An Interview with Graham Rowat of the NoSleep Podcast

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All photos courtesy of Graham Rowat

We’ve got another incredible interview for you guys today with yet another member of the NoSleep Podcast family, the incredibly talented Graham Rowat!

As I continue these interviews, I’m learning so much more about the voices I hear over my speaker on a weekly basis! I’m learning about the people behind the voices.

In this day and age, it’s easy to forget that people you don’t directly interact with in real life are more than just passive figures, and they too have lives of their own. That’s been my aim with these interviews, to put a face to the voice while bringing their stories to life. I am truly enjoying learning things about the NoSleep Podcast I never otherwise would have known.

Much like other interviews we’ve done before, every actor brings a unique take on working with the show as well as their lives outside of the show. So, let’s hear it from the man himself, Graham Rowat!

Anthony:
Graham, thank you for joining us for our NoSleep series of interviews. I’m excited to have you here with us! How have the past couple of years been treating you?

Graham:
That fact that you say “past couple years” threw me, but I guess that’s accurate. Wow. It’s been strange, but my family has been pretty lucky. It took a while, but our son ended up adapting to virtual school (he’s ten) and taking responsibility for his work and learning. It was really great to watch him grow in that regard. 

Since moving to New Jersey 5 years ago and setting up my voice-over booth, I’ve been fortunate in that I was able to move my audiobook work to home. When the pandemic hit, I was already pretty busy. The pandemic multiplied that work as narrators with home studios became even more valuable.

I’m extremely lucky to have had work in the one medium where an actor can make a living from home.

Anthony:
We’ll start off easy before we get into the meat of the interview. Who are you and where are you from? 

Graham:
I’m a professional actor born in Canada, now living in the United States. My family moved from New York to New Jersey a few years ago so we could have a home instead of an apartment, but I still typically work in New York (barring global pandemics).

Anthony:
Much like others, we have interviewed from the podcast, you also have a history of working in music, television, theater, and even been on Broadway! Can you tell us a bit about how you got into music and acting? We’d also like to touch on your time on television, as well as your time with the orchestras you’ve been a member of?

Graham:
Shortly after graduating from Ryerson Theatre School, I auditioned for the Toronto stage production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I joined the ensemble of that show in 1997 and, upon its closing, was invited to join the New York production. I’d had no plans to go to the United States, so this was a big jump for me: to be in my 20’s on Broadway. New York City changed my perspective on the opportunities that might be available to me as a performer. I went on tour with Les Miserables while I applied for a Green Card. When I was able to work independently in the States, I left the tour and came back to New York, auditioning for stage, TV, and film work. I’ve since been in seven more Broadway shows, (most recently Dear Evan Hansen), some great TV programs (Evil, Elementary, Law, and Order: SVU), some video games (GTAV, Bioshock 2), and lots of audiobooks. Every so often, I also get to do concert work, singing with orchestras around the country. 

Anthony:
Earlier this year, I started listening to another podcast in my search for NoSleep adjacent horror audio dramas and came across The Grey Rooms and The Hotel.  I binged The Grey Rooms in just a few weeks! Is it safe to say that you like to voice otherworldly mysterious characters? What other types of characters do you like to voice best on NoSleep? How about on the stage and screen?

Graham:
Bob (The Grey Rooms) is a complicated “guy.” My initial approach to him was that his duties in the Rooms were ones he’s performed for a very long time, so there’s a perfunctoriness to what he does. There’s something cool in grounding otherworldly beings in motivations we can all relate to. Everyone and everything wants something. If you play that want, it rings true to the listener. 

I think the most fun characters to play are ordinary people who find themselves in extreme situations. As you know, that happens a lot in NoSleep stories. Acting is sometimes referred to as life with the boring parts taken out. Getting to spend time in these stressful, terrible adventures allows me to experience this distilled life, which can be thrilling. I think it’s similar to folks playing a great video game, watching a well-made movie, or reading a gripping book. I also love getting inside the head of a good villain. Because villains don’t think they’re villains, they think they’re the hero. Sitting in that unique motivation is an interesting challenge.

All photos courtesy of Graham Rowat

 

Anthony:
Tell us about some of your favorite places that your acting, and music have taken you?

Graham:
I went to China with Les Miserables when it became the first American musical to play that country. My wife Kate and I sang with the National Symphony Orchestra on the lawn of the Capitol in DC for Labor Day. And of course, Beauty and the Beast brought me to the United States and changed the direction of my life forever.

