Monday, December 2, 2013

Andy McFerrin...the man with a thousand voices

For those who may not know, book one of the DEAD series, DEAD: The Ugly Beginning, is now available on for your listening pleasure. One of the common "complaints" that some people have had about my DEAD series is the vast number of characters. So as it went into production, I was anxious to see how the man chosen for the job would handle it. He went beyond my expectations, creating "voices" for everybody. I am surprised he did not end up babbling like a loon in a dark corner when it was all done.

So, take a few minutes and get to know Andy McFerrin (who is already hard at work on book 2, DEAD: Revelations), the VOICE of my epic zombie series.

So, what led you to doing voice work for audio books?

The usual one-two punch of necessity and opportunity. I got into this by playing guitar and singing in a band that recorded an album with John Bricker at Falcon Sound (who’s producing and engineering these) last year, and we kind of got chummy. He kept mentioning to me that he’d been getting into voice production, audiobooks, that kind of thing. Very much “You should totally be doing this, nudge-nudge-wink-wink.” For like months. One little financial catastrophe later, voice work went from being this cool thing that sounded like it might be fun to try sometime to “YES I SHOULD TOTALLY BE DOING THIS PLEASE CAN WE START NOW.” And then I got my feet wet and discovered that I almost like VA more than singing. I’ve only had a few months to change the header on my mental business card from ‘struggling musician’ to ‘voice actor’, but I have a feeling this is where it’s at for me. It’s a completely different animal performance-wise, and lets me be as introverted as I care to.

The social media is…

...still kind of a mystery to me. I’m aware that a lot of people use social media for marketing and networking and all that but every time I’ve tried to use, say, Facebook for self-promotion I find myself being so apologetic about barging into people’s newsfeeds that I never manage to deliver any kind of message and just default to goofing off. Also, pictures of cats and food. #YOLO #deuces #fakehashtag

Share some information about your individual work on projects besides the ones you are doing for me: 

Right as we started the first DEAD book we were just finishing work on the audiobook production of an old-school SF novel called Spindown by George Wright Padgett, which is one of the cooler things I’ve worked on. It’s a throwback to the utopia/dystopia SF of the sixties and seventies, where you’ve got this gleaming artifice on the surface covering the guts of a system that’s succumbed to its own obsolescence and falling apart at the seams. And against that you have characters who’ve grown up in that system trying to deprogram themselves and figure out who they are. While trying not to get ripped to strips by killer robots, as of course you do in these kind of situations. Kind of Logan’s Run, with some fun ideas that’d be at home in the Portal universe, or maybe Paranoia. We’d had to pass when it was originally offered to us because it wouldn’t fit into the schedule at the time, but the author sent me a copy of the ebook anyway. Which turned out to be an underhanded move on his part, because I liked it so much that the moment there was time free I pestered everyone involved to let me have a crack at it. As with DEAD I had a pretty strong emotional involvement with the material, and it turned out great.

Aside from that, I’m still writing and playing music in my spare time. I have an album’s worth of material sitting on the back burner that doesn’t seem to want to leave me alone, so sooner or later I expect I’ll end up recording all these ideas just to get everything said.

What is one question you are sick of being asked—not in interviews, but by individuals who know you are in the entertainment industry?

I’ve not been at this end of things long enough to really get sick of anything, I’m still very much in the starry-eyed, coin-op-heart-shaped-vibrating-bed phase. But the first thing anybody says when I tell them I narrate audiobooks is, without fail, “Do you have to do, like, all those different voices?” Yes, they actually add the pause and ‘like’ every time. It’s eerie. So give it a few months and that’ll probably be it.


So, let’s talk a little about the DEAD series. What are your thoughts on the project, and do you have an interest in the zombie genre apart from this work, or is it simply part of the job? What (if anything) do you think sets it apart from other stories in the genre

DEAD turned out, pretty unexpectedly, to be right in my wheelhouse. By far the most fun part of the job is when I get to climb the walls, gnaw the scenery, and otherwise let the demons out to play. And there’s no genre better suited to that than horror, so I knew I was looking for something in that vein. I wasn’t specifically looking for zeds, but definitely horror. It was when I got the Garrett story arc as an audition script that my attitude changed from “Oh, it’s got zombies, that’ll be fun” to “Holy shit, I have to read this.”

