An Interview with Erin Lillis of the NoSleep Podcast

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Read Time:25 Minute, 15 Second
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All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

After about a dozen of these wonderful interviews there’s not much more I can say that hasn’t been said already about all the amazing people behind the NoSleep Podcast. I truly appreciate everyone involved in this ongoing project we have with the people that make the show run.

These have been some of the most passionate people I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with. Working to bring these interviews to everyone has been a pleasure, and the reception has been great! When it comes to passion, there is definitely no lack of thereof at the NoSleep Podcast.

In this interview, Erin Lillis goes in-depth with her answers and I’m sure that if this were a phone interview, this could have gone on for hours! Erin has been with the show since season 9 which is around the time I started purchasing the season pass (this is most definitely not an ad, but, if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor, those season passes are worth every penny!), is extremely talented and can perform a myriad of voices, accents and creatures all thanks to her hard work, persistence and taking jobs to get her to where she is now as a voice actor.

With all of that said, be sure to check out www.erinlillis.com/writing/ for her writings and more info about her. So, I’ll leave it to Erin to tell her story from here. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I have!

Anthony:
Erin, thank you so much for reaching out for an interview. This is a project I’ve been all too excited to work on and the more NoSleep Podcast members the better! How have these past couple of years been treating you? It seems as if voice actors haven’t been too affected by the pandemic!

Erin:
Yeah I heard from Dan Zappulla that you were gathering quite a collection of NoSleepers and that you wanted MOOOOAR. 

The past couple of years have been weird and strange but I suspect they’re only going to get weirder. Back in the last quarter of 2019, I had just gotten two voice agents (which made me think, “WOO I’m finally big time!”) and then I went to a big VO conference here in Los Angeles (where I was born and raised) where the real big-timers kinda conveyed the message that the industry was A LOT TOUGHER THAN YOU THINK AND NONE OF YOU ARE READY. I felt a little discouraged after that but then at the beginning of 2020 I decided to sign up for a new voice acting class with three lovely teachers who reversed that message. I was then in the middle of my second class with them (where I was getting comfortable in a real studio sound booth with real live direction) and then the pandemic shut everything down. They took a few weeks to pivot and things switched to Zoom. That kinda put me back to where I already was – recording from my coat closet. The interesting thing was that I’d been recording  from my coat closet for a while and had already figured out all of that independent voice acting jazz and the “NONE OF YOU ARE READY” folks DID NOT KNOW HOW TO DO IT. So, for a bit there I was AHEAD of the game in terms of knowing how to record, edit and master my own stuff. While everyone else seemed to be panicking about how to do it…I was calm and collected. The playing field leveled. (Though, that being said, I still didn’t land any big industry jobs during the pandemic).

Sanity-wise, I’d already been working from home for a while so that shift, you’re right, didn’t really affect me. The message I got overall was that animation and game projects were still greenlit while the live-action work was all put on hold so other than the technology (and the actors who’d been in the game for a while) figuring out how to change directions, things moved forward.

All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

Anthony:
Before we get into things, can you tell us and our readers who you are, where you’re from and all that jazz?

Erin:
Sure! I’m Erin Lillis (non-binary, she/her, gay). I’m (currently) a voice actor from Los Angeles, CA. I’m a second-generation native, actually. I mention that because I didn’t migrate here to be an actor. Instead, I was already here and pursuing other jobs when I decided to try voice acting as a hobby and a side hustle. Now it’s my main hustle. Originally, I studied film-making at Emerson College with the intention of being a writer/director but I ended up gravitating more to the sound and audio aspect of it. Later, I ended up going back to an art school to learn interactive media design and combined my two degrees in my career as a web developer for a creative agency that marketed films and television. I worked there for several years leveling up in web programming but it was mostly for banner ads so very quickly web technology surpassed me and I just lost interest. It was while I worked for this company that I also started to dive into voice acting after work as a hobby (I’ll note here that I also have ADHD so I have a LOT of hobbies and interests and half-finished projects). When my job there ended I didn’t really know what I was going to do next. I ended up trying to juggle freelance development, voice acting and starting my own little enamel pin business. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t be successful at any of those things if I kept juggling so I decided to focus strictly on VO.

Anthony:
Before joining NoSleep, you had done a lot of voice acting on other podcasts, commercials, video games, and other applications. So, can you tell us a bit about those various things? Especially video games, what have you voiced in video games?

Anthony:
I think my progression was voicemails, free narrations for Librivox, HitRECord, my own narrative podcast, then minor internet commercials and escape room type characters for independent producers, THEN NoSleep and then corporate narrations for bigger companies and in the past couple of years I’ve done more for indie video games and radio commercials. I really love doing character work the most and I’ve found that in audio dramas and video games. 