Anthony:
So, now onto NoSleep. How did you end up with the show? You signed on for the latter end of season 10 on a fan-favorite series “A Seaside British Pub.” Do you feel your background in acting made it easy for you to get going with the show? Or was there a different set of challenges to overcome?

Graham:
I’d come across Mike Delgaudio’s videos on home setup for voice-over while I was putting together my studio in New Jersey. Through Mike, I discovered the podcast and thought it was creating content of amazingly high quality. Unfortunately, one of the first stories I heard was “The Pancake Family,” so I actually backed away from the show for a few months. A later sampling showed me how diverse their stories are and I wrote an email to David to introduce myself. I also went to the NoSleep Live show in New York in 2018 and followed up with him after.

Anthony:
With season 16 well underway, I loved the story “The Last to Fall” that you mainly narrated. There’s something about those stories that don’t directly exude horror but are more suspenseful that I just love. What are your favorite genres of horror and favorite ways to consume the genre? It could be movies, video games, podcasts, writing, etc.

Graham:
“The Last Fall” was definitely a favorite. I love a story where I get to use all my tricks. Jack was the office smart-ass who slowly descends into madness, and that kind of journey is catnip for me. And I agree with you, I enjoy stories where the audience doesn’t instantly guess where the threat is coming from.

I had a great Shudder binge a few weeks ago. I love a good zombie movie, as trite as that might sound. I watched One Cut of the Dead, which was amazing, Peninsula, a fun continuation of the Train to Busan franchise, and Yummy, a zombie break-out in a Polish plastic surgery clinic. One of my favorite parts of a zombie film is the initial passing of the infection. I love seeing the bits of evidence in the wide shot that the main characters haven’t noticed. That’s a fun element in zombie films, but also in movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and It Follows.

Anthony:
What mainly interests you about horror? What does horror mean to you?

Graham:
Horror to me is putting a normal person in an extreme situation. The fear of the unknown. The creak of a floorboard when you think you’re alone. It’s our safe routines and patterns being splintered apart. I think horror is exciting because we can vicariously live through those experiences without having them actually happen to us. 

Anthony:
Who or what have been some of your inspirations as a voice actor with NoSleep, and in general? Are there any other narrators who you look up to? 

Graham:
One of the most influential scripted podcasts I discovered when I first started exploring what was out there was Gideon Media’s, Steal the Stars. It tells the story of an alien heist on a secret base, and the acting and sound design blew me away. Ashlie Atkinson as Dak set the voice acting bar for me. 

In truth though, it’s actors who’ve been trained for the stage and screen doing exactly what they’d normally do with a script, just with a microphone instead of a camera or live audience. That’s what I try to do.

All photos courtesy of Graham Rowat

Anthony:
Do you find it easier to get into certain characters than others? What your process like in terms of preparation? How do you get into the headspace for the various types of stories? 

Graham:
My approach to characters is that I’m not another person, I’m always myself, having lived through a set series of circumstances to get to this point in time. This allows me to always use my natural impulses to respond to what’s happening and not try to externally place mannerisms on my delivery. It can be challenging to do this with some NoSleep stories, but there’s always something the character wants, and I start there.

Anthony:
Now onto one of my favorite questions! What equipment and software do you use to record your audio? Are you able to do your parts of a story solo or do you act alongside another actor?

Graham:
I have a great, old booth that I found on Craigslist shortly after we closed on our house in New Jersey. I couldn’t tell you who made it, but the walls are thick and the pass-throughs work, so I’m good. I’d originally started with Reaper (using Mike’s video tutorials) but ended up switching to Pro Tools when I had an audiobook engineer come out and show me his production techniques. I recently upgraded from a CAD E100S mic to an Austrian OC818. My interface is an Audient ID22.

99% of what I do is independent of any other actors. It’s pretty surreal that so many stories are produced, both NoSleep and other audio dramas, with lines delivered to imaginary people. It depends on how well I can hear the other character’s imaginary delivery and respond as authentically and naturally as possible. And then I picture how else they might say their line, and I record a different response to that.

I love listening to the finished mix to hear whether I gave the right take to match the other actor. That success is also dependent on the editor/producer, and NoSleep has some of the best with Phil Michalski, Jeff Clement, and Jesse Cornett.

If I had the option, I’d love to record live with the other VAs, but then you have to contend with schedules. 

Anthony:
I know this may be a difficult question, but what have been some of your favorite stories in which you’ve participated over the years? Season 16 is shaping up to be one of my personal favorite seasons so far! 

Graham:
Ha! I agree with you about season 16 setting a high bar. I’m very excited about some upcoming stories currently in production. 

