By WILLIAM J. WRIGHT
Argyle Goolsby has had the kind of career that most horror fans only dream of. Born Stephen Matthews in Bluefield, West Virginia, Goolsby escaped the boredom of life in Southern Appalachia through his love of classic genre films such as Bride of Frankenstein and The Creature From the Black Lagoon. A latter-day “monster kid,” Goolsby channeled his lifelong obsession with all things gruesome into his own brand of macabre art and music. In 1997, Goolsby teamed with TB Monstrosity (aka, Tracy Bird) to form the horror punk band Blitzkid. Blitzkid would ride a wave of renewed interest in horror punk initiated by a revamped Misfits in the mid-90s. Although comparisons to the Misfits were inevitable, Blitzkid nevertheless carved out their own unique niche in the genre with infectious hooks, sinister lyrics. and captivating, poppy melodies. Rising from total obscurity to the top of the horror punk heap, Blitzkid released five full-length albums and took their high energy live show around the world garnering the group a devoted international fanbase.
Not content with just one musical outlet, Goolsby found himself temporarily filling in on bass for ex-Misfits guitarist Bobby Steele’s band, The Undead in 2003. However, Goolsby’s stint with Steele wouldn’t be his only brush with the legendary horror punk progenitors. With the departure of singer Landon Blood, Goolsby was invited to take over vocal and bass duties in Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein’s post-Misfits project Gorgeous Frankenstein. Blitzkid played their final show in Dusseldorf, Germany, on November 10, 2012, capping 15 triumphant years of horror and music. Yet, Goolsby was far from finished. Now a solo artist, he also fronts The Roving Midnight and the all acoustic group The Hollow Bodies, bands that reveal other facets of Goolsby’s dark vision.
We recently caught up with Argyle Goolsby to discuss his ever-evolving career, his newly-recorded score for the silent classic Nosferatu (which was released on DVD in November, 2020 and recently nominated nominated for a Rondo Award), and how the ongoing pandemic derailed a Blitzkid reunion tour.
Can you tell us how you got involved with writing and recording a new score for F.W. Murnau’s Nosfertatu for Cortlandt Hull’s Witch’s Dungeon Classic Movie Museum?
That goes back to about 2015 when I moved up to Connecticut. A friend of mine who lived in New Haven messaged me and said there was a place I needed to check out in Bristol, Connecticut called the Witch’s Dungeon. I had heard of it before in different publications and whatnot. So I made it a point to go check it out. I went to the website and I saw that Cortlandt was going to be showing King Kong on 16mm that weekend…but we got snowed out and I had to wait a little while longer. Finally, I got there to meet him and watch the movie, and we just started talking. It was one of those things where, if you’re into monsters and horror movies, you know you’ve met someone like you. We had a lot to talk about. At some point in the conversation, it came up that on Blitzkid’s last tour in 2012, we were in Europe, and we were making our way over to Romania, and we realized that on the way we were going to pass Dolný Kubín, Slovakia, which is where the castle from Nosferatu is located. It’s been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. We were begging our tour manager, “You’ve gotta stop! You have to let us go check this out!” We went on a tour [of Orava Castle]. It was amazing! So, I was telling Cortlandt about this and he was really intrigued by it. Fast forward to about 2018. He approached me and said, “I have a print of Nosferau. It’s a first generation print from the original, but the problem is, I don’t have any music. I know you’re a musician. How would you feel about doing a score for this? Because I would like to show it at The Witch’s Dungeon.” It was funny that he asked me that because years and years ago, I had a little to-do list for Blitzkid and on it was “Score Nosferatu.” It was something I wanted to do. It had always been in my sights, but how the hell do you approach something like that? Coming from my background, it’s three chords and the truth, you know? Punk rock. I was like, “I don’t know how to score a movie.” But, when Cortlandt gave the opportunity, I got gutsy, I guess! So that’s kind of how it came about.
Were you familiar with the original Nosferatu score by Hans Erdmann? Did it factor into your work?
Yes and no, because it’s lost. It’s been reproduced and parts of it have been done, but like the movie, it was subject to the many tragedies that befell the production. I had read Murnau’s production notes on the score and how he wanted it. If you look in Erdmann’s notes, Murnau gave him simple cues like “fantastic,” “joyful,” “mournful.” He had kind of diagramed it out. I didn’t really try to go by that too much. I wasn’t trying to replicate what was done musically. I was trying to bring my experience, my feeling of the movie out into music. I tried to honor what was done before, obviously, and use that as a signal for the way that I went with it, but I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to do something different.
Were there any scenes that were particularly challenging to write music for?
All of it! I’ll be honest with you. When I first approached it, I just sat down with a bunch of gusto. I was excited, and I started writing on a little keyboard on Garageband just to kind of flesh out melodies. I think the most difficult, challenging parts I discovered were the scenes where it’s more idyllic in the beginning before the journey to Carpathia and things start to get weird. I realized that in order to really emphasize the surrealism of where Thomas Hutter ends up, I needed to set that up with something really contrasting. The music for the first few scenes is very true to the period. It’s got a lot of pomp and circumstance. So that was kind of challenging. I’ve never really worked with orchestration before. It’s not like with rock ‘n’ roll where you have a bass guitar, but in a symphony you have contra bass, you have these different basses that can do different things and accomplish different things. That, for me, was the most challenging aspect—just trying to bring that element of happiness to it in a way that worked.