Let’s see – one of the first video games I was in was Father.io which was mobile-based laser tag, then I played a shopkeep in an RPG for the blind called Hero’s Call, then I got Stifled which is a horror game where you see by making noise. I played a side character in that which was a lot of fun and the game blew up on YouTube. The team from Stifled later recommended me for Simulacra 2 where I played the central villain. I’m in several hidden object games by a Russian development team (Dark Romance, The Paranormal Files, Mystery Tales) and the voice of recordings that move the narrative forward in the VR games Seeking Dawn and Cosmodread (which just recently released). I’ve also done several artificial intelligence and gameplay guide voices for games. I’m also probably in a handful of games I don’t even know about because the client names were obscured on the platforms where I was hired. I think I’m in Wasteland 3 somewhere?

My biggest “viral” hit has probably been my characters in the horror co-op Devour where I play the narrator, Anna Puerta (the possessed cult leader in their “Farmhouse” map) and Molly (the insane and possessed cult member) in the “Asylum” map. This project (which is still ongoing at the time of this interview – I just finished a narration for an upcoming map release) has so far been a blast. I really got to go full-tilt insane with these characters.

I’ve done a lot of work for the upcoming BROK the InvestiGATOR by CowCat Games and I recently did some recording for an under wraps game for a company called Mimimi.

I also play a demon in the upcoming NOCH (there’s a demo on Steam) and an overly dramatic 80s horror character in a George A. Romero inspired zombie game called Day of the Rising Dead.

And if you’re a game producer reading this, I’m available for more!

All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

Anthony:
You’ve been interested in recording and voice acting for quite a long time, it seems. How do you feel you’ve progressed as a voice actor over the years?

Erin:
Great question! I started training myself from the ground up in sort of ass-backward ways. I’m a dive in and figure it out later kind of person so I figured the easiest thing to learn in voice-over (and which would also be the most forgiving if my audio quality sucked) was the world of IVR and voicemail recordings. So, I’d probably done a hundred or so of those before I got brave enough to try narration. I realized that was a lot harder than it seemed but I kept it up and eventually started taking voice-over classes to learn it properly. 

Somewhere in here my friend and I went to a live performance of Welcome to NightVale. When I left the show I turned to my friend and said, “Why don’t we do that?” She’s a writer who at the time had written several short stories that took place in a subterranean dystopian setting and I thought we could turn that into a series. She didn’t want to take on writing a whole series so instead we made our own show about a different subterranean setting, “SubverCity,” and the announcer that entertained the travelers that passed through the city’s transportation hub. The show is/was called SubverCity Transmit and it’s an anthology of speculative fiction shorts. Technically, it still exists because I still have a few more episodes to release but I release an episode about once a year. 

I think it was during my second voice-over class that I got ballsy enough to reach out to a different podcast and ask if they needed any additional narrators. That podcast was called MashStories and the premise was that they ran writing contests where you had to write flash fiction pieces that incorporated three given words. Then the winning stories were narrated for their show. I’d previously entered the writing contest and had pieces featured on the blog but narrating for the show was my big leap. I found that “being a narrator for a podcast” rather than the entire production/editing/direction team behind a podcast was a LOT easier and a LOT less stressful. 

That’s part of how I came to narrate for NoSleep. Skipping that point for a second, I listen back now to my first narrations on the show where I thought I was finally “good enough” and have a laugh. When I heard myself narrate and then heard the other NoSleep voice actors, I quickly realized I had to up my game even further. I really listened to tips on acting, learned to differentiate the narration from the dialogue and practice constantly. There’s a world of difference between where I am now and where I started. And I’m still constantly learning. There’s so much more to learn! ADR, language dubbing, narration for the blind, MoCap, immersive VR, animation for film! All of that!

Anthony:
How did you become a part of the NoSleep family? Some voice actors had referrals from others already on the show and whatnot, what about you?

Erin:
Around the time I had started taking voice-over classes and narrating for that aforementioned MashStories podcast, a new girl showed up at work that was doing some freelance 3D work for our office. We instantly hit it off because she was into horror. One day she mentioned to me that she was listening to some horror narration podcasts and that she thought I should get into it. She had no idea that I was already voice acting on the side. At that time I think I sent an inquiry email to a horror podcast  and I don’t remember which show it was…it may have been NoSleep. I was politely told that they were full up and I forgot about it. About a year later I met someone else who brought up NoSleep as her favorite podcast. I thought, “Hey now I have an actual voice over demo, I’m going to try again.” So, I sent David Cummings an email now WITH a demo and I heard back from him. He said they weren’t actually looking for any new narrators BUT they did have a need for someone like me! So, he assigned me a trial story right away (it was Season 9 at the time) and the rest is history! This may appall some people but prior to that, I’d never listened to the podcast. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved horror, dark stuff and Halloween but when I listened to podcasts it was mostly My Favorite Murder, paranormal stuff and ClarkesWorld for mindfuckery sci-fi. 