Full disclosure: I’d gotten kind of jaded on the zombie thing. I think it’s become so ubiquitous within our popular culture that it’s in danger of losing the big idea that made it work in the first place. With the kind of supersaturation we have—I mean, you’ve got zombies in commercials selling insurance for crying out loud—it’s all become very safe, and safe is boring. So to come across a story that’s willing to be so ruthlessly unrestrained—nobody’s safe, nothing’s off the table, no trigger warnings, you will get wet on this ride—it took me back to what I liked so much about Romero’s Night in the first place, that dangerous sense of chaos where you don’t know how it’s going to end, Joe Lantern-jaw isn’t going to swoop in and save the day, and you have to face that uncertainty. That’s horror. DEAD’s approach definitely re-kindled my interest and got me back to thinking of zombies as horror, as opposed to a pop culture ingredient that’s only there as part of a mashup.

DEAD also has going for it this vibe of dread inevitability which I’ve been missing for a while now, where getting to shelter doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe. You can hit the safe room, barricade the doors, and then you have this dilemma where you realize that you’re not keeping the horde out—they’re keeping you in, and they have all the time in the world whereas you...well, don’t. Onrushing entropy, the knowledge that one way or another the bill is coming due and you’re going to pay it, is just about the most sickening feeling I know of. I’ve been facing that in my personal life for some time, so there’s definitely some serendipity there. It was something to draw on.

I have had the pleasure of hearing your sound files for all of the characters that populate the DEAD world. Care to share the process you are using to A) Come up with so many voices; and B) Keep them separated in your head?

Voice devlopment starts during the first working read, which is usually my second time actually reading the book. I sit at the PC as I go through the manuscript and make character notes in a separate file, and when I run across something in the text that describes a character or they have a moment or interaction that I feel gives me a handle on their personality, into the file it goes. It lets me build a picture of who each person is beyond what’s in the book, and sometimes that’ll trigger a recognition—maybe it’s someone from real life, maybe it’s someone from TV or a movie, but it’s a person I can draw from. So now all this other data becomes available to me that I didn’t have before and instead of just being a question of dialect and embouchre and dialogue, now that person’s a character in my mind. And sometimes in a pinch I’ll just go from scratch and just mix and match accents with attitudes until I have something that feels right.

Then in preproduction we “audition” the voices in the studio, and John keeps samples of each voice on hand which he can feed back to me whenever I lose track of who’s who. So yeah, basically we cheat. And even with that sometimes the voices drift a bit. Some of the “auditions” we laid down for you ended up being way different from what we ended up going with by the time we started production. Because I’m kind of an overthinking spaz like that.

How would you describe the DEAD series to friends?

Straight 101 bourbon, neat, make it a double, with a bloody brain for a chaser.

Any favorites among the characters yet?

It’s early yet, but Juan Hoya’s the one I’m watching most. Juan’s got this real interesting range throughout the first book—he starts with this aggro alpha-male swagger that gets followed to its most extreme, cold-blooded terminus, whereupon he makes a conscious moral decision to retreat back to a more human position, change his standing, and carry on. I like that about him, that he’s not letting his past dictate his future. I also think he’s probably got the strategy which’d be closest to my ideal—procure boat, keep to myself, relax with my thoughts. Might have to incorporate the beer from the San Diego crew’s scenario, but it sounds workable.

My favorite in terms of voice, though, was Sgt. Wimmer. Once his voice took on that Applachian accent I realized he sounded kind of like my grandfather, so I got really attached to him. I want to walk around for a day or two and just have that be my voice for a while, creeping everyone out.

What is one thing about you that would surprise individuals who do not know you personally?

Well, I’m gay, I guess that’s a thing. Not that this is any great revelation in 2013, but I’m a big, tall, hairy dude who makes loud rock music so people generally don’t figure it out without being told. And they have the most entertaining reactions when they do finally catch on. My partner’s similar in both stature and mode, so even when people see us as a couple they still don’t put two and two together. There’s this Asian restaurant we go to regularly whose staff still thinks after several years of steady custom that we’re brothers, and I don’t have the heart to tell them otherwise. I should be annoyed by that, but I think it’s hilarious.

So, with book one under your belt, any scenes that stood out for you? Any of the characters that you can’t wait to get back to and see what happens

The scene that actually kicked my ass the hardest was the one on top of  the prison with Joshua Martel. I had to take a break after reading that bit the first time through. The idea of being completely vulnerable to a mob like that, completely othered and decreed less-than-human...that resonates very strongly with me. Definitely brought back some formative experiences which I’d stuffed down the memory hole for years until I finally found a constructive way to bring them to the foreground and confront them, so I empathized with him probably more than I was intended to, given his rap sheet and M.O.