Do you have any formal music education?
None! I don’t even know how to play piano that well. It’s all punk rock. I learned from bands like The Ramones and The Clash. Write what you feel. That’s the way music’s always been for me. And that’s why this was a challenge. It is a crossover into “okay, now you’re writing a score,” and that term “score” sort of implies something more structured than a punk song. I can’t say that what I did could even technically be called a score. I’m sure there are composers out there who would argue with what I’m doing…
You’re kind of taking the same route as Danny Elfman who also came from a rock background without formal training. That puts you in some good company!
Oh. man! Thank you very much. That was always in the back of my mind — the whole story with Danny Elfman.
Obviously, Nosferatu is a beloved classic of the genre. Was there ever a point in the process of writing the score where the gravity of what you were doing hit you?
When I started looking at the background of the movie and its release — there’s (producer and production designer) Albin Grau’s posters and all the information regarding the Festival of Nosferatu at the Zooplatz in Germany when it came out — there was all this grandeur around it. And that’s when I realized — I was like, “Wow!” I kind of got cold feet for a minute because I love that movie. It hit me that I stood a very probable chance of ruining one of the best movies ever made.
As a fan of the film, why do you think Nosferatu continues to resonate with audiences?
Nosferatu has endured for as long as it has because it’s so full of artistic merit. It’s so full of life. It doesn’t matter what your preferences are in film or music, there’s something resolute in that film that’s easy for anybody to pick up on. At face value, it tells a very beloved story. If you think of vampires, pre-Bram Stoker, you had authors like J. Sheridan Le Fanu with Carmilla and Varney the Vampire. You had these things that popped up, but there wasn’t a culture around vampires yet. I think Albin Grau chose to do Nosferatu because it was so unique. Bram Stoker really brought something to the cultural level of the time that was just superstition and fairy tales at that point. Admittedly, Dracula is very relegated to its time period. By today’s standards, it’s hard to read, but the story’s there — the good versus evil. You see it in Dracula, but you really see it in Nosferatu — the whole theory in literature of the hero’s journey. As human beings, there’s something about that journey that we’re attached to, and, when you start throwing in supernatural elements and light and dark and good and evil and all these concepts that we’re confronted with symbolically our entire lives, it just accentuates all those points. I think Murnau took all of that and wrapped it into Nosferatu. . . There’s lots of stuff happening on a subliminal level that lots of people miss.
Are there any other silent classics you’d like to score?
Yes, definitely. Cortlandt has a great print of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He has one of Der Golem. And he has one of Dante’s Inferno, as well, that’s a really, really nice print. That’s the goal: to really expand on this whole concept and hopefully get better at it as I go, and, as an artist, open up something for myself that is an experience I can continue to develop as another path I keep going down musically. I’ll get started on one soon enough. I’m just kind of stepping back from everything and watching how Nosferatu does. I kind of just want to let it sit so I can get my own perspective of it. I worked on it for a long time, so I’m too close to it right now. I want to have time to let it do its thing, then revisit it with fresh eyes and fresh ears.
Did the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on your plans for the Nosferatu release?
It’s put a damper on all my plans. For the Nosferatu soundtrack, it definitely altered the course we had planned for its release. Originally, it was supposed to come out in May of 2020. So this time last year, we were in the home stretch and really trying to wrap it up because Blitzkid had announced that we were going on tour for the first time in almost a decade. That wasn’t planned. That was just something that just arose when the opportunity presented itself. I was already in the throes of recording the score. Now, I had the score on one hand, and we were trying to develop the Blitzkid tour and trying to sync those two things so they could both be done. Things were going good. We had everything worked out for the tour. I thought, “This is perfect.” Our last show was going to be in New Jersey. It was a memorial show for one of our friends who had passed away. Down the street is a theater. So my idea was why don’t we premiere it? There was going to be a lot of people coming in for this. The theater held right around a hundred people. It would be a great pre-party sort of thing, and we contacted the theater and they were all about it. They’re independent and they loved it. We went about selling tickets for it and sold everything out. That was our impetus to really get it done at that point . . and then COVID happened.
The theater, obviously, had to shut down throughout the whole initial lockdown phase of this whole thing. They’re still around, but they’re just so incapable of doing anything right now that they have to cater to the larger releases to stay open. At that point, we realized it was going to be a year or two before we could premiere this properly. That’s why the idea of streaming it on Halloween came about. It’s one of those things where it didn’t make sense putting it out two years from now. So that’s how we did it. We ended up putting it out live streaming. A lot of people turned out for it which was cool. Immediately after that, the score went on sale with a line of merch I designed. That’s the closest that we got for a release. Eventually, the plan is to take it to theaters and treat it like it’s a band. Instead of playing a live punk rock show at a bar or music venue, let’s take this on the road. Let’s take it to places where we can do presentations. The whole idea behind this was for Cortlandt and I to kind of work in concert together. He has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge about film in general. He’s been running The Witch’s Dungeon which is the longest running horror movie memorabilia museum and attraction in the world for decades. It was our idea that we could do presentations. We could do a nice dissertation before the film. We still want to do that. It’s just getting it to a place and time where something like that is a possibility.