All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

Anthony:
You’re also into ghost hunting! I have done a bit of urban exploration in haunted places but have never seen anything myself. What have been some cool places you’ve gone to and experienced?

Erin:
Oh, now this is a whole rabbit hole and I’ll say that I’m creating my own podcast partially about this topic called Stay Weird. I’ve recorded 10 episodes so far but have yet to actually produce any but again I’ve got that ADHD so I don’t know WHEN it’ll be out. I’ll try to be short and sweet here.

I think one of the coolest haunted places that is also fairly local to me and usually entertaining (because they intentionally set up effects to spook you) is the Queen Mary. That is the big ol’ haunted boat in Long Beach harbor. I have had some fun experiences there but mostly it involves the cheat of having people with me that are more sensitive to spirits that can tell me who is around us and what they’re doing. 

I’ve been able to film and investigate in a haunted gold rush era hotel, a restaurant that used to be a stagecoach stop and hotel, an abandoned courthouse and jail (all in northern California), the Sallie House (Kansas), the Linda Vista Hospital (Los Angeles), Dorothea Puente’s (serial killer) house, a haunted theater and restaurant in Seattle and more. I know I’m forgetting some.

The most profound experiences I’ve had were in a haunted mansion in Kansas. There I smelled things, saw a shadow person, was threatened by an evil marionette and got possessed a COUPLE of different times. Twice in one night! This was all during the production and, a year later, the presentation of a pilot episode for a documentary I directed called Paranormal Nation

I’ve stopped working with the group that was producing regular paranormal projects so I’m not sure where I’ll get my next ghostly fix now. I’ve found “ghost hunting” to be a bit boring most of the time. I’m more interested in communicating with the spirits and carrying on conversations rather than documenting EMF spikes, having them knockback when you knock and other sorts of TV “tech” ghost hunting. Don’t get me wrong – I still love it for the adrenaline rush of a good scare. That’s my version of extreme sports. That’s also why I love immersive horror experiences. 

Anthony:
Your NoSleep bio mentions long Catholic schooling, would you say that affected your love of horror? Growing up Catholic myself, it really made me want to indulge more in what they tried to suppress once I became distanced from Catholicism, which included magic, horror, and all that good stuff!

Anthony:
Oh absolutely. I would read The Book of Revelation in the bible just because it scared me and I think that my schooling definitely set me up for believing in ghosts, angels, demons, etc.. Catholicism just states as a fact that there are miracles and people that can perform them. People that can hear voices. People that can be resurrected from the dead. 

One of the biggest influences on me was a 4th grade teacher that had us join prayer circles to pray for rain…AND IT WOULD RAIN. My takeaway was that people focused on the same intention can make magic shit happen therefore supernatural stuff is absolutely possible. My stepping away from religion had more to do with the hypocritical behaviors I saw in a lot of “religious” people and the church itself. But you can bet your ass I’m carrying a rosary and some holy water with me when I go into a haunted place.

All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

Anthony:
What does horror mean to you? What are your favorite sub-genres of horror and ways to consume the genre? There’s so many to choose from!

Erin:
Horror, to me, is very simply what scares you. It can be very personal and it can change throughout life. What scares me is what’s outside of the normal everyday accepted agreement of reality. That’s a weird way to word it probably but what I mean is that a serial killer story generally doesn’t scare me because serial killers exist in society. But a hole in the air that spills forth tentacled abominations or you know, something just off the wall like that, is really unsettling. So, my favorite horrors are unsettling, disturbing, bizarre, and generally paranormal. Examples: Donnie Darko, Midsommer, Hereditary. But I also love gore. I don’t know why. I used to get Fangoria and special effects makeup magazines just to look at the gory monster and gross injury images. But it has to be fake…I can’t handle real gore like crime scene photos and actual tragedy. Fake gore is my thing. I really liked the Saw series, as an example. I also like quirky, fantastical, dark comedic horror like Trick R’ Treat, What We Do In The Shadows, Ready Or Not. The movies that scare me the most, though, are generally supernatural like Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity, and The Blair Witch Project. 

Also forests…I grew up in a city so nature horror scares me. 