I have so many favorite stories and I’m terrified I might snub one of our incredible authors. That said, here are a few that either lined up with my personal tastes or let me have some fun: “Our Hands are Tied to the Ocean Floor” (S12E13), “Second to Last Stop” (S13E07), “Underneath the Tree” (Christmas 2019 Bonus-I PRODUCED THIS ONE), “I Found My Abduction Journal” (New Decayed E4), “Graduating” (S15E12), and “Flesh of the Idiots” (Sleepless Decompositions, Vol 2).

Anthony:
What are some of your favorite memories of your time (thus far) with the NoSleep Podcast? NoSleep just seems like a blast to be a part of! 

Graham:
Doing the live readings on the NoSleep YouTube channel during the heart of the pandemic was an incredibly valuable outlet for me. Saying lines to another actor, “tossing the ball” back-and-forth, is my favorite thing. Since all live performance was shut down, I lived for those opportunities to play and act for the amazing NoSleep fans.

All photos courtesy of Graham Rowat

Anthony:
With NoSleep being such a large production, having been around for 10 years as a podcast, doing live shows, and more recently Twitch live streams, what’s it like being part of such a large entity that is so beloved by countless people?

Graham:
It’s amazing. In the early days, it was a bit daunting. I remember when I started with NoSleep, I’d retake lines over and over because I knew they’d be heard by a huge audience. Some listeners would be thinking, “Who the heck is this guy?” Over time, I hope they’ve grown to trust me. I definitely peek through my fingers to see what the fans are feeling. In general, they’re a smart, amazing group that has taken NoSleep from a podcast into a wonderful, globe-spanning community. 

Anthony:
Just a couple more and I’ll let you go! We went over your inspirations when it came to voice acting, screen, and theater, but, what about musically? Are there any artists and albums that mean the most to you?

Graham:
My music tastes are all over the place. In the car, I tend to bounce between the Yacht Rock, the 80s, and Chill/EDM channels. Prince was a big influence on me growing up. I can go to any of his albums and get lost in the groove. I’ve gifted Sign ‘o’ the Times to a few friends.

Anthony:
Do you collect any physical forms of music at all like records, tapes, cassettes, CDs? Or are you all digital? 

Graham:
I went through all the phases. My Walkman with a microphone (!) was a treasured possession as a kid. I later had a mini-disc player! I owned several of the early MP3 players. One was shaped like a cassette so you could use it in your older car stereo. 

I’m all digital now and demand Alexa to play whatever comes into my head, but I also feel the pull of vinyl. My parents had records while I was growing up. 

I recall when those elements came together for the high school morning announcements. I used my Walkman to capture clips from sound effects albums that I’d then play under the copy. I guess audio production has been with me for a long time.

My fear in buying a record player today is that I no longer have the attention span to sit in one spot and enjoy a whole album, which makes me sad.

Anthony:
Lastly, what are some of your favorite podcasts that you’re currently listening to, or have listened to already?

Graham:
Gideon Media (Steal the Stars) is releasing a slate of new shows this summer and fall. The Designated Mourner by Wallace Shawn is out now and is amazing. Everyone should subscribe to their social media (@MediaGideon) to pick up what they’re laying down. 

Anthony:
Graham, thanks a lot again for doing this with us. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap this up? Anything that we may have missed or you simply didn’t get to mention or go over? Any other projects that you can share with us?

Graham:
One thing I forgot to mention that’s specific to NoSleep has to do with emotion in narration. In audiobooks, I keep the narration relatively neutral, saving the emotion for the dialogue, even first-person narration. I now know that Brandon Boone’s score is a partner in every scene, allowing me to embrace the feelings of the moment and let them be heard. I still record my lines alone, but knowing his music will be there is like having a net that allows me to make a bigger leap.

In addition to NoSleep, I hang my hat at the Grey Rooms (@TheGreyRoomsPod). Our creator, Jason Wilson, cites NoSleep as a huge inspiration. It’s been a fascinating journey building the show with him. I’m in the process of recording a five-episode event with Sarah Ruth Thomas called “Descent Into Hell” that we’ll be releasing in advance of season 4. We also have a cross-over with the SCP Archives dropping very soon.

Folks can visit Podchaser if they’re curious about other shows I’m in: (https://www.podchaser.com/creators/graham-rowat-107ZzkFRJh).  

Finally, thank you to David Cummings and Olivia White for letting me be a part of this amazing show. As a performer, I crave good stories to dive into. The NoSleep team consistently feeds my soul with the gift of these harrowing tales and I’m forever grateful.

All photos courtesy of Graham Rowat

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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