Anthony’s Airwaves – Transmissions From Jonathan Sims of The Magnus Archives

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Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Jonathan Sims, hailing from across the pond, in a south coastal town in England, who is a performer, writer, voice actor, game designer and podcaster known for the podcast The Magnus Archives. Produced by Rusty Quill, The Magnus Archives is a weekly horror anthology show that can either be listened to in separate creepy, disturbing and mysterious stories, or in order, which reveals a much bigger story in itself, as the show moves along. Sims plays the role of the head archivist in the Magnus Institute, tasked with bringing the Institute’s archive of supernatural statements up to date, and records them into audio format, which is what we hear for the show. Jonathan puts a lot of passion into his work, and you can tell as we get an inside look into his inner workings, as well as what drives his passion to keep the show moving forward!

Anthony:
Jonathan, I know you’re very busy, so thank you so much for taking the time today. So, let’s get right to it. It sure has been a crazy year, hasn’t it? How have you been holding up? I can imagine your podcasting and voice acting endeavors have been faring well through all this craziness, right?

Jonny:
It’s certainly been a weird time! In some ways, it’s been quite freeing, as we’ve all been putting together up home recording set-ups, which gives us a lot of flexibility. On the other hand, it means we all have to learn a certain degree of sound engineering just to record our parts, and the fact I live next to quite a noisy road makes some recording a bit stressful. Plus, acting against someone over Skype is a lot tougher than being in a studio together! So yeah, I’m getting through and we’re all just kind of getting used to the new way of working.

Anthony:
Can you tell us a bit about who you are, where you’re from and how you got into voice acting and podcasting?

Jonny:
I’m from Bournemouth originally, but I got into podcasting indirectly through performing with The Mechanisms – a sort of musical storytelling cabaret act we formed at university, in which I was lead writer and one the main narrators. Alex Newall (who runs Rusty Quill) saw us performing at the Edinburgh Fringe just as RQ was being set up and asked if we wanted to be involved. The band couldn’t really do anything on a podcast schedule, but I got talking to Alex myself and ended up pitching The Magnus Archives.

Anthony:
You started The Magnus Archives about 4 years ago or so. What were you doing before you started the show? When did you first realize what you were doing was a success? Was there a point in time where you could safely say, “I’m onto something here?”

Jonny:
I mean, before and during the run of the show, I had a generic office day-job, and while I’ve recently left that for more freelance work, even with the most successful podcasts, you’re never going to be making a living from it. I think we had a feeling from the start we were working on something a bit special, though, so when it started to get bigger around Season 3, it didn’t come as a shock, though it was very gratifying to see.

Anthony:
I love a good horror anthology series and I originally found The Magnus Archives a few years ago shortly after it launched and I’ve been hooked since. It kind of reminds of The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt. What was your inspiration for The Magnus Archives?

Jonny:
When coming up with the idea, I was working a night-shift, so I was listening to a lot of old horror radio serials like Lights Out or Nightfall, as well as the nascent horror podcast scene, with Pseudopod (who were veterans even back then), NoSleep and Knifepoint Horror. I was also deep into how internet horror was developing in forms like Creepypasta or the sort of ARG video series which were big at the time. It all kind of coalesced into this wobbly, undefined idea of a semi-anthology horror audio show, and myself and Alex gradually hacked it into what would become TMA.

Anthony:
I’m personally a fan of the more grotesque and gory episodes such as episode #178 The Processing Line, #182 Wellbeing and #150 Cul-de-Sac. I could go on, but how about you? Do you have any episodes that stand out?

Jonny:
Hard to say. Favourites come and go with the writing and I’m usually focused on the next episode, rather than going over old ones, but I do like writing a faintly ridiculous narrator, like the tax man in Still Life or the occult-obsessed artist in The Tale of a Field Hospital. I also quite like to set myself a challenge, like trying to make a big pig scary (Cruelty Free) or do something interested with Egyptian mummies (Burial Rites), so I’ve a lot of fondness for those episodes, even if I’m not certain I succeeded in all of them.

Anthony:
You not only narrate The Magnus Archives but you also write it. That said, how long have you been writing? What goes into being able to write up weekly scripts? How do you stave off writer’s block and keep the content fresh?