What’s the status of your bands The Roving Midnight, The Hollowbodies, and Blitzkid?
Everything’s just kind of in a holding pattern right now in terms of shows. Creatively, I’m still working on new material. We don’t have any new material lined up or planned for Blitzkid because (the reunion) was a surprise for all of us, For the The Roving Midnight and Hollow Bodies, I’m working on new music. Essentially, “Argyle Goolsby” is the umbrella that I create under, and then when I play live, electrically, that’s The Roving Midnight, but it really got to the point that I really enjoyed playing these songs acoustically, and that’s how The Hollow Bodies developed. Basically, what I’m getting at with that is once I record a new Argyle Goolsby record, there will be more Roving Midnight Shows and then we’ll transcribe that music eventually into another Hollow Bodies album which will then turn into more Hollow Bodies shows. As for Blitzkid, we just put out a vinyl and a DVD of a show that we streamed on Halloween. Besides that, I’m just working on a lot of art. I’ve been doing just a lot of drawing. I’m working on illustrations for a couple of books. It’s too much! (Laughs)
Tell me about Blitzkid’s All Hallow’s Stream.
That was a direct result of Covid. Our tour was planned. We were primed and ready to go. . . At this time last year, we were closing in. Our first show was going to be in April in Rhode Island. We didn’t actually cancel the tour until March 14, 2020. So we were really close. Our hands were tied . Our agency was like, “We gotta pull the plug.” At the time, much like everyone in the world, no one really had a full grasp on the scope of this thing and how life-altering it was going to become. We were all just very optimistic that we would get back on the road by the spring. Spring came and this shit is not getting any better. So we had to make the announcement that we were rescheduling for the fall. Once again thinking that maybe by the fall, it will be better. By August, we realized that that wasn’t going to happen. We knew that we would have to announce that the tour was cancelled or postponed yet again. It was just a series of lifting people up and then letting them down.
We know that [Blitzkid fans] know that we can’t help it, but it doesn’t feel good, right? So our plan was, we have to do something. And really our only option was to do something streaming. That’s how the whole idea crystalized. From there, we just decided that we should probably do it on Halloween because people weren’t going to have a lot to do on Halloween. So we decided to record it in advance so we would have enough time to do a production. Back in August or September, we started recording everything and took the time to edit everything in. We ended up having puppets and all this crazy stuff. Everybody was super happy for it. . . I think it did alleviate some of the disappointment to a degree. But, it was a success. A lot of people turned out for it. People loved it. We already had the footage, and everybody was like, “Can you put this out on DVD? We want to see it again.” It was a unanimous decision to put it on DVD, and then the idea to take the audio and put it out on vinyl came about, too. As far as doing it again, I think so. I think even pandemic or not, we want to be able to do this every year in a way that it becomes kind of an anticipated event like a little variety show extravaganza.
How was it different from a Blitzkid live show?
We knew that it was going to be hard to do a Blitzkid show without an audience because we need that reciprocal energy to do what we do. So to get out of our heads on that, what we decided to do was approach this not so much as a live show, but as if we were recording a live album. We just so happen to be filming it. So that’s the way that we did it, and it helped us out a lot. We weren’t able to run around and be crazy and do what we normally do because we were recording a live album, but we thought it would be unique in a way to give our fans a window into watching us record an album. But instead of watching three guys standing in the studio with egg crates and soundproof walls, let’s fill it full of cool shit. Let’s make a spectacle out of it.
Was hard getting back into a Blitzkid frame of mind after not performing with TB for so long?
Not really. I don’t think so. These songs and that band is ingrained into my DNA. I was 17 years-old whenI joined that band. Most of my life experiences and most of my perceptions of the world were forged by being in that band, so it’s just as much a part of my life experience as it is a band. So it’s not hard. It’s that adage of “like riding a bike. . .” It’s more than just playing music. That’s the easy part. It’s always easy to pick up an instrument and play a song. That’a a mechanical motion. I know bands that do that now. (laughs) They’re bands, but that doesn’t mean you feel it. I think the most important thing is being able to tap into why you’re a band, and fortunately for me and TB, we never lost that. Life changed along the way for us in a way that wasn’t conducive to our doing it the way we wanted to. That’s why we quit. Rather than let it potentially become something it wasn’t meant to be or become banal and watered down, let’s just stop, and we can get back to it. At some point, if we can get back to it, we’ll take it off the shelf and it will still be fresh. And I think it is. We don’t need to do Blitzkid. It’s not like we gotta do this, and it’s never been that way. It’s just who we are, and the time’s right.