October 11, 2017

Dark Bites Presents: The Horror Up North

 - A Conversation With G and Dean Italiano



Although plenty of Dark Bite readers are bound to know the names Giasone (G) and Dean Italiano, most of you likely have not, but that’s okay. It’s not your fault. First, they’re Canadian. Plus they tend to stick more to the Indie side of things when it comes to their brand of dark creations. Don’t let their humble Canadianism fool you though. Whether it’s a haunting song from  G or a raw and poignant passage from any one of Dean’s books, to enjoy either of their work for the first time is to know what you’ve been missing out on all this time. From G’s gritty rock n’ roll zombie soundtrack to Dean’s raw and merciless pen to their co-operative efforts on their newest CD From Skull Tavern, they’ll easily worm their way into your brain and have you coming back for more before your first helping is devoured.

Somehow, I managed to catch Dean and G in a rare moment when they weren’t working, making music, writing books or chasing a pair of twin boys around. I won’t say there was, and I won’t say there wasn’t, a whiskey shot or two damaged during the making of our conversation, but we did get the chance to discuss their creative life, the state of the Indie industry, the art of making beautiful horror together, and a few things in between including but not limited to their Russian hackers.


G, fans may best know your music from the
regular gigs you once played as a member of Brass Pear, a classic rock n’ roll bar band with a few originals of your own. I understand you’ve also enjoyed some success in various song writing competitions as well. For the sake of this blog and keeping the focus on the darker side of things, how did you go from playing the crowds at the local level to where you made the horror themed Johnny Gruesome CD to your most recent horror themed CD, From Skull Tavern? And what did this new - and revisited - direction in your music mean to you?

I have always loved horror themed rock music.
Alice Cooper has always been one of my favourites since I was a little boy. Even during the bar band days we would slip in a “Johnny Gruesome” original a couple times during the set. But while the The Johnny Gruesome stuff was happening at the same time and I would always have to re-focus and change my setlist for Johnny Gruesome promo performances as they were so different. I actually grew to get tired of the bar  cover based setlists as I really (really!) enjoy performing original music especially if it is horror or ghost themed. So, in a way, the Johnny Gruesome writing and performing indirectly led to me not wanting to do the bar  scene anymore.

Dean, you’ve been at this horror thing for a number of years and first broke into the deep of the writing business with Pain Machine back in 2003. No doubt it’s been a wild, winding and adventurous road inside and out of the horror business since then but, if it’s even possible, how would you summarize your creative journey as it relates to the evolution of your writing life between Pain Machine and your most recent literary offering, The Starving Queen?

Writing involves spending a lot of time floundering around in your own brain, which is
something a lot of people, rightfully, don't want to do. Horror stories pull the dark places into view. I'm sure I'm not the only author who ends up adding autobiographical elements even if it's unintentional. Pain Machine wasn't really a horror novel, it was a book about my horror. I was a few shades of green back then (quite a sight) and I learned many lessons from those that were honest enough to deliver them to me. Following that, Spirits and Death in Niagara was written on contract, a research-based book which took me in a totally different direction, as did the Katrina book (Katrina And The Frenchman: A Journal From The Street) for very different reasons. But with each book, each short story, all of the editors,  writing groups, and friends in the business
helped me clean up my work. As a person I grew as well, and my story changes. The Starving Queen was originally a short story, then a novelette, and finally a novel. It grew with me, and tells a story I grew up with. And it's definitely a horror novel, you'll see that from the first page. My work(s) in progress tell a vastly different tale again. ...Jack Ketchum once said to me that he never wanted to write the same thing twice. I loved the idea, and try to follow that advice myself.

G and Dean, although a lot of folks out there may still put their nose down at the notion of self publishing, there’s a lot of quality product being professionally presented and proving, much like your own efforts through P.I.C. Publishing, that self publishing can and does deserve to compete with the big ones. What has your own experiences taught you about the business and rewards of self publishing and how might it influence your approach to writing stories and music?