Anthony:
You’ve been with the show since season 9. What have the past 7 seasons been like for you on the show? Even having taken improv and voice acting classes do you still face any challenges recording?

Erin:
Yup, season 9! I think Season 10 was my favorite because I had some really good roles AND I got cast in the NoSleep adjacent Congeria audio drama. It was also the first year I performed with the NoSleep touring team for a show in Los Angeles. Later, there was another adjacent show, Calling Darkness, that was a blast to be a part of too (Rumor has it, season two is in the works).  The challenges I get are generally when I’m assigned characters with specific accents. I think Olivia White (who casts the stories) knows I like to do accents so she throws me the characters with quirky voices (be it old, weird, accented or possessed) and I love it. The challenge is finding voice references for what I want to do and then keeping it up for a full character performance. I’m sure listeners can point to where I’ve messed up in my accents but no one has told me to stop yet! I just did one the other day where I think the author intended for the narrator to be British but since it was assigned to me I figured I shouldn’t do British (since we have plenty of UK voice actors that can do it legitimately), so I decided to sort of insinuate a New York accent. But I intentionally didn’t go FULL NEW YORK just to make it…I don’t know… vague? 

Another challenge is that we don’t record together. In the beginning, I really had no idea how the other actors were going to sound so it was all a guessing game and I’d send several takes. You can’t do several takes when you’re doing a full narration so you really have to make good guesses as to what the other person is going to bring to the table. But now that I’ve been on the show for a while I have a pretty decent idea of what every voice actor sounds like, and how the producers (Phil Michalski, Jeff Clement or Jesse Cornett) like to edit and design their stories. So, the biggest challenge currently is just getting the assignments and turning them around as quickly as possible. Sometimes, we have a lead time of a week and sometimes it’s just a weekend depending on how busy production is.

All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

Anthony:
Over the last 7 seasons, what has it been like watching the production grow? On the outside as a listener I’ve seen the themed seasons, live shows and Twitch streams, but what was it like from the inside to see these additions and changes?

Erin:
Oh, it’s fun because when the show grows, the voice actors, producers, illustrators, editorial team, social media/community team and Brandon Boone (the composer) are invited to grow and be a part of it as well. Like it’s not just “THE DAVID CUMMINGS SHOW” which it very well could be. The Twitch stream is a fun addition because it allows those that have been involved in more silent roles to come out front and be themselves instead of just a hired hand. Also, coming soon, which I can talk about because it’s been announced, is the addition of serialized stories. 

Previously, there were certainly continuing storylines like Marcus Damanda’s “Summer” stories and other writers that tie their stories together in other sneaky ways but now we’re going to be doing a novel adaptation – the first being Gemma Amor’s “Dear Laura.” Sounds like we’re going to be doing a series of those from David’s recent announcement in the show. This is going to give the involved voice actors more opportunities to create and sustain characters over multiple episodes in a more audio drama style. 

And I’ve had some amazing personal experiences from NoSleep’s growth over the years – I got to be a part of several live performances, in some iconic season finale stories and randomly I got to meet Dan Harmon because he had David Cummings as a guest on one of his live podcasts recordings and I was invited backstage after the show.

Also my Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon scores get higher when we have major guest stars in the episodes like Elijah Wood and Kate Siegel.

Anthony:
Do you have any favorite types of characters you like to voice over other types? Are some harder to get into a headspace than others that may come more naturally? I absolutely LOVED you as Mother Maggie from the episode “Mother Maggie’s!”

Erin:
Oh, I LOVE to voice villains – the crazier and more supernatural or disturbing, the better. Gross? Possessed? Violent? Give her to me! I also love the characters that are sarcastic, comedic and kick ass. I’ve been told I do sad moms well too. I actually get a lot of people telling me that I sound very warm and maternal so when I can use that to make a scene a little more heart wrenching or unsettling, I will.

All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

Anthony:
What are some of your favorite narrations or roles from your time on NoSleep? As mentioned above, “Mother Maggie’s” has been a story that stuck with me as well as “Mr. Empty Belly.” Please tell me playing Mother Maggie was as fun to record as it was to listen to!

Erin:
If I sound horrible, gross, violent or weird – yeah I’m having a lot of fun. I just did one for an upcoming episode where my character is “Voice” and I had a lot of fun doing that one. Keep an ear out.

​​My most well known character from the show is probably Fitz, the trucker werewolf, from Henry Galley’s “500 Yards” in Season 10 Episode 18. She was southern, gay as hell, violently evil and also a master of bad jokes – I got to play her a few times in some spin-off stories that appeared elsewhere where I just got to improvise the jokes. She’s a terrifying character that is also somehow endearing.