Jonny:
I’ve been writing in one form or another almost as long as I can remember, though I’d say TMA is the first time I’ve done it in what could be called a “professional capacity” (The Mechanisms was a fantastic project, but I don’t think any of us saw it as a career). And the good thing about a rolling podcast schedule of hundreds of episodes is that it teaches you not to be precious or perfectionist – if you don’t have a great idea, or you have a bit of writer’s block, what do you do? You push out a couple of sub-par episodes and wait for the groove to return. That said, with practice, it’s actually pretty easy to generate horror ideas – a nice long walk at night and I can often come up with a dozen or so. It’s all about learning to look at the world a bit sideways.

Image credit: www.themechanisms.com

Anthony:
Aside from podcasting, I understand you were also a member of the a very unique band The Mechanisms. Can you tell us a bit about them?

Jonny:
Of course! We were a space pirate musical storytelling cabaret group, that gave ancient myths a queer sci-fi twist through the medium of punked-up Folk music. Honestly, I’d always recommend just going to have a listen, rather than trying to describe it. It was rough around the edges, but I think we had something a bit special going there.

Anthony:
Sort of following up on my last question here, since you’re into music, do you collect any physical forms of music such as records, tapes, cassettes or CDs?

Jonny:
I have a vinyl player and a small stack of albums, but I wouldn’t call myself a collector. I generally find I’m a bit too lazy to actually put them on most of the time, and end up just listening to stuff online instead.

Anthony:
This is one of my favorite questions to ask and people seem love answering it. What hardware and software do you use to record with? Can you take through the process of recording and producing?

Jonny:
I use Audacity because it’s free and it’s simple. I’ve got a pop-shield/reflector dish set up on a mic stand with a AT2020USB+ in a Samson SP01 shock mount. Because it’s recording in quite a small bedroom, I need to be able to take it down pretty quickly, so can’t do proper soundproofing and generally just pile up cushions and curtains behind me to get the space right. I don’t do any processing at my end, just send off the raw WAV to the editors.

Anthony:
With the pandemic giving rise to podcasting, and the medium becoming ever more popular over recent years, how do you feel you’ve managed to stand out among the countless others?

Jonny:
Consistency. Just putting out episodes on time, regularly, at a high quality. Getting your podcast noticed and getting it traction is always a roll of the dice. By being consistent with production, you just keep rolling until you hit. Oh, and obviously make it good!

Anthony:
Here’s a couple of easy ones. What are some of your other passions in life other than podcasting?

Jonny:
I’m big into tabletop games: board games and RPGs. Myself and my spouse actually run a small TTRPG publisher called MacGuffin & Co., so it’s a big part of my life. Aside from that, it’s mostly your classic nerd stuff – video games, movies, comics. And obviously Horror is a big one for me.

Anthony:
What are some of your personal favorite podcasts?

Jonny:
I’ll be honest, I actually find it very hard to listen to fiction podcasts when TMA is in production – it feels too much like work. At the moment, I’m really enjoying podcasts that do deep dives into things I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to look into myself – Apocrypals goes through the bible and weird non-canon apocrypha, Sonic the Comic the Podcast has been giving be a big hit of 90s British nostalgia, and A More Civilized Age looks at the Star Wars universe through the lens of the Clone Wars series. 

Anthony:
You’ve been podcasting for quite some time now. That said, do you have any advice or words of wisdom for any of our readers that may want to break into the medium?

Jonny:
Find your collaborators. I think too many podcasters try to do everything themselves, and that’s an impossible amount of work. Find the people who share your passion and it’ll be easier and more fulfilling.

Anthony:
Jonathan, thank you again so much for taking your time here with us. Is there anything you would like to add that we didn’t get to discuss or talk about?

Jonny:
I have a book out! It’s a horror novel called Thirteen Storeys published by Orion/Gollancz. I think there should be some hardbacks still available from a few shops that do delivery, and the paperback is out in October, so please do buy a copy if you enjoy my work. If you would to grab a copy, here is a link https://www.waterstones.com/book/thirteen-storeys/jonathan-sims/9781473228726.

Thirteen Storeys by Jonathan Sims SIGNED EDITION — Queens Park Books

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

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