There’s this mob mentality thing among people where all you have to do is slap a certain label—earned or otherwise—on someone and then they’re fair game for whatever inhuman things the mob wants to do to them. It used to be racial or ethnic labels, then it was ‘faggot’ or ‘nerd’, now it’s ‘freak’ or ‘pedo’ as in the book, tomorrow it’ll just be something else. I see it on the Internet, I see it in the news coming out of places like Russia and Uganda, and it’s equal parts frustrating and terrifying. A lot of the reviews brought up Garrett, but as a reader I find a single monstrous character to be a far more explicable, easy thing to confront than the insidious knack the anonymity of the crowd has for making people make monsters of themselves—for what seem like the most perfectly justified reasons—and delight in the transformation. There’s a point, in short, where righteous indignation stops being righteous.

As for who I want to get back to...Thad, Keith, and JoJo, the San Diego trio. I really liked the chemistry those guys have, and their part of the book ended just as they were finally getting out on their own and into the biomass with their competence and warm beers. So I’m very curious to see how they go.

One of the biggest criticisms regarding DEAD is that it paints humanity in a negative light? Did you get that vibe? How did you see it?

That’s a criticism? I think that says more about the people criticizing DEAD than the books themselves. I mean, I get that maybe some people are made uncomfortable by certain scenes but that’s the whole point of horror, is it not? I submit that if a story doesn’t push you out of your comfort zone and play with if not transgress upon your taboos, then what you’re actually reading is not horror but fantasy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t understand the idea that the utter collapse of civilization should be depicted in a polite, tasteful, nonchallenging way. It’s a wildly unrealistic expectation. It’s okay to show people being eaten alive by zombies—which aren’t real—but if you show monstrous acts which are carried out daily by real people that’s somehow beyond the pale? Nonsense.

Really, humanity doesn’t need DEAD to paint it in a negative light—humanity’s been doing a bang-up job of that all on its own, we just try not to notice if we can help it. Darfur, Rwanda, the Yugoslav don’t need zombies to bring out the worst in people, just take away the socioeconomic infrastructure that keeps people cohabitating and watch ‘em team right up and sharpen the knives. We like to dress it up in euphemisms like “ethnic cleansing” or “civil war” or “unrest” so we don’t have to look at the brutality of what is actually happening, but the reality is still there waiting for us. I think it’s healthier and more productive to face up to that than to wallpaper it over.

But aside from that slightly belligerent digression, I didn’t actually find DEAD to be particularly negative on humanity anyway. While parts of DEAD show humanity reduced to its absolute nadir, there’re other parts where someone seizes the opportunity to be better than what they’d expected of themselves. For each Garrett or Travis Reynolds, there’s a Steve.or a Dillon Clay. There’s brutality, there’s tenderness. Sadism, kindness. Selfish ambition, self-sacrifice. Dogmatic idiocy, clever resourcefulness. Cowardice, courage. Sometimes within a single character. People are like that. It’s a very realistic way of looking at the scenario.

How do you see humanity dealing with a scenario such as this? (Removing the idea of how unlikely it is, of course.)

I dunno. When you get right down to it the zombie apocalypse is essentially a great big Kobayashi Maru (calm yourselves, I’m not a Trekkie, I googled it)—it’s not about solving the scenario, it’s about how long you survive it and how many of your ethics you’re able to hold onto along the way. That strikes me as something for individuals to determine, not humanity as a whole.

Did anything stand out for you?

Juan’s catchphrase, “Tight like a tigah.” For the longest time I just could not figure out how to deliver that line without lapsing into parody. Never in my 37 years have I found myself wandering around the house repeating the same sentence over and over like Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King, sounding more ridiculous each time and giggling like a maniac—“Tight! a TIGAAAAAAAHHHHH!” I’m sure the neighbors thought I was mental. Fortunately, if the second book’s any indication Juan’s catchphrase seems to be going viral within the DEADiverse, so it was time well spent. Getting to say it in Travis Reynolds’ voice was hysterical. And with each additional voice I say it in, it gets more and more fun.


(I’m between bands at the moment, don’t have a personal website, and for now my social media presence is more personal than professional, so...ummm...

Falcon Sound Company:
Spindown on Audible, if that’s not too shameless in the self-promotion department:

1 comment:

  1. Great interview with Andy. I really liked reading his take on the series. I purchased it this morning and I'm having a blast listening to it!