“Mother Maggie” was completely disturbing and also super fun to play. What I find that I do is find a performance by an actor that I can sort of pitch an anchor around and use for inspiration. In the case of “Mother Maggie’s” (by Jimmy Ferrer) I tried to channel the confidence and toxic dominance of Mama Fratelli as played by Anne Ramsey in The Goonies.

Both Fitz and Mother Maggie are also huge, terrifying women and I’m 5’2″ and intimidating to no one in real life, so that’s another reason why I love to play characters like that. 

Some of my other favorites have been those really interesting characters with quirks and accents like in “Making Deals with Devils” (an Appalachian woman), “Call Me Gone” (a cult leader), “Don’t Become a Fire Lookout in Montana” (a real sassy fire lookout), “She Catches Demons in her Teeth” (an old motel owner), “Noose of the Hanged Men” (a tour guide in Halifax), “Weird Church” (sass), “The Wall of Smiles” (femme fatale), “Seven Hand-Tied Knots” (Baba Yaga), “Grunts” (a bad ass “pilot”), “What Have They Done with the Crystal Cat’s Head?” (sardonic detective), “Sour Toe Shuffle” (a rowdy barkeep), “I Found My Abduction Journal” (Phoebe from Friends), “The Room of Change” (a Prussian foster mom), “I Have an Unusual Job” (a chain smoking hitwoman), “Ten-Year Photo” (a bad ass rocker girl), “The Nightmare Liberated” (a hostage negotiator). So many more. 

Anthony:
Now, onto one of my favorite questions. I love learning about all the different tools and equipment that voice actors use. What equipment do you use to record?

Erin:
**[Nerdy Ahem]** I record on a Stellar X2 by TechZone (an XLR Large Capsule Condenser) or a CAD E100S. Both of which I got based on recommendations from Mike DelGaudio who is not only a great narrator, and guy but also a wealth of gear, and VO knowledge on his YouTube channel (BoothJunkie). I was lucky enough to move into an apartment underneath another VO artist with his own studio and a bunch of microphones. He was sweet enough to let me try out several of his mics and the Stellar X2 is the closest I could find to my favorite of his (a Neumann) in a budget I could afford.

I plug into a Zoom H6 portable device which I chose because my recording closet has no nearby source of power so I needed something battery-operated AND I wanted it to record effects, foley and interesting sounds on the go. I’ve got three additional microphones for the Zoom itself, and just love it’s portability and quality.

I read my scripts from an iPad (because it provides its own light in my dark closet and it has no fan noise), and I edit on my MacBook Pro with Adobe Audition.

Anthony:
What’s the process like from getting a role to record, and then sending it to the production team? Do you get to pick and choose or request certain character types, or are they pretty much able to send out roles to who best fits them?

Erin:
I have no choice over what I get assigned. It’s always a surprise but it also depends on what kind of stories the team is being sent. I’ve had more roles during this season (16) and that’s most likely because there have been more stories submitted that need middle-aged women this year. Olivia also knows that I like creatures, villains, and sass so I’m sure she throws me those bones whenever she can. 

Anthony:
One more before we let you go! Do you have any projects you’d like to share with us that you’re working on that you can talk about? You’re also a writer, can you tell us a bit about your writing and where we can check it out?

Erin:
Yeah – well I already mentioned my upcoming Stay Weird podcast and SubverCity Transmit. I’m also in several other upcoming and current audio dramas (and comedies) like The Waystation (sci-fi horror), Calamity Jane (upcoming), Two Flatearthers Kidnap a Freemason (upcoming), Deconstructive Criticism (season one finished recently), Mandible Judy, and more. Keep an eye on CowCat Games for BROK the InvestiGATOR.

As for some of my short stories, you can find some on my website at ErinLillis.com and some in the following horror anthologies:

Tavistock Galleria

Dreadful Nostalgia

Black Rainbow

I also wrote all of the bookend pieces for SubverCity Transmit and The NoNap Podcast (a kids horror series) which I produced for 2020’s Halloween season. 

Anthony:
Erin, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add or say that we may have missed or didn’t get to go over?

Erin:
I just thank you for pointing a light towards our show and cast and being a fan. I know we all appreciate the ongoing support of listeners, especially now that premium podcast channels and major producers that could easily overshadow us are starting to show up in the space. I’m sure I could go on for several more hours and I’d still forget to tell you stuff so I’ll just stop while I’m ahead. Thanks again!

All Photos Courtesy of Erin Lillis

Dig this? Check out the full archives of A.M. Radio, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/a-m-radio-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
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