G: Putting out your own CD has a lot less stigma
attached then putting out your own book. But in reality a good product will find an audience and a bad product will get destroyed by critics or fans. In many ways small press (with some exceptions) is really just self-publishing in disguise anyways. Many small press publishers spend $0 on promotion and make their money off the expectation that each author will buy 50 copies of their own book at wholesale and sell them at conventions. So the whole thing can be a ridiculous argument.

DEAN: As G said, the two businesses are quite opposite. Indie music is praised. Indie writing? Well, it's getting better. But let me tell you what I
see as the biggest problem that people don't take into account. If you are an indie musician, and you have put out CDs or songs or play gigs, chances are you've practiced for thousands of hours and get regular feedback. What works, what doesn't work, fix that part, write a better riff... Not all indie writers get feedback, aren't sure what to fix, some don't have editors, and decide to publish too soon. Everything I publish has been edited, run past writing groups, and beta read. With both industries, the reward is delivering a quality product. Writing the contract book was restricting but, with fiction, where it's published doesn't change my approach at all. In music, if I thought we had to write for the radio? There's a formula, a set of rules as listed in the tune "Pop 101" by Marianas Trench. Google it. That's just not us.

What can you tell me about the collaborative effort that is From Skull Tavern and how this eclectic horror themed beast of a CD came to be?

G: Three years of piecemeal writing and
collaborating followed by three intense months at the end finishing the last two songs and then booking a week’s worth of studio time all at once. Having two kids and full time jobs really gets in the way sometimes.

We have a notebook that we would write song titles or general ideas in. Then one of us would get inspiration and record a melody or a music part and record it into our computer. Then we would show each other the ideas. When we were happy we would record a rough demo in our home studio and then book studio time a month later. We recorded half the album two years ago including drum and guitar parts, and then decided to change lyrics and melodies later. That was problematic as we had lived with the original parts for 2 years already. The last two songs written and recorded come the quickest. “Me and Vincent Price” was written in July of 2016 after meeting Mitch Markowitz at a horror convention and talking about Hilarious House with him. “Bad Hair Day” was all Dean and I added the guitars at the end near the end of the recording sessions in the spring of 2017.

DEAN: The Johnny Gruesome CD was done before we had the kids. Then, life stopped. Eventually we found a little breathing room, and wanted to work
on a fun project again. Remembering the Friday-night-with-martini writing sessions we used to have, inspired us to work together on music again.
But there were no martini nights. We tag-teamed, handed things back and forth when we found time, left edits and corrections and ideas for the next available moment. It was much harder to work this way. Now that the kids are older we have more flexibility. We can go back to scoffing at each others ideas in person. And speaking of beasts? Dark Halloween was a beast to work on, and I'm glad the damn thing is done. The rest was fun, choosing different styles like reggae and metal and pop, choosing topics like Frankenstein and zombies, we had a blast. We hope you like it.

And, as if From Skull Tavern weren’t well received enough in your own backyard, what’s this I hear about an unexpected popularity in Russia? Is there a world tour in the works that we should know about?

G: I think it is amazing that Russian metal fans
that have pirated the album, were complaining about the album they just lifted.

DEAN: That's friggin’ hilarious. Before fighting over whether or not a band can sustain fans using multiple music styles, you should find out if there is a band. We're not taking this on the road, people. Music is ten bucks, sarcasm's free.

What’s next on the horizon for P.I.C. Publishing and what’s the best way for us hungry fans to get more of what you’ve got?

G: This year we’ll be at Frightmare In The Falls November 11th-12th.

The JOHNNY GRUESOME movie will be coming out soon (we hope) as well.

Plus, you can find us at two to three Horror conventions (to be announced) in 2018.

DEAN: To add to what G said, musically I don't think we'll be working on full-length CD projects, but individual songs for release from now on. I've been creating more artwork this past couple of years, not horror related yet but ya never know what'll come next. Writing is writing, as trite as that sounds. Now that The Starving Queen is out in the world, I'll get back to the next brain-child. Stay tuned! You can check out our website at: picpublishing.ca for all things G and Dean.