing characters who have that kind of weirdness I spoke of earlier. Characters who bring a dark aspect to the story. Creepy villains are fun to play.

Andrew:
2020 was a horrific year on many levels, yet I’ve personally taken a lot of comfort in the depths of NoSleep. Does that make me a sadist? [Laughs]. In all seriousness, why do you feel shows such as NoSleep are important? Especially in times like we find ourselves in now.

David:
Even before the challenges of 2020, the feedback we get most often is from people who tell us about the ways our horror has helped them. Horror has a way of providing a distraction from our real-life struggles. When you’re dealing with struggles in your life, it can be helpful to spend some time hearing about someone struggling to stay alive while a demon tries to drag them into the pits of hell, for instance. It helps put things in perspective. We have discovered that a lot of horror fans are people who are marginalized in our society. So when people discover a like-minded community like the kind we have with our fans, they feel accepted. I continue to be amazed and humbled by the number of people who have shared with me how the show has kept them from ending their lives. There is catharsis in the darkness.

Andrew:
Where is horror as a genre headed? The idea of how we consume all types of media has changed. Is social media a detriment to the world’s creatives, or is it going to help push the genre forward and elevate its players?

David:
Horror will continue to be cyclical. We have seen periods of slasher films, torture porn, demonic themes, etc. These days there is very much a focus on the psychological elements of horror. People are finding horror in their own minds. Horror appears to be working well within the new media generation. Streaming services offer more outlets, and the interactive nature of social media creates even more fan/creator interaction. We’ve seen a great response to streaming performances live over YouTube and Twitch. Ultimately, fans will find horror however they can. It’s up to the creators to find them hiding in the dark corners.

Andrew:
Looking back on the history of the NoSleep Podcast, what are some of your very favorite moments? What are some of your favorite stories?

David:
The live tours of both America and Europe were definitely highlights. Working with amazing people like Mike Flanagan, Elijah Wood, and Dan Harmon was such an honor. Reaching the 100 Million download mark was mind-blowing. It has since climbed to almost 175 million. In terms of favorite stories, ones like “The Pancake Family,” “The Showers,” and the “Seaside British Pub” series stand out. I was the producer of the “Seaside British Pub” stories, and I was very happy with how they turned out.

Andrew:
Aside from horror and voice acting, what else are you passionate about? How do those passions inform your art?

David:
I have a newly formed passion for travel, thanks to my wife, Kelly. Being able to meet other people from different countries and walks of life can’t help but inform how I see the world and create art. We can only hope our world opens up again to travel and fellowship with new friends. And following my beloved hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, will always be a passion.

Andrew:
Being that this is started as a music publication, I may as well ask, what types of music are you into? Are you into vinyl? How important is music to the aesthetic of the NoSleep Podcast?

David:
I’m a fan of Classic Rock. Queen is my favorite band of all time. I also love Jazz and Funk. I’m one of those old-timers who used to have a ton of vinyl records and got rid of them when CDs came around. I have yet to get back into it. But I’m a musician myself, having played in a band for most of the 90s (not one anyone would have heard of). From the very start, music was a huge part of the podcast. In Season 2, I started writing the music for each story rather than relying on stock music. Atmospheric music is crucial to good horror. We now have the excellent composer Brandon Boone scoring our show. He’s turned into a top-notch horror composer. We are so lucky to have him on the show.

Andrew:
Once COVID-19 is done with us, what’s next for the NoSleep Podcast?

David:
We will continue to find new ways to bring horror to our fans. We are trying to branch into other forms of media like video games, animation, and the foray into streaming live performances. We’re always looking to tweak how we do the show without fixing what isn’t broken. We might return to touring, but that will depend on when it’s safe to do so and the logistics of doing so in the “new normal.”

Andrew:
Last question. Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a lot of contempt toward creatives within all sectors of the art world. Be it music, writing, acting, horror— it’s a hard road. What do we as creative people need to do to keep our heads above water?

David:
For me, it’s about turning off the noise. By “noise,” I mean the endless deluge of unsolicited feedback from social media and the myriad people who want to tell you what you’re doing wrong. Creatives need to hold fast to their vision for what they are creating. If you swing and sway with every bit of criticism, you’ll be doing a disservice to your art. Find a small cadre of people whom you can trust to give you good creative feedback and ignore the rest. If you trust yourself amidst the maelstrom of self-doubt, you can stick to your vision and feel good about it. You owe it to yourself to create your art your way

Interested in learning more about the NoSleep Podcast? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview


About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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